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#1 willoyd

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Posted 18 August 2014 - 09:56 PM

Willoyd's English Counties Challenge list

This list is closely based on the 'master' list, but, because I wanted to start this list from scratch, I've listed different books in a few places, primarily to replace ones I've already read and which I really don't want to reread - these are marked with a +.  Books marked with a R are rereads.  Books that have been read are in blue.

38/48 read so far.

01. My Uncle Silas by H. E. Bates (Bedfordshire) **
02. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Berkshire) R *****
03. Evelina by Fanny Burney (Bristol) + ****
04.The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (Buckinghamshire) ******
05. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers (Cambridgeshire) R *****
06. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (Cheshire) R ***
07. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (City of London) R ******
08. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier (Cornwall) ****
09. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome R (Cumbria)
10. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (Derbyshire) ****
11. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Devon) ****
12. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (Dorset) ******
13. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (Durham) *****
14. South Riding by Winifred Holtby (East Riding of Yorkshire) ******
15. Winnie-The-Pooh by A. A. Milne (East Sussex) R ******
16. The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James (Essex) ****
17. Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee (Gloucestershire) **
18. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Greater London) R+ ******
19. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Greater Manchester) *****
20. Watership Down by Richard Adams (Hampshire) R ***
21. On The Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin (Herefordshire) *****
22. Howards End by EM Forster (Hertfordshire) + ******
23. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (Isle of Wight) *****
24. The Darling Buds of May by HE Bates (Kent) ***
25. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterton (Lancashire) *****
26. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend (Leicestershire) **
27. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (Lincolnshire)
28. An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge (Merseyside) ****
29. The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley (Norfolk) R ***
30. Dracula by Bram Stoker (North Yorkshire) R
31. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Northamptonshire) R
32. The Stars Look Down by A. J. Cronin (Northumberland) *
33. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence (Nottinghamshire) +
34. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (Oxfordshire) R ***
35. Set In Stone by Robert Goddard (Rutland)
36. Summer Lightning by P. G. Wodehouse (Shropshire) R ****
37. Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore (Somerset)
38. A Kestrel For A Knave by Barry Hines (South Yorkshire) ***
39. The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett (Staffordshire)
40. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (Suffolk) ***
41. Emma by Jane Austen (Surrey) R ******
42. Another World by Pat Barker (Tyne and Wear)
43. Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes (Warwickshire)
44. Middlemarch by George Eliot (West Midlands) R ******
45. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (West Sussex) R *****
46. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (West Yorkshire) R *****
47. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (Wiltshire) R *****
48. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (Worcestershire) **

Edited by willoyd, 26 August 2016 - 09:03 AM.


#2 Athena

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Posted 19 August 2014 - 09:31 AM

Good luck with your challenge, Willoyd!

#3 Virginia

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Posted 20 August 2014 - 02:11 PM

I love this list but it has me torn between doing something similiar to yours or doing something set in the eastern part of the US.

#4 willoyd

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Posted 23 August 2014 - 06:24 PM

Finished Far From The Madding Crowd today, having been totally gripped for the past few days. Goes straight into my all-time favourite list, scoring on every front: brilliant characters (not just the leads, but the wonderful supporting cast), the Wessex setting, with the agricultural yearly cycle right at the centre of the story (some of the set pieces, .e.g harvest supper, sheep-shearing, preparing for a storm, sheep fair are worth the reading alone), and a classically Victorian melodramatic plot, with some great twists and turns. I've enjoyed previous Hardy novels, but absolutely loved this.


Edited by willoyd, 21 March 2015 - 05:52 AM.


#5 willoyd

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 06:01 PM

Finished Watership Down this weekend. This was a reread, having last read it in as a teenager. I loved it then, but wouldn't rate it this time as more than 'enjoyable enough'; the 'young adult'/children's book aspects were rather obvious, and it all felt a bit straightforward. I put it down a couple of times without much compunction, but picked it up as wanted to complete the challenge. It did improve, and the last chapters were where I at last started to find it difficult to put down!


Edited by willoyd, 21 March 2015 - 05:52 AM.


#6 Athena

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Posted 20 October 2014 - 07:23 AM

Well done! I have Watership Down on my TBR, I've not read it before though I did see an animated film of it long ago.

#7 willoyd

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Posted 29 November 2014 - 10:18 AM

Today marks the quarter way through: 12 of the 48 books completed.  This was notched up by Cider with Rosie, the book for Gloucestershire.  I was looking forward to this more than most as (a) it's been on my to read list for some time, with my friends and other readers raving about it, and (b) it's set very near where my grandmother's family originally came from. 

 

(Note: this review has been copied to the English County Challenge thread for Cider with Rosie, and to my own thread in the Reading Blog section).
 
I finish it though with mixed feelings.  Evocative, yes.  Charming, sort of.  Involving, not especially.  Indeed, it's a relatively short work, barely 200 or so pages, but I found myself constantly putting it down and then dragging myself back to it.  It picked up a little at one or two points - the highlight of the book for me was Lee's reflections about his mother - but generally I reached the end with a sigh of what can only be described as relief.
 
So, why did it drag so much?  Well, I don't think it got off to a good start with such precise recollections of Lee's experiences at three years old.  Three? Who remembers their life at three year that clearly?  So, right from the word go, these 'memoirs' simply didn't ring true. I then rapidly found the writing style grating, reminding me of the rather strained efforts of a teenager's developing work, flooded with a surfeit of metaphors, similes and (IMO) unnecessary adjectives and adverbs (I found myself constantly reachig for a green pen, before remembering that this wasn't a piece I was marking!).  It was all too flowery, reminding me of similar irritations when reading Gerald Durrell's My Family and other Animals.  Perhaps this was just a matter of dating?  Or maybe it was a case of age? - Chatting to several friends who remember Cider with Rosie with considerable pleasure, they all read it in their teens - I'm anything but a teenager!

 

Finally, I found the thematic approach, where each chapter tended to focus on different elements of life or relations, a bit disjointed, muddling up any sense of chronology or continuity - there were times when I wasn't sure if Lee was five or fifteen when something happened, an important context when reading memoirs, especially with the astonishing clarity of recollection of his younger years, and the chapters themselves tended to repetition (five profiles of different uncles, one after the other; three visits out of the valley, one after the other...).
 
But, credibility concerns aside, this still covers a fascinating period, that just before universal mechanisation, a fact driven home in the last chapters when Lee describes the decline of the Squire and church-centred community and implies the transition to a mere suburb.  For that alone it's worth reading, and I valued the insight provided.  I just wish it had been written with less apparent effort.


Edited by willoyd, 29 November 2014 - 10:22 AM.


#8 willoyd

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Posted 30 November 2014 - 06:40 PM

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge *****

At barely 200 pages, there is not a lot of volume involved here, but by the end, I felt as if I'd read a lot, lot more. Bainbridge's writing is characteristically taut and lean, and this is no exception. Initially, that can be a little disconcerting, as she plunges the reader straight in without any real introduction, leaving the reader floundering somewhat in her wake, but as the characters become more clearly defined, and the narrative falls into place, the process feels so much more akin to how one breaks into an already settled group, which is what the lead character, 16-year old Stella has to do as she leaves school in a bare four sentences and takes her first steps in a somewhat seedy world of 1950s repertory theatre.

Inevitably, in such a closed environment, relationships are mixed, undercurrents abound, and the story brews up deftly to a genuinely dramatic denouement. Yes, you can see some of it coming, perhaps all of it if you pick up on all the clues (and they are there - Bainbridge is like a top notch crime writer in this regard), but even then, there is something eminently satisfying and rewarding in watching all the pieces fall into place with such precision.

What I enjoyed most though was the author's drawing of her characters: so much detail, yet so few words. This is common to all those books of hers that I've read, but here, perhaps because of her ability to draw on her personal experience of rep, she is perhaps even sharper than the norm. She always tells a good story too, but on occasions in the past I've reached the end wondering what it was all meant to be about. There's no doubting that here, and as a result the beautifully constructed plotting and characterisation have combined to create a real gem.

 

(Note: this review has been copied to the English County Challenge thread for An Awfully Big Adventure, and to my own reading blog).


Edited by willoyd, 21 March 2015 - 05:53 AM.


#9 willoyd

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Posted 20 March 2015 - 09:55 PM

Middlemarch by George Eliot ******

Once upon a time, way back in my long distance youth, I studied Middlemarch for A-Level.  It's so far in the past, I don't remember much about it, other than I didn't rate is as highly as, say Jane Austen.  Middlemarch has been long overdue a reread, and when better than as part of the  English Counties Challenge?!
 
It's big.  That might seem a teensy-weensy bit obvious, and it's why I've not added anything to my blog for over a fortnight, but some tomes don't really make a big impact.  By the end of Middlemarch (actually, long before the end) you realise that you're reading something that has huge depth and weight.  This is partly Eliot's style: while she's not as flowery as Dickens, she still doesn't write with the conciseness of an Austen or a Woolf, and can rather belabour a point.  However, it's also down to the content, covering a wide range of characters and a veritable tapestry of interwoven themes.  Like a tapestry too, it generates a vivid overall picture, whilst enabling the reader to zoom in and pick apart matters at a much closer level. It's such a huge book that I can barely scrape the surface here, and too much detail would of necessity involve some fairly significant spoilers (which is why I never read 'introductions' until after I've read the book - ridiculous but necessary!) so I'll just touch on a few aspects:
 
Middlemarch concentrates primarily on the lives of three 'couples' (although one is more a trio).  At the heart of the trio is Dorothea Brooke, a strongly opinionated and socially conscious nineteen year old, who, believing in his intellectual greatness, decides to marry the crusty and elderly Edward Casaubon in preference to the rather more bucolic local landowner, Sir James Chettam, who lands up marrying Dorothea's sister, Celia.  On her honeymoon she meets her husband's much younger cousin, Will Ladislaw, of decidely mixed parentage, who Dorothea feels has been badly treated, and of whom Casaubon is both resentful and suspicious.  Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious and idealistic doctor, arrives in Middlemarch and meets and marries the beautiful but thoroughly self-centred and status obsessed Rosamund Vincy, whilst her well meaning but spendthrift and rather careless brother loves Mary Garth, who the rest of his family look down on, but who is in fact thoroughly down to earth and clear sighted, but poor.  The bulk of the rest of the cast is made up of those with whom these three couples are either related or closely interact in other ways, the resulting tight network of relationships being a hallmark of the provinciality of Middlemarch: everybody knows everybody!  All this is set against the background of the lead up to the Great Reform Act of 1832, the provincial world showing increasing restiveness.

 Through the lives of these characters, Eliot threads a number of themes.  Particularly prominent is that of the role of women, particularly in the partnership of marriage, with all three of the above relationships involving strong female contributions, both negative and positive. Eliot also examines with some rigour characters' efforts to achieve what they perceive as important in their lives, from the thoroughly worthy to the utterly shallow, but particularly those who are seeking some kind of self-fulfilment.  Not all are successful, whilst others find that they reach the goal in rather a different way to that intended! Then there is the influence of the setting: the bustling, Midlands town (much of it probably based on Coventry and Nuneaton), where rumour and counter-rumour spread like wildfire and can transform someone's life, almost in minutes: it's not what you do or who you are that matters so much as how others perceive you.
 
In other words, Eliot is talking about living lives, lives that touch on so much that is relevant to us all, and drawn with so much detail and colour that we cannot help being pulled deep into the narrative ourselves. It may sound a bit of cliche, but it is true nonetheless, that the characters and their world came thoroughly to life, to the extent that for just over a fortnight, I was never happier than visiting Middlemarch!  It is also very easy to see why so many have rated Middlemarch as one of the great novels of English literature, it featuring frequently in 'greatest ever' lists.  It's not perfect - not least because of the wordiness on occasions - but life itself isn't, and Middlemarch's greatest strength is its reflection of life.  And, anyway, the lack of perfection is sometimes what gives things their interest.

 

(Note: this review has been copied to the English County Challenge thread for Middlemarch and to my reading blog).


Edited by willoyd, 21 March 2015 - 05:51 AM.


#10 willoyd

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Posted 26 July 2015 - 10:06 PM

After a bit of a gap, actually completed another book on the list this week: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit - the book for Lancashire. I have to say that it took me by surprise, being a much livelier, humorous book than I expected (which was something in the mis-lit line). In fact, I loved it, which just goes to show that one shouldn't let prejudices get in the way of at least trying a book out.  16th book of the 48, means exactly one-third of the way through.  Fuller review to follow.


Edited by willoyd, 26 July 2015 - 10:08 PM.


#11 Janet

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 03:42 PM

I think I said somewhere else, but I was surprised that you hadn't read this book before - I don't know why, but it seems like the kind of book you would have already read.  :)

 

I've read 15 since the challenge started in November 2013 - but only two of these have been during this year!   The only re-read I've done is Winnie-the-Pooh.  I've still to decide what to do with the counties I've already read.  I may reread some but I think I'll try to make them all 'new to me' books.  



#12 willoyd

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 07:20 PM

I think I said somewhere else, but I was surprised that you hadn't read this book before - I don't know why, but it seems like the kind of book you would have already read.  :)


I think this is because I had a completely wrong impression of what the book was going to be like. I was convinced it was just a mild variant on the standard mis-lit memoir, which is the genre I probably dislike the most. I couldn't have been much further from the truth!
 

I've read 15 since the challenge started in November 2013 - but only two of these have been during this year!   The only re-read I've done is Winnie-the-Pooh.  I've still to decide what to do with the counties I've already read.  I may reread some but I think I'll try to make them all 'new to me' books.


As you can see, I've only managed two so far this year too. On the whole, I've decided I'll reread the ones I've read before - which is a fair few - mainly because they are books worth rereading, and/or because most of the were originally read a decade or more ago. However, there are a a few which either I know so well or have read so recently that I really don't want to read them again so soon. These are only a handful though: P&P, Sherlock Holmes (I could probably tell you the stories verbatim!), and And Then There Were None (which I don't know as well, but do remember roughly the solution). There's also one which I simply can't abide, and refuse to read: Lady Chatterly's Lover, only famous because of its notoriety, but not worth the time reading. I've opted for another DH Lawrence, which I haven't read yet, and which I've been told by someone far more knowledgeable than me is a far better read.

Edited by willoyd, 29 July 2015 - 07:20 PM.


#13 Alexi

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 07:59 PM

I'm ashamed to admit I had only read a few on the list before we started - they are all books I feel I should have read! I've replaced them with alternatives - although I think two of them were to counties we had a couple of options for anyway. :)

I also have only read two so far this year, and have read 14 out of the total now. Hoping to cross off a few more before 2015 is out, as I've hugely enjoyed the vast majority of those read so far.

#14 Janet

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 08:33 PM

Apart from one 3/3 the I've given all those I've read so far a 4/5 or 5/5 - I think we came up with some good choices! :D

 

I would possibly have never got round to Nicholas Nickleby if it wasn't for this challenge and I'm so glad I read it.  :)



#15 Alexi

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Posted 29 July 2015 - 09:05 PM

I didn't get on with Far From the Madding Crowd much, but my Dad adores Hardy and has made me promise I will give him another go :D 

 

However, the majority have scored at least 4 - like you, I adored Nicholas Nickleby and have found Middlemarch a joy. Really must get around to the review. 

 

Sorry for hijacking your thread a little Willoyd!



#16 willoyd

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 09:17 AM

Sorry for hijacking your thread a little Willoyd!


You're very welcome!  It's nice to see some discussion, as it's been quite quiet of late.

Do give FFTMC another go: although I have generally enjoyed Hardy when reading him (not much I admit), it took me completely by surprise, and I absolutely loved it. It's certainly sometimes worth retrying books: I must have started David Copperfield at least 3 or 4 times before I finally got around to going the whole hog when it was a book group choice - and, again, I absolutely adored it. Like a lot of nineteenth century novels, it needed to be sat down with and read in larger chunks than I often allow myself. Presumably they had more time in those days, at least those who could afford books.

Like you both, the vast majority of the books I am reading anew are pretty much all in the 4-6 star range. There's really only been one disappointment, Cider with Rosie, which did leave me wondering why it is so often so highly rated.  Interestingly, the only non-fiction on the list.  But to get such a high proportion of 5 and 6 star reads says a lot about the quality of the list - must read further!

 



#17 Janet

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Posted 30 July 2015 - 10:43 AM

I loved Cider with Rosie, despite the whimsical nature.  I've read some of Lee's other books too and have also enjoyed those.  One man's meat... and all that.  :)

 

I've only read two Hardys so far (and not FFTMC yet), but I loved both of them, Alex, so I hope you get on with it.  :)



#18 willoyd

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Posted 07 August 2015 - 09:10 AM

Finished my reread of Cranford today. It's a very easy read, but seems to have taken me a while ( a full week) to get through, even though (or maybe because) I'm on holiday. I've been reading it in short spurts, which is never a good way to read a book IMO, and it's dragged to be honest. Having said that, I read the last four chapters this morning, and for the first time it flowed very pleasantly, so whilst I was going to give it 3 stars, I'll leave it at the 4/6 level that I previously gave it. That makes it 17 of the 48 books completed now, so now over one-third of the way into the challenge - still a long way to go!



#19 willoyd

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Posted 20 September 2015 - 06:04 PM

South Riding by Winifred Holtby ******
(copied from my review on the East Yorkshire thread)

I started listening to the audiobook of this on a long car journey to South Wales, and spent the entire journey absolutely enthralled. I certainly expected to be entertained, but I didn't expect this to be such a brilliant novel.

South Riding is one of those big sprawling sagas populated with a myriad of varied characters, spread over a number of years. I suppose the central character is Sarah Burton, the newly appointed headteacher to the local girls' school, but many others feature strongly, and their different narratives are carefully and intricately woven together by the author to provide a very rich tapestry of life in the fictitious South Riding as it goes through significant social and economic changes.

Winifred Holtby is fairly clearly on the socialist side of the fence, but one of the huge strengths of her novel is that she portrays all her characters, whether reactionary farmer or virtually communist local councillor, with great sympathy, showing us both sides of all the arguments, and never judging. Nobody is all good, nor is anybody all bad - indeed, we are on occasions not even sure what is 'bad' or 'good', as we see events from unfamiliar angles. As readers, we are omniscient, with the author allowing us to read inside her characters' minds. Indeed, much of the book is taken up by the internal dialogues that each character has with him or herself, and it is through these that we are able to see how roundedly human each and every person is, whatever their inclination. Indeed, I'd say that these internal explorations featured rather more strongly than the plot lines themselves, making South Riding rather more character focused than the usual novel.

Having said that, the plotting was still strongly and intricately woven, it just wasn't the be all and end all. In fact, having worked my way through a number of fairly predictable plot lines lately, I was delighted to be taken completely by surprise on a number of occasions, even standing in the middle of the kitchen in the midst of cooking on one, exclaiming 'OMG, she's never done that.....!' Yet this was no soap opera - the plotting (including the twists) was thoroughly believable and whilst the individual threads may not have always led to 'happy' endings, they were certainly very satisfying in their sense of reality, and completeness as a whole.

I don't listen to that many audiobooks - no more than one or two a year normally - but on this occasion I do think that Carol Boyd's reading was absolutely outstanding. I've enjoyed others of hers in the past, but this was exceptional even by those standards. She captured not only the spirit of the book to perfection, but successfully brought each and every character completely to life to the extent that one rapidly forgot that this was a 'simple' reading, populated as it was by so many different and believable voices. I did wonder if it was the quality of this that persuaded me to give South Riding a straight six stars (i.e. an instant favourite), but I think in hindsight that Boyd simply reflected the quality of the book: after finishing the recording, I went back to read sections of the book itself, and it still stood out under this scrutiny. Having said that, she is one of those very, very few readers whose work I do pursue, sometimes choosing books simply because she's reading them.

So, overall, an outstanding read - definitely a twentieth century classic IMO - and one that, as I indicated above, earned a straight six stars; it will be a serious contender for my Book of the Year. And to think that I'd probably never have read it without this challenge.......!


Edited by willoyd, 20 September 2015 - 06:05 PM.


#20 willoyd

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Posted 12 November 2015 - 08:04 PM

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall **
(Copied from my review on my blog thread, and on the Worcestershire thread)

This, in all honesty, is not the sort of book I'd normally read. The genre isn't of particular interest, and, aside from Virginia Woolf, there are few, if any, writers from this period whom I have tried and enjoyed. I'd picked this up, partly because it's on the English Counties list, and partly because it satisfied the criteria for one of the options in another challenge I'm doing, having been a 'banned book'. But the auguries weren't that positive.

Having said that, things got off to a good start, and I fairly cantered through the first hundred or so pages. However, gradually, I found myself grinding down slower and slower until, at around two-thirds of the way through I came to an abrupt halt. I really couldn't bring myself to go any further, so skipped to the last twenty of so pages to tie up the loose ends, and then called it a day, with some relief.

Why? Well it came down to one simple fact: this book is one of unremitting gloom. Nothing, but nothing, goes right for the heroine Stephen Morton (yes, Stephen is a girl). Even when it seems to be going right, it eventually turns out all wrong. It is one of the most miserable, depressing, books I've ever tried reading.

I don't think it helps in the way that Stephen's affairs are portrayed. This is meant to be one of the great lesbian novels, but Hall, a lesbian herself, whilst drawing her main character sympathetically enough, seems to regard Stephen's affairs as highly destructive, containing little in the way of mutual regard and care - everybody seems to come out of these relationships damaged in some way. Indeed, both Stephen's lovers seem to be more interested in men in the long term. Rather than giving lesbianism a chance to breathe, see the light of day, and be seen as a legitimate form of relationship, Hall appears to be trying to portray it as a completely negative experience. Maybe this was true of the 1920s, and that is what is trying to be said, but it seems a funny way of going about things.

But then, the further I got into the book, the more I found this book dragging too. It's over 450 pages long, and everything takes forever to develop (although the pace might have picked up in the last hundred or so - I jumped from p. 300 to 420+). I do worry at finishing a book early, but I have to say that whilst there was little about this novel that I positively disliked, I've felt nothing but relief since leaving it behind and moving on. There's more to life than being asked to wallow in someone else's unremitting misery - or at least life's too short.

Edited by willoyd, 12 November 2015 - 08:09 PM.





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