What I’m Reading | Fall 2014

Today is the official beginning of my favorite season, Autumn. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to let you guys know what is on my To-Read List for the next few months.

I’ve always felt that there are certain books that were meant to be read in the cooler months, which is what has inspired all of the books on this list (although I’m always open to impulsive reads too!).

My Cousin Rachel

The first ‘autumn’ read I’ve chosen is My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne DuMaurier. Last year I read Rebecca, and I loved it so much I wanted to reread it this year, until I found My Cousin Rachel at the bookstore last month (how did I not know this existed before?!). What I loved about Rebecca was the suspense, the mystery/plot twists, the writing style, and the gothic elements of the story, and so far I’ve not been disappointed by this book either. DuMaurier seems to have a thing for beginnings that make you beg for more, while maintaining stylistic perfection. I’m hooked, and I can’t wait to sit down with it this weekend and read as much as I can.

Dracula

I’ve also started Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I have to admit, I was not looking forward to reading this and simply chose it because it is ‘classic Halloween’, but even after only the first few pages, I knew my pre-conceived notions about this novel were dead wrong. This is a prime example of why you should not judge a book by its reputation! More about this to come in the ‘official’ review.

The Woman in White The Haunting of Hill House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other books I have on order and should be here this week: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, and The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. I don’t know much about either of these books, but they both sound interesting and I think they’ll fit right into my autumn/spooky theme.

I’m hoping to finish these four novels before Halloween, so I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me, but I’m up for the challenge!

In case you’re looking for some ideas for fall reading, here are some other seasonal favorites I’ve read in years past::

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Loch, by Steve Alten

The Loch, by Steve Alten

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

 

Thanks for reading,
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The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

After distancing myself for a few days from The Paris Wife, I decided that I’d like to write up a proper review for it, as it really was an outstanding book.
In short, it’s about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, told from his wife’s perspective (Hadley Richardson). It begins just as they met in Chicago 1921, through their  mutual friend Kate and her brother, who Ernest and Hadley are both staying with (my feeling is it was some kind of large house with rooms for let, they weren’t sleeping on the couch or anything). Hadley, 28 at the time (to Ernest’s 21), had just lost her mother and desperately needed a vacation, which is what brought her there. Obviously, they fall in love and get married, yada yada ;-)
I think what touched me so much about this book is how real the relationship and the marriage felt. There were mistakes, there were awkward times, there were times of self-doubt and of loneliness. The entire arc of the relationship is covered in this book – from the first words they spoke to each other up to the last phone call they ever share, years after their divorce (if you read through to the epilogue). As a reader, you fall in love with them, you ache with them, you share their frustrations, and when you just begin to sense that things are starting to not go quite as well as they had been, you’re just as surprised to see that the problems had been brewing for a long time, and just as hearbroken about it. They were the couple their friends thought would never break up. This is the story of a real happy couple, and how their marriage crumpled despite, or perhaps because of, their passion.
Paula McLain’s writing struck me right away. It was descriptive and emotional, and conveyed the tone and style of the novel perfectly in every sentence. I’m actually not sure exactly how many of the events and conversations in this novel are true, but I imagine quite a bit of it must be (Hemingway was quite autobiographical in his novels, and he has multiple volumes of published letters – and an otherwise highly public life). What I loved the most was how much The Paris Wife felt like Hemingway’s novels. A big part of the book was dedicated to Pampalona and three different years they attended the running of the bulls and the festivities afterward, which is exactly what happens: fishing trip, toreros, characters and all, in The Sun Also Rises. Her writing didn’t exactly mimic Hemingway’s, but the same tone was there…agh, it’s hard to explain. It is perfect for what it is really:  the supposed recounting of the events through the perspective of his wife, who would sound similar to him, wouldn’t she? It’s really a wonderful novel.
I think Hadley’s voice from the 1920s is similar to many voices of modern women: a little bit insecure, a little bit lonely, completely dependant on her husband (emotionally, as in, she has few friends), and hopelessly in love. I found it easy to connect with, and I think many readers of historical fiction, or admirers of Hemingway’s work, would enjoy it.
As for Paris, well, I can’t speak for that. Hem and Hadley encountered many others we know well today who were featured in the novel: F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein the most prominent of those. I’m not very familiar with any of those, but I’d be curious to see if they’re really anything like how McLain paints them in this novel. I have Z, the Zelda Fitzgerald novel that came out recently, so I may have to get that out in the next few days…
This novel is also funny. The dialogue establishes the personality of whole parties instead of individuals, it seems, and everyone has multiple nicknames and drinks entirely too much (sound like any novels you’ve heard of?). It was a time to be social and to drink and to laugh and to love, and a time of great friends. And there was poverty and grime and beauty and madness that came of the time.
It’s really a wonderful book – you should read it.
Emma.

Thoughts on The Paris Wife

The following post isn’t a review, exactly. More like an immediate reaction to the novel.

I’ve just finished reading The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Let me tell you, even though I knew how this book would inevitably end, I find myself crushed by this one.

It begins in Chicago in 1921, Hemingway a strapping 21 year old, and ends in a plethora of places, because marriages don’t end all at once, do they? Perhaps I’m writing this too soon after finishing the book, but this is a literary journal, is it not? I fell in love with this book at the Prologue. The writing enchanted me, and I couldn’t wait to read about how the first girl snagged Ernest Hemingway – it’s quite romantic. It’s delightful to read about falling in love, but who can take reading passage after passage of failing love, of a crumpling marriage – especially when both parties are still very much in love? Especially when they see their peers failing in the same ways…

Young people should read this novel to learn that giving into temptation doesn’t ultimately make anyone happy, does it? Even decades later Ernest Hemingway (at least in the book) realizes that in the grand scheme of his life, his betrayal of Hadley only four years into their marriage, was one of the biggest mistakes he’d ever made.

Hemingway is my favorite classic novelist, A Farewell To Arms & The Sun Also Rises are two of my favorite books ever. I own many of his works, and yet haven’t read them because they’re on ration throughout my lifetime, so there will always be something new. I love his writing, and I like to picture him working, writing, someone who was so dedicated and masterful at his craft…reading this ‘interpretation’ of his first marriage, and perhaps only true love brought me to my knees. This feeling I have after reading the last third of the book is really an emotional blow.

I actually love this book. The writing is very good, and I obviously love the subject. Paula McLain did such a good job, in fact, that I’m quite upset with Mr. Hemingway at the moment. I’m torn between wanting to read one of his books right now, or whether to put them all somewhere I can’t see them for awhile, the bastard.

Emma.

Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier

If you didn’t catch my Currently Reading post, then you don’t know the interesting circumstances surrounding my beginning to read this book.

So there we were, boy trying to make me watch sprint car videos on YouTube – when I struck a deal with him: I will watch your videos, if you pick a book for me to read. I was really hoping he’d peruse them for awhile, pulling certain volumes out and reading about them, or at least look at the covers, but no, he looked from a few feet away for about 38 seconds and settled on Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.

I usually tell him to pick what movie we’ll watch, and then I’ll refuse to watch what he picked and we’ll watch what I want after all, so I had to read this book – especially because I instigated the whole thing. And luckily, I did.

I was struck by the writing right away. The beginning dream sequence is really exquisite. I didn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading, so I didn’t know what to expect at all. I didn’t know that the first line of this novel is considered one of the greatest in classic literature, and actually, even now I’m not sure it is – I only saw that in one place, but I have to agree:

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Its pretty mesmerizing in itself. Where is Manderley? What kind of dream was it? How many times has she dreamt it? Does it occur every night? Is it a special place to her, is that why she’s dreaming of it? It’s a sentence that makes you beg for more – a fine example of du Maurier’s skillful and suspenseful writing throughout the novel.

I’m not sure why I’m so often surprised at how good classic literature is. Mesmerized is a good word, so I’ll use it again – it’s how I felt when reading this book. I don’t usually read books that are so…suspenseful. It’s hard to say what created the suspense here, after all, there’s not terribly much action – it’s set in high class England around the 30s (I assume), which is a period where high class English women didn’t really do a whole lot besides plan parties and keep their husband company when that was convenient. It was the beginning dream sequence, the description of the absolute abandonment of this place she apparently cherished…what could have happened to make them leave so completely and so abruptly? Was it terribly traumatic? What could it have been? I spent the duration of the novel waiting for any clues as to what it could have been – a small spark that festered…or something sudden and catastrophic? It created quite a bit of suspense that carried most of the way through the novel on its own.

Prepare yourself, Spoilers follow throughout the end of this post::

Our narrator, a ‘young’ girl, nearly a child still who marries Maxim de Winter – she is nameless and ageless. She is an introvert, like me, and harbors deep insecurities about her marriage because she is her husband’s second wife, and she knows very well that he was very happy with his first one before her sudden death the previous year. She is haunted by the thought of this woman, someone much older than her with the confidence and training of someone in the upper class. Her thoughts fill up with imaginations of what Rebecca, the first wife, would have done in every situation; what she smelled like, how she moved across a room, how she would have given orders to the servants, how she would have acted with Maxim…the thoughts often tormented her, and yet, her curiosity and insecurity drove them on. I believe it made her unhappy in her marriage, in which she would have been much more care-free, and Maxim would have been much more likely to fall in love with her. It was really quite sad to ‘hear’ the narrator’s thoughts as she was looking forward to their wedding, how she continually thought Maxim was ‘forgetting’ to mention that he loved her, that they would be terribly happy. I would continually wonder why this girl just let the house maids and women around town control her. She is the new Mrs. de Winter! She is now on equal status to Rebecca. I wanted to shout at her to rearrange the house, to throw out the old coats, to tell her husband, ‘Yes, I broke the Cupid figurine! It was an accident but I didn’t like it anyway. I would rather have my art books on the morning-room desk!’ The girl seriously needs to grow a backbone. How she sat and let people talk around her when at tea, whether she way calling on them or the other way round. She seems so nearly pathetic.

And then…

At the turning point in the novel, and I won’t spoil it for you, in case you’re still reading and haven’t read the book yet…the narrator really impresses me. It’s not because what she had felt was justified, or that her reaction to her husband’s confession was ‘right’ or even admirable, but because I’m a woman, and I’ve been insecure in love. I suddenly understood her. In fact, our unnamed narrator and I seem to have quite a bit in common. My only complaint about the whole thing is the beginning, which is supposed to be the end. She still sounds unhappy, although all of her fears are supposed to have been abolished, in the end. I can’t understand it.

Maxim himself is quite a mystery. To me, he was unpredictable. For someone so miserable, why does he even want to marry someone new? It seems like everyone was quite upset about Rebecca with him, and wouldn’t have minded if he died a widower. It’s not like he needed someone to spend his money for him, right? But then it is said that the pervious year he was close to break-down, and now that he’s married he looks much healthier – perhaps he married her to simply take his mind off of the past quite more than he was able to by himself? It baffles me that the narrator is objective enough to realize that he treats her in the same manor as the dog, Jasper; something to consider almost absent-mindedly, who at times it is inconvenient to be around, and at best can only offer a sense of companionship, nothing like equality or could possibly have something to teach him. It made me sad to read.

And then…

Everything changed in that one paragraph, didn’t it? I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that had such a twist before (Except perhaps the last page of Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult). Maxim turned out to be both much more sinister, more passionate, and more respectable all with one little word. I can understand people comparing him to Edward Fairfax de Rochester, and yet, it doesn’t fit with me. Rochester was more compassionate – less impulsive – more manipulative. But both he and Maxim de Winter are driven by the same mistake: marrying the wrong woman, and it leads them both to do dangerous and disastrous things. I am kind of repulsed by Maxim though, as much as I want to like him. How he had to lie and deceive for those ten months, to everyone around him. He went the opposite route, because of circumstances of course, Rochester had gone to his wife’s land, and Rebecca had gone to de Winter’s; it’s not as if he could have just fled his ancestor’s property that he had loved…

I literally gasped at the end of chapter 19 – the revelation frankly shocked me, and yet, as the narrator was, I was relieved.

Ah, the feeling you have after reading a good book. I haven’t compulsively read anything like that since Jane Eyre, and technically that was an audiobook. Good choice, my love.

See ya next time,
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