chunkster challenge 2012

Chunkster Challenge 2012 – Completion

Chunkster Challenge 2012

Ah finished! And that too just by the skin of teeth!

I participated under the “The Chubby Chunkster” participation level of the Chunkster Challenge 2012, the challenge was to read four books of adult literature (fiction or nonfiction) of 450 pages or more between  January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012.

Last year was a tough one. I barely managed to finish this ‘chunky’ challenge. Here’s hoping 2013 will be better.

Completed Books: 1.The Agony and The Ecstasy. Irving Stone.

2. Bleak House. Charles Dickens.

3. Evelina. Fanny Burney.

4. Framley Parsonage. Anthony Trollope.

Evelina by Fanny Burney

Cover - Evelina

Frances Burney (1752 – 1840) or more popularly Fanny Burney was an English novelist and playwright. Her sharp wit and keen observation prowess were celebrated in her own time.

Evelina: Or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World was first published in 1778. At that time period it was unthinkable for a woman to become a published author. Fearing negative publicity and the wrath of her father Burney first published Evelina anonymously.

Evelina is an epistolary novel. It tells the story of Evelina, a naive young woman from an isolated village, as she takes her first steps outside her sheltered home to the great big world. Through a series of lengthy letters her trials and tribulations, often funny and sometimes unpleasant, are related to the readers. A satirical version of the norms and fashions of the 18th century English society serves as a background to Evelina’s adventures.

Burney’s writing reminded me very much of Jane Austen’s (1775 – 1817) works. Austen was said to have been an admirer of Frances Burney’s books. In fact, the title for Austen’s celebrated Pride and Prejudice apparently comes from the final pages of Burney’s novel Cecilia.

This is a lengthy book but it didn’t feel long. I fairly flew through it.

The book does contain some irritating qualities. There is a certain repetitiveness in the untoward situations Evelina keeps getting into. Even the dialogues and the way she gets rescued are the same. The only saving grace is she mostly saves herself by running away from her tormentors (even though it does seem a little unbelievable after a while). If she was the type of heroine who depends on a man to rescue her every time and faints at the drop of a hat, I would have hated this book.

Among the main characters the protagonist, Evelina, is good. Her character does have the requisite ‘good woman’ traits but she is not irritating like so many other classic heroines.

Most of the male characters are reckless or boorish or both. The only two exceptions are Reverend Villars and Lord Orville. But they are more like cardboard cut-outs than real characters. Sir Clement Willoughby should be labelled as the villain of this piece but his character does have some ambiguous traits. The character of Mr. Macartney feels superfluous.

Both the characters of Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan I didn’t much care for. They are both insufferable. The way Captain Mirvan treats Madame Duval is outrageous to say the least. The Branghtons are more caricatures than anything else and some of the situations involving them are funny but they are infuriating nevertheless.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Evelina. This is my kind of book. A classic with a simple story, good characters and a happy ending. Recommended.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House by Charles Dickens was published as a serial during 1852-1853 and as a book in 1853.

Bleak House is the story of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, a cripplingly long case running at the Court of Chancery. Young lives wither away, people lose themselves and their lives but Jarndyce v Jarndyce drags on. It is also the story of Esther Summerson and the secret behind her birth that ultimately brings about the ruin of a noble family.

I love Charles Dickens and I really wanted to read Bleak House for a long time. But I kept putting it off because I was afraid of lugging around this mammoth of a book. At over 1036 pages, this is now officially the longest book I have ever read. But the book didn’t feel long. I enjoyed reading it and didn’t notice how long it was taking me to finish it.

Dickens’ biting satire on the futility of the British judiciary system especially the system of Chancery is simply brilliant! At times the senselessness of it all made me burst out in laughter and at times it made me sad.

After finishing Bleak House, I realized how dark the book actually is. It has the typical Dickensian comic moments (for example, the antics of the Jellyby family and the Smallweed family, Mr and Mrs. Snagsby’s married life, Mr. Guppy’s romantic adventures; etc) but all of them have darker undertones. The Jellyby children are dreadfully neglected and some of that neglect borders on child abuse. The Smallweeds are grasping and cruel people. Mr. Snagsby is an unhappy man. Mr. Guppy is pompous and greedy.

Bleak House is essentially a character driven novel. All of the characters, even the minor ones, play an important part. I would have loved to discuss all of the characters of the book but of course that’s not entirely possible.

Esther Summerson is one of Bleak House’s main narrators and central characters. She is the archetypal ‘good’ Victorian woman, dutiful, ever understanding, uncomplaining and patient. She is so angelically good that she is awfully bland. However, I liked Esther. She is better than those whimpering, fainting and naive heroines that were so widespread in Victorian fiction. Esther’s romance with Allan Woodcourt reminded me of Jane Austen’s stories.

And once again Dickens’ love for curly, golden haired but dim-witted young women comes to the fore! Lucie Manette from A Tale of Two Cities and Dora Spenlow from David Copperfield are other sterling examples of this species. This time the gold haired young woman is named Ada Clare. Esther serves as a mouth piece for Dickens and remains unnaturally attached to Ada. We are told innumerable times how pretty Ada is, how golden her hair is, how angelic she is; etc, etc. The good news is Ada is less insufferable than Dora Spenlow(Oh how I hated her!) and a bit more proactive than Lucie Manette.

Richard Carstone is the average inept, short-sighted man who ruins not only himself but also his family. Even though Dickens paints him in a sympathetic light there is not much to like about him in my opinion.

The lawyer Mr Tulkinghorn is an opportunistic and often cruel man who barely flinches while blackmailing and ruining people’s lives. He is one of the best literary villains I have ever come across. Dickens certainly shows no love towards lawyers as Mr Tulkinghorn along with Mr. Vholes are two of the most despicable characters of Bleak House (although Grandpa Smallweed and family certainly give them a run for their money).

Harold Skimpole is an irritating character. Every time he came into the pages with his constant refrain “I am a child…” I felt a strong urge to smack him!

Sir Leicester Dedlock started out as an old aristocratic man without much depth but his behaviour near the end of the book surprised me. Lady Dedlock’s secret past life is a major plot point but I felt her character lacked depth.

Dickens, as usual, creates vividly alive settings for his story. The ugly squalidness of Krook’s shop and lodging, the miserable existence at Tom-All-Alone‘s and of course the eponymous Bleak House, all create the perfect background for his long, multithreaded tale. I could actually see those places with my mind’s eye. That is one of the reasons I love reading Dickens’ books so much.

Bleak House was a long but worthwhile reading experience. It is now definitely among my top three books by Dickens.

The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone

The Agony and The Ecstasy is the title of the book but for me it has been mostly agony.

The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone is a biographical novel about Michelangelo, the inimitable Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and engineer. It was published in 1961.

The book includes a list of Michelangelo’s works & their present whereabouts and a glossary. I enjoyed these extra additions.

The book starts from Michelangelo’s adolescent years and ends with his demise. As Michelangelo lived to be 88 years of age the book ends up being extremely long. More than 700 pages long to be precise.

All that would have been fine if the story and the writing were exceptional. But no such luck!

The story is extremely repetitive. Michelangelo has talent, he gets into trouble with powerful people, he is miserable, he builds/makes/paints something incredible and everything is okay until the next difficulty rears its ugly head. It’s basically the same thing happening again and again.

The writing for the most part is amateurish. Stone would rather tell us about things than show us. The dialogues are stilted, unnatural and sometimes almost comical! For example,

“I am a sculptor.”

“Could you carve me in marble?”

“You’re already carved,” he blurted out. “Flawlessly!”

The book is well-researched and for the most part appears to be based on facts. This wealth of information would not have been wasted if only Irving Stone had been a better writer or if any other hand had written this book. What a waste of a good concept!

I would rather recommend reading the Wikipedia article on Michelangelo. It has all the information without the awful and often cringe inducing dialogues and characters. Enough said!

Chunkster Challenge 2012

Last year after much hesitation I participated in the Chunkster Challenge. Finishing the chunksters would normally be no big deal for me except for my new job kind of got in the way. I managed to finish it with only two days of the year to spare. But still I am signing up for the 2012 Chunkster Challenge.

Under the “The Chubby Chunkster” participation level of the Chunkster Challenge 2012, the challenge is to read four books of adult literature (fiction or nonfiction) of 450 pages or more between  January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012. Audiobooks and eBooks do not count for this challenge.

Wish me luck everyone!

Completed Books: 1.The Agony and The Ecstasy. Irving Stone.

2. Bleak House. Charles Dickens.

3. Evelina. Fanny Burney.

4. Framley Parsonage. Anthony Trollope.

Completion Post: Chunkster Challenge 2012 – Completion