In an effort to actually read the near 200 unread books that I own I decided to go back and start at the very beginning, as Julie Andrews once sang in Nazis! The Musical. Logging on to my Goodreads and reversing my to-read list led me back to 2010, a very rough time. Apparently Angela’s Ashes had been on my bookshelves (unread) for nearly six years! This effort has brought me back to my mid-teens, a time where buying books was based on how nice the cover looked and I really couldn’t care about who the author was. Think of it as my Dark Ages but without the dysentery. This is why this series of reviews (and possibly quite a lot of the coming reviews) might seem strange to those of you who are familiar with my bookish tastes. As is the same with my other posts Henry VI: Part 2 is reviewed in my Shakespeare round-up post here.
Angela’s Ashes has become so ingrained into Irish culture, both nationally and internationally, that it’s hard to believe it only came out twenty years ago. Frank McCourt’s story of growing up in the slums of Limerick received nothing but astonishing praise upon its publication, even Michiko Kakutani raved about it. Exploiting the fact that McCourt was born in the US, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Memoir in 1997. My copy once belonged to my grandmother who apparently received it for “Xmas 1999” according to my aunt’s inscription on the title page. The story is an extraordinarily bleak one. If abusive fathers and cot death aren’t your thing then I doubt you’ll get much out of this. McCourt’s genius however lies in his ability to write about the most heartbreaking of subjects and then make you cry with laughter on the very next page. It’s very Irish of him to be able to bring humour to poverty and death. I’m not sure if I can say I “enjoyed” this novel, it is aggressively melancholy, but I appreciate and applaud it. It’s a fascinating story that I cannot wait to continue in its sequel, ‘Tis.
I’ve really been taking my time with The Chronicles of Narnia. I read the first one (The Magician’s Nephew) over Christmas of 2013 and I’ve been working through the seven books on-and-off since. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the fifth book in the series but not one of the best. The introduction of Eustace as a character is one of the the series’ highlights because he is possibly the only child character who isn’t punchably irritating. Lewis ditches Peter and Susan in this book because they’re probably too busy shagging and buying lipstick and leaves us with Lucy and Edmund, the shit ones. Anyway they all get into Narnia via a painting and they find themselves on the Dawn Treader with a giant mouse and yer man from the last book. It follows the same formula as all the others, something bad has happened, Aslan is like “I’m Jesus” and the children must save Narnia once again. I got bored of this one quite quickly. I think it’s because Prince Caspian is such a boring character and he’s on nearly every page of this. I was utterly disappointed with it. I doubt I’ll ever reach the heights of The Magician’s Nephew ever again.
Anyone who did an English degree at uni has, at some point, done a module that compares Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. This semester was my turn. The revisionist classic by Jean Rhys attempts to give a voice to Bertha Mason, the supposed “madwoman” in the attic from Jane Eyre. We follow Antoinette Cosway’s (Bertha’s real name) early life in Jamaica and her eventual marriage to the awful Rochester. I don’t think I can ever read Jane Eyre in the same way ever again. Rhys’ novel is superb but most importantly – it works. Rhys has given Mason a voice. She has taken the canon into her hands and physically changed it. I thoroughly enjoyed Wide Sargasso Sea even if it does shit on your dreams.
The Silver Chair is the sixth novel in The Chronicles of Narnia and a penultimate high in the series. Eustace is back again but this time a girl named Jill joins him. Thankfully none of the Pevensie are in this one so that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. Eustace and Jill meet Aslan who says “Uh about 80 years have passed and Caspian’s really old now and his son’s been kidnapped so go find him BYE! oh and btw I’m Jesus”. This book has everything that makes Narnia great. After a series of middling-to-boring novels (The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) The Silver Chair is such a breath of fresh air. Puddleglum is a wonderful character who nearly carries this novel on his spindly shoulders and Jill is a welcome female voice in this less than feminist series. At the current rate this is the second best book of the series, I just wonder why Lewis took so long to get here.