A Sweet Award

A big thank-you to Whatcha Readin', Books? for passing the Irresistibly Sweet award on to me. Click the link and check out some of her reviews. I'm asked to list 4 guilty pleasures and to pass on the award to 6 bloggers.

My four guilty pleasures would have to be
   1. Sci Fi movies, which I love. Why is it I never read sci-fi books?
   2. Chai Latte. I could drink it everyday, but I do make an effort to limit my indulgence to two or three a week.
   3. Playing word games online. I love words.
   4. Afternoon naps - there's no reason in the world why I shouldn't take an afternoon nap, but I doubt I'll ever stop feeling guilty about it.

Now for the 'passing on' part of this award. In a post a few months ago I said I would be passing awards on to one or two people rather than the 5 or 12 or 15 that the rules of the award say is required. It seems there are a lot of people for whom awards have become a chore instead of an encouragement. It can eat up a lot of time looking for other blogs to pass the award on to and then writing a post with all those links, so I'm doing my admittedly very little bit to help put the fun back in these things by making the ones I pass on less labour intensive. (I know there are people who will disagree with this and I completely respect your opinion and understand that it might mean disqualifying myself for further awards.)

I am passing on the Irresistibly Sweet award to : Kim at Page After Page.  Her blog is a lovely place to spend some time, with lots of interesting reviews and it has a nice spirit about it. Very sweet indeed.

Thanks again to Whatcha' reading, and Happy Valentine's Day to everyone. Now go eat some chocolate or smell the roses or whatever it is you do on Feb 14th. I'd like to spend the rest of the evening reading, but I have to try to figure out why this stupid font keeps shrinking on me. Arghhhh.

"Jude The Obscure"

Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I love Thomas Hardy. I love his fatalism and his fearlessness. My favorite of his novels always seems to be the one I'm currently reading, but I think I mean it when I say that Jude the Obscure is really my favorite. At least until I re-read Far From The Madding Crowd.

This novel tells the story of Jude Fawley, a young stonemason obsessed with a desire to study for the ministry among the learned men, and in the hallowed stone buildings, of Oxford University. That desire haunts him as it is thwarted again and again, usually by his own failure to think his actions through. He works hard to make the best of whatever situation he finds himself in, staunchly adapting when change, even cruel change, comes his way.  But even Jude eventually comes to the end of his tolerance.

His first, second and only wife is Arabella, an earthy and opportunistic woman who knows how to make her way in the world. Jude is drawn to her sexually but never really loves her. His heart is given only to Sue, a cousin and the one great love of his life. Through marriages and divorces and re-marriages his feelings for Sue never change. Theirs is probably the most complicated romance I've ever read. And it's a Thomas Hardy novel, so don't expect any happy endings.

Sue is an interesting, and frustrating, character. Ethereal, frigid, intelligent and selfish, she becomes Jude's other obsession. As a reader I found her fascinating, as a woman I wanted to shake some common sense into her. The people who get involved with her don't fare well and yet she seems to mean well. Jude, and others before him, are tortured by her inability to love or to give herself to those who love her.

I found this novel of Hardy's different than the others in that his own voice comes through more clearly. When Jude is in need of a friend Hardy says "...but nobody did come, because nobody does." Hardy's own sadness and disappointment with life/people are apparent. But he takes a stab at humour as well, something I haven't seen often in his writing, if at all. There's a remark about the sense of humour  of the people of Shaston that is too long to quote here but is more lighthearted than usual for Hardy.

The authour's views on marriage and the established church are written on every page, sometimes with bitterness sometimes with sarcasm. In one scene, a landlord thinks Jude and Arabella are living together without being married and he is about to tell them they can't stay. "...till by chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms, and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of genuine wedlock: and concluding that they must be respectable, said no more."  And of the church and her people: "He had been knocked about from pillar to post at the hands of the virtuous almost beyond endurance."

I don't hold to all of Hardy's opinions and prejudices, but I love his books. He has a gift for brevity, a gift I admire deeply because I don't have it. Thoughts it would take someone else a paragraph to express, he packs neatly into one sentence. Things like: "Principles which could be subverted by feeling in one direction were liable to the same catastrophe in another." I shudder to think how many more words it would have taken me to say that.

All in all a good story with good writing. I recommend this, and all of Thomas Hardy's novels.

"A Town Like Alice"

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

This novel has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time. I bought it second hand a couple of years ago mostly because I liked the title (my middle name is Alice - yeah I know, that's a poor excuse to buy a book, if there are, in fact, any poor excuses to buy books) and threw it on the shelf thinking I'd get around to reading it sometime. Sometime arrived this week.

This is my first Neville Shute novel and I have to say I'm very impressed with his story-telling ability; he has whatever gift it takes to grab and hold a reader's attention. A Town Like Alice tells the story of Jean Paget, a young British woman living in Malaya when World War II breaks out. When Malaya is occupied by the Japanese, the British families are split up, the men are sent to prison camps, and Jean and the women and children are forced to walk hundreds of miles with almost no food or medical care. Every time they arrive at one destination, the authorities there refuse to take responsibility for them and order them to walk on to the next place. They lose many as disease and exhaustion take their toll.

On their trek they come into contact with an Australian man, also a prisoner of the Japanese, who does what he can to help them. When he steals chickens for them he is tortured and by all appearances killed. When the war ends, Jean goes home to England and tries to resume a normal life. (Spoiler alert) Then she gets word that the Australian who did so much for them in Malaya has survived. In the way of star-crossed lovers everywhere, he goes to England to look for her, while she goes to Australia to look for him, and that's all I will say about the story for now.

One of the best parts of this book is the character who narrates the story. He is the elderly solicitor who meets Jean when her uncle includes her in his will. He develops a great fondness for her and a regular correspondence is established between them. I love this character and the way he tells Jean's story. He is a combination of old school manners, noble character, and good, honest, heart. This one character alone makes the book worth reading, but other things do, too. The book has a strong story line and it is very well told.

The only aspect of the book that gave me pause was a question that Jean asked about serving whites and (Australian) aboriginals in the same ice-cream shop and was told she would have to create a separate area for them. I realize the book was written in the 1950's and it was a different time, but I lost some respect for the two main characters when that became an issue. I don't care what societal norms were, wrong is wrong and will never be right. It was a disappointment to see that in an otherwise very good book.

So, all in all I liked the book and recommend it if you're looking for a good story to get lost in. While it is basically fiction, it does have it's inspiration in a true story that took place in Sumatra, not Malaya, during the second world war.