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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Don Quixote, Books 1-3 by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

I'll admit, I was quite looking forward to this. I like reading classics and I like reading foreign literature, so this should be right up my alley, seeing as it ticks both boxes. That was until I figured out that it shares a problem that I highlighted in my review of Pamela.

Don Quixote follows the misadventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha, a wealthy landowner who deludes himself into thinking that he is a knight-errant after he reads too many courtly romances. It's meant to be a satire of the courtly romance genre, which was so popular at the time.
The problem with this is that, for me at least, the satire fails by not being amusing. There is a reason for this: it's the one that I alluded to in the introduction. My main problem with the events depicted thus far is that they're utterly horrifying when you consider them with a modern perspective. The protagonist is a mentally ill person who lets himself loose upon the countryside and potentially ruining many people's lives. Here's an example that sprang to my mind: you see the hat that he's wearing in that book cover up there? That was the spoils of charging at a barber surgeon, totally without warning, with a lance; if you think of that in more modern terms, that's the news story when someone gets attacked by a crazy homeless man with a knife after he decides that he's taken a liking to the traffic cone that the victim decided would be a good idea to wear after a party. That's far from the worst of it either: he tramples an entire herd of sheep because he thinks that they're a pagan army in one instance, and in another he sets loose a group of convicted criminals. Am I just supposed to forget the consequences of his actions here? For all I know, that flock of sheep was someone's only means of sustenance and those criminals could have wreaked havoc following their release. I fail to see what I'm meant to find funny here; certainly, it's absurd, which can count for comedy, but in this case it's just sad to watch the delusions of an old man who has no idea what he's doing.

There are two books left of this, but I'm not sure that I'll get round to reading them. Technically, I suppose this counts as a DNF, but I feel that I should still rate this. I didn't like this because it felt wrong to laugh at the misfortunes of a mentally ill person. I suppose that those who can get past that might enjoy it, but for me it just presented too big a problem. 1/5

Next review: That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda

Signing off,

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Outsider by Albert Camus

The Outsider is the other book that I have had to re-read for my university reading list. It is a book that I first read in college, so about three or four years ago. My classmates at the time, who also had to read it, were less than enthusiastic about it; for me, it was something of a revelation.

The plot follows the life of a French Algerian named Meursault in the months after the death of his mother. His reaction is an unusual one to say the least: while many would have spent months grieving and adjusting to the loss of a parent, his response is to continue life as he has always done, with little to no remorse. This oddly muted behaviour continues to baffle his friends, but is otherwise considered harmless, until one day he kills a man for no reason; but now, in the public eye, his behaviour appears monstrous and his muted emotions evidence of a complete lack of human feeling. From the premise, I can see why many people would be put off; certainly, the lack of empathy with Meursault is the one complaint that I always hear. But for me, feeling empathy for Meursault isn't why I like this book: I already know that I won't ever understand him as a person. I like this book because I admire Meursault's guiding principle, even if I understand its limitations. What I admire about Meursault is his adoration and strict adherence to the truth, at least as he is able to express it; he doesn't exaggerate or lie about his feelings for the benefit of society or to make life easy. I may not agree with his reactions to situations, but at the same time I can't help but admire his straightforward attitude. In terms of personal philosophies, I can also admire his habit of living in the present, appreciating what he has and not deluding himself with the idea that if he somehow had a different life everything would be wonderful.

I suppose that this review has been more of a personal retrospective than an actual review. What I would say is that this is worth at least an attempt at reading. For me it was a light after several years of bullying and other socialising issues, and I'm sure that it can mean a lot to many other people. It can, on the other hand, seem completely alien and uninteresting. But at the very least, I would at least give it an attempt. 4.5/5

Next review: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Signing off,

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Well now, onto my reading list for university. I decided that I would start it off by re-reading the ones that I've already read through at one time or another. Hence why this review was changed last minute from Windfall to Dracula, a title that I haven't actually read in full since high school. I had some issues with it then, so a large part of me was wondering whether I would still have problems with it now, or whether it was part of being young and stupid.

For those of you who have really been living under a rock for years, Dracula chronicles the stories of a group of people whose lives are changed completely by the intrusion of Count Dracula, a powerful vampire who has grown tired of feeding in his home in Romania and decides to make a new feeding ground in Victorian London. Our plucky group decide that this just isn't on, so they band together to stop Dracula from filling London with the undead. It's a pretty basic story really: monster enters, monster is destroyed by pinnacles of society at the time. But Dracula does have several factors in its favour that stop it from being boring. First, is Count Dracula himself; he is still genuinely creepy after all these years. I suppose it's the fact that he starts off acting so charming towards Jonathan Harker that when he shows his true colours, he is all the more chilling because of his former charm. The other aspect is that this is an interesting kind of time capsule in regards to Victorian society, particularly the characters and their roles in society. The people that make up the intrepid group hunting Dracula are taken from various important groups in society: for example, there are Jonathan Harker and Dr Seward, a lawyer and a doctor respectively, representing the growing middle classes, and then Arthur Holmwood representing the traditional aristocracy; the fact that they are embracing the new technology that comes of the industrial revolution is also very interesting, especially in the way that it is juxtaposed with the traditions and superstitions that were slowly being phased out at the time.
The one real con that I have with the book is one that may surprise you. It's the Count. Well, not the Count as a concept, more the Count's actions in the book; his conduct as an antagonist is moronic. This is actually the problem that I had with Dracula the first time I read it. In choosing his victims, Dracula doesn't seem to do his homework all that well. First he torments Jonathan Harker by locking him in Castle Dracula with three undead women; his first real victim upon reaching England is the best friend of Jonathan Harker's fiancée. Having turned said best friend into the undead, he proceeds to target the group again, this time most definitely on purpose, by biting Mina Harker. If you're trying to set up a new life spreading death and disaster upon a new country, surely the last thing you want is to make your presence known to a specific group of people that you happen not to like? And even if you do insist on persecuting a particular group of people, why on earth a group of people with an insane amount of pooled knowledge and assets? Seriously, there are no lower-class heroes or heroines in Dracula; if there had been, the vampire would have won. As it was, the targeting of a group who can afford to chase you back to Transylvvania was a monumentally stupid idea. The afterword mentions the idea of persecution as a leftover from his life as a Romanian prince, but that just seems like trying to defend an element of the novel that is ridiculous no matter how you look at it.

Overall, I would definitely give Dracula a try; it's a classic for a reason and has more than stood up to the test of time. Dracula's actions are kind of stupid when you really think about it, but as a whole it is a very solid read. 4/5

Next review: The Outsider by Albert Camus

Signing off,