Aslauga’s Knight by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué

Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1777-1843) was a German writer. His works mostly belong to the genres of romance and fantasy. Undine (1811) remains Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s most enduring work.

Fouqué’s writing influenced many. Louisa May Alcott and Robert Louis Stevenson were among those influenced by him. In her novels Little Women and Jo’s Boys, Undine is mentioned. In Jo’s Boys, there’s even an entire chapter called Aslauga’s Knight.

Aslauga’s Knight is an archetypal Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué story. Froda, a model knight, reads the century old legend of Lady Aslauga and falls in love with her. Soon he receives a visit from a spectre that is revealed to be the legendary Aslauga and he is bound forever with her.

The story has all the elements of a fairy tale. The brave knights, the fair princess, the wicked witch but at the same time this reads more like a horror story. Froda is in love with a dead woman, Aslauga. The vision of a ghostly Aslauga appears at every opportune moment. Sometimes it is loving but most of the time it seems a bit malevolent. The spectre both aids and hinders Froda. As long as is toiling for honour it helps him but as soon as he has any thoughts of a personal nature it thwarts his plans.

The ending is also, in keeping with the mood of the rest of the story, slightly dark.

The story is very short. It took me less than an hour to finish it. But somehow it didn’t seem short and I don’t mean that in a negative way. The story, despite its shortness, had so many different elements packed into it. Proclamations of love and friendship, songs, warfare, dark magic, ghosts and witches, all the ingredients of romance and fantasy, are abundant among its 50 or so pages.

The characters of young Edwald and the fair Hildegardis are unimpressive. Edwald comes across as a bit of a wimp.

The friendship between Froda and Edwald irritated me at times. It is overly romanticised. The flowery exchanges between them got on my nerves.

I enjoyed reading Aslauga’s Knight and would  recommend it to classic lit lovers, even though it is not really like what I had expected it to be. It is darker than I had anticipated. At times the over-righteousness of the characters annoyed me. But overall Aslauga’s Knight is a good, short read.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind (La sombra del viento in Spanish) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón was originally published in 2001. The 2004 translation by Lucia Graves catapulted the book to worldwide fame.

The story is very dark in tone. This is a true example of Gothic literature. People who are dead, who are forgotten, people who are as good as dead or are better off dead, occupy most of the story. When I was reading the book, I felt like I was viewing the past through a dark glass. The past always seemed like a late afternoon with dark clouds gliding across the sky.

The landscape of the city matches the mood of the story. A dark, dreary Barcelona is presented, a far cry from my sunny idea of Spain. You can actually feel the chill to your bones at certain times especially when the narrative moves around the mysterious Aldaya mansion.

I really enjoyed the touch of supernatural to the story. The history of the Aldaya mansion and Jacinta’s mysterious premonitions gave me quite the thrill.

I liked Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s writing. He knows how to control the pace of the story. He does enough to keep the reader’s attention focused on the central mystery of Julián Carax.

The true connection between Julián Carax and the Aldaya’s didn’t really surprise me. Having read enough Gothic literature, especially the short story The Dead Smile by F. Marion Crawford, I had a vague idea that something like this may be the reason behind Penelope’s disappearance. Only The Dead Smile was even more grotesque.

Julián Carax comes across as a self-centred man. He is always thinking about himself, what he wants and what he didn’t get. What about all the other people in his life? They sacrificed so much and suffered terribly for him but he seemed rather oblivious to all that.

The characters from the past are so strong that the characters from the present time pale in comparison. Daniel Sempere and his lover Beatriz ‘Bea’ Aguilar are examples of this. I found their love story to be bland and kind of awkward. I didn’t care much about their fate. The only character from the present that I found in interesting was the funny yet strangely tragic character of Fermín. I liked the motherly figures of Jacinta and Bernarda.

I felt really bad for Miquel Moliner. He sacrificed so much for the sake of his friendship and his love but got very little in return. I especially disliked the part where Nuria Monfort decides to forget all about him (though later she shows a glimmer of guilt) just after that terrible scene at the café. Later on he is rarely mentioned.

Fumero’s story was interesting. His abusive childhood, his twisted nature, his adult life and his single minded obsession with Carax, made him one of the more intriguing characters of the book. He makes quite a formidable villain.

I didn’t understand the motivation behind the actions of Officer Palacios. I thought there must be an explanation of Palacios’s actions near the end of the story but that was not the case.

The reason Laín Coubert hates Julián Carax’s works so much and intends to burn them all seems a little thin. Sure, I understand terrible mental anguish and larger than life ideas of romance but the revelation of his identity and motive still didn’t match the intensity of the story in general.

I am not generally a fan of romance. And here the idea that you can be sure about who you want to spend the rest of your life with when you are only 17-19 years old, is something that I don’t agree with. The intoxication of first love can be very exciting. You may think that it’s going to last forever, you may go against everyone’s wish, and you may cry and be very bitter about being disappointed but in eight times out of ten this is just infatuation. Most people grow out of this kind of ‘teen passions’.

The story by the end had begun to bore me a little. Once the truth behind Laín Coubert and the disappearance of Penelope has been revealed, the story kind of peters out. Once again, I realized I didn’t care much for Daniel and Bea’s fate.

Overall, I liked The Shadow of the Wind. It’s a very engrossing read. Any fan of Gothic literature would definitely enjoy reading this modern addition to a centuries old genre.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was published in the US by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1964 and in the UK by George Allen & Unwin in 1967.

The story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory revolves around little Charlie Bucket and his trip to the mysterious Mr. Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory.

The book is extremely short. I finished it in about an hour.

I loved Charlie and his unusual family. Grandpa Joe is especially lovable.

All the chocolates in the book sound delicious! I wish at least some of them were real.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been adapted for the screen twice. First in 1971 as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and in 2005 as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have watched the 2005 Johnny Depp version of it. Although the plot of the 2005 version differs to a certain extent from the book, the movie version was very enjoyable.

Some of Mr. Wonka’s remarks are very funny. I laughed out loud at certain parts,

‘Whips!’ cried Veruca Salt. ‘What on earth do you use whips for?’

‘For whipping cream, of course,’ said Mr Wonka. ‘How can you whip cream without whips? Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all unless it’s been whipped with whips. Just as a poached egg isn’t a poached egg unless it’s been stolen from the woods in the dead of night!’

I liked the illustrations by Quentin Blake. They fit Dahl’s story perfectly. No wonder they collaborated for so many years.

I liked reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but I have my reservations about the book. All of the naughty children get their comeuppance seemingly by ‘accident’, accidents which were rather nasty at times, the Oompa-Loompas obvious joy at the accidents and their songs about those accidents, all of this is frankly disturbing.

I read Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories, an adult short story collection, last year and found that Dahl’s vision can often be very dark. Even in a juvenile fiction book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I can see darker undertones. Overall, I enjoyed the book but I just can’t help but get uneasy at some of Dahl’s rather wicked sense of humour.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Mysterious Mr.Quin by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Mr.Quin is a collection of short stories by Agatha Christie featuring the ever elusive Mr. Harley Quin. It was first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons in 1930 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later that same year.

Mr. Satterthwaite, an elderly urbane gentleman, has always been a mere spectator in the drama of life. But one fateful night his role as a simple observer is challenged as an enigmatic man enters his life. That man is Mr. Quin, a friend of lovers, an otherworldly presence. From that night on Mr. Satterthwaite, with overt and covert inspiration from his mysterious friend, wanders the twisted labyrinths of the human heart.

In her autobiography, Agatha Christie mentioned that Mr.Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite were her favourite creations. Surprisingly, there are only 14 short stories that feature Mr. Quin. 12 were published in the present volume and 2 other stories (The Love Detectives and The Harlequin Tea Set) were included in Problem at Pollensa Bay. One would think that a favourite character would re-appear more often than that. Mr. Satterthwaite was luckier. He appears in a full length novel, Three Act Tragedy (1935), which is a Poirot mystery. Although in Three Act Tragedy Mr. Satterthwaite seemed somewhat listless without his shadowy companion.

The book contains 12 intriguing short stories.

They are, The Coming of Mr. Quin, The Shadow on the Glass, At the ‘Bells and Motley’, The Sign in the Sky, The Soul of the Croupier, The Man from the Sea, The Voice in the Dark, The Face of Helen, The Dead Harlequin, The Bird with the Broken Wing, The World’s End and Harlequin’s Lane.

Among these stories my favourites are The Coming of Mr. Quin, At the ‘Bells and Motley’, The Man from the Sea and The Dead Harlequin.

The association between Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite is a unique one. Mr. Quin helps Mr. Satterthwaite see things in a different light. He often shows things that cannot be seen with the naked eye, revealing and solving mysteries in the process. He is a friend of lovers and the problems are often not problems at all but subtle difficulties that may lead to great misfortune. Mr. Satterthwaite on the other hand, has an expert eye for seeing these subtle problems and delving in to his past experiences to solve them. But Mr. Satterthwaite is almost nothing without Mr. Quin. Mr. Quin gives him that gentle nudge he needs to go in the right direction.

Mr Harley Quin is almost definitely a supernatural being. He comes and leaves without any explanation. He may appear at the edge of a cliff or in an empty train compartment. It is interesting to note that in the first story The Coming of Mr. Quin he is somewhat enigmatic but not obviously magical. But as the book progresses there is a definite trend of him growing more and more mystical. By the final story, Harlequin’s Lane, he becomes a near shadowy presence, an almost terrifying phenomenon.

The book moves amazingly swiftly. Even though I tried my best to linger on, I finished it within a very short time.

The stories themselves are nothing exceptional. Frankly, the earlier stories are better than the latter ones. I was quite unhappy after reading the last story, Harlequin’s Lane. There is something disturbing about it.

The plots of the stories maybe quite nondescript but the presence of Mr. Quin makes reading The Mysterious Mr.Quin worth while. An exceptional creation by Christie. Definitely recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen was published in 2004. It was Jensen’s fifth novel.

Louis Drax is an accident prone boy. Ever since he was a baby he has been involved in more than his fair share of near fatal accidents. But so far they have all been just that, ‘nearly’ but not wholly ‘fatal’. On his ninth birthday, however, things may change for the worse. Louis may never come out alive from this ‘accident’.

The story is narrated by two of the central characters, the protagonist Louis Drax and his physician Dr. Dannachet. Louis’ narration includes snippets from his past life and a vision of his inner world. Dr. Dannachet’s narrative deals with the present.

Louis’ voice I found to be less than convincing. He does not sound or act like a nine year old, gifted or otherwise. But his narrative is interesting. Especially as his memories very slowly reveal an extremely disturbed past, a past which gives clues to his present state. Dr. Dannachet’s narration was good too.

The narrative is fast paced. I found myself totally engrossed with it from the word go and finished it pretty quickly.

Most of the male characters do not understand the reality of the situation until it’s almost too late. I found their blindness disconcerting. All the women on the other hand catch on to the truth pretty fast. The detective in charge Stephanie Charvillefort, Louis’ grandmother Lucille and his aunt are all almost wholly aware of the truth but have a tough time proving anything.

Why on earth does Dr. Dannachet fall in love with the frigid Natalie Drax? She is abnormally hostile and unfriendly. Just because she has a ‘perfectly oval shaped face’? Or is it because she seems so fragile? It was really irritating to see him acting like a fool around her.

The character of Natalie Drax is complicated. As we see her mostly from the point of view of a young child and a man obsessed with her, I had a difficult time understanding her. Is she really as black or white as she seems or is there something more behind it all?

Dr. Dannachet annoyed me but with all his faults he felt real. Pierre Drax is a character I genuinely felt sorry for. His ultimate fate bothered me. The character of Marcel Perez surprised me.

Liz Jensen is a capable writer. She handles this extremely disturbing story well.

Jensen makes it all feel real without making it all gloomy or ghoulish. I could feel Dr. Dannachet’s exhaustion, the stifling summer heat and the threat of forest fires looming over the clinic. Like when Dr. Dannachet describes his obsession with Natalie it feels real,

“A mixture of feelings- love, distaste, revulsion, pity- rose in my throat…There was an eternity to that moment, that see-sawing split- second when adoration clung and then lurched, spilling into chaos, rage, hate, anger: the desire to smash and embrace, love and destroy. Betrayal does that…Shows you how worthless love is, when its object is indifferent, ruthless, no more than a machine for surviving.”

I didn’t really like the author using the word ‘bla bla bla’ a large number of times. It was sort of irritating.

The final twist I saw coming for some time. It is not really original but that doesn’t really take away much from the story.

The book is not that long which is a good thing. I think if it were any longer the story would have felt drawn out and tedious. A quick resolution is the best thing about a book of this genre.

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is one strange story. What happens in the story is not wholly un-guessable but whatever it is, it is twisted. Overall, this is an enjoyable psychological thriller.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.