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100 Greatest Novels: The Old Wives’ Tale, The Call of the Wild, Loving & Midnight’s Children

Today we have to talk about 4 more novels from the list of the 100 greatest. These four bring us ever so close to the end. We actually only have ten left! Can you believe it? I can’t. We started this in the summer of 2012, posting the first on August 20th. I know it’s been a long journey but it’s exciting to finally get close to the conclusion. Well, let’s get to the books.

The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

The_Old_Wives_Tale_(Arnold_Bennett_novel)_cover_artThis first novel is a sweeping narrative of two sisters. It follows both their lives from childhood to death and covers most events, mundane to extreme, in great detail. The story is broken into four parts: the sisters’ childhood until their separation, each sisters’ individual life story through the many years of adulthood, and finally their old age together. The sisters are very different and while reading, you’ll relate to both in different ways at different parts of their stories. I really enjoyed Sophia’s adulthood chapter because she spends most of her years in Paris and it was fun to see how a English woman raised in a small town reacts and conforms to the life of a Parisian. This novel contains many frustrating situations and characters, just like real life. I hated Constance’s son. Hated him.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

220px-JackLondoncallwildI haven’t read a book this quick and easy in a long time. Finishing it in less than a day, this story is an intense survival story about a dog that’s stolen from his family and sold and shipped to Canada as a sled dog. And it’s told from the dog’s perspective, which is unique for this list of novels. As the dog, Buck, learns to survive in this harsh climate and harsh life, he slowly reverts back to a wild state. He hears the “call of the wild,” the call of his ancestors. The story deals with some difficult to read scenes with dogs and people not being able to handle the harsh climates of the Yukon and the difficult lives of a gold rush. But overall, the story has a satisfying conclusion. Plus, it’s free on Kindle so…

Loving by Henry Green

Loving_Henry_GreenThis novel is for all the Downton Abbey lovers out there. Set during World War II, the story is the lives of the servants and their employers at an Irish castle. It follows the conflicts, gossip and flirtations of the servants and how they intersect with the lives of their employers. At first, I had a difficult time getting into this novel. Multiple names are used for each character depending on who’s doing the talking. The storyline jumps around to different interactions around the castle. It read like a film that’s shot with one camera. We can only pick up one interaction after leaving another, even if we cut in halfway through a conversation and don’t really have an idea of what’s going on. It was somewhat confusing at first but over the course of the book, I learned the characters and really enjoyed the novel.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

MidnightsChildrenNow this was a fascinating read. I loved the adventure of these pages. This was a mystical story about Saleem Sinai, who is born at midnight. And not just any midnight but the moment that India gains it’s independence from England. The story starts with Saleem’s grandfather and works up to his birth. From his birth on, his life and the history of India are perfectly intertwined, mirrored upon each other. The story follows his life and the historical events at the beginning of India’s independence to the partitioning of India and Pakistan. As the story goes on, his life and India’s politics become more and more complex. We finally make it to the splitting of Pakistan into Bangladesh and Pakistan. We also get Pakistan and India’s battles over Kashmir in the story and in his life. We get the Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi, a state of emergency called to suspend civil liberties and solidify her hold onto power. This event is the denouement of India’s early years of their independence and the denouement of Saleem’s story.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Saleem, and every other child born between midnight and 1:00am when India gained her independence, are born with special powers. Using his telepathic powers, Saleem brings all the Midnight Children together to try to use their powers for the betterment of India. This magical or mystical aspect of the novel really connects all the complex storylines and fascinating connections of history of country and of family into an incredible reading experience. I’d highly recommend this book to anybody.


This brings us to the final ten novels. Next is Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell. What a first name!

Until next time…

 

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Death of the Heart, Lord Jim & Ragtime

The next three from the 100 greatest novels were interesting in how different they were. I liked each one more than the one before it. We’ll get into the reasons below. I’m excited to talk about the last one though. Let’s go ahead and get to it.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

220px-TheDeathOfTheHeartHere we are again with another British novel set in London in the early 1900s. I’m getting fairly tired of these novels but I feel bad for doing that. I would probably thoroughly enjoy some of them if it wasn’t for reading so many during this list. Anyway, let’s get to this novel. Like all of them, you have the one character that doesn’t fit into London society. This time it’s Portia, who moves in with her half-brother after her mother and their shared father dies. She, of course, falls in love with a friend of the family who tries to straddle his relationship with Portia and his obligations towards London society. The one thing that makes this story interesting is Portia’s age. She’s only 16 when she moves to London so we have somewhat of a coming-of-age story. We get the frustrations of a teenager towards her authority figures but how much authority can her half-brother and sister-in-law really hold over her?

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

2b6bcb34ed3d68ff7f7aaf65ce1987ceSo if you’ve read any of Conrad’s novels, you’ll know what to expect. The story usually has something to do with the sea and ships. And many of Conrad’s novels are structured by being a story told by Charles Marlow. He is usually with his fellow shipmates and he narrates the story. All of his narration is in quotations so any quotes told in the story use single quotation marks. Then it get’s real confusing when you have characters in the story quoting somebody else. Sometimes you end up with 3 or 4 levels of quotation marks! Once you get past all that and the introduction of the story into why this Jim character is named Lord Jim, it gets really interesting. Jim ends up in a secluded village and becomes a leader, a lord, to the people. And it’s a fascinating transition and ultimate ending to the story. Quick note, this is free on the Kindle.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

RagtimeDoctrorowHardcoverReally, I just rushed through writing the above paragraphs because I’m so excited to talk about this novel. I wasn’t familiar with Doctorow when I started Ragtime and I did not read any synopsis of the story. I assumed it might have something to do with Scott Joplin or the musical genre ragtime. The novel alluded to the genre but it didn’t play a huge role.

Anyway, this book. This book is what I want every book I read to be. I had a hard time starting the next novel in the list because I just wanted to read everything by Doctorow. Let me tell you what I’m so excited about. This novel combined fact and fiction in such a flawless, beautiful way that I wanted to cry with joy. Historical characters are treated with the same care as fictional characters. Historical events are intertwined with fictional storylines. I’m going to quote Wikipedia’s paragraph about this because it explains it fairly well:

The novel is unusual for the irreverent way that historical figures and fictional characters are woven into the narrative, making for surprising connections and linking different events and trains of thought about fame and success, on the one hand, and poverty and racism on the other. Harry Houdini plays a prominent yet incidental part, reflecting on success and mortality. Arch-capitalist financier J.P. Morgan, pursuing his complex delusions of grandeur, is delivered a plainly spoken comeuppance from down-to-earth Henry Ford. Socialite Evelyn Nesbit becomes involved with the slum family and is aided by the anarchist agitator Emma Goldman. The black moderate politician Booker T. Washington tries to negotiate with Coalhouse Walker, without success.

I feel like a novel like this does better than any textbook or biography or history book at making the reader understand what a time period was like. We can google names and dates. But how do we understand what the wealthy and the poverty-stricken felt? How can we know what the average person felt about certain events or even decades? Can we know how the heroes viewed the citizens and vice versa? We can, but with only extensive research into the histories of the rich and famous and into the journals of the not rich and not famous, extensive research into the biographies of the mammoths of history and the news articles of the mundane events around town. Who has time for that? So read E. L. Doctorow. At least read Ragtime. I can’t vouch for the rest of his novels yet.

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Alright, next up is The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett, number 87 on the list. We’re getting seriously close to the end. What will I do with myself?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in 100 Greatest Novels, Book Review, Lists, Literature

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Kim, A Room With a View, & Brideshead Revisited

So bringing us to eighty of the 100 greatest novels, I’ve finished three more books. All three by British authors but with very different stories. The books take us from India to Italy, back to England, a few paragraphs in North and South America, back to England a few more times. A chapter or two on a large passenger boat, plenty of chapters on religion, and a few too many chapters on British people being proper and what shenanigans that causes them. Anyways, let’s get to the individual books.

220px-KimKiplingKim by Rudyard Kipling

This was a really interesting, really fun book. Following the adventures of Kim, an orphaned son of Irish parents who grows up in India in the late 1800s and spends his childhood begging and running errands, the story is an incredible description of India during this time period. Through Kim’s travels we meet all types of people that make up the varied world of India. All religions, all socioeconomic statuses, and all cultures of this geographical area are represented throughout the novel. Kim begins his adventures after he meets a Tibetan Lama and becomes his disciple. Even though Kim isn’t necessarily religious, he helps the Lama in his quest to find a legendary river. Through this adventures, Kim is exposed to The Great Game, a historical conflict between Russia and England in Central Asia. He ultimately is separated by his Lama, sent to a British school, and becomes part of the spy games of this conflict.

This novel was fascinating because of what the story focuses on and how it finally ends. Throughout the story we get plenty of deep discussions of religion, politics, and what it means to be certain cultures. The political aspect of the story is riveting but always takes a back seat to the Lama’s simple desire to find this legendary river that will free himself of the Buddhist cycle of life. Each conflict could easily become a focal point of the political story or the religious story. Or both, or neither. And let’s just say the ending is incredibly…Eastern. If you’ve read any Eastern literature, I think you’ll understand what I’m hinting at.

200px-Book_a_room_with_a_viewA Room With a View by E. M. Forster

So this novel is finally the point in the list when I’m completely tired of reading about the damned British and their damned proper manners and how following these manners perfectly gets them into all kinds of trouble. There has been so many books about this throughout this list, some better than others. And this one really wasn’t bad…it’s just when I hit my limit, I guess. They all happen around the turn of the 20th century, they all have characters who love somebody they aren’t supposed to love because they’re from a different class, and they all have characters who don’t follow the rules of what British people are supposed to do in society and that just spoils everything. How dare they!?

Anyways, this book was okay. Easy to read, nothing special. But I just don’t want to read about proper British people refusing to follow their desires or whatever because of societal demands. Who cares?

220px-BRIDESHEADBrideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This is the third novel by Evelyn Waugh on this list. The first was A Handful of Dust and the second was Scoop. I really, really liked both of them. They were hilarious reads and so much fun to go through. That said, I really wasn’t in the mood to read another British novel after the above mentioned Forster novel. And to my chagrin, this novel isn’t a humorous story like his others. And yet, it still was a really great novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where every few chapters I decided the point of the novel was something different. A theme is usually clear from the very beginning or left vague till the end. This novel had a new theme every few chapters. And it was so enjoyably to move around themes.

When I first started reading, the main character is a soldier during WWII. Cool, a war novel. I haven’t had one of these in a while. A few paragraphs later, he starts reminiscing about his time in college. Okay, so this is a coming of age story. I can get behind that. Well, a few chapters of that and we start learning about the character’s best friend’s spiral into alcoholism. And it was really well written. There hasn’t really been a novel dealing with alcoholism on this list and I think it’s important to discuss. After a thorough investigation into that, we move on to early adulthood stagnation. Then a story about a traveling artist (still the main character). Then a love story between two married people (one of them being the main character). Then the end of a family patriarch and the aristocratic family he represents (not the main character or the main character’s family). And amongst all this, a hefty sprinkling of religious discussion, particularly about Catholicism and it’s place in the lives of modern people.

Really, I have never read a book that tries to cover this many issues, this many stories, and overwhelmingly succeeds. I was blown away by how coherent the narration is, how consistent the story is, and how thorough all the above issues are dissected. And all in an impressively normal sized novel (a little over 400 pages). Bravo, Evelyn Waugh. Bravo.

 


Well, that brings us a little closer to the end. Next is The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. Until next time!

 

 
 

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