Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh
originally published 1945
Little Brown & Co, 3rd printing, 1973
Genre: English literature
Synopsis & Review: Capt Charles Ryder’s company is assigned to a new location; upon arriving at the new billet, he discovers that it is the estate of his old friend Sebastian Flyte’s family. Being at Brideshead again after so many years makes him reflect on his dealings with the Flytes: Sebastian, Julia, Lady Marchmain, Bridey, Cordelia, and Lord Marchmain.
Twenty years before, Charles had met Sebastian by chance at Oxford, and though their first meeting was a bit unpleasant, they soon became fast friends. The two spend their time in drinking and idleness, slowly growing closer. Enchanted by the glamour and beauty of Sebastian and his lifestyle, Charles becomes deeply involved with him and eventually his family. Theirs is a highly dysfunctional family, divided by their parents’ division and their own struggles with their Catholicism. In the aftermath of the Great War–which was supposed to end all wars, but instead ushered in an era of constant warfare–Charles and the Flytes also wrestle with social changes, a Götterdämmerung of the aristocracy.
While Sebastian slowly sinks into to alcoholism (dipsomania!), Charles leaves Oxford to study art. His closeness to Sebastian’s family eventually drives a wedge between them, as Sebastian’s mother Lady Marchmain seeks Charles’ help in treating Sebastian, causing Sebastian to feel betrayed, and the two part company.
Later, after his own marriage to a society girl, Charles encounters Julia, and the love he had for Sebastian re-establishes itself upon her. The two conduct and affair, even seeking divorces from their respective spouses, but when Julia’s father Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead from his long, self-imposed exile on the Continent only to die, Julia is stricken with guilt and renounces her affair with Charles for the sake of her own soul.
During World War II, when he arrives at Brideshead once more, Charles is “homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless,” but after a lifetime of agnosticism, there he finally discovers his own faith in both humanity and the divine.
It took me ages to read Brideshead Revisited. I don’t mean that it was a long read, but rather, I picked it up back in August (August!), read the first page or two of the prologue, and put it down. I just could not bring myself to read it for OVER TWO MONTHS. (Thank goodness the Multnomah County Library has a generous renewal policy.) When Dewey’s Read-a-Thon came up, and Brideshead was still languishing on my side table, I decided it ought to go in my stack. After all, if I couldn’t forced myself into it far enough to really tell how good a book it was during a Read-a-Thon, I probably never would. And you know what I discovered? Two things: The prologue is actually very, very short, and Brideshead Revisited is fantastic. Read the rest of this entry »
Suggested by Jennysbooks:
Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”
Honestly, I don’t pay that much attention to blurbs. I know a lot of them are done as reciprocal favors, and beyond that, the hyperbole is sometimes laughable. I might take a second glance at a book if I should see one by an author I really like and respect, but then again, after the Hell House debacle (“Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.” –Stephen King), maybe I won’t.
(Blurb is a funny word.)
The Moon by Night by Madeline L’Engle
originally published 1963
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 18th printing, 1997
Genre: Juvenalia, young adult
Synopsis & Review: It’s been a year, and things are changing for the Austin family. Their Aunt Elena, widowed in Meet the Austins, is marrying their Uncle Douglas, and the two will be adopting Maggie and moving to California. The Austins themselves will be moving back to New York City, so that their father can pursue research. To cushion the blow of leaving their beloved home and pets in Thornhill, Connecticut, the Austins head out on a camping trip across the continent, to California and back. Along the way, they encounter interesting people and the beauties of North America. And Vicky, blossoming after an awkward pre-adolesence, begins attracting attention.
Like a moth to a flame, Zachary Grey follows Vicky across the country, playing Hares and Foxes, despite her parents’ objections. Zack is a troubled young man, living on borrowed time, and he alternately thrills and confuses Vicky. On the way back east, she also meets Andy Ford in Yellowstone, a bright, considerate young man who makes plans to meet up with her in New York. Feeling pressured by her family on one side, and strange young men on the other, Vicky struggles to find her own identity and assert it.
One thing I can hardly bear is to read the first book in a series and not be immediately able to continue it, so when I decided to request Meet the Austins from the Multnomah County Library, I also requested The Moon by Night. Both arrived just in time for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon, and were my fallback un-read YA books. You know, for in case I needed something lighter. And it was a lot lighter a read than Meet the Austins, for me at least. Read the rest of this entry »
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
originally published 1898
Buccaneer Books, 1993
Genre: Horror, Gothic novella
Synopsis & Review: Over the Christmas holidays, a man tells a ghost story he’s kept to himself since it was told to him years ago. A young governess, swayed by a handsome employer, goes to a remote country house to take charge of a young orphaned girl. The house and child are beautiful and pleasant, and the housekeeper who is her closest co-worker is a nice, comfortable woman. But when the young boy is expelled from his school without a word about why, the governess must also care for him, and the atmosphere becomes ominous.
The governess soon discovers that both the children’s previous caretakers are dead, and that they were involved in an unsavory way. She also begins to see strange people where they shouldn’t be. And worst of all, the children seem aware of the unwholesome presences–and even to welcome them. Beneath the peaceful facade of the house and the innocent faces of the children lies an immense, unspeakable evil.
The second book I picked up for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon would also have suited RIP IV–but reading it at work was a dreadful mistake. Though many nights at work are very quiet and I can read undisturbed for hours, last Saturday was a nightmare. I don’t think I managed to go even five minutes without a disturbance of some kind. And reading Henry James under such circumstances was maddening. At least it was only eighty-seven pages. Read the rest of this entry »
Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle
originally published 1960
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1997
Genre: Juvenalia, young adult
Synopsis & Review: The moment Maggy Hamilton steps into the happy lives of the Austin family, she disrupts their harmonious world, bringing with her all the sullenness and insolence of her own misery.
Vicky Austin knows she should sympathize with Maggy for being an orphan, but she can’t help but resent her for making life so difficult. It looks like Maggy may be a member of the family for a long time, possibly forever. Vicky remembers the happy times and finally accepts that things will never be the same, but she wonders what’s to come. (cover blurb)
The Austin family–Mother, Father, John, Vicky, Suzy, and Rob, plus innumerable cats and two dogs–live in a rambling old farmhouse on a windy Connecticut hill, a mile or two off the main road. They are a close, literate family, with great consideration for one another (sound familiar?), and live a pleasant, comfortable life. And then one night the phone rings, and their close family friend Uncle Hal is dead. In the wake of his death as a test pilot, his partner’s motherless little girl, Maggie comes to stay with the Austins, bringing a discordant note into their harmonious lives. Maggie is spoiled, selfish, loud, and attention-seeking, everything the Austin parents try to teach their offspring not to be.
How did I miss these books? I loved A Wrinkle in Time, and read several of the sequels, so how did I manage to never encounter the Austins? Perhaps it stemmed from my diffident reading of An Acceptable Time, a book I had a hard time giving a crap about (though I still own it) and was highly disappointed by. Polly just never did it for me the way the older generation of Murrays did, I guess. Despite my disappointment at not growing up with the Austins, I am delighted to have discovered them at this late date. Read the rest of this entry »
Sorcery & Cecelia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country by Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevemer
originally published 1988
Magic Carpet Books, 2004
Genre: Fantasy, Young adult, Regency romance
Synopsis & Review: It’s England, 1817, and things are pretty much as we would recall them. Other than the magic, that is. Cousins Kate and Cecelia embark upon a correspondence with one another when Kate must accompany her beautiful sister Georgina to London for a Season while Cecelia is kept at home due to misbehavior. What begins as simply a way for the girls to keep up with one another soon unveils several mysteries carrying on in Town and in the country, mysteries that seem oddly related.
Kate stumbles upon a peculiar woman in a garden, who appears to be not only laboring under the delusion that Kate is really a man named Thomas, but also seems to be offering visitors poisoned chocolate. Cecelia encounters the bewitchingly lovely Dorothea, who most men appear to forget whenever she’s not around, and also the odd Mister Tarleton, who seems to be lurking in shrubberies everywhere. Back in London, Cecelia’s brother Oliver has disappeared in the middle of Vauxhall, and Kate finds herself betrothed to the odious Mysterious Marquis—whose name happens to be Thomas. Just what is going on?!
Armed with Cecy’s charm bags and a combination of arcane and clever guesses, Kate and Cecy go head to head with some terrible evil wizards—and find love in the bargain.