Sunday, 28 February 2010

Paperback Reader has Moved!

Please join me here (

I hope you like and enjoy my new home and please update your bookmarks; readers; rss feeds; blogrolls etc. and follow my blog at its new address.

I actually moved earlier this month but I am calling any stragglers ... I miss you!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Paperback Reader has Moved!

Please join me here (

I hope you like and enjoy my new home and please update your bookmarks; readers; rss feeds; blogrolls etc. and follow my blog at its new address.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Reading Day

Only a mini-post today as I'm having a reading day/lazy day with my boyfriend. Tonight he is watching the Super Bowl with friends and I'm going for dinner with some of mine; we're also seeing one of the films showing as part of the Johnny Depp series at the BFI, the 1995 Dead Man where Depp plays a character named William Blake and one of the other characters believes he is the Romantic poet.

The lolcats image is apropos of nothing other than the fact that I found it funny. Personally I found the Twilight books addictive, like caffeine, but I know that they are not everyone's cup of tea. Moreover, when do I require an excuse to display my love of cats?!

Have a lovely Sunday.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Recent Acquisitions

I have a few books to share with you that have recently been acquired from publishers. I am keeping the receipt of review copies at a minimum as I find it rather overwhelming but these are all titles that I would have bought anyway and that were on my wish-list. My only issue now is where to start as I want to read them all immediately ...

Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane: I have loved the Canadian literature that I have so far read and this was longlisted for the Giller Prize there in 2008 and this week released in the UK in paperback. I read about this in the lead-up up to the Booker nominees announcement last summer, my curiosity was piqued and I have been wanting to read it ever since. Windmill Books kindly sent me a copy.

You may notice that the other titles on the list are all from Virago; as you will probably know by now, I cannot resist books from this publisher and the lovely Sophie at Virago sent me these. The first two on the pile are both Virago Modern Classics and the other two written by renowned Virago authors (who each have other titles which appear on the VMC list).

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark: matching my other quirky re-issues of Spark novels this newest release is purported to be her best.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins: this VMC received a lot of attention amongst bloggers -and from some of my favourite ones at that- towards the end of last year as it was chosen for the Cornflower Book Group; I have been wanting to read it since then.

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood: I love the new Virago issues of Margaret Atwood's books and it is all that I can do to replace my nearly-complete and mismatched collection of her books with the new ones. Cat's Eye of hers that I have been meaning to read for the longest; I recall attempting to borrow it from my school library many years ago and being refused by the school librarian as he deemed it "inappropriate".

Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou: this is a beautiful hardback edition of essays dedicated to the daughter the writer never had but sees all around her.

Okay, where do I start?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

I love Classic literature; I love books in translation; I love controversial novels with scandal and intrigue so when Polly of Novel Insights chose Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) by Pierra Choderlos de Laclos for the Riverside Readers to discuss, I was delighted.

An eighteenth century epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses concerns two bored aristocrats in pre-Revolutionary France who are in dire need of the guillotine for the evil ways the employ to alleviate their ennui. The Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, ex lovers, each enjoy the arts of deceit and manipulation, each wishing to excel over the other. What begin as acts of revenge and of sexual conquest evolve into intricate Machiavellian plans of diabolical proportions; Valmont and Merteuil embroil others into their salacious machinations and nobody comes off unscathed.

The structure of the novel celebrates what is now the lost art of letter writing; the letters back and forth between all the players serve to look at the deceptions from every available viewpoint and fully appreciate their well-thought-out wickedness. Despite the epistolary form, the characters each had distinct voices and the letters their own style and tone; each writer was easily identifiable and by providing the majority of the correspondence the reader gains an insight into the complex manipulations and behind-the-scenes workings that occur. The multiple ironies of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that the reader is privy to throughout make it compelling reading as did the insight into the other face and persona that each character showed depending on whom they were writing to. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is very witty and intelligent and where some readers find the Chevalier Danceny and Cécile Volanges, the piano teacher and the convent girl respectively, to be annoying, I found them exceptionally amusing in their naïveté and their hyperbolic declarations of love.

Madame de Tourvel, the sexual object of Valmont's whim, is exceptionally virtuous and pious but her letters display great intelligence and passion and Laclos's representation of women is very impressive for its time; the Marquise is a vividly-drawn alpha-female and her verbal sparring with Valmont is every bit as much about sexual politics as it is sexual attraction. A manual in seduction, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is salacious and sordid; sex sells and the novel was very ahead of its time in being very much a part of ours. The scandalous lengths that Valmont and Merteuil go to to gain revenge are quite something; the novel is enthralling (the second volume does admittedly drag in its involved scene-setting) and shocking. At the same time as attempting to seduce Madame de Tourvel -whose conquest will earn him a sexual reward from Merteuil- Valmont is playing older male tutor to Cécile Volanges, at Merteuil's request as she has a score to settle with Cécile's future husband and Valmont consents because he desires revenge on Madame Volanges, Cécile's mother, who is confidante to Madame de Tourvel; further pawns are the impressionable Chevalier Danceny, in love with Cécile and seeking advice and assistance from both Valmont and Merteuil, and Madame de Rosamonde, the matronly aunt of Vamont and friend of de Tourvel, as well as a couple of other by-standers who are caught up in the devilishly dangerous scheming.

I did not find Merteuil or Valmont at all sympathetic; they are thoroughly cruel and loathsome characters in their depravity yet they are fascinating, especially Valmont in his phallocentrism and boundless vanity. Les Liaisons Dangereuses in a study of Sadism and a play-by-play of how people deceive, seduce and manipulate others to their will; it examines the underbelly of human nature. Merteuil loves Valmont and Valmont de Tourvel love each other as much as vain, narcissistic people can love another, but they will not bend to the other and relinquish their power, which is why they can not, ultimately, co-exist; these odious characters will never submit to true feeling at the expense of their reputation and the face that they show to others.

I read the Douglas Parmée translation of the novel, which I found immensely readable; it gives a modern voice to the words, which never jarred for me but it may for some. I didn't lose any of the aristocratic language nor Laclos's deft and clever plays on language and innuendo to depict sexual liaisons. I also watched the Stephen Frear's 1988 adaptation of the novel and thought it wonderfully brought to screen; the editing that is lacking in the novel is brutal in the film but not to the detriment of the story. John Malkovich as Valmont is outstanding although I was disturbed by his sympathetic portrayal as I was vehemently opposed to the deeds he carried out -in relation to Cécile- but could not resist his charm. Frears achieved an impressive visual representation of Laclos's moral ambiguities and complexities that resonates; of the people at book group who had seen the film, none of us could separate the characters from their incarnations on-screen, that and it was far easier to refer to the Marquise de Merteuil as Glenn Close as none of us could pronounce her name.

Some key dialogue -through letters- between Valmont and Merteuil setting out their despicable plan :

Till now my thoughts were all of love; but it was soon replaced by rage. Who do you think is trying to ruin my reputation with the woman I adore? What fiend in woman's shape is evil enough to weave such an abominable plot? You know her, it's your friend and relative, Madame de Volanges. You cannot imagine the tissue of horrors that obnoxious old hag has written about me. It is she and she alone who has been disturbing my angel's peace of mind; it's her views and her pernicious advice that are forcing me to leave; in a word, it is she who has victimized me. Oh, there's no doubt about it, her daughter has got to be seduced; no, that's not enough. That woman must be smashed and since the old trout is too long in the tooth to be attacked directly, she must be made to suffer through someone she loves.

You may be a trifle annoyed at what I'm asking you to do but isn't it a very small return for all the trouble I've been taking over your affairs? Didn't I restore you to the judge's when, through your own stupidity, you'd been forced to leave her? And then wasn't it me who placed into your hands ways and means to settle your score with that mischievous old bigot Madame de Volanges? You're always moaning about the time you waste looking round for exciting things to do. Now you have a couple under your very nose. Love or hatred, take your pick; they're both sleeping under the same roof and you can live a double life, fondling with one hand and stabbing in the back with the other...

Thoughts from other Riverside Readers:


Novel Insights

Reading Matters

Savidge Reads

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Today I would like to welcome The Classics Circuit to my blog as one of the stops in the Harlem Renaissance Tour. The Harlem Renaissance was a movement of literary and artistic expression during the 1920s and 30s that sprang up amongst the African American population of Harlem, New York. I studied the period of "awakening" a little whilst at University and discovered Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay; Nella Larsen's novels, Quicksand and Passing, were (and remain) critically acclaimed and significant novels of the movement. I have had Passing on my wish-list for some time but as it was a popular choice for the tour and as the volume I have contains both of the short works, I decided to review her first novel, Quicksand; I shall post my thoughts on Passing later in the tour.

***warning: this review contains spoilers in last paragraph***

Loosely autobiographical, Quicksand tells the story of Helga Crane, a young mulatto (mixed race) woman whose Danish immigrant mother is dead and whose father abandoned her and her mother, when Helga was a baby. Helga has "no people"; she was uncomfortable with her resentful white stepfather and step-siblings; her uncle Peter who rescued her as a child and sent her to school, disowns her as he has taken a wife who will not accept being aunt to a girl of another race; her Danish aunt and uncle, whom she later lives with in Copenhagen, use her to elevate their social status, as she is unique and exotic amongst their society. Before Helga goes to Denmark she lives in Harlem where her friends are focused -often hypocritically- on the "race question"; Helga does not identify with this group, with this race, until she is later racially alone in Copenhagen (the quotes below demonstrate this shift in perception). Quicksand is about Helga never fitting in or belonging, from the Naxos school where she teaches in the novel's opening to the small Alabama town where her husband is Preacher, in its close.

Helga is not a sympathetic character and is quite unpleasant; she is impulsive and often takes offense to people in frustrating ways. What I became to understand though was that Helga's transitory shifts in emotion, often of anger and irritation, are representative of a woman guided by her passions. Quicksand is regarded as the first novel to give a voice to the sexual desires of a black women but this theme of the novel was too subtle for me -probably by today's standards- yet the passionate reactions, if viewed as representative of her sexual desire and discontent, can be charted throughout the novel. Other symbolism that stood out to me was Helga's desire early on to wear bright colours, to complement her skin, but she was told it was unbecoming for a black woman; later, in Denmark, Helga is encouraged by her Aunt Katrina to wear colourful dresses and at first Helga rails against it as she has been conditioned to dress and behave appropriately. It is Helga's defiance against any categorisation, as a woman or as a person of colour, that makes Quicksand a revolutionary novel of its time; she seeks fulfillment from each of the communities and roles that she moves through, finding none. Furthermore, there are some very interesting passages on race, miscegenation and eugenics that are insightful and challenging to read; in both its treatment of sexuality and race, the text reminds me of some of the short stories and novella, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin.

Helga's finding -and then losing- of religion and her subsequent hasty marriage and new-found motherhood in the last chapters didn't originally work for me in relation to the other defined sections of the novel -Naxos; Chicago; Harlem; Copenhagen; Harlem- but the ending resonated. In Quicksand's close, Helga lies ill after the birth and death of her fourth child, planning her escape from this imprisoning life, but the novel suddenly ends with the pregnancy of her fifth child; it was in the closing lines that Quicksand truly became a novel about the women question as much as it was about the race one.

Outside, rain had begun to fall. She walked bare-headed, bitter with self-reproach. But she rejoiced too. She didn't, in spite of her racial markings, belong to these dark segregated people. She was different. She felt it. It wasn't merely a matter of color. It was something broader, deeper, that made folk kin.

Helga Crane didn't, however, think often of America, excepting in unfavorable contrast to Denmark. For she had resolved never to return to the existence of ignominy which the New World of opportunity and promise forced upon Negroes. How stupid she had been ever to have thought that she could marry and perhaps have children in a land where every dark child was handicapped at the start by the shroud of color! She saw, suddenly, the giving birth to little, helpless, unprotesting Negro children as a sin, an unforgivable outrage. More black folk to suffer indignities. More dark bodies for mobs to lynch. No, Helga Crane didn't think often of America. It was too humiliating, too disturbing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Library Loot

I really must stop requesting books from the library ... but there are so many that catch my eye and it is better than buying them!

In this week's visit I collected:

Bone Black by bell hooks: a memoir by the famous feminist, I'm interested in hooks' thoughts on her growing up during racial segregation.

Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellers: as soon as the Not the TV Book Group reading list was announced, this title caught my eye and I was delighted that my library had it in stock (I was able to pick it up from the stacks as opposed to requesting it, which happens less often than I would like). Published by the Two Ravens Press, this looks like a book that I will love and I'm excited to read it, being a fan of Virginia Woolf.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi: I enjoyed The Icarus Girl and had Oyeyemi's follow-up novels on my wish-list but when Eva compared the psychological horror of White is for Witching with Shirley Jackson, I knew I had to read it immediately.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: who hasn't raved about The Help? It's about time that I read this one.

Have you read any of these or intend to?

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg encouraging library use and its promotion.