The Classics Club: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

My result for The Classics Club’s last wonderful Spin feature was The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I was pleased with this result as have been keen to read more of Dickens’s work. Sadly when the Christmas holiday finally arrived my brain needed a rest and I couldn’t face the length of The Pickwick Papers. Instead I decided to go with A Christmas Carol a shorter and more seasonal work by Dickens.

A Christmas Carol joins the famous miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit who are still working on Christmas Eve. Scrooge finally allows Cratchit to leave and agrees to him having Christmas day off as long as he starts early on Boxing day. With that Scrooge returns to his dingy rooms to spend Christmas alone. But Scrooge’s lonely revelry is broken when his dead business partner Jacob Marley comes to him to warn him that he is to be visited by three spirits. The first spirit is the ghost of Christmas past, next the ghost of Christmas present and finally the ghost of Christmas future. All show him scenes to reflect his life and the life to come if he doesn’t change his ways. The story of A Christmas Carol is probably known to most people whether you’ve read the book or not due to all the different film, TV and stage adaptations. I grew up watching The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) as a child. The fact I knew the story already didn’t take anything away from this wonderful tale though.

Ebenezer Scrooge the protagonist of A Christmas Carol is as well known if not more so than the story itself. The name Scrooge along with ‘bah-humbug’ has long been in our vocabulary for a miserable, ungenerous and Christmas spoiling individual. Ebenezer is a great character I can see why he has stayed in the imaginations of so many people. He starts off twisted, miserable and completely devoid of hope. You’d like to hate him but he is too pitiable for that for me. Then as the three spirits show him scenes from his past, present and those that could happen in the future. Ebenezer goes through an almost magical transformation as the layers of greed, age and bad experiences are peeled away from him. Revealing the nicer person he had the possibility to become as a child.

 A Christmas Carol is the first work by Dickens where I didn’t find his language convoluted or too highly detailed in fact I thought the language was just right. A Christmas Carol is only a novella unlike Dickens’s other much longer works but he still manages to pack a real good story into its pages. The plot was simpler and there were far less main characters than previous works I have read. I really enjoyed seeing Dickens focus in so intently on one character. I found it refreshing. Of course Ebenezer isn’t alone Dickens still fits some of his colourful characters into the story including: poor Bob Cratchit, his wife and children particularly Tiny Tim, miserly Jacob Marley, warm-hearted Mr and Mrs Fezziwig, Ebenezer’s long-lost lover and his kind and friendly nephew Fred.

A Christmas Carol is a slightly creepy but warm-hearted tale of redemption perfect for the Christmas holiday. I highly recommend reading this novella. This is my 19th read off my Classics Club list. I look forward to reading The Pickwick Papers soon.

Have you read A Christmas Carol?

New Read: A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob

I recently read City of Bones by Cassandra Clare which was lent to me by a family friend. Branching off in a completely different tangent that same friend lent me their copy of A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen. This is a memoir I had heard wonderful things about and I was really keen to read it so I started it pretty much straight away.

A Street Cat Named Bob is a touching and up-lifting tale of what happened when James meets Bob the street cat. James has been addicted to drugs and living rough on the streets of London for many years when he finds a stray cat on the stairs of his sheltered accommodation block. James knows he barely has the food to feed himself and yet he finds himself really drawn to helping this cat. James names the cat Bob and they are soon to strike up a strong bond. The adventures and misadventures that James and Bob are to find themselves in are to reshape their lives forever. The two are to find hope on the streets of London together. I thought A Street Cat Named Bob was such a charming tale which I found rather hard to put down because I really wanted to find out what happened to the pair next. I found I was really invested in finding out if they were going to be okay. James’s descriptions of his life busking on the streets is a sad one and really makes you think harder about your own life.

Both James and Bob are really likeable characters. James has made many mistakes in his life which he is open and candid about in this memoir. James is at heart a good guy and has been learning from the mistakes of his past. Though he has finally got himself off the streets and off heroine onto methadone James doesn’t start this memoir off with much hope. In steps Bob. An intelligent ginger tom with a lot of love and hope to give. The pair were pretty much made for each other and I loved reading about their transformative relationship.

A Street Cat Named Bob was the brain child of literary agent Mary Pachnos who approached James and Bob while they were selling the Big Issue on the streets of London. James not long after sat down with the writer Garry Jenkins to form his life into a coherent story. The style of A Street Cat Named Bob is simple and easy; no pretensions are taken with the language used. It felt like James was given the freedom to use his own words as much as possible while Jenkins was just there for support. Which meant that the memoir felt natural and contained a lot of the personality of James and Bob.

A Street Cat Named Bob is an utterly charming memoir of the touching and transformative friendship of James and his cat Bob. I highly recommend to all!

Have you read about James and Bob? Any recommendations for similar memoirs?

The Classics Club: Bleak House

Bleak House

After finishing The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald the last novel I read off my Classics Club list I found myself in the mood for Dickens. As if it was fate my result from  The Classics Club Spin was Bleak House by Charles Dickens! I started this book during the unpredictable weather of June and finished it in the glorious heat of July. I didn’t quite finish it in time to post about it for the 1st July deadline but I am still very proud to have finished this very long classic.

Bleak House is mysterious, harrowing, and thrilling in equal parts. This twisting tale is narrated by Esther a young orphan. Esther’s childhood isn’t a loving one on the death of her aunt Esther is sent to a boarding school where she starts to discover love. Finally as a young woman she is sent for by her mysterious benefactor Mr Jarndyce who wishes her to become a companion and house keeper. It is living at Bleak House with Mr Jarndyce, and his two other wards Ada and Richard that Esther finally finds real contentment. However there is a cloud looming over the inhabitants of Bleak House and that is the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case. A law suit that has been raging for years of which Mr Jarndyce, Ada, and Richard are all embroiled in. Esther seems to be the only one with the heart to bring them all together away from the disturbing influence of that draining case. Yet Esther is to be faced with her own problems when the death of an unknown man ‘Nemo’ is to bring to light secrets from her own past. Bleak House is one of Dickens longest novels for good reason; there is just so much going on! I found the beginning of the novel was a little slower to get into what with the vast cast of characters I had to be introduced to. Once all the characters and threads were introduced though I couldn’t put this book down.

Bleak House similarly to my two previous Dickens reads Oliver Twist and Great Expectations is narrated by an orphan, but unlike the two previous this orphan is a female which I thought made a refreshing change. Esther is a wonderful character who I instantly liked. She is kind, loving, sensible, brave and almost completely self-less. However she isn’t perfect and she does recognise that which makes a more believable character. In Bleak House Esther is joined by a host of interesting and colourful characters. I wouldn’t expect any less from Dickens. We have the kind but rather eccentric Mr Jarndyce, the beautiful Ada, hopeless Richard, the childish Mr Skimpole, the boisterous Mr Boythorn, the calculating Mr Tulkinghorn, the distant Lady Dedlock, the brave Mr George, the devious Grandfather Smallweed, and many, many more than I could possibly name here! As I said above it did take sometime to be introduced to all these characters, and to get them all straight in my head. Once I had though they all added something to the mystery and enjoyment of this novel. Although as there were so many I’m not sure individuals were as memorable as those from my previous reads.

I still find that Dickens’s use of language is rather convoluted and highly detailed but the more of his work I read the easy I find it is to get into the flow of his style. Once I’m into the style I find I am free to just get lost in the story. And boy, can Dickens weave a great story. I said this about my previous Dickens read Great Expectations but this time I really mean it. Bleak House really is the most intricate and twisting tales I’ve read of his so far! There were a lot of characters and threads in this novel which made it at first a slow start but I think Dickens weaved them all together beautifully by the end of the novel. And even though I knew the basic premise of the story from a TV adaptation I had watched before I still found Dickens had some surprises up his sleeves for me. Hence why I tried to keep my summary of the story as vague as possible. I would hate to spoil the mystery for anyone who hasn’t read this yet.

 Bleak House was a mysterious and thrilling look into the light and dark aspects of Victorian London. I highly recommend reading this novel. This is now my 14th read off my Classics Club list. I now have a copy of The Pickwick Papers, and digital copies of A Christmas Carol and  A Tale of Two Cities to choose from for my next Dickens read.

Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? What Dickens’s novel do you think I should read next?

The Classics Club: Great Expectations

Great Expectations

After reading and enjoying Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens at the end of 2012 I have been even more keen to read more of Dickens work. Already having Great Expectations on my to-be-read pile pretty much made up my mind which of Dickens’s work would be my next read. As the cold weather seems to have descended on the UK again I thought Great Expectations would be a great read to snuggle up in a blanket with as the dark nights drew in.

Great Expectations follows the life of a young orphaned boy nicknamed Pip. When we join young Pip he is living with his strict sister and her big-hearted husband Joe Gargery. At which point Pip has little to no expectations other than to join Joe as an apprentice in his smithy. A series of strange events and encounters are to set Pip on a completely different road though. As a young man he is visited by a London lawyer who informs him that he has a secret benefactor who wishes to pay for Pip to become a gentleman. Pip moves to London with his great expectations looking to make a name for himself and finally claim the hand of the woman he loves. Great Expectations reminded me of a previous Dickens’s read Nicholas Nickleby because they both span a great deal of one individual’s life. There was plenty of time to really get to know Pip, his virtues as well as his faults and failings, and how he goes on to grow and change from a boy into a man.

As I said above the last Dickens’s novel I read was Oliver Twist which as many of you will know follows the trials and tribulations of the orphan Oliver. It was hard not to find myself comparing the two orphans against each other, even though I don’t believe it is necessarily a fair comparison. Oliver is a highly loving, patient, and well-mannered child but we only really see him during his younger years. Pip on the other hand is no angel but I do think Pip is honest about his own faults and on the whole his heart does seem to be in the right place. The real crucial difference though is that I got to see Pip grow. From a confused, self-conscience, and naive boy, to a proud, foolish but generous young man, to finally a loyal, loving, and sensible man. It is not an easy road but in the end I think Pip becomes a good man. I particularly loved watching his transformation.

I still find that Dickens’s use of language is rather convoluted and highly detailed but the more of his work I read the easy to get into the flow of his style is. Once I’m into the style I find I am free to just get lost in the story. And boy, can Dickens weave a wonderful story. This one in particularly is the most intricate and twisting tales I’ve read of his so far. Yet like previous novels what really makes Dickens novels for me is the vast array of colourful characters. I read recently the criticism that Dickens’s characters are rather one-dimensional and more caricatures rather than real people. I can see where they are coming from his characters are very over the top but that’s what make them so memorable for me. And in Great Expectations I wasn’t disappointed along the way we meet the simple but big-hearted Joe, the mysterious lawyer Jaggers, heart-broken Miss Havisham, ridiculous Mr Pumblechook, the cold and beautiful Estella, friendly Herbert Pocket, several scary convicts, and many, many more. I particular loved Joe, I would love my own Joe Gargery.

Great Expectations is a charming and exciting journey seen through the eyes of young orphan trying to find himself and make his way in Victorian England. I highly recommend reading this novel. This is now my 11th read off my Classics Club list. I now have copies of A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Pickwick Papers to choose from for my next Dickens read.

Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? What Dickens’s novel do you think I should read next?

New Read: London Blitz Diary

WWII Diary

Looking back on my reading of late I’ve noticed I’ve read a lot of fantasy based books both fiction and non-fiction. After finishing off Believing in Faeries (A Manual for Grown Ups)  by Marcia Zina Mager I decided I was in the mood for a bit of real life so for my next non-fiction read I thought a memoir would be a good choice. The WWII element drew me towards the World War II London Blitz Diary: Volume 1 by Ruby Side Thompson which was edited and released by Ruby’s great-granddaughter Victoria Aldridge Washuk.

Ruby and her husband Ted have been married for 34 years, have raised seven sons, and are settled in a comfortable house in the suburb of London. At the outbreak of war only there two youngest sons (twins) are left at home and both enlist early into the forces. Arthur into the army and Cuthie into the RAF. Ruby is a keen reader and writer, and appears to have kept a diary for a long time. She uses her diary as a way to air her inner thoughts that she feels she can’t share with anyone else. Ruby has a difficult relationship with her husband, and later on she also has the anger and fear that comes with having sons off fighting to share. This diary wasn’t an easy or a happy read but I did find Ruby as a person, her relationship with her family, and reactions to the war around her to be pretty fascinating.

As fascinating as I found Ruby I can’t say I particularly liked her as a person. I totally sympathised with Ruby and the difficulties she has with the distant, argumentative, and often cold behaviour she receives from her husband Ted. Ruby herself though is no saint she can be highly critical of others and can sometimes come across quite selfish. Yet Ruby doesn’t claim to be a saint unlike Ted so that is definitely something in her favour. I’m probably being hard on her. The problem is that with a diary you get to read all the nastier thoughts and opinions of Ruby that she would probably never dream to share with those people the thoughts involve. That said you don’t necessarily have to like a character to want to read about them. Ruby is an avid reader and is seeking a connection with God (separate to that of her fanatical Catholic husband) so on these levels I could certainly relate to Ruby and liked hearing what she had to say.

Ruby’s writing is rather sporadic. At some points she is writing almost everyday while other times the days seem to fly because there are less entries made. Ruby’s writing style also changes at some points her entries are long, flowing, and detailed especially when she is having a rant. While at other times her entries are short and clipped, more like a list of the important facts. This style of entry became more frequent as the diary got further into the war and I would imagine that is because Ruby finds herself with less time and more stress! The diary didn’t contain as much detail about the war as I first imagined it would. Ruby only really writes about what affects her day-to-day life which is actually really interesting, because when she does start to mention the war more you realise that the war is slowly starting to affect civilians more and more.

World War II London Blitz Diary: Volume 1 is an interesting look in the life of a wife and mother in the years of 1939 to 1940. I recommend to those interested in memoirs, history, and women’s literature. There are several more volumes to this diary which I think I would be interested to read too.

Have you any recommendations for other World War II diaries/memoirs?

The Classics Club: Oliver Twist

With my recent blues I have not been in the mood for brand new reads, choosing to get lost in childhood favourite The Hobbit instead. Once I had finished that I decided to move onto Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens because I thought it would be a good go-between of the new and the familiar. I have never read the novel before but it is very hard not to know the story of the little orphan Oliver due to the musical, films, and television adaptations. This turned out to be a wonderful choice. I found a lot of comfort in discovering known to me characters in their original context.

Oliver Twist is a harrowing adventure that follows a young orphaned boy trying to survive in Victorian England. Oliver is born in the work house which in Victorian times then places a stain upon his character by others in the community. A stain Oliver finds very hard to escape from. While I have always felt sorry for Oliver from other sources I have seen the character in, I was not prepared for how much more the novel would make me feel. Any child in Oliver’s position would be heart-breaking to read about but Oliver is no ordinary child; he has such a pure and honest heart that many in the novel just don’t wish to acknowledge. I found it hard to put this novel down because I was so keen to see Oliver escape his situation, but as he seems to escape one bad situation he falls into other just as bad situations. Dickens highlights very successfully in this novel what a vicious cycle life could be like for a pauper child in this time period.

Before reading Oliver Twist I had only read one other novel by Dickens which was Nicholas Nickleby. This was some years ago now. I do remember enjoying the story and characters however I found the language hard to get into. With several more years of reading experience I was hoping I would have better luck with my second foray into Dickens work, and I was right. I still feel Dickens’s use of language is rather convoluted and highly detailed but it didn’t take me long to get into the flow of the style. Once I was into the style I found I was free to just get lost in the story. And boy, can Dickens weave a wonderful story.

What I was surprised about how much of an adventure Oliver Twist turned out to be. Before reading this I always imagined all the story took place in the back streets of London but there are in fact many locations and situations Oliver finds himself in. What I feel really makes the story though are all the interesting and colourful characters that Oliver meets during his journey. The pompous and silly Beagle Mr Bumble, slimy Noah Claypole, the slick Artful Dodger, the kind and patient Mr Brownlow, the angelic Rose, the fallen Nancy, the dark and brutal Sikes, and of course the one we all know; the sneaky, conniving and ruthless old Jew Fagin. And that is only mentioning about half of the characters! I think the variety of strong characters is maybe the secret as to why Dickens novels have been so well-loved and adapted over the years.

Oliver Twist is a wonderfully touching and insightful fictional look into a world gone by. I highly recommend reading this novel. This is now my 6th book towards The Classics Club. I am now really looking forward to cracking open my copy of Great Expectations.

Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it?