Tag Archives: 20th Century Fiction

Dodos Are Forever, Dick King-Smith

Dodos Are Forever, Dick King-SmithDodos Are Fover by Dick King-Smith
Illustrated by David Parkins

First Published: 1989
Pages: 79 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

‘Dodos have no enemies, everyone knows that.’

Beatrice and Bertie, dodos in love, watch the ship approach with no thought of danger.

But the newly arrived giant sea-monkeys soon become their deadly enemy. And the rats they bring with them are worse still: an evil, cunning clan who threaten the dodos long after the sailors have left.

Is this the end of dodos forever? Or can they pull off a daring escape?

This is one of the first books I read all by myself. My year one teacher, Mrs. Heath, kept a personal stash of decent children’s books in a cupboard and after taking a week or so to ascertain that I was reading beyond the required level of ‘Biff, Chip and Kipper‘ she let me and a couple of others plunder from this cupboard as much as we liked during school hours – with the one stipulation that we couldn’t take the books home. So rereading this at almost 25 the first thing that strikes me is how much shorter it seems to be than when I was 5. It is still, however, a very fun little story about animals that it’s hard not to love. Seriously, who doesn’t love dodos?

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Joy in the Morning, P.G. Wodehouse

Joy in the Morning, P.G. WodehouseJoy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

First Published: 1946
Pages: 296 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Jeeves and Wooster #7

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

Trapped in rural Steeple Bumpleigh, a man less stalwart than Bertie Wooster would probably give way at the knees.

For among those present are Florance Craye, to whom Bertie has once been engaged, and her new fiancé ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright, who sees Bertie as a snake in the grass. And that biggest blot on the landscape, Edwin the Boy Scout, who is busy doing acts of kindness out of sheer malevolence.

All Bertie’s forebodings are fully justified. For in his efforts to oil the wheels of commerce, promote the course of true love and avoid the consequences of a vendetta, he becomes the prey of all and sundry. In fact only Jeeves can save him…

Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books but I’d be very had pressed to try to pinpoint why.

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The Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse

The Code of the Woosters, P.G. WodehouseThe Code of the Woosters, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

First Published: 1938
Pages: 286 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Jeeves and Wooster #6

Rating: 5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it

When Bertie Wooster goes to Totleigh Towers to pour oil on the troubled waters of a lovers’ breach between Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle, he isn’t expecting to see his Aunt Dahlia there – nor to be instructed by her to steal some silver. But purloining the antique cow creamer from under the baleful nose of Sir Watkyn Bassett is the least of Bertie’s tasks. He has to restore true love to both Madeline and Gussie and to the Revd Stinker Pinker and Stiffy Byng – and confound the insane ambitions of would-be Dictator Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts. It’s a situation only Jeeves can unravel…

It’s summer again! And summer means lying out on the lawn with a cold drink and a Jeeves and Wooster. The UK’s been having somewhat of a heatwave recently so actually the ‘lawn’ was more like ‘straw’ and I missed the company of my beautiful dogdog who passed away last month, but otherwise it’s as close to perfect Jeeves and Wooster conditions as you can get and I was able to spend a very enjoyable day snorting to myself over Bertie’s misadventures.

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We, Yevgeny Zamyatin

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Translated by  Clarence Brown

First Published: 1924 (original)
First Published: 1993 (this translation)
Pages: 226 (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 3.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/5

Set in the twenty-sixth century A.D., Zamyatin’s masterpiece describes life in the regimented totalitarian society of OneState, ruled over by the all-powerful “Benefactor.” The inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984, We is the archetype of the modern dystopia, or anti-Utopia: a great prose poem detailing the fate that might befall us all if we surrender our individual selves to some collective dream of technology and fail in the vigilance that is the price of freedom.

Clarence Brown’s brilliant translation is based on the corrected text of the novel, first published in Russia in 1988 after more than sixty years’ suppression.

We is the earliest and least famous (at least in the UK) of the ‘big three’ 20th century dystopias; Zamyatin’s We, Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World. It is also the only one of them to be written by an author who actually lived in a Police State (two in fact: Tsarist Russia followed Communist Russia). And, to be honest, those are the main two reasons for reading it – its literary significance and its historical context. Take that away and it’s a very dated and rather hard to relate to bit of sci-fi that I would probably never have picked up, let alone stuck with to the end – with both of these things in mind, however, I found it utterly fascinating.

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The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Publisher: Grafton (HarperCollins)
Pages: 285  (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

Smaug certainly looked fast asleep, when Bilbo peeped once more from the entrance. He was just about to step put onto the floor when he caught a sudden thin ray of red under the drooping lid of Smaug’s left eye. He was only pretending to sleep! He was watching the tunnel entrance!

Whisked from his comfortable hobbit-hole by Gandalf the wizard and a band of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon…

Mwaha! After 24 years I finally managed to finish The Hobbit! And I enjoyed it a lot more than I though I would.

To explain my apprehensions a bit more: I tried to read The Hobbit many, many times in my childhood and each time hated it and failed miserably. I think several of the very numerous creases and damage to the cover of my family’s copy may even have come from me hurling it away in disgust. What annoyed me most though, what really, annoyed me  was always that it was a story I should have  absolutely loved – all the plot ingredients were there; quests, dragons, dwarves, goblins, treasure, all that fantasy stuff I used to practically live and breathe – but I just simply couldn’t get over the fucking tone of the book. I felt patronised by the narrator, annoyed by the constant outbursts of song, and generally talked down to. In fact, when I was about five, I very stroppily insisted that my parents never tried to play the audiobook in the car ever again (it was a staple for long journeys at the time) because, although the bits with the trolls and the goblins and the dragon were great, I was fed up of hearing how ‘Bilbo Baggins wished he was back in his hobbit hole. Not for the last time!’ repeated every few minutes.

So, despite loving the basic plot and absolutely adoring Lord of the Rings, I was very, very apprehensive about giving The Hobbit another go – but all the same I really wanted to at least try before I went to see the film. And actually I’m really fucking glad that I did, cause read with adult eyes I actually really liked it (though I confess to still being annoyed by the songs).

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Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
Introduction by Sarah Waters

Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 350 (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating:

Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake?

Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extrodinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American Journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I absolutely adored Carter’s short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, when I read it earlier this year and a big part of that enjoyment was the writing style which was verbose and beautiful but also honest and dirty and not at all ‘flowery and delicate’, thick with references and heavy with unusual and striking descriptions that transformed the everyday and even the crude  into the magical. Nights at the Circus is like that, but more so. More so to the point of absolute suspension-of-disbelief-shattering distraction, in fact. Maybe it’s just that what works for me in a short story just seems too much when sustained over the course of a whole novel, but I found this book very hard to get into. As much as I wanted to like and get a grip on the characters and the story everything simply felt overpowered by the writing. Even when stuff was going on – and a lot of stuff happened in this book – it felt like I was reading something that was all style over substance.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book, or that the writing didn’t contain some absolutely beautiful descriptions, but I didn’t enjoy the book anywhere near as much as I’d hoped.

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Tales of the Greek Heroes, Roger Lancelyn Green

Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green
Introduction by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 270 (Hardback)
Form: Novel

Rating:

Ah, Greek mythology, one of my pet passions. Like most people my introduction to the world of Greek mythology came through a children’s book that retold some of the more popular and enduring legends – Heracles, Odysseus, and Jason. That particular book will always have a very special place in my heart (and on my bookshelf). It wasn’t, however, this book. Continue reading

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