Anna Karenina by Leon Tolstoy, 1877.

0dece346cd0211e2828a22000a9f191e_7Anna Karenina has been my bed book for a little month and what a masterpiece ! I haven’t read a lot of Russian authors but I’ve heard about them of course. They had a big influence on the French authors of the end of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Anna Karenina takes you to the Russia before the Russian revolution, filled with princes and princesses, with a brilliant, highly educated, multi-lingual aristocracy who travels around Europe, speaks English and French fluently, knows their painters and writers and opera singers.

Tolstoy depicts with a high level of realism the society of the 19th century.

The novel opens on a revealing sentence : Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. We follow the destiny of three different couples. It all starts with the Prince Stepan Stiva Oblonsky, in Moscow, who is in big trouble because his wife has discovered that he had been cheating on her. Stiva is a very attaching character in his insouciance. He spends his money without thinking, so even though he has a good position, he also has a lot of debts. He calls his sister to help him with his wife… Entrance of Anna Karenina… She is everything a lady could be, beautiful, intelligent, educated, brilliant, the kind of woman who leaves everybody breathless when she enters a room. She’ll help Stiva and prevent a bad situation for him. During that little intervention, she meets the count Alexei Vronsky and falls madly in love with him. Anna goes back to Saint Petersburg to her husband, the cold, bureaucrat Count Alexei Karenin. Vronsky follows her to Saint Petersburg and they start a torrid affair. Meanwhile Konstantin Kostya Levin, one of Stiva’s old friend, arrives at Moscow to visit him but also to ask Princess Ekaterina Kitty Shcherbatskava to marry him (I love those endless, unpronounceable Russian names). She refuses because she’s in love with Vronsky.

I won’t say more to not spoil the multiple developments that occur in this 800 pages long  novel. It definitely worth the effort.

I give it a 9/10.

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck, 1941

430daa56cd0211e2be8622000a9f192b_6Steinbeck being one of my favorite author EVER, I could not resist when I saw that little novel on the library shelf. The only thing you can say after you’ve read it is WOW (end of the review, it left me speechless !)

The Moon Is Down has been written 1941. Between 1940 and 1942, Steinbeck served voluntarily in several government intelligence agencies. Midsummer 1941, the chief of one of those agencies asked Steinbeck to write a book of propaganda. After several revisions, because Steinbeck being Steinbeck , his original version annoyed a few people, it was published in March 1942. The book caused a big controversy in America because it doesn’t depict the invaders as bloodthirsty, conscienceless monsters but as human beings with fears and hopes. The book had a positive reception in Europe though. The resistant movements from several countries translated it and distributed it massively.

The plot revolves around a unidentified village, invaded by an unidentified invader. The resistance builds up quietly, harassing the enemy and showing us the cracks in the winners’s psyché. It presents to us a human face to those who had been described as demons. It tells us that the war is done by men, with their feelings, their fears, the desire to love and to be loved.

It’s a very fast read… Just about a 100 fascinating, beautifully written pages… You know what to do now !

I give it a 10/10

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 1818

After the serious of the new Pulitzer Prize and the oh so classic Pride  and Prejudice, I thought I would treat myself with a little monster story. I chose Frankenstein because I found a really nice leatherbound edition at the second hand book shop near my apartment.

Frankenstein has been first published, anonymously, in 1818. Mary Shelley was 19 when she started writing it. She actually travelled to Switzerland, where her story takes place.

The novel open on letters between Walton and his sister. This highly self educated man is bored to death and therefore decides to take a trip to the North Pole to conduct a few scientific experiments. Arrived there, his ship get stuck in the ice and he notices a huge man on a sledge going away. The next day, his crew saves a man on a sledge. Walton takes care of the stranger and when the latter has recovered enough, he starts telling his story.

His name is Victor Frankenstein. He had a happy but kind of seclusive childhood, with his father, mother, adopted sister and two brothers. He’s self educated. After his mother’s death, he’s sent to the University where he follows science courses. He gets really involved in his studies and spends a tremendous amount of time studying anatomy. He thinks he can beat death itself by building a creature from scratches. So does he. As soon as his creature arises, he regrets what he has done and falls ill. His best friend Henry joins him at the University and takes care of him until he gets better. That’s when he receives a letter telling him that his little brother has been killed. He then runs back home, convinced that his demonic creature is the killer. A servant has been accused of the murder. She’s judged guilty and sentenced to death. Victor sees the monster and follows him. The creature relates the past year he spent in the mountains. He learnt how to talk and read by observing a family with whom he tried to meet. He’s chased by the family. That’s when he encounters Victor’s brother and kills him. The monster asks Victor to build him a partner. After refusing, Victor agrees, convinced by the creature’s arguments. Victor need to travel to england to collect informations for his new project. Henry decides to accompany him. After building a female creature, Victor changes his mind and destroys it. The monster vows revenge and kills Henry (Victor  will be accused of his murder). Victor goes back to Geneva where he marries Elizabeth. On their wedding night, the monster kills Elizabeth. Victor then swears to destroy the creature and starts chasing him around the world.

Back in Walton’s boat, Victor dies shortly after finishing his story. A few days later, Walton finds the monster in Victor’s room, weeping and regretting every bad deeds he’s done.

Everyone knows Frankenstein’s story but I have to say, I was quite disappointed with that little novel. I found Victor incredibly naive and whining and fickle. The creature seems to be a genius, who can learn everything in a very little time but self control. He’s presented as a genius, who has mastered Milton and sciences and philosophy in less than a year but his only outlet when he’s angry is to kill people. Plus, one can see the word wretch so much times. Shelley tends to use it every other word (just as often as Meyer used the word marmorean.

I’d give it a 4/10

Trip to the Library #1

I just came back from my monthly trip to the local library. I took more books than I can read in three weeks but I always do that. I like to have the choice. So, in my magic (and heavy) book bag this month are :

  • Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
  • Emma, Jane Austen
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen

I told you that I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice so I HAVE to read more Jane Austen. It is required.

  • Middlemarch, George Elliot
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  • Villette, Charlotte Brontë
  • The Moon is Down, John Steinbeck
  • Clock without Hands, Carson McCullers
  • Secret Windows : Essays and fiction on the craft on writing, collective.

See, too much books ! I’ll try and read all of them and I will let you know 🙂

Armchair BEA Genre Topic : The Classics

Genre Topic 1: The Classics

The Questions:

  • Today, tell us all the reasons why you love classic literature.

Hmmm, that is a good question. Why do I love classics. First of all, the definition of a classic is quite large and vague… A book which by its timelessness and universalism is capable of touching everybody at any time being. A book in which any human being can find something to nourish their brain or full up their heart. I love classics because they are still relevant hundreds years after they had been written. I love them because our civilisation is based on those pieces of art. How many books, movies, paintings, songs have been inspired by Dante’s Inferno ? How come, more than 50 years after it had been published, The Grapes of Wrath is still relevant ? (plus holding a classic in a public place makes you look smarter :p )

  • What are your favorite classics?

Cornelian choice here… I’d say Grapes Of Wrath by Steinbeck, The Aventures Of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and The Great Gatsby by F.S. Fitzgerald…oh and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo ! and so many many many many more.

  • If you could give a list of classics to someone who claims to hate them to make them change their mind, what would be on it ?

I’ve met many young (and not so young) people you claimed they didn’t like classics. When asked why, all of them told me that it was because those were old long books, written in a dated and obsolete language. So I’d give those people The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger (even if it’s a very controversial classic) and maybe Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson…just to prove them how wrong they are and how fun a classic can be !

  • How would you convince them to give classics a try?

I’d suggest to maybe watch the movie first, if there’s any good adaptations out there, or to try a abridged and /or modernised version. Or maybe to read in group, so they can share their difficulties.

  • And why do you keep coming back to those old favorites?

Because I don’t have any other choice…that’s how true love works.