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1001 Books Round-Up October 2020

This months losers and losers…in all honesty this was a very average month.

Journey to the West Volume 2 – Yearly Read – What GR Says: The fantastic tale recounts the sixteen-year pilgrimage of the monk Hsüan-tsang (596-664), one of China’s most illustrious religious heroes, who journeyed to India with four animal disciples in quest of Buddhist scriptures. For nearly a thousand years, his exploits were celebrated and embellished in various accounts, culminating in the hundred-chapter Journey to the West, which combines religious allegory with romance, fantasy, humor, and satire.

What I have learnt from this volume:

1) If you need to cross a river there will be a demon in it trying to prevent you crossing
2) If you meet a stranger on the road don’t trust them they are bound to be a demon
3) If Monkey can’t beat a demon within 3 rounds he is going to need to get back up
4) When you are in serious s**t the only one to save you is the Bodhisattva
5) Don’t trust Pig to do anything alone he will either a) hide and fall asleep b) steal food getting everyone in trouble or c) both of these
6) Living a pure life for 10 life cycles means that eating you can make others immortal – they really didn’t put enough thought into that if you ask me
7) If you want to know what happens next you will need to read on.

Journey to the West Volume 3 – Yearly Read

1) Beware which streams you drink from
2) Names tell you a lot more than you think
3) Any animal that escapes from heaven will naturally come to earth and become a demon
4) 3 is still the magic number
5) As if wanting to eat him wasn’t enough now every woman he meets wants to steal the Tang Priest’s innocence
6) “Womanland” existed in Chinese literature hundreds of years ago
7) The journey may have gone smoother if Monkey wasn’t there
8) The Tang Priest is a bit of a git, he is always sending Monkey away and then realising he needs him
9) Friar Sand & Pig really don’t want to be on this journey any opportunity they get they are splitting goods and preparing to go their separate ways
10) If you want to know what happens next read on

 Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner – BOTM – What Goodreads Says: Sophia Willoughby, a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family and a person of strong opinions and even stronger will, has packed her cheating husband off to Paris. He can have his tawdry mistress. She intends to devote herself to the serious business of raising her two children in proper Tory fashion.

Then tragedy strikes: the children die, and Sophia, in despair, finds her way to Paris, arriving just in time for the revolution of 1848. Before long she has formed the unlikeliest of close relations with Minna, her husband’s sometime mistress, whose dramatic recitations, based on her hair-raising childhood in czarist Russia, electrify audiences in drawing rooms and on the street alike. Minna, “magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering,” leads Sophia on a wild adventure through bohemian and revolutionary Paris, in a story that reaches an unforgettable conclusion amidst the bullets, bloodshed, and hope of the barricades. Sounds like an amazing story…but…

My Thoughts: This is an unpopular opinion as other readers in the 1001 group loved this book but for me it was just meh. Based on the books description I expected to love this story, strong women defying men and getting on with life together during the French Revolution – yes please sign me up. Unfortunately what I found instead was a story populated by unlikeable characters who treat each other badly.

The story is also written in a really detached style, important events are hidden under a slew of words that made connection to the characters near enough impossible for me. You would expect a big old softie like me to be upset by the death of the children but due to the way this was written my only thought on this was “oh, the children have died already”. Personally I found reading this a slog, I was bored, I was disconnected and even the way the book ended failed to move me to anything other than pleasure that I wouldn’t have to pick it up again.

3 Stars – this is relatively short at 329 pages and there are much worse books on the list. Read it then come back and show me what I missed or read it and come back and validate my opinions.

The Master by Colm Toibin – BOTM – What GR says: “Colm Tóibín’s beautiful, subtle illumination of Henry James’s inner life” (The New York Times) captures the loneliness and hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably fail those he tried to love.

Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers. With stunningly resonant prose, “The Master is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist: artful, moving, and very beautiful” (The New York Times Book Review). The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting. Hmmmm

My Thoughts: For the second time this month I am puzzled by why the book has been included on the list in the first place. While I enjoyed the sections where the author images how James came up with the ideas for his novels the sections where he tried to explore James as a sexual (or not) being didn’t really work for me.

I was intrigued by the relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolson and would love to know what really went on between them and exactly what it was that James decided to destroy after her death. However in the context of the The Master the only impression I got was a selfish man worried about being trapped into marriage.

As a character James was essentially unlikeable and dare I say it a tad boring. He never appeared to connect emotionally with anyone instead he was more interested in observing “human” behaviour as a source of material for his novels.

What this book has made me want to do is to read more books by Henry James and to explore the writing of Constance Fenimore Woolson. What it failed to make me want to do is to read more books by Colm Toibin.

3 Stars – read it for an insight into the creative process of writing a novel. The author reveals as much about himself and his creative process in this book as he does about James.

 

The Monastery by Walter Scott – Tackle the TBR – What GR Says: Set on the eve of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, The Monastery is full of supernatural events, theological conflict, and humor. Located in the lawless Scottish Borders, the novel depicts the monastery of Kennaquhair (a thinly disguised Melrose Abbey, whose ruins are still to be seen near Scott’s own home at Abbotsford) on the verge of dissolution and the fortunes of two brothers as they respond to a new social and religious order. Can’t argue with that.

My Thoughts: This is a Scott novel so going into it I wasn’t expecting it to be short but in all honesty did it have to be so long winded? Once we got past the bizarre introduction which explains how the story came to be published the story did pick up and I did enjoy the supernatural elements.

The problem for me is the story is written so stiffly even the exciting bits didn’t exactly race along, the bits in dialogue I must admit to skimming over because…well life is short and when I finally got to the end it was more a dull fizzle than an worthwhile payoff for the amount of time spent reading. (18 days).

3 Stars – read it for the spirit in white who speaks in verse.

Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought of them.

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