Category Archives: Penguin Classics

365 Stories: Day 11: The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

a-pair-of-silk-stockings-by-kate-chopin

Today’s story is funny, will warm your heart and at the same time will leave you with your jaw dropped at the end of it. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, to me is one of the first feminist novels ever.

“The Story of an Hour” is about a woman who has just chanced on independence, only to have it been taken away from her. Read the story. It is about three pages long, so I cannot really give away more while talking about it. But what I can say is that, it is a story that is funny (read: wry humour depicting how the society was then – the story is set in early 1990s), tragic and ironic.

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The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson Title: The Sundial
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0143107064
Genre: Horror, Gothic
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

So it had been a while since I read something gothic or along the lines of horror. I then thought of Shirley Jackson. I had heard of her now and then but never got around to reading her. Friends did tell me about, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” and the more famous, “The Haunting of Hill House” but somehow I never got around to reading her. I am amazed and a little sad that I did not read her before. Well, it is never too late. I am going to devour every book written by Ms. Jackson in this year itself.

“The Sundial” is a book which really come to think of it cannot fall under any genre. While reading it, I thought it could be classified as Goth or Horror, but somehow that does not do justice to a book of this range and magnificence. The book’s central character is the Halloran mansion, belonging to the Halloran family. The book starts with the death of the son of the family and the story kicks in from there.

Aunt Fanny has always been the peculiar one in the family. The one, who wanders, gets lost and then eventually returns on her own. This time she returns with a revelation: Her father, the late Mr Halloran appeared to her – a vision and revealed that the world will come to an end and the only people who will survive will be the ones who are in the house. The household is rather calm about it, they believe her and wait for the end to arrive. There is Mr Halloran (Fanny’s brother) and his wife, Mrs. Halloran, their daughter-in-law, Maryjane, their granddaughter Fancy, the help (so to say) Essex and Ms. Ogilvie, who are the principal characters of the house, and more start entering the house, once the news spreads.

The family believes that the new world is just for them. There are a lot of undertones in the book – which I had a ball reading and identifying. The strained relationships sometimes lead to violence. The hatred for one another is apparent and the new world also perhaps cannot do much for them. There is a part in the book which is my most favourite – that said by the young child, Fancy, about the new world. I thought it would be best to make it a part of my review:

“Look. Aunt Fanny keeps saying that there is going to be a lovely world, all green and still and perfect and we are all going to live there and be peaceful and happy. That would be perfectly fine for me, except right here I live in a lovely world, all green and still and perfect, even though no one around here seems to be very peaceful or happy.”

For me the above quote somehow sums up the entire book and yet as a reader, I had to keep turning the pages to know how it ends. The title of the book comes from the huge Sundial which is in the Halloran’s garden and of course indicative of passing time and how time is no longer of essence really, but still is.

The characters created by Shirley Jackson are spooky, brave, fearsome and at the same time, willing to work towards a change for the better. Their lives are fractured to that extent that they want to put their belief in anything. The writing is packed with punch at every single page. My only grouse (a slight one at that) was that some characters did not get enough of the limelight, but that is alright. It is a great book nonetheless – spooky, weird and contemplative as well. Shirley Jackson for now is my favourite writer of this genre and like I said, I will only read more.

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I was thinking about clubbing these two Novel Cure Challenge Reads together and it only made sense – considering how similar the protagonists are. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are bound to be clubbed. I remember reading and rereading these books for the longest time and somehow in a very strange way, I could relate to them. I am not married. I am not a woman. There has been no instance of adultery then, of course, but still there is some affinity which I cannot name or pinpoint. I am only too glad to have reread these books. They certainly brought back a lot of memories.

We all know (or at least most of us do) how it works out for these feisty women. Both stuck in unhappy marriages. I think it would be apt to call their marriages boring, or rather the men they are married to. Charles Bovary almost comes across as a dullard who could not care less about Emma’s youth or her desires or what she wants from life. Anna Karenina on the other hand has everything she could want, but somehow the all-consuming love is just not there, till she meets Count Vronsky.

Emma’s life is ridden with men – her father, her husband, her neighbour, the greedy moneylender, the pharmacist, the pharmacist’s assistant, and her two lovers. She knows it will only end in disaster and yet she wants it all, just like Anna. Anna knows the Russian societal norms and yet she will go to any length to get what she wants. Both these nineteenth-century heroines risk it all, for there is only one life to live. All they want is passion. They want love and they just keep searching for it, everywhere they can. Even if it means they have to end it by giving up their lives. Every time I have read these books, I wished they would come out of it alive and they don’t. I know it but I want to believe that everything works out for them, though it does for some time. These novels were also written in times when both countries, Russia and France were going through changing times. Maybe that is why they were considered so radical for their time.

I have never intended to read these classics with a lot of analysis. For me, they are just testimonies to what I connect to relate to – all the unrequited love, the trapped lives dictated by hypocritical societies and the alienation of the self, despite being loved and surrounded by many.

The anguish of the women comes through superbly in both these books and to me what is also surprising is that these books were written by men. Men who were very strong in their own way and manner and extremely eccentric as well, not to mention, womanizers – maybe that is why they could capture the feminine essence with such aplomb in both these works.

The translations again, when it comes to classics such as these matter the most. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Anna Karenina) and Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary) have done more than just a wonderful job with the words and their interpretation. I think for me most of the time loving these two classics have come from these translations. And yes I also think that perhaps there is no cure for adultery. You have to go through it. There is no moral ground. Anything for happiness, I think.

Next Up in the Novel Cure Challenge: Patience by John Coates

Book Review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm Title: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9780670024971
Genre: Fairy Tales
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

We are all fascinated by fairy tales. From the time we know of their existence, to the time we believe in some of them as we grow up, and hope they do come true as we live out our lives. Fairy tales play a very important role in our lives. We never really forget what is handed down to us at such a young age – fairy tales are never forgotten.

Having said that, every version somehow seems to be different every time it has been retold. The Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales were among the first ones to be told and retold and retold and handed down over generations. The brothers heard the tales through various sources and this was way back in 1812, when there was a seemingly large interest in German everything. What Philip Pullman started doing some time ago was that he started giving his voice to fifty of the Grimm tales. He started writing them differently (well not so much so – the structure remains the same). Pullman does not try and give a different spin to the tales. He respects them hugely. What he does instead is just clean lines, make them more satisfying so to say (at least for me) and give us further insight into each tale picked by him, by adding relevant footnotes at the end of every tale.

The book consists of popular tales such as, “Rapunzel”, “The Robber Bridegroom” and “Hansel and Gretel” and also some of them such as, “The Nixie of the Millpond” and “The Goose Girl”. Philip Pullman does a fantastic job of putting his point through this book. The tales are well-structured and hit the so-called sweet spot of the reader’s imagination. The other thing in the book which is not there and which works brilliantly is the use of pictures. There are no illustrations in the book, which is great, as readers have to use their imagination to capture in their minds what they read on paper.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm comes in a lovely penguin classics deluxe edition with the fantastic illustration of Hansel and Gretel on the cover, or it could be any other fairy tale actually and yet it just speaks to you in so many ways.

All in all, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman is a very satisfying read which goes down well with a nice cup of hot chocolate way into the night.

Book Review: BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara

BUtterfield 8 by John O'Hara Title: BUtterfield 8
Author: John O’Hara
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143124689
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember the first time I watched BUtterfield 8. I was dazzled by the plot and more so by Elizabeth Taylor. I grew up some. I grew up some more. At twenty-five I realized that it was adapted from a book by the same title, written by John O’Hara and I could not wait to get my hands on it and devour it. I searched everywhere – high and low, but could not find it anywhere. This was way before the online shopping mania struck us. Somehow, I managed to find three of his novels in one book – Appointment in Samarra, BUtterfield 8 and Hope of Heaven. I devoured BUtterfield 8 in one sitting and loved it.

It was Elizabeth Taylor who played Gloria Wandrous so well, that somehow she stayed in my mind. I lost my copy and then got a chance to reread it – a fantastic Penguin Drop Cap edition of the book and it just felt the same way, the first time I read it.

BUtterfield 8 is set in New York. It is New York in 1931 and it is glamorous and ruthless at the same time. It is a society yet to pick up its pieces from the Great Depression and yet it puts on a show and façade for all to see. One Sunday morning, Gloria wakes up in a stranger’s apartment, with a torn evening dress, stockings and a pair of panties. She has nothing to wear. She steals a mink coat from the wardrobe and starts a chain of events – all strangers interconnected by that one action of hers – which but obviously only ends in tragedy for her. This in short is the plot of the book.

O’Hara’s story is bold and candid and Gloria somehow becomes an icon. An icon that no one wants to aspire to be, however she does instil courage and determination in readers. O’Hara’s pen gives us lines full of wit, candour and irony. The only problem with BUtterfield 8 is that there are too many characters in it – that flash and go and then come back, leaving the reader confused at some point.

I guess the beauty of his novels lay in honesty. He told it like he saw it, without sugar-coating anything and in that, lays the genius of a writer. I knew that there could be no other end to the story and yet the writing somehow makes you hopeful to want more for Gloria, than just a doomed love-affair. I guess if that kind of powerful writing hits you, then all you need is hot chocolate and to switch off the cell-phone and devour this book in one straight sitting.

Here is the trailer of the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor: