Book Buying 2013 – part 7

So this not buying more books than I read thing, is really not working all that well. I really want to read all the books i own (or most of them, anyway) and I want to work my way through them and own fewer books that I haven’t read, but I simply can’t resist buying books.
So when I had to go to Copenhagen for work, I of course had to go to the best bookstore in Denmark when you’re interested in English literature, Politikens Boghal. This was made more necessary because the bookstore has just been renovated. So I went – and was a bit disappointed. I didn’t feel as inspired as I usual do when I visit this bookstore but whether this is because the bookstore is not quite as good as it used to be or if it’s just because it’s new and different and I like things the way they’ve always been…!
Anyway, I still managed to find three books that desperately needed a new home.

The InterestingsMeg Wolitzer: The Interestings. I’ve been reading a few reviews on this on various blogs and it sounds really good. A group of artistic teenagers form a friendship at a summer camp and then we follow them all the way through to middle age. I don’t know, there’s just something about this book which really speaks to me. I’m really looking forward to this one – in some ways it reminds me a bit of The Secret History which I loved.

n425233Marjorie Celona: Y. So this book was on my list of my most anticipated books in 2013. And as soon as I spotted it, I immediately picked it up. It’s about an abandoned baby, the man who finds her – and the woman who left her. It sounds so wonderful and tragic, beautiful and heartbreaking. I really hope it lives up to my expectations for it – even though they are quite high. I actually haven’t read any reviews of this one but I’m hoping to get around to it very soon and post one of my own.

9780679405795_p0_v1_s260x420Charles Dickens: Great Expectations. So after reading somewhere that this book is about a woman living in her torn and ragged wedding dress and after seeing pictures of Gillian Anderson from the mini-series, I just knew that I desperately wanted to read this novel. And so, when I found it in the Everyman’s Library edition, I bought it immediately and now I’m looking so much forward to reading it. I love Dickens and I really want to read about Pip, miss Havisham and the rest of the cast of this book. Not sure really what the book is about but I’m sure Dickens isn’t going to disappoint me.
So these three books were the ones that had to come home with me. Sadly, I wasn’t much tempted by many other books. I hope to go back to Copenhagen and Politikens Boghal soon and see if the store does carry fewer books or if it’s just my imagination …

Related posts:

Advertisements

Top Ten Favorite Books Taking Place in London

toptentuesday-1So this week, The Broke and the Bookish are focusing on settings. Top Ten Favorite Books from one setting. I chose London as my setting because I love London and I enjoy reading books taking place in this wonderful city. Especially because it seems to inspire some great writers too. This city seems to have a life of it’s own so that books taking place here, are always special because the city seems to be a character all on it’s own. So here’s a list of books taking place in London – do you know any other books taking place in London, I should read?

  1. China Miéville: Un Lun Dun. So London is not just London, no, beneath London there’s another city where all the lost and broken things of London end up. UnLondon is very different from London and much more dangerous but it’s still a wonderful place to visit – or, it is when you just have to read about it!
  2. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere. So as in the previous book, in this book too there’s two Londons. A London Above and a London Below. Gaiman explains a lot of London place names in this one – and this is probably my favorite book on this list. Followed closely by the next two … and the first one … (My review)
  3. Félix J. Palma: The Map of Time. This book features not only one London, but two. Victorian London as well as a future version of London, devastated by war. Or so it seems. The novel also features some of the main persons from London’s history – like H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper. (My review)
  4. Dan Simmons: Drood. Dan Simmons shows us through the London of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, both the posh and poor parts of Victorian London. It’s a wonderful book and again, the book would never have worked in any other city. (My review)
  5. Marie Phillips: Gods Behaving Badly. So where have the Greek gods gone in the 21st century? Well, London of course! Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite and more all live in Northern London, trying to combine being a god with normal life.
  6. Peter Ackroyd: London The Biography. No one seems to understand the power of London better than Peter Ackroyd – or the city’s ability to be it’s own character. He has written an entire book with the city as it’s main character – a biography of a city. I haven’t read all of it yet but what I have read, is extremely impressive.
  7. J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan. Yes, I know. Peter Pan doesn’t take place in London but for once on this list, London is not important because of all it’s wonders, but as a representative of the stiff society one wishes to escape from.
  8. Michael Bond: The Paddington series. Well, Paddington wouldn’t be Paddington if he hadn’t been named after Paddington station. I guess for many tourists, Paddington station is more important because of it’s significance in this wonderful series than because of it’s connection to the rest of the London Underground. And yes, I have been and seen the statue…
  9. Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes. Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes resides at 221B Baker Street. Although he also ventures out of London to solve crimes, he does pop around London quite a bit – and Sherlock wouldn’t be Sherlock without London.
  10. Charles Dickens. I haven’t picked any particular book by Dickens because, really, isn’t London a part of almost all of them? When I think of Dickens, one of the main thing that pops into my head is Victorian London – which he knew thoroughly. So of course, Dickens had to be on this list.

There are of course lots of other books featuring London – like Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate seriesHarry Potter and Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series to name but a few – but I’ve tried to choose the ones where the city is more than just a background for the story and instead takes an explicit part in the book. I think London is an important player in all of these books. And of course, now I want to go back …

Related posts:

Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens (review)

While Dan Simmons took on the last 5 years of Dickens’ life in Drood, Matthew Pearl focuses on Dickens’ last journey to America as well as what happened right after his death. Both Pearl and Simmons try to solve the mystery of Edwin Drood – and Pearl actually wrote the introduction to the edition of Dickens The Mystery of Edwin Drood that I read. Drood was an amazing book and Pearl is supposed to be a literary Dan Brown. He has previously written about Edgar Allen Poe as well as Dante so I had really high hopes for this book since I am so fascinated by the entire Dickens-Drood conundrum.

There’s three storylines in the book. One is the hunt for the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, one follows Charles Dickens on his last reading tour in America and finally, the last one follows Charles Dickens’ son Frank Dickens in India, hunting opium smugglers.

So what happens when the world’s most popular novelist dies? In 1870, Dickens died while in the middle of writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This makes his American publisher rather desperate since they were pinning all their hopes on this novel. So James Osgood, the junior partner, travels to England to see if he can find any clues to how Dickens intended to end the novel – and thereby save the publishing house.

But not everyone is interested in finding out how the book ended and Osgood is not the only one trying to find any clues. And he does find clues – as well as an inn keeper with a missing son named Edward Trood. He visits Dickens’ home and sees it being broken into pieces and sold off  as well as an opium den in London – and he is helped by a man calling himself Dick Datchery and followed by a mysterious man with a walking stick with an ugly golden idol on top of it.

With Osgood travels a young woman working for the publishing house, Rebecca. Rebecca’s brother David, who also worked for the firm, was killed trying to get the last installment safely from the harbor to the publishing house and the manuscript was lost. But was David’s death an accident or is the manuscript in fact so valuable that people are ready to kill for it?

My favorite story line was following Dickens and his tour of America. He was the character who felt the most real to me and I enjoyed reading about the aging writer fighting of sickness to give the public what they wanted. Also, this storyline involved an obsessed fan stalking Dickens and this part worked very well and the whole frenzy surrounding ticket sales to the Dickens readings really came to life.

There are a lot of good about this novel. I really like how he incorporates the story of Edwin Drood into this. How he uses the hints we do get in Dickens’ novel about a boy and his uncle and the uncle’s opium abuse and then just takes it from there and runs with it. This way of creating tension in the plot really worked. Also, just like Dan Simmons did in Drood, Pearl emphasizes how Dickens drew inspiration from everything around him to create his stories. I like how Pearl lets the solving of an actual murder mystery be the new thing Dickens wanted to do, that had never been seen before. And parts of the story are really fascinating and exciting. And since this a novel with parts of it being real, and parts being fiction, I really like that Pearl elaborates in a short postscript about who and what is real and what’s not.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of not so good. I’ll start by saying that since I just read Dan Simmons’ take on the whole Dickens-Drood subject, I naturally compare the two. And unfortunately, there’s no real competition – Simmons wins hands down. It was more intriguing, more exciting, more fascinating. Even though in some ways, the plot in Pearl’s novel was probably more believable, it just didn’t feel that way when you read the novels. Maybe this is because the characters don’t register as very real in Pearl’s novel. Even though there’s plenty of drama, there’s love and more, you don’t care about what happens to the characters – you care about whether Osgood finds the last six installments or not but not if he gets Rebecca. Also, the parts of the story that take place in India seem like it belonged in another book. Yes, it involves Dickens’ son and opium, and yes, Frank Dickens has been taught something by his father that might come in handy but it didn’t all come together. The stories don’t connect enough.

There’s no doubt that Pearl has done a lot of research for this book. Dickens feels real, the time and world feels real – but most of the other characters seem like little more than cardboard cut-outs. It feels like Pearl has all this knowledge and done all this research, but somehow he never really gets it to work for this story.

Dickens never wrote more than the first six installments of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – or at least it has never been published or found. These last six installments are kind of like the Loch Ness Monster. It’s just a legend but it has much more power as a legend than if it was reality. If Loch Ness suddenly was found, once the initial fuss was over, it would just be some big animal in a lake in Scotland. But as it is now, it holds the power of our imagination. And so do the missing parts of Dickens’ last novel.

‘A new Dickens novel is a new Dickens novel – as remarkable as that is. Yet an unfinished Dickens novel is a mystery in itself.’ (p. 349)

  • Title: The Last Dickens
  • Author: Matthew Pearl
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 358 pages
  • Source: Library
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

Related posts:

February 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

February has been mostly dedicated to Charles Dickens and Edwin Drood. I’ve read two novels by Dickens and one about him – sort of – as well as watched the new BBC adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and a Doctor Who episode featuring Dickens.

And look how pretty my Reading Challenge Goal looks. 2 books ahead! Yay me!

So again this month I’ve read some pretty awesome books. All 5 were actually really good. Two 5-stars read, 2 4-stars read – and The Mystery of Edwin Drood would have gotten more stars if it had been finished.

  1. Terry Pratchett: The Unseen Academicals. Oh, I loved this. Funny funny read. The Wizards of Unseen University has to play football – of course everything goes wrong in exactly the right way. 5 stars.
  2. Charles Dickens: Hard Times. So good. Dickens completely nails these characters – especially Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. 4 stars.
  3. Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I loved this – but it’s only half a book and the action was just getting started when it ended. Would have loved to read it in it’s entirety. 3 stars.
  4. Dan Simmons: Drood. This was amazing! Simmons has a lot of knowledge about Dickens, Wilkie Collins and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and he manages to create an extremely exiting novel that I absolutely adored. 5 stars.
  5. Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaneys. How much does it take to break a family? Get the answer in this awesome book by one of my favorite authors. 4 stars.

I’ve read 2068 pages this month as well as a e-book: The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. So a little less than last month but still good. The longest book I’ve read this month was Dan Simmons Drood with it’s 775 pages.

I still think I’m doing good on my challenges. I read three more books for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012 as well as two for the Chunkster Challenge 2012 (as well as a bonus chunkster). I’m also right on track with the Clarissa read-a-long and I love it! With regard to my own personal challenge, I need to read about 2 books a month from the list and I have – this month it was Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals and Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaneys.

I have a list of books I really want to read in March. In fact, I want to read them all right now – but since I can’t read them all at once, I’ll try to read them as quickly as possible. So these are the books, I really want to read in March:

  1. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. After reading Drood, where Wilkie Collins was the narrator, I really wanted to read some of Collins’ own works.
  2. Marisha Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I bought this a while ago but recently read a review where it was compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History which I read earlier this year and loved.
  3. Jonathan Carroll: The Ghost in Love. I’ve been wanting to read Carroll for a while and this one sounds so good. It’s about a man who falls and dies – but doesn’t die. There’s a ghost who was supposed to take his soul to the afterlife, but since the man didn’t die, the ghost has to stick around a bit. Of course, the ghost falls in love with the man’s girlfriend – and then things get complicated …
  4. Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens. Matthew Pearl wrote the introduction to my version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens, and since I’m still on a bit of a Edwin Drood craze, I’m really looking forward to hear what Pearl has to say about Dickens’ last work.

Dan Simmons: Drood (review)

ImageLet me start of by saying that I absolutely loved this book so if there’s an inappropriate amount of gushing in the following, you have been warned.

I’ve had this on my shelves for a couple of years, just waiting for me to get ready to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I said in my review of that book that I didn’t recommend it except for die hard Dickens fans and the like – but I was wrong. Everyone should read The Mystery of Edwin Drood just to read this one afterwards since this book makes more sense if you have read Dickens’ novel. If you have read Dickens’, you will get the hints in Drood – in fact, Drood then reads as a introduction to how an author gathers inspiration. Simmons have taken parts from The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then used them in this book in the most clever way. One small example is how in the Dickens novel, there’s a girl nicknamed Pussy and a lawyer who thinks Pussy is a cat. Of course, Simmons then has a cat named Pussy. Dickens has one of the main characters be a opium addict – in Drood (at least) one of Dickens’ best friends is a opium addict and suffers terrible consequences because of it. John Jasper’s secret visit to the crypt is here, we have Deputy and so much more. I love this aspect of it – how you can imagine Dickens living his life and seeing inspiration all around him.

But I digress. I haven’t even started talking about what’s the book about yet. This is the story of the last few years of Charles Dickens’ life and what he did after being in a terrible railway accident in 1865 and till his death in 1870. The story is told by his friend, the author Wilkie Collins. Wilkie experienced firsthand much of what Dickens did and experienced in those last years – and Dickens was busy. Not only with his work but also with various investigations and experiences in the less familiar parts of London, the part where the opium addicts frequent, the parts where the lowest classes fight and struggle for survival each and every day.

Dickens was not an opium-user – but at the railway accident, he met a man, a certain personage named Drood. This Drood hunted the rest of Dickens’ life and as a expert mesmerizer, Drood made Dickens do what he bid. Dickens was extremely fascinated by Drood in the beginning but realized later that Drood was a murderer, a man so versed in the ancient Egyptian beliefs that he was able to resurrect himself and was more an apparition than a man.

Because of Dickens’ connection to Drood, Wilkie is slowly dragged into this as well and experiences first hand a nasty Egyptian ritual involving a scarab. Wilkie becomes a sort of spy into Dickens’ life to inform a private detective, working desperately to catch the sinister Drood.

This is what the book is about. This is the extremely exciting story Wilkie Collins relate to us. Only thing is – Wilkie is not only an opium-user, he also self-medicate with laudanum in extremely high doses, several glasses at a time. So the question becomes – is Wilkie a reliable narrator so we can trust what he tells us about Dickens’ last years or is this rather one man’s descend into opium-induced madness? I’m still not sure.

Or maybe, it’s all something that Dickens invented – a kind of joke that got too far and was primarily fueled by Wilkie’s abuse issues and Dickens’ abilities as a master mesmerizer.

This is also a book about jealousy. There’s no doubt that both in their time and in our time, Dickens is the greater novelist. I haven’t read anything by Wilkie Collins yet so I don’t know if it’s fair but both back then and now, Dickens is the best one in the eyes of the public. And we love to read his books. We love to read about his characters. They are almost real. And Wilkie was – at least according to Simmons – very jealous because of this. And – for most of the book – doesn’t think it’s fair. (I do think that this book also would benefit for having read a couple of Wilkie Collins novels…)

There’s no doubt that Simmons is a master writer. The way he handles all these various possible ways to read the book, all the research he has in this without at any point making it boring or like someone is telling us something because we need to know to understand what’s coming. It’s marvelous. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if you look at how Dickens or Collins tell their stories and then compare it to Simmons, you will find similarities that are not just coincidences.

I love this quote about how Dickens’ write: ‘pulling characters out of the air (often based willy-billy on people in his own life) without a thought as to how they might serve the central purpose, mixing in a plethora of random ideas, having his characters wander off into incidental occurrences and unimportant side-plots having nothing to do with the overriding idea, and often beginning his story in mid-flight /…/’. (p. 264)

My favorite quote though, is one that I’m not sure whether to attribute to Dickens or to Simmons. The aging Dickens, after having lost so many of his family and friends, says at one point: ‘/…/ my heart has become a cemetery.’ (p. 578). I find this such a powerful sentence because it’s true. At some point for most of us, our hearts will become cemeteries because the ones we have loved, are dead. And what a tragedy when you reach that moment. And what a beautiful way to express it.

Now, I of course have to mention the way Simmons see the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – told from Dickens’ own lips, although not necessarily something you can trust (like so much else in this novel). But according to this, Edwin Drood is dead, murdered by John Jasper – who turns out to be his brother, and who are suffering so much from opium abuse that he has an alternate consciousness, Jasper Drood. And Jasper Drood is a master mesmerizer. As is Helena Landless and to some extent her brother Neville. But someone has mesmerized John Jasper/Jasper Drood to kill his brother – and who this person is, is never revealed by Simmons. So the mystery is intact…

In it’s way, this is a tribute to Charles Dickens. I haven’t done much research into who Dickens actually was as a person, but it seems that Simmons has and that he has worked hard on this novel to create a fair picture of Dickens. Even though Wilkie is the one telling it, and Wilkie hates Dickens for parts of the book, there’s no doubt who comes of as the most sympathetic. Despite the way Dickens treated his wife, despite his ‘secret’ mistress. But then again, we only have Wilkie’s – not necessarily very reliable – words for this, don’t we?

  • Title: Drood
  • Author: Dan Simmons
  • Publisher: Little,  Brown and Company
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 775 pages
  • Stars:  5 stars out of 5

Related posts:

The Mystery of Edwin Drood – the 2012 BBC adaption

In honor of the Dickens Bicentenary, BBC created an adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Well, not only an adaption, in fact they had crime writer Gwyneth Hughes finish where Dickens left off. The BBC version comes in two parts – the first part is (mostly) based on Dickens’ own words, the second part is (mostly) based on Gwyneth Hughes’ ideas about how it should all come together in the end.

Before you read one, I must give a warning – there will be spoilers below. Spoilers regarding both the book as well as the tv series. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum but there will be some.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part 1 (as written by Charles Dickens)

Now, I’ve just finished reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood so my impression of it is very much at the front of my mind and there are differences between my impressions of the characters and the BBC version’s impressions. For instance, I find Edwin Drood to be more of a silly young man, eager for his fun, in the tv series than in the book – also, he doesn’t go to Mr. Grewgious, instead Mr. Grewgious goes to see him after having talked with Rosa, which makes rather a huge difference in the way Rosa and Edwin each see their relationship (but which will make sense after watching episode 2). I find Rosa more resourceful from the beginning than she is in the book and maybe Helena Landless less so. And the Princess Puffer actually gets to confront John Jasper in this version before she warns Edwin.

The opium-induced dreams John Jasper keeps having where he strangles Edwin Drood, is shown from the very start in the tv movie where I don’t believe we’re giving insights into these visions that early in the book. Also, his fondling the silk scarf he wears, is also pointing to him being the guilty part.

For Neville and Edwin’s walk together on that fateful night, they don’t go down by the river as in the book, they go to the cathedral – which actually makes more sense given John Jasper’s late night walk with Durdles. And – very surprising – we get to see the murder of Edwin Drood so there’s no doubt as to who did it – one should think.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part 2 (as written by Gwyneth Hughes)

So it’s not as much Edwin’s who’s missing in the beginning of part 2 as his body – opening up the mystery if he’s really dead or not. But the ring, the ring which is so important since Jasper John doesn’t know about it’s existence, is found by the young boy, Deputy, and then given to Durdles – hinting strongly that Edwin Drood is in fact dead.

So what we know is that John Jasper, being heavily influenced by opium and alcohol, is the one who strangled Edwin – but maybe he didn’t strangle him enough. In this, Hughes seem to follow the defense in The Case against John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood where no one has any doubts that Jasper had both motive and intent to kill his nephew but where the entire defense rests on the idea that Jasper, because of his opium addiction, didn’t finish the job – even though he thought he did.

But all we have as evidence for the murder of Edwin Drood is the ring found by Deputy and Jasper’s memories – which are muddled, to say the least. This second episode has more twists and turns than I would have ever imagined and it is perfectly wonderful and is definitely one serious attempt to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It shows us who Dick Datchery is, it tells us what happens to Helena and Neville Landless and who they really are, it solves the murder of Edwin Drood. Although not in the way it is expected. Or at least that I expected.

In Conclusion:

Although there are some discrepancies between the novel and the tv series, these are what you expect. This tv series has done a great job of bringing to life Dickens’ last mystery. My only real complaint is that as I understood it, the first episode should be as it is written by Dickens – and although I accept the minor changes as being necessary when bringing a book to life on the tv screen, I think the ending with it’s changed location and especially with the showing of the murder, is not what Dickens wrote and therefore, should have been left for part 2. If you’re not familiar with the book, I would not be surprised if people would wonder what all the fuss was about since clearly, Dickens has shown the murderer. That’s the only let-down I find in this otherwise excellent first episode.

Parts of episode 2 are also taken from the book, so clearly, it was impossible to sustain a clear divide between the book and what Hughes has written when translating it into this other medium which is a shame since the idea of first showing exactly what Dickens envisioned and then letting someone continue it for him – in his spirit – was an excellent one.

After having watched both episodes, I must say I’m in awe. Hughes has clearly stepped up to the task and has written a finish to this mystery that is so excellent that I was left speechless and just staring at the screen at times. It’s not what I had imagined, my solution was so much simpler, but I think this is more in the spirit of Dickens with twists and turns and long lost relatives and more.

I very much enjoyed watching this mini-series and I recommend it to everyone. BBC does excellent period dramas (my favorite is still Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth) and this is another example, not to be missed.

Read more:

Related posts:

Dickens, Drood & Doctor Who

I first learned about The Mystery of Edwin Drood on the Doctor Who episode The Unquiet Dead (written by Mark Gatiss). In this episode, the Tardiff takes The Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (played by Billie Piper) to Cardiff on December 24th, 1869. This was the show that sparked my interest in this whole Edwin Drood project. It’s been several years since I got the idea to at one point do a Edwin Drood project but I wanted to wait because I wanted to have read a few more of Dickens’ novel before diving into his last. And then the bicentenary came up and it seemed to be the perfect time to do this – and so I am.

In this episode, we find a rather disillusioned Charles Dickens (played by Simon Callow). His imagination has grown stale, he had muddled up his family affairs, and he feels doomed to repeat himself for all eternity, performing A Christmas Carol. A somewhat humble man, concerned with what his legacy will be. But in the audience, there’s something unusual. A dead lady walking, ejecting some kind of blue gaseous substance. Dickens believe it all to be trickery and illusion but of course, the Doctor knows better. And after a while, Dickens comes around too and accepts this brave new world and realize that his rational beliefs are not worth anything, really.

I really like this episode and I’ve watched it several times. I was intrigued by the whole Dickens part of it mostly, but I also like the connection to Torchwood (the servant girl Gwyneth, played by the same actress who play Gwen in Torchwood (Eve Myles)) as well as just the general banter between the Doctor and Rose.

What is particularly interesting in our connection is of course the connection to The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Towards the end of the episode, Dickens go back to London to make amends to his family. He is very much cheered up and is inspired to write about  all the new things he has discovered is out there. He wants to go back and finish Edwin Drood and as he says, ‘Perhaps the killer was not the boy’s uncle. Perhaps the killer was not of this world.’ and changes the title to The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the Blue Elementals.

So this was the Doctor Who take on the Edwin Drood mystery – to have aliens be responsible for Edwin’s death. Of course I don’t think this is a real possibility – I just found it necessary to include this episode in my Drood investigations since this was what started my Drood obsession.

Related posts:

Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (review)

This was Charles Dickens’ last novel. Of course, he had to choose a murder mystery as his last novel and of course he had to die before completing it, leaving it forever unknown who actually committed the murder – or if there actually was a murder. Now, Dickens wrote his novels in a series of installments and he was influenced by how the public reacted to the stories so it’s not sure that he himself knew how the story would end and who would turn out to be the culprit.

Let’s turn to the story itself. This is the story of Edwin Drood and his fiancé Rosa Bud, nicknamed Rosebud (or more inappropriate: Pussy). Both are orphans and their late fathers decided that it would be the right thing if these two young people were to become married. But even though they like one another well enough, they don’t love each other.

Both Rosa and Edwin has a guardian –  Edwin’s is his uncle John Jasper, and Rosa’s guardian is a laywer called Grewgious who was a friend of her parents. Both Rosa and John Jaspers live in Cloisterham and he’s her music teacher. In the beginning of the novel, the twins Neville and Helena Landless moves to Cloisterham. The twins are orphans as well, and Helena ends up living at the same school as Rosa where they become friends, and Neville moves in with Rev. Crisparkle.

On the twin’s first evening in Cloisterham, they attend a dinner party at Crisparkle’s where they meet Edwin Drood, John Jasper and Rosa. Neville and Edwin get in an argument over how Edwin treats Rosa and Jasper kind of encourages their disagreement. When some time later, Edwin and Neville is attending a dinner at Jasper’s to reconcile, Edwin Drood disappears afterwards while Neville presumably being the last to see him alive.

In the beginning, I didn’t care that much about the book – I felt none of the characters were very likable and I didn’t care all that much about what happened to either of them. But then they all started to grow on me. Timid Rosa Bud, sympathetic Crisparkle,  daring Helena Landless – and especially Grewgious, the lawyer. I love Grewgious! I love how he’s constantly playing himself down and how he cares desperately for Rosa Bud – because of her mother.

This is a hard book to summarize because  it’s only half a novel. The plot has only really just begun when the book ends and normally you would have mentioned most of what has happened up till then in a review but it’s hard to do when only the first half of the book was ever written and you then reveal too much of what’s actually there.

Even though this has a lot of Dickens’ trademark writings – his humor especially – I don’t think this is a book to read, except if you are a Dickens fan who wants to read everything the man wrote or if you are particularly interested in the Edwin Drood mystery. Dickens can write, he can surely write and he’s so funny at times: Mr. Sapsea’s premises are in the High Street, over against the Nuns’ House. They are of about the period of the Nuns’ House, irregularly modernized here and there, as steadily deteriorating generations found, more and more, that they preferred air and light to Fever and the Plague. (location 880-88). I really like how he writes and I recommend the book – if you can stand that you will never know for sure what Dickens envisioned for his characters.

In some ways, it’s the perfect mystery novel. Whenever you read a mystery or crime novel, you’re always attempting to guess who did it. So it is with this novel – but it stays a mystery. The murderer’s identity is never revealed…

Before reading the story, I thought that I would be most annoyed by not knowing who killed Edwin Drood but that’s not true. While I’m very curious to know who killed Drood, I’m just as much curious about what happened to the other characters. Who did Rosa Bud end up with, what about the Landless twins, what about Crisparkle, who is Dick Datchery? I really, really just want to read the rest of the book. And that’s not going to happen. But I’m not the only one obsessing over this book.

My copy of this book has two parts. The first part is the actual novel itself. Then the second part is a trial organized by the Dickens Fellowship and held in 1914, with people like Arthur Waugh (father of Evelyn) and George Bernard Shaw participating. This is The Trial of John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood and it is as much a satire over the state of the British trial system as it is an attempt to solve the mystery of Edwin Drood and while it’s rather fun to read, it doesn’t shed much light on the actual mystery.

I am still very fascinated by the mystery and although I too think, that John Jasper is the guilty one, I also think that in every murder mystery, there’s a person who seem obviously to be the guilty one – and this person never turns out to be the real guilty one. So I don’t know. All I know is that I am not done with Edwin Drood yet.

  • Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Publisher: 
  • Year: 1870
  • Pages: e-book (kindle)
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

Related posts:

Charles Dickens: Hard Times (review)

Today we celebrate Dickens’ birthday. 200 years ago, Charles Dickens was born and lived to become one of the greatest novelists. Today, I heard him described as the New Testament in British writing to Shakespeare’s Old Testament. And no doubt about it – Dickens was a wonderful writer who still has a lot to say to a modern audience. I’m looking forward to reading more by him and starting my celebration with this review of Hard Times – as well as today’s Google logo shown above.

One of the things I like most about Charles Dickens, is his social indignation and how he’s able to use this indignation to create wonderful works of literary fiction. He used his childhood to create David Copperfield and he used some of the same thoughts to create Hard Times. Thoughts about how children should grow up, what kind of things they should learn in school, how workers should be treated and more.

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I  bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!” (p. 7)

This is the first few sentences in the book. And from here, well, it kind of goes downhill from most of this book’s characters. It starts out rather well, though. A couple of men having a conversation about the importance of education. Only problem is, their idea of education is rather … off, would be a very mild way to put it. What they want, is for children to be taught facts – like a horse is a Quadruped. Graminivoruous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth. (p. 10)

As you might imagine, this is not the best way to teach children. However, Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind are both convinced that this is the only way, and since it’s Mr. Gradgrind’s school and Mr. Bounderby is his best friend, their word is law. Mr. Gradgrind is lucky enough to have several children – besides the children in the school – that he can test his ideas on and he does so. His two eldest children, Louisa and Tom, are both heavily influenced by their father’s idea. Of course they are – how can you be anything else when you are constantly being told that all that matter is facts, that emotions have no place and that you are not even allowed to say ‘I wonder …’. Both children have had their imagination starved for their entire childhood and are growing up to be perfect examples of Mr. Gradgrind’s teachings. To their detriment, unfortunately.

Louisa and Tom … Louisa and Tom are raised in the same way but turn out very differently. Louisa closes herself off from the world while Tom instead starts gaming. Louisa protects Tom through everything and he doesn’t exactly return her kindness. His actions are ultimately what unravels everything Mr. Gradgrind ever believed in when he sees what has become of his children.

I’m fascinated by what Dickens implies about education and the upbringing of children in general. Tom and Louisa have had the same upbringing and are taught in the same way. But they become two very different adults which in my opinion is because of how nature plays a role that nurture can’t quite overcome. People react different to the same thing. Because of this, teaching and education should be more focused on the individual and definitely not viewing children as vessels to be filled – or blank slates to write on.

Mr. Bounderby has been watching them from the sideline for their entire childhood – especially Louisa. So when she comes of age, he naturally asks her to marry him, and Louisa, having been taught not to value her emotions, agrees. She does so to take care of her brother who is in Mr. Bounderby’s employment at his bank. Needless to say, their marriage isn’t exactly happy.

In this connection, I just want to mention how brilliant a writer Dickens is. Louisa and her father have two conversations in his office – one when he informs her about Mr. Bounderby’s marriage proposal and one towards the end of the book. These two conversations frame the most important parts of the book where Mr. Gradgrind’s teachings is really put to the test and are so poignant when they show Louisa, Mr. Gradgrind’s favorite child, and how little her father understands her.

I haven’t even mentioned Sissy Jupe. Sissy is a young girl from the circus – she is abandoned by her father and chooses to stay in Mr. Gradgrind’s school in the hope that her father will come back for her. Sissy is everything, Mr. Gradgrind doesn’t want in a girl – emotional, imaginative and hugely empathic. She stays in the school, lives with the Gradgrind family and grows to become very important for the entire family in ways, none of them could have predicted.

And Mr. Bounderby – don’t even get me started on Mr. Bounderby. This annoying man who’s constantly bragging about himself and how he has come from such a terrible start and had to make it on his own, almost since infancy but now he’s Mr. Bounderby of Coketown, a self-made big shot. How I loathed him, that big fake!

As a sidestory, we follow some of the ‘Hands’, the people working in the mills in town. One of these is the weaver Stephen Blackpool who shows how factory work influence the individual worker. Stephen’s is a tragic story in a lot of ways – mostly because he married the wrong woman. He tries to get help to get a divorce but a divorce is not a possibility when you are just a worker. So he has to live on with his alcoholic wife showing up from time to time in a drunken stupor while being in love with another woman, Rachael.

Stephen and Rachael’s story is touching and heart-breaking. This is not a time where you can just go ahead and get a divorce or just be with another person when you’re still married so since Stephen can’t get a divorce, they can’t be together and can hardly even talk to one another. Rachael helps Stephen when his wife shows up and is the rock he needs. When Stephen is ostracized by his co-workers, he leaves town – and is then accused of a crime and ultimately, he suffers a tragic end.

Charles Dickens’ opinions is clear throughout the book. The second chapter in this book, the one really showcasing Mr. Gradgrind’s and Mr. Bounderby’s thoughts on teaching and how children should be brought up, is called ‘Murdering the Innocents’ and shows them as small vessels waiting to be filled with facts. The book clearly shows that this is not a good way to raise children through the fates of Tom and Louisa.

Mr. Gradgrind is the quintessential father in a lot of ways. Even though he’s very dogmatic, he does everything because he thinks it’s the right thing. He fully believes in teaching facts and in keeping his children away from imagination, dreaming and fantasy. When he finally realize his mistakes and see, how his way of thinking has hurt his children in ways that’s probably beyond repair, he’s heartbroken and grows old overnight. He is a loving and caring father and suffers like any good father would if put in this situation.

I haven’t written much about the circus yet although it’s very important. Sissy Jupe came from a circus and this circus stands for everything, Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby does not approve of. Fun, entertainment, relaxation, imagination … When the Gradgrind family needs help in the end, Sissy steps up and saves the day by way of the circus, her family. There’s a scene in the beginning of the book where Mr. Gradgrind catches Tom and Louisa in peeking in on the circus and is shocked and orders them home – the same way, he orders them away from anything resembling imagination and fun. The book comes full circle with Sissy’s invocation of her circus family and their ability to repay the service, the Gradgrind’s did them when they took Sissy in after her father abandoned her. The circus owner Sleary gets the last word: People mutt be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it. (p. 269) I think this is one of the main lessons Dickens wanted us to draw from this novel.

  • Title: Hard Times
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics – Oxford University Press
  • Year: 2008 (original 1854)
  • Pages: 299 pages
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Related posts:

Dickens Bicentenary

On February 7th this year, Dickens would have been 200 years old – if he had lived. Of course he didn’t, but still I want to celebrate this bicentenary. The plan is to read a lot of books by Dickens or related to Dickens in some way as well as watch some Dickens tv. My focus is going to be on The Mystery of Edwin Drood since I’m extremely fascinated by this story and have been wanting to read it for several years. I have been postponing reading it because I wanted to read some of Dickens’ other works before reading this final novel. Now I’ve read David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol and I plan on reading Hard Times – and I just can’t wait anymore.

Here’s what I plan to do:

  • Read Charles Dickens: Hard Times
  • Read Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Read Dan Simmons: Drood
  • Watch the Dr Who episode The Unquiet Dead
  • Watch BBCs new version of The New Mystery of Edwin Drood (read more about it here)
  • Also – if I have the time, I would like to read Matthew Pearl The Last Dickens

So all in all, this might be more of a The Mystery of Edwin Drood month than Dickens month – but I’m good with that!

On Dickens 2012 you can find info about the official celebration of Charles Dickens 200th birthday.

Are you planning on reading anything by Dickens this month?