Review: Honoré de Balzac – Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot
Honoré de Balzac

‘Pere Goriot’, or Old Father Goriot, is a realist text which is difficult initially to understand and read. There are a number of characters, including Goriot himself and the irredeemable Rastignac, who focalize the novel. This novel is translated from French. If you want an in-depth experience of ‘real’ Paris, this will be good for you. Hit the jump for more details…

The first 100 or so pages of the novel are impossible to get into. It is all just setting the scene for the ‘action’. If you persevere, you will find some more satisfying plot developments, but nothing that really shouts at you to read on. In the end, I found myself reading just to see what would happen to poor old Goriot, who got the death I expected.

If you do suddenly find yourself attached to any of the characters, this novel is part of a set ‘The Human Comedy’. Balzac made it his mission to catalog the entirety of Parisian society, and most of this is contained within his published works. Balzac died before he completed it, but this is a project that I feel he probably never would have been satisfied with .

This novel is a great example of realism! There is a heavy focus on detailed settings, as if you are really walking the streets of Paris. A number of the characters seem like placeholders, while others are fully fleshed out. I don’t think anyone feels real emotion for the characters, for everything is already set out for them. They seem to not try escape their sorry lot, and Rastignac in particular is quite a repugnant person.

This is not something I would enjoy reading for pleasure. As a text in a literature degree, it was a good one to study though, as it was filled with details that I could use for analysis. My version has a set of essays in the second half of the book, which was interesting and useful reading. It is good to know some historical background before setting out into the book.

Keep in mind that this is translated from French, so each translator may potentially put a different spin on things. Also, if you’re going to buy it online, make sure to get the English version!

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Review: Christopher Lee – Turning the Century – Writing of the 1890s

Turning the Century – Writing of the 1890s
Christopher Lee (editor)

‘Turning the Century’ is a relatively comprehensive collection of Australian authors and poets that were writing, surprisingly enough, in the 1890s. This period of time was rich in Australian literature, and played a huge part in the development of Australia. Hit the jump for more details…

4658255This is another book in keeping with my literature major, and it’s not something I would normally read. I haven’t read all the stories and poems in the collection, and I probably never will. That being said, some of the things I have read are great examples of their type. If you want to read a really good compendium of works from this timeperiod, concerning the imminent Federation of Australia, go for it!

Christopher Lee has left out some great short stories according to my study guide, as these were included in a reader associated with the unit. However, if you suddenly discover you love one of the authors of this collection in particular, you will find that many of the works are free online. I found this somewhat irritating once I had bought the book (it was a little expensive compared to my usual mass market paperback purchases).

Poetry is not normally my type of thing, and the works contained in this book are no exception to that. I have written an essay on ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘The Women of the West’, and analysing those two works was quite easy, compared to some of the more obtuse poetry in the book.

This probably fits a niche market – those who love Australian literature, and those that have to study it for a major! Also, some of the poems have great rhythm, so if you’re looking to become a poet, I’d suggest perhaps looking at some of these, particularly ‘The Man from Snowy River’, if you haven’t before for some inspiration and a great example of style.

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Review: Miles Franklin – My Brilliant Career

My Brilliant Career
Miles Franklin
Sybylla is going to have a brilliant career… in doing nothing. Out in the Australian Bush, and even in town, it’s obvious that Sybylla doesn’t belong. This is a prime example of early Australian literature, and it’s worth a read if you like that type of thing, or the poetry of the 1890s isn’t for you. Hit the jump for more…

For years I didn’t know that Miles Franklin was a woman. Upon now reading it, it’s obvious that it is! She says it’s not romantic, but in a way it is. Sybylla is lovable, in an irritating sort of way. The foreword by Henry Lawson is rather masculine, and I”m not sure it’s really in keeping with the book, but it does display the attitudes of men towards women’s writing at the time.

Before I started reading, I knew the ending because I had already read some references on the topic (hello essay topic of mateship). So I knew it was doomed from the start! I still persevered though, and in the end I was reading past my bed time because I wanted to see what the stupid Sybylla would do! There is a sequel to this book (‘My Career Goes Bung’), which I don’t think I’ll bother reading (although I am somewhat curious).
Australian fiction doesn’t do anything for me. Certainly not Australian fiction from the literary period of the 1890s. I’m sure there are better examples of Australian fiction, and I do enjoy some Australian fantasy, but novels of mateship and the hardships of the Bush don’t seem to do anything for me. UnAustralian of me, I know, I know. 
I can understand why I am set to study it, because it is a relatively good example of its kind. And it is extremely well known. This is rather reminicent of the writings of Jane Austin, which I also didn’t enjoy. However, if you enjoy fiction in the style of Austin, and don’t mind a bit of Australian slang, this is a good book to get right into it. The language isn’t particularly hard, as long as you understand the Australianisms.

I feel like I’ve given you a list of reasons not to read it, and very little on the good aspects of the book. For a first novel by an early Australian writer, it’s not that bad. The settings are well described, and you can understand the relationships of Sybylla with her family nicely. There is little action, but what there is is quite good. Sybylla seems to get into trouble over everything! And there is certainly no ‘Brilliant Career’ to speak of.

My copy was from the library, and the version of it had a surprising number of typos. Not unreadable, just that the editors seemed not to take any care. Or perhaps it was left over from the original manuscript – whatever, it was just a shame. That was reflected in the boring cover you see in the above image. The book is obviously riding on its reputation as a classic, not looking to pull readers on the basis of looks or story line alone.

You can purchase My Brilliant Careerfrom Amazon (affiliate link)

Review: Frank O’Connor – Classic Irish Short Stories

Classic Irish Short Stories
Frank O’Connor

This is a literature text for one of my Arts units, Irish Literature. For that reason, I haven’t actually read all of the short stories within the book. Frank O’Connor is only the editor, not writer of the short stories. There is a good range, particularly of women Irish writers.

142497The short stories are carefully crafted, and often filled with symbols and metaphors. They are a great expose on ‘Irish Life’. A bit of context regarding the famine, and world war II would be helpful, but not essential. You can still appreciate the stories as great Irish Literature.

While reading I wasn’t exactly concentrating on the joy of reading – these had an exam on them. I would love to go back at a later time when I’m not so stressed and reread more in the collection. If you didn’t like James Joyce, there is still a good chance you may like these, because there is simply so much variety in style.

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Review: Thomas Mann – Death in Venice and Other Stories

Death in Venice and Other Stories
Thomas Mann
‘Death in Venice’ is an assigned text for one of my literature classes. It is a collection of short stories by Thomas Mann, including his possibly most famous – the same titled Death in Venice. Mann is the perfect example of a Modernist writer, and by no means are his works comfortable to read.
323328The title story, Death in Venice, is about Aschenbach, an aging writer who falls in lust with a younger boy when taking a holiday. The work is resplendent with images and symbols, and to be fair, it is a very good text to analyse. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it wasn’t bad either.

I couldn’t tell you whether it is a great example of Modernism – but it is according to my tutor. The story lacks a concrete feeling to the ending, which is something I personally hate. I’m also not very fond of short stories, as I feel like I never get to know the characters well before they are killed off. This story is more like a short novella though, and there is room for some ‘plot’ development.

Although not required for my class, I read a number of the other short stories in the book. I found them all to expand on the same themes of death and wanton destruction, and felt like once you had read one, you would expect the ending of the next to be the same (and indeed it is, with some subtle twists).
This book of short stories is certainly not suitable for younger readers. Adults may struggle with the uncomfortable, and often graphic, contents of the novel. This is not something I would normally read, and I probably wouldn’t seek out any of his other works.

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Review: Peter Carey – Collected Stories

Collected Stories
Peter Carey
‘Collected Stories’ by Peter Carey is a set text for one of my literature classes, as it is a good example of Post-Modernism. As such, I was not very interested in reading it, but my other alternatives were Feminism and Constructions of Gender! The short stories are clearly critiquing society, and so are not particularly comfortable to read.
177473These collected stories are numerous in both theme and setting. Some, such as ‘Exotic Pleasures’ are set in our world, but in a future time. Others are in a complete fantasy world, such as ‘Do You Love Me?’. Possibly the most famous two short stories are ‘War Crimes’ and ‘The Fat Man in History’, so if you don’t read any other stories from this collection, read those.
Carey aims to shock and appall at all times. Why else would he have someone eat a dog turd, or consume the flesh of a fellow human? Other elements include vivid imagery, such as the snakes of ‘The Uses of Williamson Wood’, and interesting characterization ‘Life and Death in the South Side Pavillion’. He makes his reader think, and doesn’t encourage compassion for his characters.
Because I had to analyse these stories, and I’m not that fond of short stories to begin with, I could almost say I hated this book! Sure, the stories were interesting in an abstract way, but it certainly required a lot of thought. I like to have cohesion between short stories, some central theme, but there wasn’t anything. People who enjoy post-modernism and metafiction (exposing the constructs of fiction) will probably like this book, but it just wasn’t for me.

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