Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

"What are we?  We've learned to dance the tango and we know how to eat roast beef with a knife and fork.  The truth is that except for the colour of our skin, most people in India wouldn't even recognise us as Indians.  When we joined up we didn't have India on our minds; we wanted to be sahibs and that's what we've become."

Set in Burma, Malaya and India during the dying days of the British Empire, The Glass Palace is a multi-generational epic spanning a hundred years and involving several families.  Rajmakur is an Indian orphan from a poor family when he arrives in Burma during the British Invasion of 1885.  Able to get a glimpse inside the infamous Glass Palace during the chaos, he falls in love with Dolly, attendant to a Princess.  As Burma changes and the world draws closer to World War Two, Rajmakur's fortunes rise and fall with that of the Empire.  Decades later, Indian soldier Arjun is forced to face some difficult questions on the nature of identity and what a free India would mean.

I'm glad I finally took The Glass Palace off my shelf and read it.  I've owned it for at least ten years, and it was on the list of twelve books I've challenged myself to read in 2014.  I think I was worried it would be overly literary, or pretentious, or stuffy, but it didn't feel like that at all.  The writing was surprisingly smooth and although the book is 500+ pages, it didn't feel long.  The constant changing of the setting gave events a nice pace and Ghosh avoids dwelling for too long on any one character.  I loved reading about Burma in the days of royalty and the sumptuous hall of mirrors in the Glass Palace, as this is something I knew nothing about before starting the book.  Ghosh has a way with description and Burma really came alive for me.

I think if I hadn't read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth already, The Glass Palace would probably have become a favourite.  But a lot of the themes and aims are similar and in my opinion, Seth just does a multi-family epic so much better.  Ghosh introduces a lot of characters with a lot of links between them, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of who knew who, and how they knew each other.  An appendix with a family tree would have been ideal.  Also, sometimes twenty years or more were skipped through very quickly in the space of a chapter or so, and this felt a bit jarring.

The real strength of the book was in the two characters of Rajkumar and Arjun.  Rajkumar has a bit of a rags to riches story but Ghosh is careful not to idealise him too much.  As a reader you root for him in the initial sections of the story, but as he starts to earn many through whatever means possible, including exploitation of others, Ghosh makes you question how you really feel about him.  And Arjun, an Indian officer in the British army, is a great vehicle for Ghosh to explore identity and the complex realities of how the British related to India.  Arjun doesn't have too much of a plot, but I like how nuanced Ghosh wrote his situation, how torn he was between what he knew and what he hoped for.

On the whole, The Glass Palace is a well written epic with some important themes, that remains easy to read and enjoy.  I'm glad I read it, even if I didn't love it quite as much as I loved A Suitable Boy.

Source: Personal Copy
First Published: 2000
Edition Read: Harper Collins, 2001
Score: 4 out of 5

TBR 2014: Book 1/12

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sam Sunday #42: It's a Boy!

I could waffle on about work and other life things to start this post, but only one exciting thing happened this week, and that was my 20 week scan on Thursday.  Thankfully, all of the baby's major organs seem to developing exactly as they should, and the sonographer had no concerns at all.  Which is just a massive relief; it was nerve-wracking laying there as all the checks were carried out.

We also were able to find out the gender, and as we've been telling everyone in real life, I see no harm in telling the internet - I'm having a boy!  Neither of us had a strong preference either way, so it was always going to be a nice surprise whatever the gender was.  Now that we know he's a boy, we've started thinking of names and will start buying things soon.  I'm not going to be buying all blue and trucks, and we had already decided on how we wanted to decorate the nursery, regardless of gender, but it's lovely to know and be able to refer to the baby as 'he'.  Telling people has been fun, as both our families were convinced that I was having a girl.

Aside from baby stuff, I had a typical week until coming down with a horrible cold yesterday.  I spent all of yesterday in bed, and I'm not feeling any better today.  I can't wait for it to go away, no one likes having a cold at the best of times, and it's worse when you can't take any medication for it.

But being in bed all day yesterday meant that I managed to get quite a bit of reading done.  I finished Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace, which was one of the books from the list of 12 that I'm determined to read this year.  It's quite chunky at 500+ pages, so I feel like I've got that goal off to a good start.  This week, I've been reading:


Review posted:

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

For the vast majority of human history, we lived in traditional societies; small bands of people where everyone knew everyone else and survival came through hunting and gathering.  We like to think of our modern, Western societies as superior due to our technological and scientific breakthroughs, but do traditional societies have something to teach us after all?  In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond considers the topics of raising children, war, care for the elderly, health and religion, and questions whether there is anything we can learn from the way we lived for thousands of years.

The World Until Yesterday is definitely a thought provoking book.  Diamond has spent time among the traditional societies of New Guinea, and has also researched traditional societies still living in other parts of the globe.  He doesn't present them as a singular entity with no variation, and nor does he present a simple argument.  In each chapter, he looks at the different traditional societies and their approach and honestly compares it to modern life.  In some cases, modern life has undeniable benefits (e.g. a far smaller proportion of our populations die in wars) and sometimes, there is something to learn from the past.  It's a book to make you think and the chosen areas of focus are all interesting issues that we face in everyday life.

Personally, I found the chapters on childcare and care for the elderly to be the most interesting.  In traditional societies, parenting is shared among the extended family and also others in the community (alloparenting), which contrasts with our modern lifestyles, where distance and work commitments make this very difficult. This is something we've been thinking about a lot lately, as we're lucky enough to both have large families close by.  Child independence is also a bigger deal in traditional societies.  The chapter on the elderly was especially interesting as there was such a large variation among the societies mentioned; in some the elderly are deferred to without question and given the best of everything, but in others they are practically encouraged to commit suicide so as not to be a burden of resources.

What I liked best about The World Until Yesterday was the way that it was never preachy.  Diamond refrains from judging either modern or traditional societies, instead giving the reader the chance to think for themselves.  Some chapters identified small changes that we could all make to our lives (especially in regards to diet), and others were more broad.

Although The World Until Yesterday was full of fascinating information, it's a book to read for the ideas rather than the writing.  Diamond is keen to include examples from all of his research and personal experience, meaning that chapters can feel a bit repetitive sometimes.  If I've had an example of a society that practises infanticide, I don't need three additional examples too.  The writing is smooth and flowing, but it's not the best example of non-fiction writing I've ever read.  Still, it is extremely interesting and it's a great book to pick up if you're interested in society or how we live our lives.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2012
Edition Read: Penguin, 2013
Score: 4 out of 5

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sam Sunday #41: The Almost Half-Way Edition

It's been another busy week.  I can't believe it's only been two and a half weeks back at work since the Christmas break, it feels like much longer!  Work-wise, the most exciting part of last week was that I got to attend a continuous professional development day at the Tower of London.  Teaching in inner London has its perks sometimes!  The course itself was very good, but the best part of it was that we had some time during the lunch break to explore the Tower and see the crown jewels.  I've been quite a few times before but not for several years, so it was lovely to visit again and remind myself of all the famous events that have taken place there.

In pregnancy news, I'm currently 19 and a half weeks pregnant.  On Wednesday, I will be 20 weeks pregnant, which is the official half way mark, and I'm very excited to reach it.  So far, the second trimester has been much better than the first.  In the first trimester, I was throwing up every day, I lost weight rather than gained it, I couldn't eat properly, I had dry hair and I even got acne for the first time in my life.  It was pretty miserable; I was far from a 'glowing' pregnant lady.  Thankfully, I've not been sick since Christmas and I'm finally starting to gain the weight I need to.  I'm sleeping better (although I still get very tired) and I've now got a noticeable bump, which I like.  

The good news is that everything is going well with the baby so far.  According to my midwife, I have an 'unusually active' baby, I felt movement earlier than I was expecting to and he/she pretty much moves around all the time, to the extent that it's hard for the midwives to hear the heartbeat, as the baby wriggles so much.  I have my 20 week scan on Thursday morning and hopefully we will be able to find out the sex of the baby then.   We will be happy either way, but I'm just desperate to know!

I've been good and I've managed to stick to my reading goals for January so far.  I read The Paris Wife for the Jazz Age January event, I've not been buying books, I have no books out from the library, and I've been reading books from my shelves.  Yesterday I started The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, which was one of 12 books from my TBR pile that I'm pushing myself to read in 2014. It's excellent so far, I don't know why I waited so many years to try it.  As I have no plans for the rest of today, I'm thinking that curling up with a book might be a good plan.

This week, I've been reading:

Review posted:

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Hadley Richardson is twenty-eight and recovering from the death of her mother when she meets fledgling writer Ernest Hemingway in Chicago.  Having experienced a restricted life thanks to her mother and over-bearing sister, Hadley feels alive for the first time, and is attracted to the intensity and ambition of Hemingway. The pair soon become attached and marry quickly, before moving to Paris so Ernest can pursue his writing career.  But life is tough first of all, as they struggle to keep pace with the decadent Jazz Age lifestyle.  Hadley has modest dreams of a happy family that don't really fit with the gossip-ridden, alcohol fuelled company they keep.  Following the arrival of their son, Hadley's withdrawal from the scene causes further tension in her marriage, as more independent and 'modern' women begin to make themselves apparent.

There is much to like about The Paris Wife.  If, like me, you enjoy reading about the Jazz Age and the circle of writers living in Paris at that time, there's lots to admire.  McLain does a good job of capturing the decadence whilst also showing that everything wasn't perfect for the young writers and their families.  I loved reading the scenes where Hadley and Ernest go out on the town with the Fitzgeralds and the way the writers interacted with each other.  If I could get in a time capsule and go back to 1920s Paris, I would!

However, there were a few factors that prevented me from really loving this book.  One was to do with the writing, and one to do with Hadley herself.  Taking Hadley first, I found her characterisation irritating at times.  She devoted her whole life to Hemingway and seemed to have no interests or life of her own.  All she wanted to do was have a family and keep house, which was frustrating given the amazing experiences that were knocking on her doorstep.  Even when she travels with Hemingway to Spain, you never get the impression that she's soaking it up, she continues to think about more mundane matters.  If I was married to a dashing young writer in 1920s Paris, I would be living it up, a la Zelda Fitzgerald!  Hadley's passivity and dependence on Hemingway become especially annoying in the later sections of the novel, as her marriage starts to disintegrate.  She puts up with a lot and seems unwilling to demand any better for herself.

My other issue was more to do with the writing.  McLain has clearly done a vast amount of research, and it's admirable how close her book is to the actual events of Hadley's life.  However, being so accurate meant that occasionally the book felt a bit like 'then I did this in September 1923 and we visited here in October 1924 with our friend (insert name here).  I truly do appreciate the research done, but sometimes it felt like the emotional engagement and telling Hadley's story took a back-seat to biographical information.

Still, The Paris Wife was a fun read that definitely captured 1920s Jazz Age Paris.  It's easy to read and great if you're looking to visit another time or place, it just didn't set my world on fire.

Read for Jazz Age January

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2011
Edition Read: Virago Press 2012
Score: 3 out of 5

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sam Sunday #40: Books I Need a Push to Read in 2014

One thing I love about the Classics Club is that having a list of classics to read and having a deadline really gives me that push I need to actually take the books from my shelf and read them!  There's no way I would have read Les Miserables last year if it wasn't for the Classics Club, and there's definitely no way I would be averaging a classic a month without it.  I was thinking about that this morning as I was selecting the classic I want to try in January, and I started thinking how great it would be if I had a push to read other books on my shelves too.  Particularly, books I have owned for a long time and literary fiction books that I've been putting off starting, for whatever reason.

With that in mind, I started rooting through my fiction shelves and taking out books that I've had for a long time (we're talking five years plus on average), books that I know are supposed to be excellent, but that I still haven't read.  As I've owned them for so long, they keep getting overlooked for newer and shinier books, so I thought it would be a good idea to challenge myself to read one of these older books a month, one book that I was very excited to try when I bought it, but simply never got around to.

Here are the twelve books I selected (links go to goodreads):

1. The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna - This is one of the 'newer' books on my list, I've had it since 2011, when it was short-listed for the Orange Prize.  Which means I will definitely love it, as so many of my favourite books have come from the Orange Prize.  It's set in Sierra Leone during the civil war and is about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  This is also one of the shorter novels on my list.

2. Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres - I read and adored Captain Corelli's Mandolin whilst at university, so went straight out to buy Birds Without Wings, and then of course never read it (I also have another unread de Bernieres on my shelf, but we'll ignore that one for now!).   This is set in a small village in Anatolia as the Ottoman Empire is declining and Turkey is being created.  Muslims and Christians there have always traditionally got on well, but the conflict creates new tensions.  

3. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt - I find this book and A.S. Byatt in general a bit intimidating, which is why I've never picked it up.  It sounds like a really good family saga set in Victorian times, and I love that part of it is set in the Victoria and Albert museum, but it still feels long and a bit scary.  Hence why I need to push to get to it.

4. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh - I picked this one up years ago purely because it is set in Burma, and I've never read a book set there.  It follows three families in three countries; Burma, Malaya and India from the 1880s to the 1990s.  Ghosh is also a writer I would like to try.

5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett - OK, OK, I know I will love this, and I know I can't call myself a fan of historical fiction without reading it, but it's just so long, and Medieval England isn't really my thing.  Hopefully it's a panoramic novel that's about more than just the cathedral.

6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - I actually have no excuse for not reading this, especially seeing as I've owned it since it first came out in paperback in the UK.  This is one that I'm sure I will love.

7. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry - I went through a phase of being really into Indian literature, and of course I bought more books than I actually read.  I think what has put me off this one is the 'if Dickens wrote about India' tag, as Charles Dickens isn't one of my favourite classic authors.  If I can get over that and actually start it, perhaps I will enjoy it.

8. Sophie's Choice by William Styron - I bought this because it's an important book.  Sophie lives in the south of America but escaped from Auschwitz earlier in her life, where she had to make a terrible choice.  It's not going to be a happy read, but I'm hoping it will be powerful.

9. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy - More Indian lit, this time the winner of the Booker Prize in 1997.   I don't know much about this book, apart from it is about twins looking back on their childhood.

10. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch - I studied Murdoch's The Bell for my A-Level English Literature, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Of course I went out to buy more books by Murdoch, and this was one of them.  I must have started this book about three times, and I actually made it half-way through once, but I've never completed it.  It's about an ageing Thespian who retires to an isolated home by the sea to reflect on his life.  I'm hoping I was just too young for it when I read it as a teenager, and that I'll have more luck this time.

11. The Famished Road by Ben Okri - This is the one on my list that I am dreading reading the most.  Like The Sea, The Sea, I have a history with it; having started and abandoned it at least three times.  It's magical realism, and it's about an African spirit child who longs for death.  I'm going to give it one last try - if I still don't like it, I'll have to admit it's just not for me.

12. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - I bought this because Cloud Atlas is one of my favourite books, and because it has a gorgeous cover.  I'm pretty sure I will like this tale of a Dutch clerk in Japan.

So there we go - the twelve books I've owned for a long time, that I really need to read in 2014.  I would love to know if you've read any of them, and what you thought of them if you have.

Have you got any books sitting on your shelves that have been there for simply too long?  Any books you really should get around to reading in 2014? 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

One night, twenty-four year old Ashley Cordova, the daughter of cult film director Stanislas Cordova, is found dead in an apparent suicide.  Disgraced journalist Scott McGrath begins to investigate her death in an attempt to solve the mystery surrounding Cordova and his later works, which can only be bought on the black market.  The films are legendary, shown in underground screenings all over the world, and have even been reported to make viewers insane.  But as McGrath begins to follow Ashley's trail, he comes across a web of sinister rumours and connections that prove difficult to get to the bottom of. Just what is real and what is made up for the films?

Night Film is going to be a very difficult book to review, because it's one of those books where the less you know about it, the better.  It's full of twists and turns as the line between reality and myth is blurred throughout the book, and you never quite know what the truth is.  I'd love to say more about the plot, but I can't without ruining the reading experience.  You'll have to take it from me - Night Film is a clever page turner and will certainly keep you guessing.

One thing I loved about the book was the inclusion of different types of media.  Alongside the written story, Pessl has included screenshots of websites, personal records, police files, magazine clippings and transcriptions of messages.  There's even an app you can download as you read, which I chose not to use, but which has more elements of the same sort.  I really enjoyed these parts of the book as it gave you the feeling of solving the mystery along with McGrath and allowed you to make up your own mind as you went.

Night Film is a chunky book but I raced through it in under three days as I simply could not put it down.  It's certainly an active reading experience, as the book and the characters got into my head and have stayed there ever since.  I found parts of it genuinely creepy and haunting as Pessl plays with horror and how reality can be manipulated to create certain experiences.  I don't think I'm doing a good job of articulating just why I loved this book so much, but it's so different from everything else I read and it's just one of those books that worm their way into your very being and stay there.  It's not a book I'm likely to forget any time soon.

So the take-home message from this review is: read Night Film, and read it as soon as possible.  You wont be disappointed!

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2013
Score: 5 out of 5

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Sam Sunday #39 - My Bookish Plans for 2014

I've been reading lots of other blogger's bookish goals for 2014 and to be honest, I've been a bit in awe of how organised and planned some of you are!  I've never been much of a planner when it comes to reading (although I do love to organise the books I own) and I don't tend to sign up for yearly challenges as I don't like the pressure of feeling like I have to read a certain book at a certain time.  The only challenge I have ever signed up for is the Classics Club, which is OK in my mind as it's spread over five years, which gives me plenty of time to have my little reading rebellions!

In terms of numbers, I usually average out at around 100 books a year.  I've set my goodreads goal at 80 books for 2014, as I'm not sure how my reading will fare when the baby arrives in June.  I'm not going to be upset if I don't reach my goal, I think I'm just going to have to play it by ear this year and see how much reading it's possible for me to fit in as my life changes.  As for which books I will read; I think I will continue with my 'read what I want, when I want to' philosophy from the latter half of 2013.  I'm going to carry on cutting back on review copies / book tours, to give myself more freedom to read for pleasure, without any guilt.

Having said that, I do have two bookish aims for the month of January:

1. Take part in Jazz Age January by reading at least one book for the event.


This will be no hardship as I love the Jazz Age.  I've already started reading The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, and I'm loving visiting 1920s Paris.  I'm also hoping to read The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald before the month is through, as it's the last Fitzgerald on my classics club list. As I've adored everything else I've read by him up until now, I'm 99% sure I will be reading this one soon.

2. Read exclusively from my shelves in January.

I have so many unread books on my bookshelves that I've decided that the time is right to make a bit of a concerted effort to reduce it a bit.  This means no kindle books, no buying new books, no electronic review books and especially no trips to the library.  The library is my biggest weakness, but trust me I have enough unread books to open a library of my own!  I've got all types of fiction and non-fiction, so this should still fit in with my 'free reading' philosophy for 2014.  If it goes well, I may even extend it through February.

So those are my bookish goals for the next month or so.  I'm feeling really into reading at the moment, so I'm hoping to get a lot read and enjoy the experience of being absorbed in lots of good books.

What are your bookish resolutions for 2014? Are you taking part in any challenges you are particularly excited about?

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

David lives in Newcago, a city of darkness controlled by a powerful Epic named Steelheart.  Ten years ago, Calamity came and normal humans were randomly endowed with superhuman powers.  It didn't take long for the absolute power of this to corrupt the super-humans/Epics and for normal society to break down, as it became clear that humans couldn't fight or control the Epics.  Newcago is the fiefdom of Steelheart, who has created eternal darkness, and who carries out vicious public murders to terrify the population, but it is still safer than the anarchy that exists elsewhere.  The only humans who are trying to fight back against the powerful Epics are the mysterious Reckoners, ordinary humans who target and assassinate Epics.  Teenager  David wants nothing more than to join the Reckoners in order to gain revenge on Steelheart, who brutally murdered his father in front of him when he was just a child.  But are there any good sides in this conflict?

Steelheart is the first book by Brandon Sanderson that I have read, and I was impressed. Steelheart is fast paced, action packed and tightly plotted, which means it is easy and enjoyable to read; I breezed through it in just a couple of days.  I loved the core idea of the novel, of super-powers corrupting individuals, and I appreciated that Sanderson put in just enough moral ambiguity to make the story work.  Is it ethical to murder Steelheart, even though he has done terrible things, if what will follow his death will only be chaos, civil war and a power struggle between remaining Epics for control of Newcago?  Is it the right thing to do if it will only make the situation for ordinary people worse?  Is it acceptable to commit terrorist acts in order to fight evil?  I liked that Sanderson had David ponder all these issues whilst he was working with the Reckoners, and I liked it even more than he presented no answers to the moral questions raised throughout the novel.

The strength of Steelheart is definitely the plotting.  In comparison, some of the characterisations felt a bit weak.  David was a bit too good to be true sometimes, always able to think up the right thing to do in some very tricky spots.  I liked the way Sanderson wrote the characters of most of the Reckoners themselves, but the love story between David and Megan was very cheesy at times.  It was a low-key element that didn't dominate the plot, but it felt like an unnecessary bolt-on and I would have been happier without it being included at all.

Even though Steelheart is the first book in a proposed trilogy, it had a satisfying ending and worked well as a stand-alone novel.  Although I can guess where Sanderson is going to go in the next volume, enough loose ends were tied up for me to feel like there was resolution.  I was really impressed with the plotting and world-building in the book, and now I'm quite keen to pick up another Sanderson novel, maybe the first volume in the Mistborn series.  Fantasy fans will definitely appreciate this novel.

Source: Library
First Published: 2013
Score: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables was the book selected for me during the Classics Club spin, and one that I was genuinely excited to get to.  I had seen the film and the stage show and I love big chunky epics to sink my teeth into, so I picked up this story of a failed Parisian revolution in 1832 with lots of optimism and anticipation.  But unfortunately I was disappointed.  And this was very unexpected because I like really chunky books (Anna Karenina and A Suitable Boy are among my favourites) and I like books about social issues and the lives of the poor.  I tried so hard to like Les Miserables but in the end I had to admit to myself that it will never be a favourite.

The main problem with the book wasn't it's length, but the fact that it felt so long to read.  Every time the main narrative threads starting building up and the pace started increasing, Hugo would interrupt them with some completely unrelated diversionary 50+ pages about the Battle of Waterloo, the history of a convent, or the architectural design of Parisian sewers.  This really interrupted the narrative flow and I found it completely jarring; every time I lost myself in the book, I was abruptly jerked out of the story.

And then there is the detail.  Now I like a good bit of detail and I don't even mind when it slows the pace, but Hugo is the master of unnecessary detail and his writing style is repetitive.  Why write it in a sentence when you could spend an entire chapter repeating the same few things?  I understand that Les Miserables is a panoramic view of society at the time, and a lot of the detail was relevant, but too much time was spent lingering on each piece of information, and it began to feel a little self-indulgent.  In the very first chapter, Hugo writes "There is something we might mention that has no bearing whatsoever on the tale we have to tell - not even on the background." Yet he mentions it anyway, in great detail, for many pages, and the whole book is like this.

To get all my negative points out of the way first, I also found the character of Cosette to be very annoying.  She falls in love with Marius at first sight and completely loses sight of who she is as a person.  Her whole being becomes focused on being in love, to the extent that she has no other identity.  There's one scene where she is explaining to Marius that Cosette isn't her real name, and that she prefers her birth name Euphrasie.  Marius indicates a slight preference for Cosette so she instantly changes her mind.  She allows herself to be pulled away from Valjean, a man who has cared for her for most of her life, and basically has no opinion that Marius has not expressed first.  Hardly a great example of a strong female character.

Now I'm done with the negatives, I can say that of course, there were many things that I did like about Les Miserables. Both Epoinine and Enjolras were fascinating characters, full of depth and very interesting to read about.  I particularly liked Epoinine's mix of toughness from living on the street mixed with a surprising vulnerability and how she just leapt off the page as a character full of life.  Hugo's themes of progress and education for all people in society are of course honourable, and the battle scenes at the blockade were very well written.  In fact, most of the book was well written and I can't fault Julie Rose's translation.

But for me, I just couldn't get over the excessive detail and how the pace of the novel was constantly interrupted with diversions.  By the time I got to just over half-way through the book, reading it had started to feel like a chore that I was looking forward to completing.  I am glad that I read it, but I can't see myself ever picking it up again.

The Classics Club: Book 20/72

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1862
Edition Read: Modern Library, 2009 
Score: 3 out of 5