June 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up post

So with June gone, we’re halfway through the year and it’s time to do not only a monthly wrap-up post but take a look at the first 6 months and see how far I’ve come in my goals for the year. In total, I’ve read 26 books which is one every week and exactly half of my goal of 52 books – so right on target with that one. Of the 25 books I’ve decided to read this list, I’ve read 12 which is pretty much on target too. So I just need to basically repeat this in the second half of the year.

I also want to talk about Armchair BEA, an online book blogger award that took place early June. For four days, bloggers socialized, talked about books and visited each others blog and discussed the many facets of book blogging. I met some fascinating new people, found great new blogs and had a great time. Although I haven’t changed anything on the blog after BEA, I certainly got a lot to think about as well as some new inspiration – and got more certain about some of the things I do. Maybe I will add some new features or change things up a bit at a later point, for now I’m pretty much satisfied with things as they are. I highly recommend anyone to join Armchair BEA if it is held again next year.

I’ve read 1794 pages this month which is a bit of an improvement on the last couple of months but still not quite where I want it to be. I made it through 4 books which is okay but again, I really would like to read 2000+ pages and at least 5 books.

  1. Haruki Murakami: Underground. Murakami’s take on the 1995 terror attack in the Tokyo subway. Interviews with victims and with members of the cult who did it. All together, they give an interesting view into terrorist attacks in general and the Japanese psyche in specific. 4 stars.
  2. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. The fourth book added to my favorites shelf this year! (The other three were We Need to Talk about Kevin, Drood and The Woman in White.) Such an amazing book – Peter Lake, Beverly Penn, Athansor and all the other fantastic characters that you can’t help fall in love with. Bigger than life characters, beautiful language, great story – all set in a mythical New York. It’s a great, great book. 5 stars.
  3. Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders. I’m sorry to admit that these novels about ‘fallen women’ from the 18th century isn’t really working for me. Still, it’s an interesting read this story of Moll Flander’s life, several marriages and children, criminal career and prison time. 3 stars.
  4. Salman Rushdie: Shalimar the Clown. Amazing story about Shalimar, his wife Boonyi, Max Ophuls the American ambassador to India, and Max and Boonyi’s daughter India … It’s also about Kashmir, the relationship between muslims and hindus – and it’s such a great read! 4 stars.
Even though I feel like I worked hard with Clarissa this month, I haven’t finished the June letters yet. I have read more than half of them though, and at the moment, I’m enjoying them very much. Expect my Clarissa read-along post in a few days.

I finished the Haruki Murakami challenge – since I had only signed up to read one book by Murakami this year, this challenge was finished the moment I closed Underground. I do hope that I will have time to read more Murakami this year, time to read some of his fiction. All in all, I’m feeling on target with all my challenges.

So in July, I’m going to spend time watching Tour de France and reading about it, as I’ve already mentioned. I think I can read through the three books rather quickly and after that, I’m not quite sure what I want to continue with but I probably need to focus a bit on books for my challenge, maybe the two last volumes in the Earth Children’s series by Jean M. Auel, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley or The Message to the Planet by Iris Murdoch. I hope to get a lot of reading done in June to stay on track!

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Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (review)

When I was a teenager, I read Robinson Crusoe several times and I really liked it. So when I was in Brighton in 1994 to study English, I picked up several books in a cheap Wordsworth edition. One of these was Moll Flanders, and although it sounded good, I mostly picked it up because of Defoe being the author. And let me just say, right off the bat, this is nothing like Robinson Crusoe. And not just because of the obvious differences in the stories. No, I thought Crusoe was a really great story – and well, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about Moll Flanders. (Sidenote to myself: I need to reread Robinson Crusoe soon!)

From the get-go I want to make it perfectly clear that, when reading this book, you never doubt that you are reading the work of a very skillful writer. You can feel the talent on every page and even though I at times felt that things ought to feel repetitive (page after page after page about Moll’s criminal career), they just never did. This material in the hands of a less skilled writer would have been a complete disaster. As it is now, I’m basing most of my 3-stars rating on the skills of the writer and thereby the inherent quality of the book, not the story itself – although one could have hoped that he could have made a better novel out of his material.

The story itself is rather simple. In the shape of an autobiographical memoir of the main protagonist Moll Flanders, we follow her life from childhood to she is in her 70s. The entire book is actually summarized perfectly in it’s subtitle: ‘Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continued Variety for Threescores Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent.’ And yes – that’s exactly what this book’s about. And doesn’t it sound exciting and thrilling? Why yes, it does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite read that way.

I think the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this book, is it’s main character. Moll Flanders, as she calls herself, is all in all not very likable. I lost count of how many children she had through the book but in the end, she only seemed to remember having one. She leaves several children on several occasions – never to speak of or think about them again, it seems. Even though I know she’s forced into a lot of the mischief, she freely admits that she a lot of the time only repents if she gets caught – and then she only repents of the fact that she got caught. I do get that all her bad luck comes in part from making one bad decision when very young and then having some bad circumstances thrown upon her and because she lives in a time where women didn’t have a lot of options – but still, she does come across as a woman so focused on securing her own hide that she tramples whatever gets in her way. It may be that that was the only way for her – but when reading her story, you don’t get a lot of sympathy for her character and since this novel is completely focused on her, she needs to be interesting enough to carry this. And she’s not.

I’m not sure if I’m damaged by reading John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (also 1748) but I’m a bit tired of reading these 18th century books about ‘fallen women’, roughly put. It may be a bit unfair towards Moll Flanders since this is the first published of these three, but the best thing about Moll is that she is much more a get-goer than both Clarissa and Fanny. I rated Fanny 2 stars back when I read it in 2009 and even though I’m not done reading Clarissa yet, I’m so far planning on rating it 3 stars. So these are definitely not books I really love. Both Fanny Hill and Clarissa are rather repetitive and I think the only reason Moll Flanders doesn’t feel the same way is that Defoe is the better writer.

If you choose to see these three books in the context of the emancipation of women and see these books as showing the situation of women and how their dependence on men sometimes placed them in bad situations, forcing them to make choices like prostitution and theft, they do become more interesting. I have only a very cursory knowledge of the suffragette movement and feminism or the roots of each of these but I think books like this paved the way for the equality between men and women – and of course, that owns them a lot of favor. And in that line of thought, it’s interesting that all three books are told from the point of view of a woman – but written by men. Even more so because I think the female voice feels true in all three.

I do feel that there’s an interesting field of study here – the role of women in these 18th century novels as well as the portrayal of women as whores – and not whores as immoral beings who get punished but rather as women down on their luck who end up better than they started, and often better off because of their immorality. I think it could be interesting to read Daniel Defoe’s other novel Roxana (which seem rather similar to Moll Flanders) as well as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (although I need to finish Clarissa first and have a long breather before committing to another of Richardson’s works) and also Justine (1740) by Marquis de Sade which, however, doesn’t seem to be in favor of women’s right in spite of it having the same seemingly morale as the Defoe, Cleland and Richardson novels – immorality pays and the moral ones suffer, again roughly put.

Without having much literary scholarship to base it on, I feel that Charles Dickens is carrying the social indignation’s torch, lit by Defoe, into the 19th century. He too focused on those down on their luck and just like Defoe, his huge knowledge of the world he was living in and, especially, how the lower classes lived, is the main inspiration for the novels.

Now all these three books are on the 1001 books you must read before you die list – and my feeling about all three of them is that they are included because of their context and social importance, more than their literary merits even though the editors of the book argue otherwise …! They must find some worth in them since all three have survived all three editions of the list – and they are worth reading, definitely. I just don’t think I will read either of them again.

So after writing a review mostly focusing on the social context and literary history, I have to come out and state plainly that although I somewhat enjoyed Moll Flanders, it’s not a novel I see myself returning to and it’s more the context it was written in and the implications it might have had, that interests me, not so much the novel itself.

(And finally – don’t you just love when the books you read, compliment each other so you can have talks and discussions with them and yourself about their meaning, value, importance and so much more???)

  • Title: Moll Flanders
  • Author: Daniel Defoe
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
  • Year: 1993 (original 1722)
  • Pages:  339 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars:  3 stars out of 5

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