Christmas haul containing 4 classic novels

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe book cover clothboundAs I pack away my Christmas tree for another year, I took stock today of my Christmas haul of books. I’m planning on reading more classics in 2015 and was fortunate enough to receive a few beautiful clothbound editions for Christmas. I hope you too were lucky enough to receive a book or two at Christmas time, here’s what I received (in alphabetical order by author surname):

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Somehow I didn’t read Robinson Crusoe as a young adult, and it’s one of those books that is always referred to in passing. As I approach my 40s, I thought it was time to pick up Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and this clothbound classic edition will make a wonderful addition to my bookshelf.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyFrankenstein Mary Shelley clothbound classic cover
I’ve read a few horror novels in my time as well as many science fiction books, but I’ve never read the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I love the story behind the book, in that Shelley wrote Frankenstein almost 100 years ago in 1817 at just 19 years of age. I’m really looking forward to reading this clothbound edition of Frankenstein this year (love the hearts on the cover) and discovering for myself the gothic and romantic elements within.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was an American author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, and is known for writing Grapes of Wrath (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940), Of Mice And Men, and East of Eden, and I haven’t read any of them.Pearl John Steinbeck book cover

For some reason I find this author intimidating so I’ve decided to read The Pearl (a novella of less than 100 pages) as a gentle introduction to his writing. Have you read any Steinbeck? What do you recommend?

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The plot in Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray is known by many and I especially loved the portrayal in the recent TV Show Penny Dreadful. Just being aware of the premise of the book is no longer enough and I thought it was about time I read this classic for myself. It’ll be my first time reading any material by Oscar Wilde (I’m sure quotes don’t count) and I’m hoping The Picture of Dorian Gray lives up to the hype.Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde book cover

Have you read any of the classics above? Did you receive or give any books during the festive period? I gave a family member a copy of The Menzies Era by John Howard and another family member a handful of books by James Patterson.

Happy Reading in 2015.

The Strays by Emily Bitto

The StraysWho are the strays in Emily Bitto’s literary novel, The Strays (Affirm Press)?

The new Melbourne Modern Art Group tries to set up a bohemian utopia paralleling Sunday and John Reed’s Heide group, or Norman Lindsay’s enclave, on affluent Evan and Helena Trentham’s property during the Depression. Patrick is a stalwart and Ugo, Maria and Jerome are artists who seem to relish the opportunity to receive the patronage, protection and stimulation of famous Evan.

It may be the three Trentham daughters who are most affected by these living arrangements, although the temporary residents take some of the burden off the eldest daughter, Bea, in raising the younger girls. Painter, Evan, and miniaturist, Helena, are neglectfully preoccupied.

A fourth girl, Lily, meets middle daughter, Eva, when she moves to the local primary school. Lily is an only child and revels in the verdant exotica of Eva’s family, home and garden and, especially, of the art. Her own family seems dull and conventional beside the excesses of the Trentham lifestyle and Lily becomes a surrogate daughter, perhaps displacing youngest girl, Heloise. Lily’s relationship with Eva is close, in that first chaste trial marriage between girls. They are bound by bonds of imagination and, in Lily’s case, of some envy. As an observer of this sought-after life, Lily possibly becomes benignly manipulative.Shelley

Artist prodigy, Jerome, loves the work of poet Percy Shelley, husband of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, and is creating a series of art inspired by Shelley’s work. Like Jerome’s artist community, the Shelleys were part of an intimate circle that included Lord Byron, and Bitto casts allusive ties between these two groups. Jerome shares the poems with Lily but it is Eva who agrees to pose topless for him.Frankenstein

Descriptions of the garden and, particularly, the art are provocative. It is not surprising that politician Robert Menzies and the established arts community of the day viewed these avant-garde artists with suspicion. They were the antithesis of the adored late nineteenth century Heidelberg School of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton.

Lily relates her story as a girl growing into a teenager but the narrative is encircled by an account of her life as an older woman. Her reluctance to accept an ordinary life remains.

The Strays was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and is recommended for fans of Siri Hustvedt’s exceptional The Blazing World (Septre) and Alex Miller’s, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin).Blazing World

 

 

Angels in Literature: Who Dares Disturb Their Slumber?

I noticed recently that Boomerang Books had twittered about a book trailer for The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. Released back in 2008, I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it because the blurb just sounded so damn good:

The nameless narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

This strange debut offering – which had such a high-falutin’ storyline – turned out to be compulsively readable. From the first sentence the book leapt free of the Gothic Classic narrative I’d been banking on, and was testing its wings in an entirely more modern context. And it may have been more of a shock, because the narrator wasn’t some damsel-in-distress wooed by a chance at love, it was a Hollywood heartthrob with a face of ash, being wooed by an excaped patient from the psychiatric ward next door. So yeah, romance can happen in all places, to all types of people. And this message gave The Gargoyle its ability to enter massmarket fiction for adults. Indeed, it was the first time since the 90s (when angels were popular for the ‘Hard Rock Goths’), that I sensed the concept of a winged being had embarked on a dark road: one to commercial success (excess).

Gargoyles; vampires; angels; demons; concepts of heaven and hell, have all experienced a resurgence in literature. Gothic is all the rage right now, for some reason. You could perhaps, credit Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Gothic poem Christabel (one of me faves) as the stirring of vampires in the 1800s. From there, friend and contemporary Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Sheridan Le Fanu was inspired to write a cracking novella titled ‘Carmilla’, and this in turn is said to have partly influenced a book you may know: Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

While Twilight may have awoken the sleeping dead for teenagers and starry-eyed 20- and 30-something women, word around the book blog traps has been that angels, riding on the coattails of the humanised vampire, are ready for a descent themselves. Not only a descent into the world of teens, mind you, but with a plan for fantasy fiction world takeover (including all its subgenre cities).

I don’t know just yet if angels are indeed the new vampires, but the whole religious idea and how it has been translated into popular culture definitely deserves some further investigation. Why are they popular again? How do they differ from their original concept? Religious connotations of heaven and hell, as alluded to in The Gargoyle, also requires some exploration.

Grab a shovel, and get ready to do some digging. Stay tuned for future angelic/demonic posts – it’s a heaven/hell extravaganza!