Castle Dor: Historical Fiction Challenge

“It is a curious coincidence that no poet, or shall we call him investigator, has ever lived to conclude this particular story. His work has always been finished by another.”

So says Doctor Carfax in Castle Dor. The words have an eerie quality when we learn that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch died before completing his book which was later finished by Daphne du Maurier. The legend of Tristan and Iseult is one that has haunted poets and novelists alike with more than one version still extant. Castle Dor deals with the same legend set in 19th century Cornwall.

The legend
Tristan, a young knight and nephew to King Mark, brings home the Irish Princess Iseult who is to marry his uncle. The young couple accidentally (or intentionally in some versions) ingest a love potion meant for King Mark and Princess Iseult. They fall madly in love and pursue an adulterous relationship, hiding and scheming behind the King’s back. They are betrayed by Iseult’s maid and the King, intent on revenge, kills young Tristan with a poisonous arrow. In some versions he forgives the couple as long as Tristan agrees to leave. In this version, Tristan marries Iseult of the White Hands(namesake of Princess Isuelt), sister to Sir Kahedin, and leaves returning the Princess to her King.

Castle Dor is very detailed in the various versions of the story. We are introduced to Doctor Carfax and Monsieur Ledru who pursue the true origins behind the legend of Tristan and Iseult.  They believe that the place they have come to, known in the novel as ‘Troy’, is the actual setting of the star crossed lovers’ story. Their investigation reawakens the legend into the lives of Linnet Lewarne and Amyot Trestane. Recently married Linnet Lewarne hates her old husband. Descended from royalty her beauty and poise is matched by no other. Amyot, a Breton onion seller from aboard a ship, comes to Linnet’s inn. Even before they meet, Linnet is drawn to him by the sound of his voice. From that moment onward, their lives are connected and as Doctor Carfax realizes, they relive the original legend to the letter. He tries desperately to avert the end.

Linnet Lewarne is the reincarnation of the Irish Princess Iseult. The potion in the original legend is supposed to free the lovers from responsibility for their actions (such actions a noble knight would never dream of doing). But in the novel, although we have a certain drink, brewed and drunk by Linnet and Amyot, it is hard to absolve them of all responsibility. Linnet seems cold, harsh and cruel both to her husband and to all others who have done her no harm. Amyot on the other hand seems genuinely in love while not forgetting his duties to others. While in the beginning of the story I had some sympathy for Linnet, as the novel progressed, I found myself unable to like her.

Daphne du Maurier was the perfect author to finish the novel. Her love of old legends and stories, and the whole atmosphere created by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch suited her own style. In fact, I couldn’t see where the seam came in; where Sir Arthur left off and Daphne began. The story was executed flawlessly.

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart shows imperialism from the African’s point of view. Set in the fictional village of Umuofia, it focuses on the state and feelings of the people native to the colonized area. The book is one of the most important pieces of African Literature. It lends a voice to people who heretofore have been spoken for from the point of view of people that can make no claim to knowing them: the whites. Chinua Achebe desired to show the African’s their culture as it was, not as the white man presented it. The book is imbued with the rich culture of the Ibo people, their stories, their customs and religion all to show that the African’s were not barbarians in an ‘incomprehensible frenzy’, but human beings with a rich culture of their own which did not manage to survive the onslaught of a more diverse culture.

Chinua Achebe himself, as many critics show, did not portray the conflict as between the sides of good and bad – that the white man was evil whereas the African’s were goodness personified. He showed a balance in his novel which tackles both sides of the questions with a maturity lacking in many novels dealing with similar issues. In fact, the question of imperialism isn’t a major issue until much later in the novel. The novel deals most importantly with the culture and the slow change brewing both within it, and from the effects of the outside. The book is indeed a masterpiece.

The story centers around Okonkwo. From his childhood he has suffered from the shame of having a lazy father. To compensate for his father’s cowardice, he shuns all that his father stood for including gentleness, and love.  From an early age, working hard to grow his own farm, he shows prowess in war and wrestling, and is harsh towards all love and warmth. His whole family stands in awe of him knowing that he will not hesitate to beat anyone for disobedience. His oldest son Nwoye fears him while trying to live up to his father’s expectations.

Despite it all, Okonkwo is not as brave as he desires to be. He fears to be thought weak and this fear is what leads to his every action. It is paradoxically what led to his success. The Ibo culture values the qualities of manliness and hard work in a man and it is those very qualities that Okonkwo nurtures to act against his father’s weakness and laziness. He is a self-made man. But his downfall is inevitable. His fear had gone too deep.

Okonkwo spirals towards self-destruction in a world of his own creating; in which he believes that gentleness and love are not qualities to be admired. After accidentally killing a young boy, in accordance to custom, he is banished from his village for seven years. In those seven years, the whole village of Umuofia changes. The white man has come and with him, his own ideas. Ideas which threaten to squash Okonkwo’s own world. Having no idea of anything outside harshness and brutal strength, Okonkwo has gone further from the ideals of his people than he realizes. His people are not willing to fight for their ways and Okonkwo feels that they have become a ‘womanly’ clan.  In desperation, he acts according to his perception of his clan’s manliness.

The story deals with the concept of change. Has the society of Umuofia changed or is it Okonkwo who is different? Did the white man bring about the change in Okonkwo’s people, or was the culture of Umuofia resilient to change? adapting the new culture within its own? Okonkwo may be a product of change, or of his own world. But either way, he himself is unable to change and his narrow perspective of looking at things inevitably leads to his doom. These questions are tackled by various critics and their really isn’t any one answer. In the end, the answer lies within each person’s own perception of what change really is: the Ibo people adapting to the new culture, or Okonkwo struggling to maintain his idea of a culture that never really was.

Vanity Fair: Victorian Literature Challenge

Vanity Fair is a thoroughly Victorian novel. You’d think that was obvious, I mean, I picked it for the Victorian Literature challenge. But what I mean is, that it’s Victorian unlike the other books of the same period I’ve read. It’s got the same obtruding author like Charlotte Bronte and Anthony Trollope; the same reference to everyday life as in Charles Dickens; and of course the same reference to morality and the fake society – you can tell that just by the title. And yet it felt so much more than the others. The story was the period. It’s a novel without a hero, so we’re told, but I think that’s because it’s mostly a story of the time. Becky, the protagonist if there is one, lives the life and Thackeray tells the tale of a governess who tries progressing in the world. A hypocritical world.

I’m not being very clear am I? That’s because the book left all my thoughts in a jumble. I didn’t like the way the story was told.  The characters were introduced one by one, not as they entered the story but all together. The story had two threads and Thackeray picked them up whenever he liked going back and forth in time. Not really tangling them up, but making a somewhat haphazard pattern. I didn’t enjoy jolting in and out of one story line to pursue the other. Some parts were brilliant and I waited breathlessly for the outcome, only to be jerked out of the suspense and dropped into a stale story that Thackeray had left cold a couple of chapters behind. I mean WTH?!

The story was good, I just didn’t enjoy the way he presented it. And style matters a lot.

The novel has some interesting characters each lending something to the atmosphere of Vanity Fair. Leading, we have the protagonist Rebecca Sharp. She is sharp as her name suggests which is how she is able to survive in the harsh world of Vanity Fair. Here hypocrisy is the only truth worth knowing. People who know how to please are the ones who get on. Rebecca, or Becky as she is called, has learned the ways of the rich early and she knows exactly how to wheedle up to an old spinster, or charm an old reprobate to her simplicity and youth. She is poor, but clever and the little governess soon rises up in the world.

With such an unscrupulous character, the novel would be incomplete if we didn’t have a suitable foil. Thackeray didn’t disappoint and we have the perfect angel in the form of Amelia Sedley. Gentle, caring and loved by all, she is the one who first befriends Rebecca Sharp. They have both just recently quitted Miss Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies and are starting out in the world. Amelia’s path is assured to success and happiness. She is rich and has a handsome fiance. But things in Vanity Fair aren’t what they seem and she soon finds herself in a different situation…


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

August 15
 OK, so it didn’t really take me this long to finish the book. I actually read it months ago, and then read it again, and then again. Not because I liked it! I had to read it so many times that I began to hate it. Of course I can see why it’s such a masterpiece. It developed the stream of consciousness technique and who knows what else? According to critics, Joyce has influenced the whole literary structure as we know it today! Which is why, when I read it, I didn’t read it with an eye to enjoy it. It was all critical and I think that destroys most of the pleasure in reading a book.

A Portrait didn’t really have a story that can be enjoyed (at least by me!). It is about Stephen Dedalus, a young boy (who somewhat represents the author himself) striving to recognize self, through a series of experiences. First he rejects one belief, then another until he believes solely in art and beauty. It was to some extent a technical book about Stephen’s ‘aesthetic theory’ and how he achieves it. What many overlook is that it is the portrait of a ‘young man’ which means that the novel doesn’t end with everything all figured out. For that, it is necessary to read Joyce’s most famous book Ulysses.

                                         For my previous review, go here: A Portrait

The novel pivots on three important beliefs: patriotism, religion and art. As the story progresses, we see how Stephen deals with the world around him, a world from which he realizes he is different. Most important through the novel is his conflict with religion. At first turning his back on it, then becoming a strong believer, he ends up rejecting it completely and with his eyes open. What the journey really represents is his self-knowledge. When he learns to see with his own eyes, and fly on his own wings he is able to break free from all ties and become an artist.

The novel starts off with Stephen in infancy. It shows the development of the thought processes of a very young child. We see how he reacts to his surrounding through his senses. The water, the cold, smells: they all affect him and connect all his memories together. The narration is haphazard, aptly representing a child’s disjointed thoughts. Water takes him from the bathroom at his school Clongowes to memories of his father. These impressions play an important part throughout the story. This is because Stephen makes most of his decisions based on them. It is what he feels and where it leads him that causes him to grope for meaning. He is seeking for meaning in life and his true vocation. At the end of each chapter, he believes he has found meaning only to be disillusioned in the beginning of the next.

His first important ‘epiphany’, as Joyce calls them in Stephen Hero, is his meeting with the prostitute. He has now taken a step away from the church and committed mortal sin. Stephen believes his eyes are now open. But his path is much longer then he realizes. He will come back to the folds of the church and repent; become a fanatic in his punishment to himself.

This fanaticism lasts him some years, at the end of which he is again disillusioned. He can can’t avoid seeing the hypocrisy of the church. It is his curse that he sees what others don’t, and when he does, he is a step closer to realizing his real self. He refuses to join the church opting for University instead. It is his first significant step towards becoming the man he really is.

By this time, you must have an idea of how the story progresses. It is his whole life experience; everything that leads him a step closer to becoming an artist. You will gradually see how Joyce painstakingly shows each and every event in the young protagonist’s life and how it affects and molds him.

My beaten down copy of James Joyce. It was published in 1979!

The Woman in White: Victorian Literature Challenge

My view
What can I say about this book? It totally took me by surprise. Initially, I expected to be bored by it and the only reason I picked it up was for the challenge that I was determined to take part in. But I was hooked the moment I started. The Woman in White intrigued me, claimed my attention, and caused me to doubt as much as the protagonist Walter Hartright himself.

The Woman in White is said to be ‘one of the greatest mystery thrillers in the English language’ (back cover) and this is no understatement. I have always been a lover of all things mysterious (read all of Agatha Christie’s detective novels!), but this type of mystery thriller was new to me. The Victorian idea of mystery was theatrical and gothic. Just look at Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; but The Woman in White lacks the gothic element (thank God!) and is more realistic. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and would recommend it to all who love mystery with romance.

The story is written by a series of narrators, with the narrator most directly involved in the story chosen at each point. Walter Hartright, a drawing master, has been engaged to instruct two young ladies in the art of sketching and painting at Limmeridge House. On the eve of his departure, he meets a strange young woman, all in white. Who is she? where is she from? what is she doing out alone so late at night? are the natural questions which occur to Walter. But it is her odd manner and her mention of Limmeridge House that strikes him as curious. She obviously knows the place and its occupants. But the mystery is to remain unsolved for the present as he is able to get no answer out of her.  She leaves him in a state of perplexity and curiosity.

The woman in white does not make her exit here; she is the impetus that guides the whole story. To discover her identity, her odd resemblance to Laura Fairlie, her mysterious messages, and her connections to the people he loves, leads Walter on. At Limmeridge House he meets Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe, his two students. A strong bond develops between them all.

Soon, a grievous mischance happens that tears everybody apart. Now it is up to Walter to bring them together and with that to bring about the fall of the Count and Sir Percival. Will he be successful is something you have to find out by reading! I’ve already told you the WHOLE story!


My first read after exams: Venetia by Georgette Heyer. I love Georgette Heyer and have read many of her mysteries and romances, but I have to say, she isn’t that innovative in her plots. It’s always the same story: A rake falls in love with a spontaneous and unconventional girl. The perfect hero (although he’s had a questionable lifestyle) is bored with his life and has become hardened towards love. Venetia was no different. The hero of the novel, the rakish Lord Damerel, comes on a chance visit to his estate which lies next to Venetia’s home. They meet, are intrigued by each other, and soon a happy accident occurs which throws them in each others’ way for an extended period. The inevitable ensues and they fall in love. The next inevitable occurs and Lord Damerel sees how his scandalous reputation will never do for a good and beautiful girl like Venetia. He never asks her to marry him and sends her away. Then the happy coincidence happens that Venetia’s own parentage isn’t as spotless as one would have thought and so they can get married! Yay for everyone!

OK, it may seem that I don’t like Georgette Heyer but I do! It’s just that sometimes, I wish for something a little different. Novels like Cotillion and The Devil’s Cub are beautiful and I can read them again and again, but when I pick up a different novel, I want a different story. In Venetia, we have the same absurd yet likable characters in the form of Venetia’s two hopeful suitors; the same innocent and intriguingly beautiful girl, who is lovable and ‘different’ from all the run of the mill society ladies who have been setting their caps at the hero of the piece. Alright, so Lord Damerel wasn’t as in demand as some of the heroes of her novels are, but he was still rich, and that counts for something in the Heyer world. What always gets me, is that the guy, who has had such a reckless career is actually supposed to be kind, loving and caring underneath it all.

When all is said and done, a Heyer novel is meant to be taken as it is: a Regency Romance. It’s supposed to be delightful and entertaining and not modern in any way. That means, the end in view is always a happy marriage with proper considerations to money. Georgette Heyer includes a wealth of detail in her novels of the Regency Period. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Venetia is as good as any other. Although not one of Heyer’s best, any Georgette Heyer fan would swoon at the hero’s feet. He is all that is expected from a Heyer hero. But if you want variety, try Cotillion or April Lady.

Post-Exam Symptoms

It’s been four months! Hello, people :-). I’ve missed my blog soooo much and now I’m just dying to get started again. My exams are finally over, and what is the first thing I do? Buy a book! An easy read and something I’m used to; I picked up Venetia by Georgette Heyer from a local old book store. It was fun just looking through the tons and tons of books but I held back realizing that I still had challenges to go through, and other books I’ve been meaning to read this past year! With this in mind, I’ve decided to organize my books, and start working regularly on my blog. The book I intend to read next is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I have two challenges I need to complete which I have been deferring because of my exams: The Victorian Literature Challenge and The Historical Fiction Challenge. Luckily, I still have plenty of time. My post for Venetia will be up soon. Great to be back!