Sunday 26 February 2012

Evelina by Frances Burney

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 15th December 2008
Pages: 455
Synopsis (Goodreads): 
Frances Burney's first and most enduringly popular novel is a vivid, satirical, and seductive account of the pleasures and dangers of fashionable life in late eighteenth-century London. As she describes her heroine's entry into society, womanhood and, inevitably, love, Burney exposes the vulnerability of female innocence in an image-conscious and often cruel world where social snobbery and sexual aggression are played out in the public arenas of pleasure-gardens, theatre visits, and balls. But Evelina's innocence also makes her a shrewd commentator on the excesses and absurdities of manners and social ambitions--as well as attracting the attention of the eminently eligible Lord Orville. 
Evelina, comic and shrewd, is at once a guide to fashionable London, a satirical attack on the new consumerism, an investigation of women's position in the late eighteenth century, and a love story. The new introduction and full notes to this edition help make this richness all the more readily available to a modern reader. 

Evelina, the story of a somewhat typical country girl thrust into London society without a clue what to do when she's there. Another book for university, I enjoyed this one more so than the others. This is possibly because, even though Evelina is incredibly naive, she has the most funny and endearing moments. These silly moments usually caused me to yell at the book because her gullibility can be annoying to a modern young woman. Actually, I yelled at Sir Clement quite a lot too... but that's because he's - well, I wouldn't want to ruin it!

The epistolary style gave it a confessional and somewhat biased tone, but that's because all letters are to or from Evelina, giving the reader an insight into her innocent mind. Ah, if only the world was that simple! And of course, there were moments that were a bit slow - but what do you expect from an in-depth description of a boring dinner conversation? 

One last thing, I believe: Lord Orville. Even though you do only see him through Evelina's rose-tinted glasses, you will love him. He is sweet and considerate to Evelina's social blunders, subtly ignores her slip-ups and confesses his love for her before he finds out about her true family. He made the book worth it!

Sunday 12 February 2012

Restoration by Rose Tremain

Publisher: Vintage
Published: 4th August 2009
Pages: 416
Synopsis (Goodreads): Robert Merivel is a dissolute young medical student when an accident of fate leads him to the attention of King Charles II. Finding favour with the King, Merivel embarks on the time of his life, enthusiastically enjoying the luxury, women and wine of the vibrant royal court, until he is called upon to serve his monarch in an unusual role. However, when he fails at the one thing the King demands of him he is cast out from his new-found paradise. 

Determined to be restored to the King’s favour, Merivel begins a journey to self-knowledge that takes him to the depths of seventeenth-century society.

I understand that this novel delves into the workings of the seventeenth century society, successfully describing the personal rise and fall of Merivel, in my opinion anyway. And yet, it was funny. Merivel is essentially a nearly-forty year old man-whore, if you excuse my language, falling "in love" or at least in lust with women a plenty.

The novel illustrates the rise and fall and rise - kind of - of Merivel with the King, Charles II and his one true friend John Pearce. While some parts are truly touching, for example Merivel's encounter with Whittlesea, an Early Modern Insane Asylum, some parts appear ridiculous, at least to a modern reader, describing Merivel's interesting choices of interior decorating or coat design. And of course the crude curse words and the squeamish event of touching a live beating heart.

Merivel's character himself is somewhat, shall we say, ambiguous. There are times when you really begin to dislike him, for behaving so poorly to women, conducting himself with no grace what so ever in front of the King or for generally being selfish. But, as I said earlier, there are some touching moments, a few losses that hurt, the fall that tries to successfully change him from the selfish to the selfless.

All in all, an enjoying read, that I admit took a while, but was satisfying none the less. I will leave you to try and decipher the surreal ending.

Friday 3 February 2012

Ulverton by Adam Thorpe

Publisher: Vintage
Published: August 20th 1997
Pages: 384

Synopsis (Goodreads):
Made up of twelve self-contained narratives set in the fictional village of Ulverton from 1650 to 1988, each section of the novel, with the exception of the final chapter, has a narrator who is also the principle character. Chapters take the form of a diary, a narrators stream-of-consciousness, a series of letters and a traditional first person narrative.
 is extraordinary in scope and ambition and the imaginative way that it deals with three centuries of seemingly authentic private experiences in rural England.

Another set text for university but honestly, I think I would have picked this up anyway: historical fiction is just about my favourite genre. The intertwining plots and family histories make the story incredibly interesting and while some of the chapters were a little hard to understand because the narrator was illiterate, this book did not disappoint.

Each chapter has a different feel, both due to the century it is set in and the characters it focuses on. Said characters span all classes, all ages, all levels of literacy! Typical of rural life, they all appear to know each others business, or at least like to encroach upon it! You really do have to keep an eye out for familiar names or places because you have no idea how this may or may not bare significance for the future.

Struggled through some entries - yes, because their spelling was awful! - but well worth it.