Candide Readalong Pt. 3 – Three Days late

Can’t decide what to think about this book any longer.  In the beginning I ignored the fact that Candide is a dope because he wasn’t instructed in the ways of the world, but the damn fool never learns a thing.   Okay, you want to leave El Dorado to find Cunegonde, not smart, but I can sympathize with being foolish for love.   Wanting to be richer than everyone and unsatisfied with everyone being rich (in El Dorado) stupid, but human.   But the idea that somehow they would manage to hold on to 12 sheep worth of treasure and get it back to Europe without being robbed of it — well, they haven’t learned a thing since being kicked out of the castle in chapter 1.   No street smarts.   No protection for the wealth.   Flashes it around makes it obvious.   At this point, Candide, you deserve what you get.  

And at this point I have trouble understanding what Voltaire is getting at.   He’s made his point that this world is full of people and events that seem to be non-optimal.   Did people still believe in El Dorado or places like that when Voltaire was writing?  Is the point that humans aren’t even satisfied with paradise?    That could be true, although presumably the El Doradans are human, too.   I did like when he was reunited with his sheep.   

Once Upon a Time VIII Sign-Up

I’m a little late, this began 5 days ago, but it sounds like fun and it’s pretty.   The question I can’t quite resolve is whether to go for Quest the First, which is 5 books in what remains of the month up to April 21st of just settle for the —  heck, I just realized it goes to June 21st not April.   So heck yeah, 5 books is doable.

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I will do Quest the First – reading 5 books in fantasy, folklore, mythology or fairy tales

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Also I will watch some movies or shows.  Maybe Gormenghast.  If you have any books or movies you’d like to recommend, please do.

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Even better sign up for the challenge as well.   You can reach the site by clicking on the top pic.

The Underground Man

Not quite my usual thing.  Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer is a bit more hardboiled gumshoe than I go for.   He’s a good writer.   The story has good pace, decent characters, sound enough plot.   I personally think that when Archer realized the boat was gone, he should have called the Coast Guard or the owner right then instead of letting them have all night to go wherever, but as far as detectives doing more than their job goes, that’s pretty minor.   And I struggle to wonder why I’m so not into this.  I was into it enough to read it in a few days.  I did want to know whodunnit, and I had kind of guessed right, but I think it’s just too much like real life.    I like my books to be somewhat escapist, I think.   Things I don’t really want to read about generally include bad trips, escaped prisoners, rape, bad parenting, fire and psychosis.  Even though none of this is graphic or even first hand, which helps a lot, I’m not sure I’ll read more of him.   I like the puzzle aspect, trying to figure out not only who did it, but what happened in the first place, but I think it’s just too 1970 for me.   Or something.   But I do recommend it if you like your crime novels non-cozy, but not too graphic.

I wanted to make it my book outside my usual thing for Bingo, but it’s not Golden Age.   It’s Silver if I read enough of those.   Almost forgot I can use it in the 14 challenge

13. Not My Cup of Tea: Reach out to a genre that you’ve never tried (or probably just disliked) before. Whether it’s a romance, horror or non fiction, maybe you will find a hidden gem!

Death-Watch by John Dickson Carr

My first John Dickson Carr and, of course, my first Dr. Gideon Fell mystery – kind of a cross between Nero Wolfe and Gervase Fen.  He gets around more than Wolfe, though he needs two sticks to do it, but he’s as eccentric/scholarly, I think, as Fen.   Death-Watch is complicated.   I gather that’s one of Carr’s signatures.   I enjoyed it except for the early scene in the room with the recently deceased mystery man with a clock hand through his neck.   People walking around, drinking brandy, moving stuff, when the cops finally show up with the fingerprint and other investigative equipment, I just roll my eyes and think what’s the point. Fell even has the body turned over!   Argh.   I hate that.   But you just have to let go and see Fell as a police-substitute, even though Scotland Yard is right there.   Their sole purpose is to propose wrong solutions and be an audience for Fell when he figures it all out.   He’s allowed to walk off with evidence, everyone waits until he gets there and finds other things to do when he needs some time.   It’s a bit ridiculous, but I think the solution is fair.   Mostly, anyway.   Partly it relies on knowing the layout of the house which is described, but not drawn out — I couldn’t picture it at all.   A diagram would’ve been very helpful.   I still don’t think I would’ve gotten it, but I would’ve at least understood the layout of the house.   (Which had I think it said a 60′ x 20′ hallway upstairs??   Which substitutes as a ballroom?)   I’ll read at least one more.   Maybe a few.   Not sure yet whether I like thee, Dr. Fell, or not.

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Sadly, I did not have this cover.

This counts as another Cozy, I believe, and also Vintage Golden Bingo – Book by an Author I’ve never read Before.

Bleakalong – The End (sniff!)

Definitely mixed feelings coming to the end of this Bleak House readalong.    I want to thank Alice at Reading Rambo very much for hosting.   It was a great readalong – both my fellow readers and the reading were top-notch.   Amusing posts all over the place and I’ll be very much surprised if one of these women doesn’t write The True Story of Esther and Ada before long.   To the book!   Spoilers as usual in a readalong post, but even worse, ending spoilers.   Don’t read unless you know the book or don’t care.

Back to chapter 56.   Lady Dedlock has fled on foot with no money in the cold winter.  We have no idea whether she’s going some place or just throwing herself in the river.    Sir Leicester has had a stroke and no one finds him for ages.   Fortunately, he’s able to communicate enough to hire Bucket to pursue Lady D.   Bucket picks up Esther with the sound notion that Lady D might respond to her as she would not to him.   Though why she’s allowed in that society to ride all over town by herself with him, I’m not sure.   The chase is an agony of suspense — they keep getting closer, closer, then they lose her, then they’re finally back on her trail – though it’s a little murky to me how the hell he knew to get the letter from Guster — and it’s all for naught.   Dickens you bastard.   But no, really, it’s Victorian Society you Bastard.   Because they wouldn’t allow any woman to get away with letting her virtue fail for even a minute.   I strongly suspect the whole reason he wrote this was to show Victorian Society that it’s not just the Fallen Woman who pays, it’s her children and anyone who loves her.   We have to learn to forgive people’s mistakes.   I like to think this book helped end that attitude at least somewhat.   The ending of chapter 59 is just devastating.

Esther is haunting Ada’s new place and so is Mr. Skimpole.  Richard is continuing to make a total charlie foxtrot of his life and Ada’s.  Esther decides to Have a Talk with Skimpole.   Esther, do you never learn? I ask.  But I was wrong.   This time she hit on the one thing guaranteed to get rid of Skimpole.  Telling him they’ve been squeezed bone dry.   And we never saw him again.   Hurrah!   741 pages late, but better late than never.   Then Esther has a little stroll with Woodcourt who by Victorian standards is the slowest proposer ever.   He finally tells her he loves her, but she tells him she cannot be his and they part all noble-like vowing to live unhappily ever after for some stupid Victorian reason.   Esther goes to bed in despair.   Wakes up and urges Jarndyce to set the date so she can well and truly set her misery in stone.   She still calls him ‘dear guardian.’    Has anyone ever been as clueless about so much as Esther?

Mr. Bucket arrives with Smallweed who has found a will.   A will with regard to Jarndyce and Jarndyce of a later date than all the previous wills.   Huzzah!   For some reason Smallweed didn’t just toss this on the fire.   Mr. Bucket promises him he will be rewarded.

“Not according to your merits, you know,” said Mr. Bucket in friendly explanation to Mr. Smallweed.  “Don’t you be afraid of that.  According to its value.”

Heh.   Bucket has some very good lines.   They submit the new will to the wheels of justice.

This is all about tying up loose ends.   George goes to see his brother who is very happy to see him.   George cannot fathom this, but is likewise happy to see his brother.   He also has a new job essentially as Master of Horse for Sir Leicester.

Jarndyce goes off on a journey and writes Esther to come join him, which she does.   Thank goodness he has a clue about people.   I was so relieved when I realized he was gallantly stepping aside.   Hallelujah.   Not that it would be such a terrible match.  He’s a good guy.  But she loves another and it would probably gnaw away at her though she would refuse to ever acknowledge it.

And Guppy.   Poor Guppy.   What a tool.   Who brings his mother and friend along to propose?   But his mother’s reaction was pretty funny.   I hope he finds some worthwhile angel who will know what’s best for him.

And finally the most fitting end of Jarndyce and Jarndyce and Richard.   Because really, he was useless.   If Ada didn’t have cousin John to fall back on she would have been totally hosed.   Totally.   A young widow without a farthing and a kid to bring up?  That isn’t easy now nevermind in 1853.   If Rick had recovered he probably would’ve entered upon a series of get rich quick schemes and spent the rest of his days in debtors prison.

So they all live happily ever after.   The few who are left.  Except Sir Leicester who will always be sad.    Quite a body count.  It is a great novel.  All the feels.  All of ’em.  The only thing missing is Skimpole being broken in a thousand pieces by some large piece of machinery.

I started watching the series right after and glad I waited because it seems to me they reveal some things much earlier in the story.  Naturally they had to cut about 1000 characters because even 8 hours isn’t enough to do this whole story.   And most of what gets cut is the humor.   The Bagnets are gone.  Weevil/Jobling is gone.   Mrs. Smallweed and young Smallweed likewise.   Smallweed is great.  Tulkinghorn is great.  Guppy seems to have a much larger part, probably because he has to be Jobling and Smallweed as well as himself.   He’s very good.   I didn’t care for him in Torchwood, but as Guppy he’s just right.  Richard Griffiths has a priceless couple scenes as Badger.   Turveydrop Sr. only has two lines I think, but he makes the most of them.  Gillian Anderson is very good as Lady D.   I don’t like Sir Leicester at all.   Ada and Richard both fine, but they apparently decided that having a pretty Esther was no good.   Or maybe they think she’s pretty.   I don’t know.  I realize I’m a harsh realm here, but she looks better after the small pox.

Skimpole.  Can’t decide.   He seems to be somehow different from the book in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.   Still claims to be quite a child, but seems to be just saying it.   He seems far more conniving in an intentional way than I took Skimpole to be in the book even though Skimpole did all the same things in the book.   He just seemed perfectly selfish and totally unconcerned about what effect his actions had on other people, whereas in the show he seems to have a good deal more understanding.   But that might be the fault of the actor, who played Inspector Lynley and can’t help seeming intelligent, perhaps.   Miss Flite is Pauline Collins and I’ve always loved her.  George is fine, but I pictured him brunet and for some reason, that’s really bothering me.

John Jarndyce is spot on, but Esther isn’t quite.   Somehow the warmth that’s supposed to flow out from her just doesn’t.   She’s nice.   She’s modest.  She’s actually kinder to Guppy than book Esther, but an overflowing font of loving do-goodness she just isn’t.  And maybe that’s because they didn’t want her to seem too old fashioned or something, but I think so much depends on Esther’s warmth that it’s a real loss that it’s not there.

Lady Jane is perfect.  Can’t find a pic with Krook who’s also pretty great except he can sort of read, which I’m not sure why they did that, but she looks something like this:

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Not sure why there are no stills of her.   She’s obviously the star.

Candide Readalong c. 9-16

I think I’m getting more into the spirit of the thing, but how this can be viewed as philosophically applicable in real life, I’m not sure. Candide and crew go from one absurdly horrific situation to another with moments of absurdly great situations thrown in.   No question Voltaire is wryly pointing out the wealth of the church vs. the suffering of the poor they’re supposed to be helping, etc., but there’s absolutely no benefit to being good or punishment for doing harm.   People are indiscriminately rewarded and punished for things beyond their control constantly.   There is no apparent justice anywhere.   And while that does bear some resemblance to life, it’s not quite so bad as that.   In Candide’s world, there’s absolutely no reason to try to behave well, as you’ll just as likely be hanged in an auto-da-fé or pushed off a boat as to suddenly get rich and live in a palace.   But 16 chapters in I just feel – okay, what’s next?

Bleak House – Non-Spoilery Review, Not Final Bleakalong Post

If a book is any good you can’t stretch the last 100 pages to last a week, and Bleak House certainly is.   It is, of course, by Charles Dickens and is nearly 800 pages of wonderful Dickensian language which stops some people on page 2.   (It did me, years ago, but now I’m made of sterner stuff.  Or just like having people to readalong with.)   Bleak House is about the never-ending chancery suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which has been going along for God knows how long and the various people it has destroyed along the way, turning their wits by holding out hope like a multi-generational will o’ the wisp.   Two young people Ada and Richard are wards of the case.   Fortunately for them, they are given a home by the generous John Jarndyce who also looks after the young Esther Summerson, who is also orphaned and only knows at first that it was better she had never been born.  The other focal point is Lady Dedlock, whose beauty is matched only by her boredom, almost nothing interests her, though she is rich and could have or do anything she wanted, until she sees a scrap of mysterious handwriting.

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Little Esther escapes the stern, but unloving care of the woman who turns out to be her aunt, when she is seven and sent to school by Mr. Jarndyce.  Later she meets the cousins, Ada and Richard and all three have a lovely life at the now inappropriately named Bleak House for a brief while.  But these things never last.   There is a cast of dozens of Dickensian characters, charming, hilarious, dopey, greedy, actually, you could probably find all seven dwarves and then some.  Dickens was a master of character and there are even plot twists I didn’t see coming for 100 pages.   It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, makes the reader laugh and cry and groan at the injustices of Victorian society, many of which are still with us, though not to the same degree.  There is also mystery, beginning with Esther’s parentage and the death by opium of a mysterious man known only as Nemo and spontaneous combustion — this book has it all.  I don’t know if it’s Dickens’ best, but it’s certainly one of his best and I enjoyed most of it quite a lot.   There are some dull passages, but for the most part, the pace is excellent, the characters unforgettable and the story is a corker.  If you have any tolerance for nineteenth century lit, Bleak House should be on your list.

Definitely going to watch at least one of the mini-series:  Gillian Anderson or Diana Rigg?   I may not be able to choose.   I might have to watch both.  Almost forgot, this counts as a 19th century classic and a chunkster for two different challenges.

Time and place cannot bind Mr. Bucket. Like man in the abstract, he is here today, gone tomorrow — but, very unlike man indeed, he is here again the next day. [Bleakalong Numero 6]

Kind of an odd section.   All over the lot.   The Old Girl’s birthday as celebrated by her dear Lignum — she must be very glad it only comes once a year.   And the icing on the cake, old George is arrested for murder by disingenuous Bucket.   Credit to him though, he waited until they’d left the party.   That was tactful.   Caddy is ill.   Esther notices something bothering Ada, but instead of just asking her, assumes she knows the problem is all about her and she must be relentlessly cheerful to fix things.   Argh.   Painful.   And unusually egomaniacal of Esther who is more apt to think the rest of the time that things have nothing to do with her.

An entertaining interview between Mr. Woodcourt and Mr. Vholes.

“You seem to forget,” Woodcourt informs Vholes, “that I ask you to say nothing and have no interest in anything you say.”

Slam!  Gloves are off.  But Vholes doesn’t seem unduly upset.   No pistols at dawn.   Eventually he tells Woodcourt that Richard lives next door.   Oh, Richard.   You just get dumber and dumber and I didn’t think it was possible.   At least, put a few blocks of fresh air between yourself and Vholes, but no.

Shortly after this Esther and Ada visit Richard where the truth is revealed — Ada has up and married the dimwit.  Bye, Ada.   Better get a job because you’re going to have to earn all the money in that family.  Poor ol’ Esther still visits and steals kisses even though she now lives across town.    Hold out, Esther!   If Ada is strong enough she might outlive Richard and come back to you!   Esther who still calls her now fiancé guardian is obviously not into him.

Mr. George receives visitors and refuses lawyers.   The Old Girl will just see about that and off she goes with her umbrella.

Then we have the big reveal.   Bucket knows all and what’s more, he tells all.   Kudos to Mr. Bucket on his investigative prowess and to Mrs. Bucket for her able assistance.    No kudos on the character of the French maid who after a very unusual beginning has devolved into a spitting cobra.  I wasn’t at all sure Sir Leicester wasn’t going to have a stroke.   The visits of the Chadbands and Smallweed ably handled by Bucket – more kudos.   But shouldn’t all this happen in a giant climactic scene in about 80 pages?

And then George meets his old mother whom he hasn’t seen since he was 17.   And it’s Mrs. Rouncewell!  As Raych at Books I Done Read said a couple weeks back “Errrrrrbody is related.”  George listens to reason for once.

We have everybody in this section almost.  The Return of Guppy.

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  Guppy feels impelled to warn Lady D of impending disaster:  the letters exist, all and sundry know all and that includes Sir Leicester.   Then this line cracked me up:

Mr. Guppy considers this a favourable moment for sticking up his hair with both hands.

And why not?  There’s not much else he can do.   Poor Guppy.  A decent chap after all.

And so Lady D runs away!

We’re in the home stretch.  I doubt I will spend a week reading the last part.  Will Sir Leicester forgive all?  Will Lady D see Esther or fling herself in the Thames?   Will Guppy find love?  Will Woodcourt just propose already?  Will Richard recover his sanity?  [No.]  Will Miss Flite?  [Probably not.]   Will Ada raise eight children who all attend chancery court instead of school?  Everyone needs a good talking to by the Old Girl.

Whose Body?

This is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel and rather like Poirot, he seems to spring fully-formed from his creator’s brow.   Everything is there in the first book, his whimsy, his sharpness, his fatuousness, his relationship with Bunter.   I love his relationship with his mother and Parker.   I thought there were more, but there are only 11 Wimsey novels by Sayers.   

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The story opens with Lord Peter headed for a rare book sale when he realizes he’s forgotten his catalog.  He dashes back home for it only to receive a call from his mother alerting him to the fact that an architect they know has just found a body in his bath this morning.   Completely k-naked with no k-nickers on, as Benny Hill used to say.  In fact, the body is wearing nothing but pince-nez.   Lord Peter sends Bunter to the book sale and buzzes off for a look at the body.   While he annoys one inspector, he works hand-in-glove with Inspector Parker on this and the disappearance of a wealthy financier, Sir Reuben Levy.  His flippant way of talking is entertaining to me, but might just annoy some people.

The solution is good, although there aren’t really a pool of suspects to choose from.   It’s more of an investigation.   In Five Red Herrings, you had the town and the murder had to be committed by an artist who had a problem with the victim.   This left six people as it was an arty town and the victim was inclined to get into arguments with all and sundry.   Here they’re not even sure there’s been a crime.   The body in the bath has not necessarily been murdered and Sir Reuben has disappeared, but it’s possible he’s just gone off somewhere.   So, while it’s definitely an interesting story, even if a bit far-fetched in the end, it’s not my favorite kind of mystery.  

This counts as another Cozy and probably somewhere on the Bingo card, but I’m not sure.

Candide Readalong Part 1

I’m inclined to think I had to read this in my not-misspent-enough youth, and I got the general idea, but I believe all the humor was lost on me.   Moments like Cunegonde peering through the bushes at her teacher Dr. Pangloss “giving a lesson in experimental natural philosophy to her mother’s chamber-maid”  and became “greatly flurried, quite pensive and filled with the desire to be learned; dreaming that she might well be a sufficient reason for young Candide and he for her” missed completely.  

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It isn’t exactly subtle, but then I suppose battling what appeared to be the complete idiocy of the Optimistic philosophy perhaps Voltaire thought a sledge-hammer was necessary.   How can this possibly be the best of all possible worlds when such terrible things happen?   I’ve sometimes wondered if we could either have the world as it is with all the horrible things or make it vanish, how many of us would choose to eradicate it?  Not many, I think.   And an earthquake in particular seems like it could easily be an unavoidable result of the structure of the planet.  A structure which might be required to support life at all.   I don’t know geology and whether we could have a planet in which life like us could live without tectonic plates.   In other words, it’s an unsatisfactory argument to me.   This is not the best of all possible – and we put the emphasis on possible – worlds because earthquakes happen.   How people behave towards one another seems a much better argument.   It does seem like it ought to be possible to have a world without war, rape, autos-da-fé, etc.   All the man-made ills seem strictly optional.   

Pangloss says everything must be as it is and yet we have free will.   It seems to me you can have it one way or the other, but not both.   If what happens is ordained and nothing else could possibly have happened, there’s no free will. But then Pangloss isn’t exactly a great philosopher as much as a straw man.   It’s been a long time since I read any Leibniz, but he wasn’t an idiot.  He independently came up with calculus, for Pete’s sake.  Granted people can be very smart about some things and idiotic about others.   And I really don’t think I’m up to reading Leibniz to argue on his behalf, but it seems to me mockery is not necessarily a refutation.   People mocked the guy who first said the continents drift and the guy who said we should all wash our hands.   Leibniz was trying to solve the problem of evil in a world created by a just God and maybe he didn’t do it, but it’s an extremely difficult problem philosophically and I’m not sure he deserved Candide in response.   But then it’s only part one.   Stay tuned.