Monday, January 22, 2018

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Written in 1951 post World War II, The End of the Affair is a grim story about love, trust, and faith. I started my reading without any knowledge about this book or the author. I have assumed that this is simply about painful love affair. It was started by love affair, indeed, but it ended much more than that.

During and at the end of World War II, Maurice Bendrix, a novelist, made friend with Henry Miles, and had an adulterous affair with his wife—Sarah Miles. The affair quickly turned to love and hate relationship, poisoned by Maurice’s severe jealousy because Sarah refused to divorce Henry despite of their loveless marriage. One day a bomb blasted Maurice’s apartment where the adulterous couple was spending the night. They both survived, but after the incident Sarah broke off the affair without apparent reason. Two years later Maurice accidently met Henry, who has begun to suspect Sarah’s affair. Himself burned with passionate jealousy, Maurice took initiative to hire a private detective to find Sarah’s lover. The detective found her diary which revealed that when the bomb blasted, Sarah has made a promise to God not to see Maurice again if He let him live.

Interestingly, this book does not speak about guilt, which is usually common theme for love affair stories. From the beginning of Maurice and Sarah’s affair, there were these confusing tugs between love and hate, joy and sorrow, and between fleshly love and God’s love. They seem to not understand what or which one were their feelings at times. At first I thought that Greene was talking about post war depression that leaves men with emptiness in soul and apathetic behavior towards religion or God. But after that part, Greene seems to fling us to opposite direction, and end the story with a twist.

When the story ended, I was just: “What was that really about, then?” After three-quarter of the book which were full of hatred and disbelieve in God that was quite disheartening, suddenly I realized that maybe Greene is speaking about faith. I am still not 100% sure about this, but one thing captured me in the end: the fact that baptism received in childhood has the same power as when one receive it consciously as adult. The child could wander far away from the right path from that moment, but it will still be there; and in the right moment the adult version of the child will eventually get to it—though the road might be long and winding, and at times seems impossible. And of course, it needs one’s cooperation with God’s will to let it happen, for anyway, He has imposed us with freewill.

It’s quite a powerful work from Greene, but reading it has not been a pleasant time for me, so…

Final verdict: 3,5 / 5

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

Being a huge fan of Dame Agatha Christie, I have read many of her books—maybe most of them (she wrote not less than 73 novels—source: wikipedia). Still, her books never bore me. When I thought her method must have been more familiar with my next read, I would be amused to found yet a new unexpected one. And Towards Zero was one of these.

"When you read the account of a murder--or say, a fiction story based on murder, you usually begin with the murder itself. That's culmination of a lot of different circumstances, all converging at a given moment at a given point. People are brought into it from different parts of the globe and for unforseen reasons. […] The murder itself is the end of the story. It's Zero Hour."

It was quoted from Superintendent Battle, who was our detective in this book. If you are familiar with Agatha Christie’s, Battle has appeared with Poirot on several cases. In this one he worked alone, though Poirot’s name still had chance to appear as his inspiration. Anyway, what made Towards Zero very special (at least to me) is the unusual order in which Christie wrote it. Usually a murder committed; then the detective started the investigation. With Poirot (because I am more familiar with him than Marple), it means taking himself into the circle of people connected with the murder—and  into their confidence—in the hope that they will unintentionally reveal their secrets. The order would be: first, the major event (the murder) which leads to small incidents (maybe more murders to cover the murderer’s secret), then Poirot or other detective completed the puzzle, and finally the revelation.

Towards Zero was started from minor unrelated events of some people. Then on certain point they were gathered in a same place, where eventually the murder would happen. This new method allowed us to see the characters unprejudiced, because we still don’t know the victim-to-be and the crime scene. I have never encountered the same method in Christie’s before, and I liked it. Finally, after so many years with my three favorites: Curtain, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and And Then There Were None, now I officially declare that Towards Zero has become my fourth favorite!

a scene from a French adaptation: L'Heure Zero

Intentionally I did not tell you what the story is about, because it’s almost impossible to tell anything without spoiling the surprises—and there were many, including the ending twist! And, of course, the interesting psychological aspect! Maybe I can only safely say that there would be many coincidences in this story; that it involves a triangle love story of a husband and two wives (ex and current) in the centre, but there are also other lovers beyond it; that there are invalid old lady and old gentleman; and there is also a stranger who had attempted suicide. One of them is cunningly and methodically planning a would-be-perfect-murder. But—and this is what Christie was trying to tell us—there are a lot of things beyond us that can happen; that even the most complex murder could possibly be revealed. Sometimes, the thing can just be a tiny, completely unrelated coincidence. We might call it… miracle.

Final verdict: 5 of 5 - Perfecto!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Challenges Update: January

Mid January… I am still a bit busy preparing the annual tax report at work, but here is just a quick update on my challenges progress.

Book(s) read = 3
Review(s) posted = 1
  1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier for #TBR2018RBR
  2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
  3. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story). Reviews for the last two are on progress.

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

Which book on your 2018 list has been on your shelf the longest?
It should be The End of the Affair (Graham Greene). I remember buying it in a local second-hand bookstall for my used-to-be online second-hand bookstore. It has closed since 2014, but I still kept some of the books I wanted to read; this one is one of the few.

Overall, I have been super productive this month, having read 3 books, and am starting the fourth only today. The first one was also my first review for my other blog: A Glimpse to the Past, which I have been neglecting for three years! 

My favorite so far is Towards Zero, which was quite surprising. Hopefully I can keep this pace throughout the year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

Finally! I have completed all my challenges this year right on time! I still have Dickens at Christmas to read for Dickens in December 2017, but it does not count as challenge. I will just enjoy my Christmas holiday with Mr. Dickens. What makes me proud of myself is that I successfully wrote reviews for ALL books for these challenges—even if it’s only mini reviews—which I failed last year. Here is the complete list, and I thank all the hosts for encouraging me to read many inspiring books this year!

Books read: 4/4

Books read: 6/6

A new-to-you book by a FAVORITE author: The Earth by Émile Zola
A book published between 1871-1880: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A book by Charles Dickens: Bleak House
A book by Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
A book translated into English: The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola
Book with a name as the title: Claude’s Confession by Émile Zola

Books read: 9/9

A classic by a woman author: Death Comes for the Archbishop by WillaCather
A classic in translation: Max Havelaar by Multatuli
A classic published before 1800: The Iliad by Homer
A Gothic or horror classic: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Book read: 12/12

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Jarndyce and Jarndyce was a legal case with a long history in the Chancery court. It's about a conflicting wills which affected many people of several generations and ruined many of its suitors’ lives because of the corrupted law system. Of the many victims are John Jarndyce, the owner of Bleak House, the two orphaned cousins Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, and Lady Honoria Dedlock. Together with another orphan girl which became John Jarndyce's ward: Esther Summerson, they become the leading characters of this book.

Dickens wove the story using voices of two narrators with different character: Esther Summerson's—calm and reserved, and the omniscient—rather cold and severe. This makes Bleak House less dull, but still I missed Dickens' warm and affectionate voice he used in several books I have read so far.

Unlike his other books, Bleak House was built by several plots or subplots which are often unrelated to each other, but for the (abundant) characters. The Jellybys and the Turveydrops, for example, are not really related to the others, except Caddy Jellyby who are so fond of Esther Summerson. Is it only Dickens's way to highlight Esther's amiable and unselfish character? But what about the Dedlocks? Lady Dedlock is another prominent character here, but although she was also suitor in the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, her part is not related to the law suit; which made me thinking what purpose does she really bring to us, reader?

Speaking of Lady Dedlock, she has become my favorite character of this book. From the moment she went to the burial ground, disguised, guided by poor Jo, I have said to myself: here is a brave, strong, smart woman with a steely determination underneath her elegant bearing. Compared to Esther Summerson or John Jarndyce, Lady Dedlock seems more humane, and thus more prominent. For a distinguished lady who had a dark past, how she could bear it bravely alone… that’s the real heroine to me. Esther and, especially, John Jarndyce are almost like fairytale’s character. Can one be THAT unselfish and always perfectly kind like Jarndyce? I would have loved him to be selfish, at least when his love was concerned, but for his lover’s happiness, he’d reluctantly give way to the man she really loves. That would be much acceptable. But, it’s Dickens anyway, and despite all that, Bleak House was loveable and memorable.

Oh, I forgot to mention Harold Skimpole, who, to me, was the WORST antagonist of all time! How can that kind of person ever exists in the world, I can’t imagine. Well, enough for the rants... I would have given Bleak House five stars just for Lady Dedlock’s sub-plot. The search by Inspector Bucket and Esther is so thrilling. And I could see whence Hercule Poirot’s investigating style was inspired—his casual talking to extract facts innocently, his systematic pattern of search (and his cool way to do it), and the way he confront the accused by shaking his/her emotion in front of others. Now, that part deserves five stars, but Esther’s narrative and the Jarndyce and Jarndyce are rather dull and unreal. 4,5 of 5 is my best compromise.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dickens in December 2017: Link-up Post

Hello Dickensian… we are almost midway through #DickensInDecember2017! This is where you can link-up your posts or reviews. The linky will be open until January 12th, in case you could not post your reviews in time because of the Christmas buzz or even New Year’s hangover.

Now, tell me how have you been with your Dickens? Are you in the middle of it? What book are you reading? Have you watched or do you plan to watch any Dickensian movie/series? Right now I am about 60% through Bleak House, and really enjoying it. Hopefully I can finish it this weekend, so that I can welcome the festive season by reading Dickens at Christmas. I also plan to watch Dickensian series during holiday. What about you?