Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Pickwick Papers

In March 2016 I signed up for a Read-Along organised by On Bookes to read The Pickwick Papers in instalments as the book was meant to be read.  The challenge celebrated the 180th anniversary of the first instalment of The Pickwick Papers.  The challenge lasted until November 2017 and, although  I did finish the book, I was unable to keep up with the reading schedule and didn't manage a blog post for each instalment.  I did find it hard to remember what had happened in the previous instalment although people reading the book at the time probably discussed each instalment with their friends and family during the month in the same way as TV soaps are discussed today. 

I first read this book as a student many years ago but couldn't remember much about the story.  The Pickwick Papers consists of a number of separate incidents involving Mr Pickwick and his friends as they travel around England.  Early in the book Mr Pickwick employs Sam Weller as his servant.   Sam is very streetwise and helps rescue Mr Pickwick from many scrapes.  Although some of the incidents are very funny I found much of the book silly.  I certainly didn't like it as much as Dickens' later books but this could be due to the format which makes it difficult to develop characters in any depth.

What I liked about the book:-
  • the descriptions
  • the character of Sam Weller
  • some of the funny incidents
  • the description of the prison
  • the happy ending
  • the illustrations
What I disliked about the book:-
  • the additional stories which were added presumably to make some instalments longer - I felt that most of these added nothing to the book
  • the characters of Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen who seemed very irresponsible and I was glad when they went abroad and got yellow fever!
Dickens does introduce some themes in this book which he develops in later novels such as industrialisation, debt, poverty and the law.

I would like to thank On Bookes for organising this Read-Along and for providing additional information about what was happening at the time when each instalment was written.  It was certainly an interesting experience to read a Victorian novel in this way and I may consider doing this again.
Picture below shows Mr Bob Sawyer's mode of travelling
I will conclude this review with the final words from the book - "Mr Pickwick is somewhat infirm now; but he retains all his former juvenility of spirit, and may still be frequently seen, contemplating the pictures in Dulwich Gallery, or enjoying a walk about the pleasant neighbourhood on a fine day.  He is known by all the poor people about, who never fail to take their hats off, as he passes, with great respect.  The children idolise him, and so indeed does the whole neighbourhood.  Evert year, he repairs to a large family merry-making at Mr Wardle's; on this, as on all other occasions, he is invariably attended by the faithful Sam, between whom and his master there exists a steady and reciprocal attachment which nothing but death will terminate."

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Back to the Classics 2018

The books I have chosen to read for the Back to the Classics 2018 Challenge are as follows:-

A 19th century classic - Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

A 20th century classic - The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

A classic by a woman author - Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

A children's classic - The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

A classic travel or journey narrative - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

A classic with a single word title - Emma by Jane Austen

A classic with a colour in the title - Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Re-read a favourite classic - A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

I think I was too ambitious in choosing 8 books for this challenge as I only managed to read half of them.  However I did enjoy these - see my reviews on these books.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indriðason


The Shadow District is the first book in a new series by the Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason. This book is set in Reykjavik and shifts between the present day and the Second World War when Iceland was occupied by US military forces.  A 90 year old man is found dead in his flat and it turns out that he has been murdered.  Kónrad, a retired police detective investigates the case and finds some newspaper cuttings in the murdered man's flat about the murder of a young woman in Reykjavik during the Second World War.  We then find out how this murder was investigated by an Icelandic detective Flóvent and a Canadian military police officer who can speak Icelandic.  

Although the book goes between the two time periods and there are no clues at the top of the chapters, I did not find it difficult to work out which time the chapter was describing.  Thanks to dogged police work, Kónrad finds the link between both cases, solving the cold case in the process.
I liked:-
  • Finding out more about the impact of the invasion of the US military on the small island of Iceland. Although this improved the economy there were tensions between the two communities.  Women who fraternised with the US service men were frowned upon.
  • I thought the characters were believable and well drawn.
  • The plot was clever - I like books which go between two different time periods and felt the author did this well.
  • This is a police procedural novel with a difference as Konrad is retired
  • As I am currently doing a Viking Studies course I enjoyed reading about Icelandic folklore - this theme goes through the novel.
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more in the series. I can also recommend Arnaldur's earlier books featuring the detectives Erlundur and Sigurdur Óli. These usually have two stories too - a modern crime and a cold case involving a missing person.


Friday, 8 December 2017

Dickens in December

Thanks to the Once Lost Wanderer blog I have found another Dickens challenge! This is the Dickens in December challenge which is hosted by Fanda Classiclit.  I am planning to read The Chimes from a collection of Dickens' Christmas stories and if I have time I will read more of these.

A number of years ago the Shetland Library set up a "Lunch with Dickens" book group which meets weekly to discuss 19th century novels.  The year always starts with a book by Dickens and the book for 2018 is Little Dorrit

Thursday, 7 December 2017

A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017

I was delighted to find out that A Literary Christmas Challenge organised by In the Bookcase is running again this year - I took part last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.  This year I am going to read the following short stories

The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Mistletoe Murder by P D James

Christmas Stories by George Mackay Brown

I chose the first two books as I enjoy reading crime fiction and Victorian novels.  The third book is by one of my favourite authors -  George Mackay Brown whose writing was influenced by Orkney where he lived all his life.