The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is a prolific and engaging storyteller known for the occasional touch of magical realism and an ability to transport her reader into the worlds she creates.

She wrote one of my favourite books Blackbird House, referred to by some as a collection of short stories, the connecting thread running through each story being an old Massachusetts house, the narrative tracing the lives of its various occupants over a span of 200 years. The house bears witness to change through each family’s loved ones and the lives they live inside Blackbird House.

Since that haunting book I have kept an eye out for her work and when I read the premise of this new novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I was more than intrigued. It is set in 1917 New York, when things of a freakish nature fascinated and amusement parks were becoming bigger and bolder in their scope, trying to outdo each other with what they offered the public.

Museum of Extraordinary Things

Professor Sardie is an eccentric French scientist and magician, who came to America seeking his fortune and when we meet him, he has opened a museum of extraordinary living oddities in a room connected to his home on Coney Island, New York. He lives there with his daughter Coralie and Maureen, the woman he has hired to take care of his daughter, herself an extraordinary being, a loving and devoted carer and the victim of disfiguring burns over her face and body.

In addition to the museum, he is constantly thinking up new exhibits and working on bizarre projects in the basement cellar, a den that no one but he has access to.

The story has a dual narrative, firstly from the point of view of his daughter Coralie who becomes part of her father’s exhibit alongside performers including the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. She has been trained since a small girl to withstand extreme cold and secretly swims along the Hudson River to build up her strength.

The second narrative is from the perspective of a young Russian-Ukrainian immigrant, Eddie Cohen, who has drifted away from his father and the Lower East Side Orthodox community where they lived, having fled persecution in their homeland. Leaving his job as a tailor’s apprentice, he first works for a psychic investigator finding missing people and then attaches himself to a photographer leading eventually to work for a newspaper. He too has a fascination with the Hudson River and it is here that Coralie will catch her first glimpse of the young man, she will become fascinated by.

“A motherless boy is hardened in many ways yet will often search for a place to deposit his loyalty and devotion. Eddie had found this in the city he saw as one great and tormented beauty, one ready to embrace him when all others turned away.”

Dreamland Circus, Coney Island, New York  1917

Dreamland Circus, Coney Island, New York 1917

Hoffman writes the story of the lives of these two characters and others, eventually bringing them together, while sharing two significant tragic events in New York’s history in 1911. During one of these events a young woman goes missing and it is this mystery that will ultimately bring the young couple together.

The city and the river are themselves like characters, struggling to live in harmony, with the knowledge that one will eventually encroach on the other and destroy its peaceful surrounding. For now the river is like a refuge and the city a menace that threatens to overthrow its flanks, bringing dark elements to its shores.

Wolf Hudson

The Museum of Extraordinary Things brings New York City and the conditions of 1911 alive. The river, the streets and the changing landscape between them are sketched using all the senses as we step into the lives of characters living on the edge of society trying to survive. We observe those for whom it comes naturally to exploit the weak while witnessing the compassionate few who will risk everything including life itself to do the opposite.

It is a riveting read, transporting us to an era when fantasy and the imagination were sought as a literal means of escape and we look behind the scenes of an extraordinary, freakish world. Spellbinding!

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy(ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Write A Book Review, Anyone Can Do It

GyannA little while ago I received a request from Corinne, an inspirational blogger from Mumbai in India, who shares her thoughts on keeping life simple, authentic and holistic at Everyday Gyann.

She recently started another blog called Write Tribe – Motivation and Support for Writers and Bloggers.  Write Tribe sometimes offers books for review to its followers and as Corinne is a loyal follower of Word by Word, she asked if I could write a post on How to Write a Book Review.

Write Tribe

I’m not a rule follower myself, but I decided to share my thoughts on this habit I have been practising for the last two years, as when something becomes a regular habit, there develop patterns. So I wrote 10 tips on writing a book review and then added number 11 which is to ignore the rules!

The Review Notebooks!

The Review Notebooks!

If you would like to read my thoughts on writing a book review, you can read them in Corinne’s three-part series over at Write Tribe, just follow the links below.

How To Write A Book Review – Part 1

How To Write A Book Review – Part 2

How To Write A Book Review – Part 3

Thanks again Corinne for the invitation and I hope this might encourage readers of this blog who might have been considering it, to go ahead and write a review too.

Claire

The Missing One by Lucy Atkins

The Missing OneFellow French resident Rosemary who blogs at Aussie in France, mentioned this book after reading my review of Hélène Gestern’s The People in the Photo, a novel written in letters, which is also an unravelling of a mystery, where a woman seeks to understand who her mother really was in those years before she was born.

GesternIn Gestern’s book, the mother died when the daughter was only 4 years old, it took her more than 30 years to begin searching.

Lucy Atkins protagonist Kal is 38 years old, the mother of an 18 month old boy Finn and living in England when her mother dies. It is both her death and the discovery of suspicious text messages on her husbands telephone that prompt her somewhat irrational, spur of the moment decision to dig into her mother’s past, the period around her birth, when she lived in North America.

Kal is grieving not just her mother’s death, but a loss she can’t explain, the reason her relationship with her mother was so fraught, what it was she reminded her of that seemed to cause such angst. On an impulse, she runs away from confronting her own relationship difficulties, an escape that carries her to the small island of Spring Tide, near Vancouver to find Susannah, a woman who sent her mother a postcard on the same day every year, a friend she had never ever mentioned.

Orca by Ayman

Orca by Ayman

Lucy Atkins brings an air of tension and menace to the story, as those with knowledge of the questions Kal is asking actively avoid answering to prevent her from finding out. She creates a story with pace and suspense while a captivating back-story recounts to the reader little by little the events that occurred in her mother Elena’s life leading up to her birth.

The author evokes this sense of place well, although for a British woman arriving on a small Canadian island for the first time, she makes few observations relating to its foreignness, we forget that she is in a place where we would likely be noticing many of the differences of a foreign culture, although it might be said that Kali is completely blinded by her grief and outrage, because she makes plenty of decisions that will make the average reader gasp in disbelief. If anything, England felt more foreign and the wildness of Canada described with real familiarity.

Orca by Allia

Orca by Allia

The author uses a dual narrative technique to tell  a little of the back-story of Kal’s mother Elena’s life.  She met her British husband while doing a PhD at a university in California, and as the story will reveal, ended up in Canada.

The narrative around the mother and the sharing of her passion for sea creatures, their unique behaviours, relationships and ways of communicating – did you know that orca whales speak in different dialects? – was a fascinating distraction from the drama of our foolhardy heroine and the not so friendly friend she pursued for enlightenment.

Atkin’s uses various “mystery” devices to create intrigue, like failing to mention characters that would have been present in the narrative and mind of the character, and although this sometimes interrupted my reading occasionally, ultimately I just wanted to continue to know what was going to happen, especially as there was a young child involved!

An Island Floathouse

An Island Floathouse

It was an enjoyable read  even though I was a aware at times of the author pulling strings in the narrative to create effect and had to try to stop myself from expecting that Kal act more sensibly or true to her instinct, as anyone who has ever had an 18 month old baby would likely agree, her journey was indeed just what she needed to teach her some sense.

I took this book with me on a flight to London and it was the perfect in-flight read, no likelihood of dozing with The Missing One, you’ll want to stay awake until its finished.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley and Artwork provided by my children, one who likes to draw, the other who likes to make digital art. Yes, it’s the school holidays!

The Foundling Boy – Le jeune homme vert by Michel Déon

Foundling2Thank you to publisher Gallic Books, who noticing that I had recently read The Lost Domain (le Grand Meaulnes) by Alain-Fournier suggested I might also enjoy Michel Déon’s The Foundling Boy. Originally written in French Le jeune homme vert was first published in 1975 and now translated into English for the first time, is beginning to be enjoyed by readers of the English language.

Set in Grangeville, Normandy in the inter-war years prior to WWII, it is a coming-of-age story of the young Jean Arnaud, who starts his life in a basket on the doorstep of Albert, a one-legged war veteran, now a pacifist gardener cum caretaker  and his wife Jeanne, who raise the child as their own.

Jean grows up in the shadow of Michel and Antoinette, children of Antoine de Couseau, an errant landowner whose father built up a fortune, only for his son to slowly lose it all – unsurprisingly as much of the first 200 pages is spent in his company, a man who whenever challenged by his wife or confronted by business decisions, takes to his latest model Bugatti, a car he replaces every year and heads south, following what becomes a well-worn trail via Lyon, Aix, St Tropez to Menton, allegedly to see his grown daughter Genevieve, recuperating in a hospital residence from lung problems.

The visits rarely last longer than a wave from the window before he heads off to enjoy the hospitality and warm sheets of various mistresses en route and this being France of course, the husbands all take it in their stride.

There is a real fascination throughout the novel for unique cars that love to take to the road. I went back to look at the references which I probably glossed over in my first read, now much more knowledgeable about Ettore Bugatti and his racing cars, from the 1923 Type 22 here on the left through many other models to the 1938 57SC Atlantic on the right. And Antoine de Couseau is not the only character whom Jean Arnaud meets, to possess a similar fascination. For being raised a peasant, he has seen many a luxurious interior when it comes to cars.

Jean too, has a love of his bike and travel and will spend four days in London, developing a taste and allure for freedom and adventure and not long after will follow in the footsteps of the writer Stendhal to Milan, Florence and Rome, meeting up with Ernst, a German lad who is following a similar trail in the footsteps of Goethe, his father’s hero – having swapped his son’s copy of Mein Kampf for Goethe’s Italienische Reise (Italian Journey).

Arnauds JourneyThe two young men share adventures, debate philosophical perspectives and encounter the fragility of friendship in the face of prejudice and racism.

Losing everything and having almost become the amoureux slave of a restaurant proprietor, who offers him a job so he can earn enough money to return home, Jean finally returns making the acquaintance of Palfry on his way, only to discover things at home vastly changed.

Throughout all Jean’s experiences, there are the interactions with family, friends, neighbours, villagers and people he meets along the way, it is not enough to accept the wisdom of others, he wants to explore for himself, whether it is the landscapes of neighbouring countries or the social acquaintances of his friend Palfry, a man who gave him a ride in his car dressed as a priest and whom he meets at various stages in his life who teaches him that things are not always as they seem. Ultimately, this searching might also be to understand who he really is, something within him, but that he also seeks outside from those he knows, the mystery of his birth.

“What is certain is that, overnight, Jean Arnaud matured by several years, learning that a priest may also be a plotter, and that without being thieves and murderers men might have to hide from the police because they were defending a noble cause. The world was not built of flawless blocks, of good and bad, of pure and impure. More subtle divisions undermined the picture he had so far been given of morality and duty. “

Fairly early on, it occurred to me that nearly every female character was caricatured as something of an object, the neighbour’s daughter, the house-maids, the women Antoine de Courseau encounters on his travels, even his daughter Geneviève becomes a ‘kept’ woman.

While it is an engaging and entertaining read, that moves along at the rambling, colourful pace of a joy-ride in a Bugatti, it began to feel like a book written for men, for it is they who travel (with the exception perhaps of Geneviève), have adventures, engage in meaningful banter, witty dialogue and to whom much of the advice within is given.

I admit to a moment of despair in being unable to think of one woman with redeeming qualities, that a female reader might relate to, why even the landlady of the Bed & Breakfast in Dover drags the poor 13-year-old youth off to the pub keeping him there till closing, Jean’s first impression of England is certainly one that stays long in his memory.

Jean purchases himself a notebook early on in his journeys and in his letters and notes, we are witness to how he begins to see the world:

I’ve bought myself a notebook where I’ve started making a few notes:

a) Duplicity: absolutely necessary for a life without dramas. You have to harden your heart. I need to be capable, without blushing to my roots, of sleeping with a woman and then being a jolly decent chap to her lover or husband. This is essential. Without it society would be impossible.

I guess, we could just say it is delightfully French and certainly the women are not portrayed as victims, quite the opposite in many cases, but they did make this reader pause for reflection. An eye-opening, memorable journey through the European landscape whilst inhabiting a very French culture and perspective.

Michel Déon inhabits his male characters with pride and indeed enjoys himself so much, he can’t help but put himself into the narrative from time to time speaking with much enthusiasm and familiarity directly to the reader. And with good reason, for it has been said of his young hero that:

“The character of Jean Arnaud has been heralded as one of French literature’s great adolescents, alongside Flaubert’s Frédéric Moreau, Stendhal’s Julien Sorel and Alain-Fournier’s Augustin Meaulnes.”

les vingt ans

Michel Déon has the last say, as he leaves Jean Arnaud in a military camp on the eve of war, a sealed envelope in his pocket with instructions not to open it unless he is in extreme need, his life full of promise yet hardly begun by telling us not to worry about those things he has not revealed, that here he was a foundling boy and in another book, he will tell the story of how his protagonist becomes a man.

The sequel, The Foundling’s War (Les Vingt Ans du Jeune Homme Vert) is due to be translated into English and published also by Gallic Books. I am intrigued to know what Jean Arnaud makes of life given his experience thus far and how war might change him. Watch this space!

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The Extraordinary Happens Every Day

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls

You may remember that last year Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls was one of my few 5 star reads for the year, a young adult novel, it told the story of a teenage boy coping with his mother’s illness and his nightly visits from a tree-like monster creating an allegory that captures the angst and silent rage of a fearful boy like nothing I have ever read.

Not only is the storytelling incredible as well as moving, the author was telling a story that another author Siobhan Dowd wanted to tell, but her own illness kept her from doing so. If you haven’t read it, keep an eye out for it, it is a timeless classic.

I had seen a few reviews for The Crane Wife, an adult novel by Patrick Ness that sounded intriguing and when our local English bookstore put the hardcover version of it out in their sale, I snapped it up and immediately stopped everything I was reading to begin reading. Such is the power of words written by Patrick Ness for this reader. He is a writer who deftly uses a touch of magic realism which I like, not to dwell in it all the time, but when used sparingly with purpose to elevate or create a turning point in a story, I find it no trouble to accept.

The Crane Wife is inspired by the Japanese myth of the same name Ness was read in kindergarten by the Japanese-American teacher he adored, in which a sail maker finds an injured crane and helps it and the next day a mysterious woman walks into his life, whom he falls in love with and marries. She tells him, “I can weave you beautiful sails, as long as you don’t watch me weave”. She does so, they grow rich, until he becomes too consumed by greed and curiosity and breaks his promise, only to experience irretrievable loss.

The_Crane_Wife__pentaptych_by_Crooty

The story stayed with the author over the years and then many years later he heard The Decemberists song The Crane Wife 1 which captured the emotion of the story just as he felt it. It was the catalyst to start writing, he was ready to tell the story that had been in incubation for so long. And what a beautiful song, I can’t stop listening to it myself.

In this novel, George wakes one morning to hear a mournful keening come from his backyard and in the freezing temperatures, investigates to find a large crane with an arrow shot through its wing. He assists the crane and then watches it fly off. The next day in his print shop as he is working on his latest obsession, making paper cut-outs from second-hand abandoned books, in walks a woman we come to know as Kumiko, an event that marks the beginning of an artistic and love bound encounter, touching the lives of George, his daughter Amanda and those close to them.

George is in his 40’s and in something of a comfortable rut, amicably divorced, running his small shop with the help of Mehmet, his assistant and alter-ego. His daughter Amanda lives alone with her son Jean-Pierre, her uncontrollable anger having driven out her French husband, despite their still burning love.

Crane Wife

There is much unsaid between characters and that which is communicated, isn’t always done so as it was intended, until Kumiko and George begin to collaborate through their art, work that affects all who see it, accessing those uncommunicative wordless depths and giving them expression. The work affects them all, artists and observers.

It is a story about humanity, how even those who act out of kindness make mistakes, are tempted by greed and suffer tragic consequences. It is also about how a story changes depends on who is telling it, the power of the imagination in creating different perspectives, viewed in the shadow or in the light. Kumiko says,

‘A story must be told. How else can we live in this world that makes no sense?’

‘How else can we live with the extraordinary?’ George murmured.

‘Yes,’ Kumiko said, seriously. ‘Exactly that. The extraordinary happens all the time. So much, we can’t take it. Life and happiness and heartache and love. If we couldn’t put it into a story-‘

‘And explain it-‘

‘No!’ she said, suddenly sharp. ‘Not explain. Stories do not explain. They seem to, but all they provide is a starting point. A story never ends at the end. There is always after. And even within itself, even by saying that this version is the right one, it suggests other versions, versions that exist in parallel. No, a story is not an explanation, it is a net, a net through which the truth flows. The net catches some of the truth, but not all, never, all, only enough so that we can live with the extraordinary without it killing us.’ She sagged a little, as if exhausted by this speech. ‘As it surely, surely, would.’

In the beginning I was reminded a little of Nick Hornby, the London novel set in a shop, the banter between employer and employee, the vulnerable, angry young woman, the great dialogue and strong characters that come to life from the very first pages and the immediate interest in what will befall them, wondering what consequences their flaws will make manifest. But then Kumiko walks in, a traveller from afar and I remember this is Patrick Ness, something extraordinary is going to happen, even if it is not immediately apparent.

He writes with compassion and as a reader I trust him, whether it’s tragedy, darkness or exhilaration, he handles it all with responsibility, without resorting to cliché and makes me want to slow read every word.

Coincidentally, yesterday on The Guardian, Patrick Ness participated in the books podcast performing an exclusive short story, an addition to his short story collection for adults Topics About Which I Know Nothing which is to be republished and talked to Claire Armistead about writing short stories and the differences in writing for adults and teenagers.

Armistead thought he was being coy about the differences between young adult (YA) and adult fiction, suggesting YA books had a ‘more cheerful trajectory’ to which he replied:

‘I always say the concerns of a teenage novel tend to be about testing your boundaries and finding out who you are and finding out the limits of yourself and crossing those limits and discovering it hurts or discovering that it’s a new thing that you can be and are, and an adult novel tends to be …about someone whose boundaries are already solidified and the story tends to be about what happens when you are taken outside those boundaries or how those boundaries are limited to you …both make for fantastic stories, intellectual ones, complex ones, the concerns might be different, but it’s not a simplistic thing, that you must be direct in one and indirect in another’ Patrick Ness

Literary Blog Hop Winners!

literarybloghop

Thank you so much to you all for entering and participating in the Literary Blog Hop and visiting Word by Word and thanks to Judith at Leeswammes for hosting it.

I was happy to offer two books that I read very recently and given that I read books by authors from 22 countries last year (What Do We Read?), it seemed appropriate to offer a book that had been translated from a foreign language, alongside a shiny new book just published this month.

Therefore, I am delighted to announce two winners, firstly thanks to the Penguin Group for offering a beautiful copy of Robin Oliveira’s historical novel I Always Loved You.

This book will soon be winging its way to …

I Always Loved You

Jenna Sauber!

And for those who courageously put their name down to read this French literary gem, translated into English, Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report will soon be on its way to…

Le Rapport de Brodeck

Le Rapport de Brodeck

Susanna P!

Thanks again to everyone who visited my blog and was able to enter, happy reading to the winners and thank you to those who have decided to follow Word by Word, I hope you find some good recommendations here.

The People in the Photo – Eux sur la photo by Hélène Gestern

Belgravia BooksI have been patiently waiting for this book to be published since discovering it at the same time I learned of the existence of Gallic Books, francophile publishers based in London specialising in bringing a varied collection of excellent French titles across genres to the English reading world. You can buy their books online or at Belgravia Books which specialises in books in translation (5 mins walk from Victoria train station).

I had something of a French literature binge in December, reading Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report, Alain Fournier’s classic The Lost Domain, Faïza Guène’s young adult novel Just Like Tomorrow and a couple of Albert Camus essays in commemoration of his 100th anniversary. And I am set to continue this theme in 2014, perhaps even venturing into reading a few in the original language!

The People in the Photo is Hélène Gestern’s debut novel and centres on 40-year-old Parisian archivist Hélène’s personal endeavour to learn more about her mother Nathalie, who died when she was four-years-old and about whom no-one would ever speak, not her father, nor her step-mother or any other person and she never understood why.

Gestern

Her father has passed away and now her stepmother, the last living connection between her and her mother is seriously unwell, an event that prompts her into action.
Hélène has only one photo of her mother alongside two unknown men and places an advertisement to try to find anyone who might recognise them.

It marks the beginning of a correspondence and indeed much of the novel is in epistolary form, made up of letters and emails, with the exception of extracts that describe the various photos that are uncovered by Hélène and Stéphane, a Swiss biologist, who recognises one of the men in the photo.

The letters add more than just their content to the narrative, they are an adept device for creating pace and intrigue, their length and dates are significant measuring the time that passes, the pauses, the urgency of an occasional email and yet there is an unwillingness to let go of the controlled structure and single dialogue of the letter, their preferred medium; the revealing sign-off salutations a clue to the developing relationship between the two protagonists.

LettersIt is a revelatory journey of two people into the past of their parent’s lives. Inherent in delving into the past, no matter how necessary it may seem, is the risk of deception, disappointment, even horror in enlightenment.

Hélène Gestern deftly captures the seesaw of emotions as both characters experience waves of exhilaration in their search and periods of retreat from the insinuations of discovery, suggestions they aren’t always ready to face the implications of.

At times the characters seemed extraordinarily restrained, upon receiving a box likely to contain pertinent information, Hélène leaves it unopened for days, her excuse – no time or inclination, yet there is always sufficient to write the correspondence. It is understandable in a sense, the fear of what the revelation will bring, then Stéfane does the same, after developing a set of photos, has no time to look at them, yet has time for a 2 hour walk and his correspondence as well.

Perhaps the lure of corresponding with the living, that ever-present possibility of a future still to be enjoyed, sometimes overwhelms the need to continue digging into a dusty, forgotten past that holds little promise of joy. Or it might just be the sign of a compelling read, and our impatience with characters, living or between the pages of a book, who don’t act as we might, were we in their shoes.

It is a captivating read, intensely thought-provoking and intricately plotted, revealing little by little clues to lives lived in a distant era, yet which explain much of the more recent past for two young people allowing them greater understanding and the potential for forgiveness of those who, until their truth was revealed, were to them like shadows of their former selves.

Note: Thank you kindly to Gallic Books for sending me a copy of the book to read and review.

The Literary Blog Hop – #Giveaway

Today and until 12 February, I’m participating in a literary giveaway blog hop hosted by Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog, an avid reader and blogger.

literarybloghop

All the blogs listed below are participating and offering a literary giveaway to readers. Just leave a comment below to be in the draw for my giveaway and visit any of the blogs listed below, to be in with a chance to win a book. This giveaway is open to you all, worldwide!

WIN A COPY of

Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report !

I am giving away a copy of one of the best books I read in 2013, a brilliant English translation of a contemporary French novel and winner of a French literary Prize Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel.

You can read My Review here or the brief summary I wrote immediately upon finishing it.

Quietly devastatingly brilliant. Claudel takes one village which happens to be near the border – and what is a border but an imagined line – of an occupying nation and uses the village and its resident to portray humanity and its many inclinations, when a stranger rides into town, makes himself comfortable and goes about his business, without letting anyone know what that business was.

Brodeck is tasked with writing an account of events that take place and as he does so, he simultaneously writes another account, his own, of what is occurring now and what has happened to them all in the recent past, he tries to make sense of it, as is his nature and to know what to do.

I have another giveaway running concurrently (only open to US readers), if you like historical fiction, I am offering a copy of the recently published I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira recounting the life of the artist Mary Casssat and her friend Edgar Degas in Paris in the late 1800’s. Read my review here and enter the giveaway here.

This is a great opportunity to visit blogs that review literary books and win a book! Entry into the draw via comments are open until 12 February.

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska’s Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia’s Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog

This giveaway is now closed.

Eugene Onegin – Chapters 7 & 8 Alexander Pushkin

Moscow, loved daughter of Russia,

where can we find your equal?

DMITRIEV

Eugene Onegin 7 8Chapter Seven

The beginning of Chapter 7 contains numerous quotes and I have noticed all through my reading of Eugene Onegin that the epigrams are a kind of clue to what will follow. So on reading the four quotes that adorn the first page of this chapter, it is clear that the action is going to take us to that great, revered city, Moscow.

A forlorn Tatyana remains in the countryside, nursing the remnant emotions of an unrequited love, like weeds that grow over the unvisited grave of the poet Lensky.

Dear Tatyana, lover of illusion:

Though there he’s no more to be found,

He’s left sad footprints on the ground.

We learn of the swift healing heart of Olga, wooed by another and whisked down the aisle, her tears dried up and replaced by a smile, abandoning her sister and confidant with not much of a glance behind. Tatyana bereft, walks unbidden, finds herself arriving at the country home of Eugene Onegin, his staff invite her in and show her round like a tourist visiting a noble home, the rooms where our hero entertained his solitary self.

At once Anisia came to greet her,

the doorway opened wide to meet her,

she went inside the empty shell,

in which our hero used to dwell.

Spying a collection of strange books she asks if she can return to read them, opening a window into his soul, one she is less sure of, the marks on the page don’t lie, revealing the thoughts of another reader. She comes to understand him via the page, though they are nothing like those she prefers to lose herself in.

The locals are not happy with her loveless state with no plans to marry, they advise her family to take her to Moscow, after a week of travelling they arrive to stay with family, where Tatyana will meet her cousins and slowly become drawn into their ways.

Moscow’s the place, the marriage-fair!

There’s vacancies in plenty there.

They make subtle changes to prepare her for the social activities and try to pry the secrets of her heart, she resists and even while attending the dance, thinks only of the woods, her flower garden and books .

But while she roams in thought, not caring

for dance, and din, and worldly ways,

a general of majestic bearing

has fixed on her a steady gaze.

Chapter Eight

The narrator expounds his poetic verse, carrying us forward, oft-times veering off course as if he were driving an open air carriage then taking his eye off the road to watch the clouds form or listen to birds and admire the wildflowers, then suddenly we are back in the ballroom, the driver his eyes back on the road and the events as we come to know them gradually unfold.

Tatyana is escorted to a ball and sitting quietly to the side, after all this time who does she spot but Eugene, just returned from travels and roaming, he arrives in the midst of this social whirlabout. Recognising her from a distance, though not sure, he asks the prince next to him, who she is:

Eugene Opera‘Can you say,

Prince, who in that dark-red beret,

just there, is talking to the Spanish

ambassador?’ In some surprise

the prince looks at him, and replies:

‘Wait, I’ll present you – but you banish

yourself too long from social life.’

‘But tell me who she is.’ ‘My wife.’

Two years have passed and time has not stood still, he is introduced to the princess and she is unmoved, he sees no trace of the Tatyana he knew and really isn’t sure if it is the same girl. The prince invites him to a soirée and uncharacteristically he responds in haste, eager to see Tatyana once more and is impatient for the evening to arrive. Tatyana playing the dutiful hostess is serene, Eugene falls for all that he has previously scorned, the madness of love. He finds no solace and surprise, surprise, what does he do, this lovesick fop, but write a letter!

Eugene 8No answer comes. Another letter

he sends, a second, then a third.

No answer comes. He goes, for better

or worse, to a soirée. Unheard

she appears before him, grim and frozen.

No look, no word for him: she’s chosen

to encase herself inside a layer

of Twelfth Night’s chilliest, iciest air.

He turns to his books and finds no reason and then as the seasons pass, one spring day he ventures out to see her, is given an audience with the women he can’t get out of his mind and finds the roles have switched, it is she who now lectures him, reminding him of his own behaviour in reprimanding her, she speaks of her love, but that she now belongs to another, to whom she will be true. She leaves the room and Eugene is thunder-struck – the husband arrives – and now we must leave them, this chase has gone on long enough.

The Verdict

Wow. I made it. A brilliant read-along and an entertaining read, although I am a somewhat cynical reader, in that I find it difficult to believe that Eugene Onegin could have become the man he ends up being, not just because of his character so firmly established, but surely after two years travelling he should have gained a kind of maturity that would have provoked a different outcome than this. Perhaps I should have read it 10 years ago when it was given to me!

Thanks to Marian at Tanglewood for organising the challenge, it’s been fabulous. I totally recommend you all give this classic epic poem a try!

I Always Loved You – #Giveaway

Thanks to the generous team at the Penguin Group, US and today, the day of its publication I offer one lucky reader (you must be resident in the US – sorry) a copy of this fabulous book:

I  ALWAYS  LOVED  YOU

by

Robin Oliveira

I Always Loved You

Read my review here of this historical novel set in 1880’s Paris, which the publisher describes as:

A novelization of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas’s relationship in Belle Époque Paris. It captures the golden age of Impressionism and is peopled with many prominent figures of the movement including artists Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot (the only other prominent female artist working in Paris at that time).

Robin Oliveira writes with grace and uncommon insight into the lives of artists and the passions and foibles of the human heart.

Leave a comment below if you wish to be in the draw to be held on 12 February!

This giveaway is now closed.