Top 10 Books of 2020

I was lucky enough to read some great books this year and if I’m honest, it was hard to pick only a few so that’s why I ended up with a list of ten. I love them all equally so the list is in no particular order.

Daisy Jones & The Six is one of the most atmospheric books I have ever read. This is the story of a rock band in the 1970s, told by the members themselves in a series of interviews all collated together to tell a story. Honestly, it is the best form to talk about a band like this so that every member’s personnality shines through their words. I was just sad the songs were not real.

I love history – especially the Victorian era – and I like true crime, so obviously one of the things I love most to learn about is historical true crime. But you know what’s even better than this? Paying a tribute to the women who lived in grim conditions to end their lives in a horrendous manner, only to be forgotten by the media and history because they were ‘only’ prostitutes. Hallie Rubenhold shows in this book that most of Jack the Ripper’s victims were not, in fact, sex workers but even if they were, they deserve to be remembered and their lives should be celebrated, not their deaths. This is a really fantastic book that’s very accessible, even if you’re not fully aware of the Victorian period in general. I thought it was very engrossing and I read it in a matter of days. It taught me so much about working class history, especially on the side of women which is often discarded by historians. I would also like to add that it isn’t graphic as the author doesn’t really mention the killings themselves, but there are explicit mentions of physical and alchohol abuse.

Bill Naughton was a playwright who wrote the popular play, Alfie (adapted into film 1966, with Michael Caine – would recommend this film!). He was born in Ireland, but grew up in Bolton, an industrial town in Lancashire. In this book, he recalls growing there in the 1920s and working at the cotton mill as a young boy. I got this book for my boyfriend originally, because he is from Bolton and wanted to know more about the past of his hometown, but I ended up reading it and absolutely loving it. Like The Five it’s a very interesting account of working class daily life, and in Naughton’s memoir you can also see what impact time and globalisation had on Northern industrial towns.

This is going to sound strange but I’m not sure why I loved this book so much, but it haunted me for weeks after reading it. I loved all the characters of this book and thought Celeste Ng’s writing was perfectly balanced. What I mean is that she is always fair to her characters even if they are someimes ridiculous or just bad. I haven’t watched the TV show yet, because the book is still so fresh in my mind I’m afraid to be disappointed – but I really want to give it a go this year!

The End of Eddy in English

I wrote a rather extensive review on this one earlier this year so I don’t want to repeat myself too much. I just loved this short novel so incredibly much because it was very raw and honest, and it felt so close to me on aspects of class and ambition, which I have always felt quite alone about when I was younger. If you’re looking to read some translated fiction this year, then please do read The End of Eddy.

Another book I reviewed at length, and I may or may not haave annoyed everyone with my love for this gorgeous novel. It’s so beautiful and lyrical, I can’t recommend it enough.

I have seen this book everywhere on bookstagram and it was definitely worth the hype. The Vanishing Half is the heartbreaking story of two sister with completely different lives and it broaches so many important issues that I find it actually educational. I have reviewed it on here, so please give it a read if you want to know more.

Another very important book that I wish I had seen more people talk about this year. Just thinking of this novel makes me want to cry, but it is the perfect example to understand why we need a movement such as Black Lives Matter. I talk about it in more details in a review, where I tried my best not to get too emotional.

2020 marked my discovery of a very little-known author called Stephen King. I don’t know if you’ve heard about him, but he really is quite good. ‘Salem’s Lot is a small American town suffering from a vampire invasion. I love vampires, so I was really excited to read this story. In the end, what I truly loved was King’s representation of small town mentality by representing various characters hour by hour during the same day. I read some reviews and it appears that’s what people hate bout the book, but I’m always partial to a good backstory and a fountain of details – which probably explains why I love Victorian literature so much.

In the aftermath of my Victorian Literature master, I didn’t manage to read a lot of classics last year. However, the one I read also turned out to be one of my favourite books ever. I always thought this wouldn’t be a book for me for some reason (not sure why!), but I was completely wrong. This novel is so intense and creepy, don’t believe the adaptations you’ve seen of it and just read it!

I sincerely hope that I get read as many great books in 2021. Did you read some great things last year? Please share your recommendations in the comments!

Shelf-Control #11

Shelf Control is a weekly instalment created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies. I love the idea of looking at my own bookshelf and getting excited to read what I already own. Here the little introduction from Bookshelf Fantasies:

Instead of always looking ahead to upcoming new releases, I thought I’d start a weekly feature focusing on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

You can find the original post here.

Title: Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life

Author: Samantha Ellis

Published: 2017

Length: 352 pages

What it’s about (from Goodreads):

Anne Brontë is the forgotten Brontë sister, overshadowed by her older siblings — virtuous, successful Charlotte, free-spirited Emily and dissolute Branwell. Tragic, virginal, sweet, stoic, selfless, Anne. The less talented Brontë, the other Brontë.

Or that’s what Samantha Ellis, a life-long Emily and Wuthering Heights devotee, had always thought. Until, that is, she started questioning that devotion and, in looking more closely at Emily and Charlotte, found herself confronted by Anne instead.

Take Courage is Samantha’s personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. A brave, strongly feminist writer well ahead of her time — and her more celebrated siblings — and who has much to teach us today about how to find our way in the world.

How and when I got it:

I bought it when I visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I love the Brontë sisters a lot, and it’s true that I don’t know much about Anne even though her novels are among my favourites. I also like Samantha Elli’s writing, which I discovered in her previous book, How to Be a Heroine which I would recommend to anyone who loves reading.

Shelf-Control #10

Shelf Control is a weekly instalment created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies. I love the idea of looking at my own bookshelf and getting excited to read what I already own. Here the little introduction from Bookshelf Fantasies:

Instead of always looking ahead to upcoming new releases, I thought I’d start a weekly feature focusing on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

You can find the original post here.

Title: The Heavenly Twins

Author: Sarah Grand

Published: 1893 (My edition is Ann Arbor Paperbacks one from 1993, I don’t think this book is printed gain but you can find secondhand version of this edition on Amazon. It is also available on Gutenberg.org, I would not recommend getting a modern reprint as they’re often poor quality and unreadable…)

Length: 736 pages

What it’s about (from Goodreads and Wikipedia):

A fascinating exploration of gender issues and feminist agendas of the New Woman movement of the late 1800s.

The New Woman novel was a development of the late 19th century. New Woman novelists and characters encouraged and supported several types of political action in Britain. For some women, the New Woman movement provided support for women who wanted to work and learn for themselves, and who started to question the idea of marriage and the inequality of women. For other women, especially Sarah Grand, the New Woman movement allowed women to speak out not only about the inequality of women, but about middle-class women’s responsibilities to the nation. In The Heavenly Twins Grand demonstrates the dangers of the moral double standard which overlooked men’s promiscuity while punishing women for the same acts. More importantly, however, Grand argues in The Heavenly Twins that in order for the British nation to grow stronger, middle-class women must choose mates with whom they might produce strong, well-educated children.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book for uni last year, and I studied a couple of chapters but didn’t read the whole thing.

Why I want to read it:

I loved the chapter we studied in class SO MUCH. I did a presentation and wrote an essay on it, tht’s how much I loved it. The passage was about a young woman dressing as her twin brother to be able to walk around at night, like George Sand. I really want to read the rest of the story because I know Grand tackles so many of the issues women had to face during the the 19th century.

Shelf-Control #8

Shelf Control is a weekly instalment created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies. I love the idea of looking at my own bookshelf and getting excited to read what I already own. Here the little introduction from Bookshelf Fantasies:

Instead of always looking ahead to upcoming new releases, I thought I’d start a weekly feature focusing on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

You can find the original post here.

Title: Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England

Author: Neil McKenna

Published: 2013

Length: 416 pages

What it’s about (from Goodreads):

28th April 1870. The flamboyantly dressed Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton are causing a stir in the Strand Theatre. All eyes are riveted upon their lascivious oglings of the gentlemen in the stalls. Moments later they are led away by the police. 

What followed was a scandal that shocked and titillated Victorian England in equal measure. It turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women. Far from it. In fact, they were young men who liked to dress as women. 

When the Metropolitan Police launched a secret campaign to bring about their downfall, they were arrested and subjected to a sensational show trial in Westminster Hall. As the trial of ‘the Young Men in Women’s Clothes’ unfolded, Fanny and Stella’s extraordinary lives as wives and daughters, actresses and whores were revealed to an incredulous public. 

With a cast of peers, politicians and prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives, “Fanny and Stella” is a Victorian peepshow, exposing the startling underbelly of nineteenth-century London. By turns tragic and comic, meticulously researched and dazzlingly written, “Fanny and Stella” is an enthralling tour-de-force.

How and when I got it:

This is a proof version that I bought from Oxfam some time last year.

Why I want to read it:

I love history told through the lens of minorities, and I think it’s always important to pay tribute to people who tried hard to live their lives as they wanted despite the hostile reactions that they received from society.

Shelf-Control #7

Shelf Control is a weekly instalment created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies. I love the idea of looking at my own bookshelf and getting excited to read what I already own. Here the little introduction from Bookshelf Fantasies:

Instead of always looking ahead to upcoming new releases, I thought I’d start a weekly feature focusing on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

You can find the original post here.

Title: Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny

Author: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Published: 1861 (My edition is a Nonsuch Classics from 2007)

Length: 447 pages

What it’s about (from Goodreads):

Regarded as a scathing attack on the idea of American puritanism and the doctrine of original sin, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ novel paints a fantastical portrait of a woman born half-human, half-snake, and her struggle to survive in the world of man.

How and when I got it:

I got it from the annual £1 book sale from Amnesty International, last year (the price tag was there when I bought it, and I haven’t removed it since it seems to have been there for quite a while!)

Why I want to read it:

A woman who is half-human and half-snake… how intriguing is that? I think it could be such a fun read, but I’m afraid to be disappointed and that it turns out to be very moralising.

Classic Remarks #1

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

You can find the original post and schedule here.

The question for this week is: What classic work should get a film/TV adaptation?

There are many classics that deserve better adaptations, I think, but I decided to pick Margaret Oliphant’s A Beleaguered City (1879) for this week’s prompt.

Set in a small French village, this novella imagines that the dead are returning from their graves to meddle with the living, and besiege the village. The inhabitants become locked out of their homes by the dead Occupiers. This is an amazingly atmospheric tale, the whole village being cloaked in a deep mist whist fear and confusion prevailing amongst the villagers.

This would be such an amazing film because the descriptions are so enthralling that you can almost see the scenes. It’s spooky without being scary, as well, and there’s a lot more to this story than ghosts and zombies.

I wonder if there is a parallel to make with the Paris Commune that happened eight years prior to the release of A Beleaguered City, in the Spring of 1871. I will try to make it simple but basically, it was a socialist revolution during which Paris refused to be governed by the French Government – it was mostly a working class movement and people who took part in it were called ‘les Communards’. It lasted two months and ended up by the Commune being defeated by the French army in what is now called the ‘Bloody Week’ – which gives a precious hint on how it all ended. It’s a very interesting period of French history, but I’m afraid it’s a little too complicated to be summed up here.

My little theory is that the Occupiers are the dead Communards who were slaughtered when the Versailles government took Paris back. Because, in A Beleaguered City, although we never really know why or how, the Dead who occupy the town are not destroying anything, they want to teach the inhabitants a lesson – out of love for them. This seems to be a positive vision of the Commune, which I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t share.

In any case, this story is absolutely amazing and it deserves a film adaptation to be more widely known! I think I ended writing more of a book review, but I’m only sharing my love for this book.

On not finishing books and other bookish sins

In July, I took part in #Middlemarchalong, a readalong of George Eliot’s famous 1872 novel, Middlemarch, hosted by Claire Fenby. Claire organised things so well with a discord chat, and weekly videos to discuss various topics of the book. It was really nice to feel connected to other readers and feeling this sense of community. But (there’s always one) I didn’t really care about Middlemarch. I painfully dragged myself along for the first 300 pages, only to realise I had only read a third of the bloody book. I started skimming some pages but felt very tempted to do that up until the very last page, read the last line, close the book and shout at the top of my lungs, ‘I have finished Middlemarch’. It seemed to me quite silly so instead, I just put the book back on my bookshelf.


I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t care for it. There are so many things that I do every day that leave me indifferent but that I must do, so I don’t want my reading for pleasure becoming the same sort of drudgery I take no pleasure in. So I simply did not finish the book. I know that a lot of people would never think of doing that because they need to feel closure and read till the end, or they feel a certain pressure to not give up on something. But when it comes to books I read for fun, I’m 100% a quitter. It doesn’t mean I’ll never go back to them, it’s just at the moment I started reading these books they were not what I needed.


Here’s a list of a few books I started but didn’t finish:

  • Dolly Alderton, Everything I Know About Love (2018)
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015) – This one I know is to do with language skills, unfortunately!
  • Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
  • Tracy Chevalier (ed.), Reader, I Married Him (2016)

Some of those I will never go back to because they were a bad reading experience for me, but some others I know I will reach for again at one point. I think that it’s okay to DNF a book if you’re not having much fun reading at a certain point in time – it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book or you a bad reader.


That got me thinking, what about skim-reading? I don’t think a lot of people approve of that, either. But honestly, this is what got me through my master (although if I believed everyone else, they were reading the whole of the books and articles?). I think I got pretty good at this, but it definitely requires some practice. Once again, I think it’s okay and in some cases, a rather clever thing to do. I remember that one week I had to read Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop alongside two other novels (plus all the different academic books and articles). It did break my heart to skim it as I thought it was such a nice novel, but it certainly saved my brain! I do skim passages of books I read on my free time as well, sometimes. Because it gets a bit boring or I’m dying to know what happens next and skip the descriptions, etc. 


What I’m trying to say with this article is that everyone should be free to read the way they want to (and what they want!) – especially if it’s for fun, on your own time. Of course, if you work on a book this might not apply to you. Still, I used the example of my degree because we all did at uni and we still got great marks, I’m sure. There’s sometimes pressure to read certain things a certain way, and I’m here to say ‘No, thank you’! 

What about you, do you always try to finish a book you started or are you happy to put it aside if you’re not enjoying? What is something considered ‘sinful’ by some that you do with your books?

Shelf Control #1

shelf-control
 
Shelf Control is a weekly instalment created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies. I love the idea of looking at my own bookshelf and getting excited to read what I already own. Here the little introduction from Bookshelf Fantasies and I have linked the original post for you here:
 
Instead of always looking ahead to upcoming new releases, I thought I’d start a weekly feature focusing on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!
 
Title: Cometh Up as a Flower
Author: Rhoda Broughton
Published: 1867 (my edition is from 1993)
Length: 285 pages
 
What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):
Nell LeStrange, the heroine, is torn between duty to her family and her own passion. Nell is in love with one man, but marries another. The heroine’s frank discussion of her sexual attraction to her lover, and her dispassionate evaluation of loveless marriage as a form of self-sale was criticized by many critics of the day; however, Cometh Up was one of Rhoda Broughton’s most successful sensation novels and was widely read.
 
 
How and when I got it:
I got it during one of the editions of Amnesty International Blackheath book sale. When everything blows over and if you live not far in or around London, I would highly recommend going. Everything is half-price on top of being very cheap to start with, so on average you get a hardback for £1 and a paperback for £0.50. It’s a great way to shop books on a budget, and you get to donate to a great cause.
 
Why I want to read it:
I love sensation novels and the way Victorian women explored sexual attraction and desire in their writings. I am also fascinated by the way men are portrayed by women in the nineteenth century, especially the ideal man or the romantic interest. The field of masculinities really interest me, and I love to link it to romantic stories written by women. I definitely don’t have enough elements to support what I’m going to say, but I really think that what female readers love to read is often telling of the life they often wish to escape (if you consider romance as a form of escapism of course). So by looking at their fantasies and the ideal men they would look up to in their readings, I think you can get an idea of how the real men around them actually were. I will stop now, but this subject fascinates me!
 

Mid-Year Reading Wrap-Up

 
I have read quite a few books this year so far, and I’m very happy about it! I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find the time to read when I started my new job, but to be honest, this is what has kept me sane these past few months. Not all books are pictured as some were borrowed from the library, I am lending some others to relatives, and some I just donated.
 
 
Bill Naughton, Neither Use Nor Ornament (1995)
Bill Naughton was a playwright, his works include Alfie which was made into a film with Michael Caine (it’s really good, by the way, especially if you love the Swinging London era). This book is a volume of his memoirs where he retells a small part of his childhood, growing up as an Irish immigrant in Bolton, Lancashire. It’s a very sweet book and it depicts a very realistic image of working-class life in the 1920s, with endearing portraits of Boltonians.
 
Sophie Kinsella, I Owe You One (2019)
As I have already said, I’m quite partial to a good Sophie Kinsella book when life gets a bit too much. This book was exactly what I needed: a cute romantic comedy peopled with sweet characters that I really grew to love.
 
Candice Carty-Williams, Queenie (2019)
I have mentioned Queenie already, on an article about books that changed my outlook on race. It really opened my eyes on the added difficulties black women face each day – whether at work, on dates or in their daily lives. I didn’t find it particularly funny but Carty-Williams writes her main characters in such a way that you can’t help but feel for them.
 
M.C. Beaton, Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride (2010)
I’ve always wanted to read Agatha Raisin as it sounds like a very fun story, however I should probably have picked up the first book of the series… I felt completely lost in who was who, and I didn’t really enjoy the story because of this. Also, I think this is the kind of stories I enjoy to watch on TV after work, rather than something to read. It reminded me of Midsomer Murders, which I’ve always loved – although this is a source of fun for everyone as I’m apparently not the target demographic for this show.
 
Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six (2019)

This book was cool. It tells the story of a fictional band in the 1970s through different interviews of its members in the present day, and the atmosphere in this book is absolutely amazing! I felt like I was around the pool of the Chateau Marmont, enjoying the Californian sun with psychedelic rock in my ears (when in truth, I was stuck on an immobilised plane during a storm). I love this period in terms of music and I was just so sad none of the music was real! But this is a great book, and an especially good thing to read during the summer.
 
Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014)
I have talked a lot about Elena Ferrante in an article dedicated to the Neapolitan novels, so I won’t repeat myself too much. I will just say that Ferrante’s writing is addictive.
 
Hallie Rubenhold, The Five (2019)

A series of portraits of Jack the Ripper’s victims to give back to Mary Ann, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane their voices – which have been long lost amongst various cliches and prejudices. It’s an excellent book that is very hard to put down, and it’s also very accessible – you don’t need to know much about the Victorian era at all to make sense of what’s explained. To be fair, nothing has really changed since the late nineteenth century when it comes to judge working-class women, I think. Something very positive is that there was a mural representing the five women in Whitechapel and Rubenhold is actively seeking to have their memories celebrated to counter-balance the grim appeal of Ripper tours.
 
Elton John, Me (2019)
I listened to Elton John’s memoirs on Audible at the beginning of lockdown, whilst I was working from home. I think this was everything I needed during this strange time as it brought me so much joy! There’s a lot of name-dropping and extravagant displays of wealth, but it seemed to me that Elton John had a very honest look on himself and who he used to be. If you’re a fan, you will love it. I listened to his music for days on end after finishing the book. Also, the audiobook is narrated by Taron Egerton, so it really is quite perfect.
 
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
I first read Howl’s Moving Castle when I was little and I remembered the book to be quite dark – much darker than the Studio Ghibli’s adaptation – which is a masterpiece by the way. So I was a little surprised to see that it was not very dark at all, just rather quirky and all-round lovely. It’s a great story, with absolutely amazing characters and I love them all. Of course, the fact that the main character’s name is Sophie only makes the book better.
 
Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child (2015)
Did I not say it was addictive? I finished the series earlier this year and I felt so sad to say goodbye to this world. I’m not sure why as the characters are not exactly lovable and it’s all very violent. I think I just loved Elena’s narration so much, it’s still with me months later.
 
Sophie Kinsella, Twenties Girl (2009)
As much as I love Elena Ferrante, I was very much in need of a happy story after that so of course, I turned to Sophie Kinsella. I have to say I was a little disappointed with this one as I didn’t think many of the characters were developed (I love how she writes parents, usually) and it was a bit too far-fetched for me at times. I still had a nice time reading it, but I think Kinsella has written much better books.
 
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (1979)
I was so excited to read this book as I love metafiction and thinking about the act of reading and writing. The book starts by telling the reader that they are reading Italo Calvino’s latest novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, and what’s happening around them. It was not really what I was expecting as there were less philosophical reflections than strange and funny meta-scenes. Of course, the reader is a man so it all becomes very tricky to relate to him at one point, but it’s still a very enjoyable, clever book.
 
Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame (1954)

I love eccentric older women from the past, so of course I love Auntie Mame. Little Patrick becomes an orphan at the age of 8 and he goes to live with his aunt, a wealthy single New Yorker. The story starts in the late 1920s and follows the adventures of Mame and Patrick throughout the years. It’s very funny and a very interesting thing to read at the moment because Mame is always standing up for the less privileged and against injustice – which makes her a very liberal woman for the time. I was so happy to find this early edition at Oxfam, because I find the cover absolutely gorgeous!
 
The School of Life, How to Overcome Your Childhood (2019)

I talked about this book in more details already, so you can just click the link if you’re interested in knowing more.
 
Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)

That’s a strange one. I absolutely loved that book and I couldn’t put it down, but I’m unable to say why. The story is great but it’s not ground-breaking, the writing is also very good but I’m not sure this is why I loved it so much. I’m currently watching the TV adaptation on Amazon Prime, and I might manage to be more eloquent on the topic of Little Fires Everywhere later!
 
Giovanna Fletcher, You’re the One that I Want (2014)
This was a book which had been in my TBR list on Goodreads for quite a while. As I was in need of a cute little romantic comedy, I picked it up and to be honest, I was very disappointed. First of all, I forgot how much I dislike love triangles but here, it was especially strange and the characters’ decisions were questionable to say the least. I’m not sure I understood why they did what they did towards the end, but also, I did skim some passages so that might explain a few things!
 
Yvonne Battle-Felton, Remembered (2019)
I mentioned this book briefly in this article. It’s a rather hard book to read as some scenes are quite violent and graphic, but I would highly recommend it. I think some stories need to be told as they happened, even if they are hard to hear.
 
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

I’ve been slowly collecting the books in the Harry Potter series (some first and early editions!) during lockdown, and I’ve read the first tome for the first time in English. I decided to dissociate the author from the works completely because Harry Potter is for me a little therapy in itself! I felt so happy whilst reading this book, it was a very Proust’s madeleine moment for me and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series in English, now.
 
Édouard Louis, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (2014)
I wrote quite extensively about this one in this article, so please have a look if you’re interested in knowing more about this great little book.
 
Overall, I have read some very good books so far this year. Please, let me know what’s been your favourite book so far this year, I would love to know and find inspiration for my next read!

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)

I may have just finished my MA in Victorian Literature, but I’m quite unfamiliar with Charles Dickens’s novels. However I had read A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840) before I started Great Expectations, so I knew I was in for a treat. I wouldn’t consider myself a Dickens enthusiast but I do believe he is one the greatest storytellers of all times. With Great Expectations, your attention is caught from the very start with the gripping scene of the young orphan Pip being threatened by a convict on the run. I find it tricky to summarise a Victorian novel like this one; they are filled with more or less relevant story lines and characters, and chances are we all have different opinions as to which are better or more important. Essentially, this is the story of Pip who is destined to be a blacksmith but, thanks to an anonymous benefactor (ah, generous Victorian benefactors, how I wish they still existed today!), goes to London to be educated and become a gentleman.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
My copy is from the Penguin English Library collection, with an afterword by George Bernard Shaw (2012) – it’s very pretty but has seen better days indeed

What makes this novel stands out from the rest is Miss Havisham. When Pip is a boy, she requests he comes to visit her and her adoptive daughter, Estella, every week to play. Miss Havisham is an old woman for whom time has stopped on her wedding day, when she received a letter from her fiancé putting an end to the union. She is still wearing her wedding dress and her moth-eaten veil, and in her house, clocks have stopped at the same time and the table is still ready for the wedding reception – including the rotten leftovers of the wedding cake. The scenes in which little Pip visits Miss Havisham are my favourites, by far. Dickens uses Gothic tropes such as ghostly apparitions, the old mansion that serves as a prison – Estella being trapped in this time capsule by her adoptive mother – and introduces quirky characters in scenes that do not make much sense to Pip or the reader. In a little house in the yard, there is a boy who asks Pip if he wants to have fight, Pip has to walk Miss Havisham in a wheel chair singing a blacksmith song, etc. It’s all so wonderfully strange, I loved the atmosphere and really took time to savour my reading of these passages.

One of my favourite things to find in Victorian novels is London, or rather, characters walking streets I walk too. This might be personal as I find that some people are quite indifferent to it when I share my joy of reading novels that take place ‘RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET! OH MY GOD, IT’S HERE, IT’S WHERE I LIVE! I’M LIKE A VICTORIAN, I KNOW WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT’. I should also add that I come from a place which is absolutely never mentioned in novels, or films, or TV, or anything for that matter. I guess that if you’re from London or its surroundings, it not very surprising for you to see familiar places in films or books. But in any case, Dickens describes London in such an atmospheric way and writes about places that you can still see today. For example, in Great Expectations, the lawyer, Jaggers, has his office in Little Britain (the part of the street along Postman’s Park probably looks very much like what Dickens had in mind) and when Pip walks around Smithfield, he mentions the strong smell coming from the meat and poultry market which can definitely still be smelt today (although the current building was built a few years after the novel was released so I am sure the smell was nauseating back then).

IMG_1746
A picture of Little Britain I took about a year ago

All in all, Great Expectations is a wonderful novel to read as it is thoroughly entertaining. Despite its length, it’s also very accessible in its writing style and subject matter. After all, social mobility, money and heartbreak are still at the core of our concerns today.

Cover image is a still from David Lean’s adaptation of the novel (1946).