Category Archives: Classics

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos

Title: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
Author: David Bellos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374223236
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Literary Criticism
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

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I love books about books. There is something magical about them that cannot be ignored, say what you will. Books talking about books is almost surreal – not even meta, it is just something that makes you want to pick up the books that are being spoken about and reread them or read them if you haven’t already. This is what happened to me when I finished reading “The Novel of the Century” by David Bellos.

This book is about Les Misérables and how it came to be. I remember watching Les Misérables – the movie when it released (the one starring Anne Hathaway) and crying. I couldn’t get enough of it and surprisingly I hadn’t read the book. I had to change that. I did read the book soon after and was mesmerised by it. I mean the characters – Inspector Jarvet, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and even the minor ones that play such an important role in this book of power, politics and love. I can see how it came to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century or the greatest, I think.

David Bellos takes a leap and writes about this book. How did it come to me? Why was it written? What was Victor Hugo thinking when he wrote this? How did he come about such characters? What Bellos also does is explain why this novel fascinates us (most of us at least) and how it places itself so beautifully in the modern context. To me, that was the most favourite parts in the book.

Bellos’ research is spot on. I was reading a lot about the book and the times in which it was set while reading The Novel of the Century and that to me is the best thing an author can do to you while he is writing about another book. The writing then is truly powerful. This is also not a biography of Victor Hugo but of course it has to trace his life briefly and how he came to write Les Mis. The angle of prostitution in those times, religion playing such a major role and also just how women survived is fascinating when Bellos brings it to the fore.

“The Novel of the Century” isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It is for people who love Les Misérables or perhaps want to really read it sometime in the future. Having said that, I couldn’t get enough of Bellos’s writing – crisp, to the point and very meticulous with his research. At times, I almost felt like I was watching the movie or reading the book again. The characters I went back to welcomed me back and I for one felt so nice meeting them after all these years. A book for book lovers and of course of the classic as well.

Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Title: The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9780099572954
Genre: Children’s Classics
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“The Secret Garden” is a friend’s favourite book. He cannot stop raving about it. He was after my life to read it at so many points in life and yet I just would not. Maybe I was not ready for it then. But when I was I picked it up and loved it. It was a part of the Novel Cure Reading Challenge. The book is featured under: To Cure Adoption and that is what the book is partly about, or I would say very superficially about. It is more about finding home and something magical in your heart, as cliché as it may sound.

Mary Lennox’s family is dead. Her parents and most of her family died due to a cholera breakout. She is the only one surviving and found all by herself in a big huge house. She is lonely. She pretends to be brave and she is not at all courageous. She is only ten years old and never known what it is like to be loved and perhaps to love someone. Till she chances upon a garden – a locked, derelict garden, which comes to become a place she loves and a garden which heals her and teaches her how to love and to be loved.

I have not said much about the story because I would want readers to explore and find out the way I did. The writing is fantastic. It does not seem that it was written such a long time ago, and published in 1910. The themes are as relevant today. The angst of childhood and the need to find out more is omnipresent and exists in every child. To me, the book is one of the best children’s classics I have read in a long time and will most certainly reread it.

Next Up on the Novel Cure Reading Challenge: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte Title: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Bronte
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Signature Editions
ISBN: 978-1435136540
Genre: Classic
Pages: 328
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

If there is one classic, which I go back to every year and continue to do so, without as much batting an eye-lid then that has to be, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. For some it is Pride and Prejudice. For others it could be anything by Mark Twain. For me, it is just this sole book written by Emily Bronte, who according to me was also the most interesting amongst the three.

I never need a reason to read this one, however this time; I also read it for The Novel Cure Reading Challenge. While it is a story of passion and love, it is also a story of class, of families, of how one cannot resist and yet must one do what society dictates. At the core however, it is a love story like none other. The story is dark. It is not pretty. It is not meant to be. It was considered vulgar and preposterous when it was first published. Emily went to her grave thinking she was a failure. The book was reprinted by Charlotte and now it is one of the most beloved classics of our times.

Wuthering Heights is narrated by Nelly Dean. She has lived around for a long time. The story is told in extended flashback to a lodger or rather the tenant at Thrushcross Grange. Nelly narrates the story of Heathcliff and Catharine – of their obsession, their love and their madness. Of how they could not be together and yet would not give up each other for the world.

I remember reading the novel for the first time when I was thirteen. I was depressed for a week. The empathy towards Heathcliff and the need to also beat him up was strong. The need to for once, allow Heathcliff and Catharine to be happy ever after was beyond anything else which I ever wanted and yet I knew this was not possible.
The book evokes strange feelings in the reader and those feelings remain. It is more than just unrequited love. You know there is only one way in which this story will end and yet – you pray that things become alright and they do, in a different way of sorts. The core theme also, mostly forgotten is that Heathcliff is an outsider. He has been adopted by Mr. Earnshaw at the beginning of the novel, which Hindley, Catharine’s brother cannot stand. This is just the start of things to come though.

At some point you feel Catharine also detests him and to some extent maybe that is true, but you know that love will prevail and she is merely trying to succumb, but you know she is stronger than that. Wuthering Heights will break your heart – even if you do not want it to, it will. There is no way out from that one. A read which you will never forget for years to come, that is for sure.

This one as per the Novel Cure is to Cure Adoption.

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Book Review: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner Title: Crossing to Safety
Author: Wallace Stegner
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
ISBN: 9780375759314
Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had heard a lot about “Crossing to Safety” from a lot of people online. It is one of the American Classics that demand a read and once you have read it, you will be ever thankful. Or so I had heard from everyone who had read the book and could not stop talking about it. I had to read it. I tried reading it initially and then gave it up. I could not get past the fiftieth page. I tried reading it once more. It appealed to me a little and then some more. Before I knew it, I was done with the book and also had a few tissues by my side drenched with my tears. Yes, it is an emotional book and yes it makes you cry, which is wonderful, because very few books have managed to make me cry.

“Crossing to Safety” was written by Wallace Stegner during the 80s and first published in 1987 and since then it has marvelled its readers and made them think and laugh and cry. The plot is not very complex, neither it is very profound. What makes it so close to life is its writing and the fact that it is just like living – slow, redundant and yet full of hope and ideas that soar. It is a story of two couples and their long standing friendship, loves and lives played out between Vermont and Wisconsin.

The book is as simple as it seems and yet resonates with the reader on so many levels. It is about the quietness of marriage and on the stability of life, where maybe nothing much has to happen anyway. It is us who are bored of it more often than not and want changes. Stegner puts everything in perspective, well almost everything – his take on life, marriage and art is stupendous through this novel. Wallace Stegner looks at humans the way they are – defeated and sometimes with a lot of flaws. He does not glorify any character or any philosophy. In his books, things are the way they are – slow moving and without any events.

What the author does is create a magnificent portrait of relationships through two couples. The book is about how you cannot plan life and it will work out quite differently from what you thought it would. Of course I am not going to give away the subplot, however it is about the single day when you try so hard to remain in character and not do what you aren’t expected to, but end up doing just that to prove life otherwise. Stegner’s writing is big, bold and good. He takes his chances with the narrative – sometimes linear and sometimes not so much. I could not stop turning the pages and by the end of it I was enriched as a reader for sure and yet was drained as a person in the sense of an emotion – I cried because it was written so well. A must read. A classic that you should not miss.

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Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Title: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0142000670
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 107
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck is the kind of book that fills you with hope, makes it stay for a while and then reveals the true nature of men and the world we live in, shattering the hope that it started off with.

I had heard a lot about this book and also own it. (It is there somewhere. I cannot seem to find it though.) I thought I would eventually read it and I did not tell I borrowed a copy from the library and finished it in a single sitting. If you do decide not to read it in a single sitting, take it from me, this book will haunt you. It will not let you be till you have completed it. Now to the plot.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two alienated men who work as farm labourers, drifting from job to job in California. Lennie is a gentle giant (who is a little slow). George guides and protects him and depends on him for companionship. They dream of owning a farm one day and tend rabbits. This however is not meant to be. They arrive at a new farm; work with new people, make friends, till the owner’s son’s Curley’s wife ruins it all for them.

The title of the book is from a poem by Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”, which goes: “The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” Steinbeck draws on these lines in the book very subtly, making sure that the plans do not go as they dreamt of, because after all that is the story.

The narrative is strong and descriptive as is the case in most books written by him. I remember reading East of Eden in a period of two days. I just could not get off the book. Of Mice and Men flows with dialogue and action. The scenes happen so quickly in the book that it sometimes takes the reader by surprise.

You feel sorry for the men. You want them to achieve what they wanted and you know that will not be possible. The writing is so strong that you empathize with them and that’s how a book should be written. The plot is complex but the writing is not and that’s the wonder of the book. Steinbeck almost structured the novel as a play and may be that is why it has been so easy to convert it to play and three movies I guess.

Steinbeck depicts the impossibility of dreams being achieved and explores brotherhoods in humans – the strengths, the weakness in man and sometimes the angst. Of Mice and Men is a classic in every sense that should not be missed. I am glad that I finally read it.

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Here is the trailer of the movie starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise: