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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Sisters Marianne and Elinor couldn’t be more different. Marianne is desperately romantic and longing to meet the man of her dreams, while Elinor takes a far more cautious approach to love. When the two of them move to the country with their family, miles away from London, there is little prospect of them finding anyone at all. But then they meet their new neighbours, including kind Edward Ferrers and the good-looking, dangerous Willoughby – and it seems happiness may be just round the corner after all. Things aren’t always as they appear to be though. Soon, both sisters will need to decide who to trust in their search for love: their family, their new friends, their heads – or their hearts?”

REVIEW: Despite this being one of my favourite of Austen’s novels, I have only read it once and I was quite young at the time, so despite having watched the film pretty much constantly since then I decided I needed a refresher on the original story. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ tells the story of Elinor and Marianne, two very different sisters who are forced into near poverty when their father dies and their home passes to their older brother and his domineering wife, who is determined to force the girls, their mother and their younger sister Margaret from their home. Upon moving to the countryside, however, Elinor and Marianne find themselves with a new circle of friends, many of them comical (I personally find Mr and Mrs Palmer very amusing), and with new love interests. Elinor is introduced to Edward Ferrers, the brother of her sister-in-law, and the two of them develop a warm relationship based on shared interests and understanding. Headstrong Marianne, however, enters into a much more dangerous relationship with Willoughby (who reminds me very much of the notorious Wickham from ‘Pride and Prejudice’), falling completely in love with him and embarking on a passionate courtship that eventually ends in heartbreak. The contrast between Elinor and Marianne really adds to the story, and it is heartwarming to see how their understanding of each other grows throughout the novel, changing their relationship with each other. Of course, being an Austen novel, despite the ups and downs of their romances the two girls both eventually find love; Elinor with Edward, and Marianne with the kindhearted Colonel Brandon, her champion from the beginning of the novel. This is a lighthearted, romantic and often amusing tale, with just enough scandal and drama involved to make it gripping – a true Austen masterpiece.

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The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

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RATING: 2.5/5

BLURB: “First published by Macmillan in 1894, The Jungle Book is the classic collection of animal tales that shows Rudyard Kipling’s writing for children at its best. The short stories and poems include the tale of Mowgli, a boy raised by a pack of wolves in the Indian jungle. We meet the tiger Shere Khan, Bagheera, the black panther, Baloo, the ‘sleepy brown bear’, and the python, Kaa. Other famous stories include the tale of the fearless mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and that of elephant-handler Toomai of the Elephants.”

REVIEW: What little I knew of ‘The Jungle Book’, prior to reading the lovely copy I picked out on a birthday bookshop trip back in February, was – unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me – was gained from watching the Disney version many, many, MANY times. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the original text of ‘The Jungle Book’ does not just consist of the familiar – and very enjoyable – story of the man-cub Mowgli; it also contains a number of other short stories based in the Jungle, including the story of the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which was probably the one I enjoyed the most after the traditional Jungle Book tale. For the purposes of this review, I will focus on ‘The Jungle Book’ story itself, as this is the one we are all the most familiar with. Although all of our favourite characters remain; the brave Mowgli, bold Bagheera, bumbling Baloo, sinister Kaa and the terrifying Shea Khan; many aspects of the story are changed and become, in fact, far more disturbing. The meeting with the monkeys – King Louis in particular – one of the most famous parts of the Disney film, does not in fact happen, or if it does it was done so briefly that I missed it entirely. The orginal tale by Kipling is also much more gruesome, and for example we see Mowgli skinning Shea Khan and holding up the removed fur to boast of his killing of the tiger. The other stories I did not find particularly memorable, and I did not even enjoy the original Jungle Book story as much as I thought I would. I do think, however, that my love of Disney may have blinkered my interpretation of the book, and therefore I would still urge you all to read it, as I know it is regarded as a much-loved children’s classic.

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In the Fifth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “The exams are over! Now Darrell and her friends can settle down to a year of fun. But with a pantomime to run and some terrible fights amongst the Upper Fourth, life’s not as quiet as they’d hoped…”

REVIEW: This was always my favourite book in series, as I absolutely loved the plotline of Darrell and her friends teaming up to write, produce and perform in the school pantomime, ‘Cinderella’. The new characters introduced in this book are also far less likeable than the previously introduced characters, which adds some enjoyment to the book because of the conflict this creates between the existing fifth formers and these other girls, the domineering Moira and the sickeningly sweet Katherine. Most of the book is taken up by the thoroughly enjoyable pantomime plotline, but also by the myserious poison pen letters that Moira begins to receive after falling out with many of the other girls, providing a number of possible culprits for the letter-writing. The identity of the culprit may provide a surprise for some readers, and this revelation, combined with the delightful chapter about the play and a brilliant trick played by Mademoiselle Dupont makes this book my favourite one yet, and also provides a fun and satisfying ending that captures the sense of the fun the girls themselves have had throughout the novel as they did not need to take any exams.

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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Lady Dona St Columb seems to revel in scandal: she is involved in every intrigue of the Restoration court. But secretly, the shallowness of court life disgusts her, and in her heart she longs for freedom and honest love. Retreating to Navron, her husband’s Cornish estate, she seeks peace and solitude away from London. But Navron is being used as the base for a French pirate, an outlaw hunted by all Cornwall. Instead of feeling fear, Dona’s thirst for adventure has never been more aroused; in Jean-Benoit Aubery she finds a sensitive man who would, like her, gamble his life for a moment’s joy. Together they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which will force Dona to make the ultimate choice; will she sacrifice her lover to certain death, or risk her own life to save him?”

REVIEW: Daphne du Maurier’s books always promise a gripping and adventurous read, and this novel was no different. ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ tells the story of the bored and beautiful courtier Dona, who escapes to the Navron estate in Cornwall with her children after a scandal at court forces her to realise how much she hates the pretense of courtly life. Living in relative freedom and developing a friendship with the mysterious servant William, Dona is interested to learn of the pirate activity taking place in the surrounding waters, which the local elite are determined to put an end to. Sneaking out of the house one day, she meets the man she discovers to be William’s master – the pirate Jean-Benoit Aubrey – whose ship, La Mouette, is residing in the creek close by Navron. The two soon become fascinated with one another, both similar personalities but from completely different worlds, and begin a passionate affair full of riotous quests. Things are complicated, however, by the arrival of Dona’s husband Harry and his close friend, Rockingham, who has long held an interest in Dona, at Navron. As the hunt for the pirates begins to gain momentum among the Cornish elite, finding its base in Dona’s own household, Dona has to make the choice of which side she is truly on, and work out where her loyalties – and her dreams – lie. The romance that develops between Dona and her Frenchman, and the adventures they share, makes for gripping reading, and we feel freed with Dona as she escapes the confines of the noble court life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wish the ending hadn’t been quite so mysterious, as I am desperate to know precisely what happened – but I shall say no more, for fear of ruining it!

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Eight years ago, Anne rejected the man she loved because her friends and family persuaded her that he wasn’t rich or important enough. In all that time, she’s never found anyone to match Captain Wentworth – and now he’s back: successful, sophisticated and still single. Unfortunately for Anne, it’s his turn to reject her. With her snobbish father and spoiled sister always ready to embarrass her in polite society, and her refusal of Wentworth still fresh in everyone’s mind, Anne wonders if she’ll ever find the courage to follow her heart again. And if she does, what can she do to regain the affections of her Captain?”

REVIEW: I’m currently taking a module on Jane Austen and Georgian society at university, so I thought it would be a good time to go back to some of the novels that I couldn’t remember as well. Persuasion was one of the first Austen novels I read and, as a thirteen-year-old girl, I found myself feeling a great affinity with Anne – doesn’t ever girl have some point in her teenage years where she is spurned by a boy and consequently feels invisible? I know I did, and because of this relationship that my younger self developed with Anne, she has always been one of my favourite Austen characters. In returning to the novel whilst being in a much more stable position in my personal life, I found myself feeling much more sympathy for Anne than I had done when I was younger, when I simply saw Anne as an echo of myself. Anne Elliot seems to be the only rational, humane person in a family ruled by pride, stubbornness and snobbery. Her father refuses to face up to their money problems while her sister, Mary, constantly expects Anne to be at her beck and call and frequently embarrasses her with her overbearing nature; a nature that does not sit well in polite society. Anne is constantly forced to make sacrifices for her family; missing out on society gatherings to look after Mary’s sick child, for example, or playing the pianoforte while everyone around her dances and is merry (though this does appear to be something she herself prefers, as she clearly does not relish being the centre of attention). The biggest sacrifice Anne makes, however, is that of her own happiness, and this occurs before the timeline in which the book is set. Pressured by her interfering family and friends, Anne feels compelled to reject a proposal from the man she loves, Captain Wentworth. Consequently, when the book opens, she is twenty-seven and still on the shelf, with little hopes of getting married – until Captain Wentworth returns to Uppercross. He seems to pay little attention to Anne and appears to be instead focusing his attention on Louisa Musgrove, whilst Anne is unwilling drawn into an affection with Mr Elliot, her cousin, who turns out to be not quite as amiable as he seems. Being an Austen novel, both Wentworth and Anne eventually realise that misunderstanding and miscommunication have led to them delaying their reunion and, as they are both still in love, they are finally able to be joined in marriage after eight years of misery and longing on both their parts. I enjoyed this novel just as much the second time around as I did the first time I read it, and also found new messages within that I hadn’t understood or noticed when I read the novel before  – for this reason, I would highly recommend it.

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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, frustrated college professor. In love with his landlady’s twelve-year-old daughter Lolita, he’ll do anything to possess her. Unable and unwilling to stop himself, he is prepared to commit any crime to get what he wants. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?”

REVIEW: Due to the sensitive topic matter and the nature of the writing style, it is difficult to write an objective and clear review of this infamous novel. Humbert Humbert’s (HH) story is told through his eyes, detailing his relationship with the twelve-year-old Lolita, which begins when he becomes a lodger in the home she shares with the novel. Even before he meets Lolita, the reader is told by HH of his predilection for young girls, whom he terms ‘nymphets’, and is disturbed to read of how he watches them in parks, school, etc. We already know, therefore, that he is a danger to Lolita as soon as they meet. When HH ends up married to Lolita’s mother, the ends he will go to to achieve his desire become even more shocking for the reader, and end in Lolita’s mother’s death and a whirlwind trip around America for HH and his nymphet. It is difficult to say much more about the book without giving away too much of the various plot twists and the complexities of both HH’s character and Lolita’s, who is surprising in many ways to any reader who already had previous conceptions of what she might be like before starting the novel. I would caution anyone who plans to read the novel that although it is gripping, it is also extremely disturbing to a modern reader when there are such strong views against childhood sexuality present in our current society, and rightly so. I did find many parts of the novel to be extremely upsetting, but can also appreciate that Nabokov’s writing talent really shines through here; his writing reflects the psychopathic nature of HH himself, as it  is often fragmented and complex to understand. I would recommend it based on Nabokov’s writing, but not necessarily based on the highly sensitive subject matter.

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Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Jude Fawley, the stonemason excluded not by his wits but by poverty from the world of Christminster privilege, finds fulfilment in his relationship with Sue Bridehead. Both have left earlier marriages. Ironically, when tragedy tests their union it is Sue, the modern emancipated woman, who proves unequal to the challenge. Hardy’s fearless exploration of sexual and social relationships and his prophetic critique of marriage scandalised the late Victorian establishment and marked the end of his career as a novelist.”

REVIEW:  Hardy’s final novel, and possibly his most scandalous, tells the story of Jude Fawley (a young boy at the start of the novel), whose dream is to study in the nearby college town of Christminster and enter into the church just as his old schoolteacher and idol, Master Phillotson, has gone away to do. The novel follows Jude as he grows and sees his attempts to improve himself by learning Latin and Greek and seeking out new ways to learn, readying himself for the journey to Christminster that he believes will make his fortune. Jude’s plans are put on hold, however, when he is seduced by the beautiful but cunning Arabella, who traps him into marriage with a false pregnancy and proceeds from then on to make a misery of her young husband’s life. The couple agree to live separate lives, allowing Arabella to move to Australia with her family and Jude to follow his dreams of living and studying in Christminster. Christminster, however, is not all Jude dreamed it to be, and his lack of money prevents him from gaining entry into one of the prestigious colleges there. He is, however, reunited with his old friend Phillotson, and also meets his cousin, the free-spirited Sue Bridehead who, despite a nervous disposition, prefers works of theology over religion and is openly defiant towards authority. Jude and Sue soon develop feelings for each other, and these feelings both scandalise society and shape the tragic events that take place throughout the rest of the novel. When Sue marries Phillotson, only to leave him months later in order to live openly with Jude, the couple are shunned from town to town and find it difficult to find work, leading them into deep poverty. This only increases when Arabella returns, married again to another man, and brings with her a child of Jude’s whom she leaves in his care. The tale gets sorrier from here on in, with the children’s suffering providing the most shocking part of the story and proving greatly upsetting to the reader. The twists this story takes are such that I cannot reveal any more of the plot, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the novel despite finding it one of the more upsetting Hardy novels that I have read, mainly due to events concerning the children of Jude and Sue. My only problem with the novel was that I could not bring myself to like the character of Sue and found her extremely irritating despite her pretensions to cleverness and wit, and therefore during parts of the novel where she claimed to be suffering I found it difficult to feel anything other than dislike for her. Overall, however, the characters of Jude and Phillotson were particularly interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel.