Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dickens's England by Tony Lynch

This book caught my eye because it seemed out of place in the travel guide section. But I am planning to go to the Charles Dickens museum, so I decided to read it. And you know what? This is a really delightful guidebook.

Organised alphabetically, this book covers the two lives of Dickens - the actual England where he lived, worked, and traveled, and the fictional England that his characters inhabited. There is a chronology in front, and then the book delves into the various locations. For the actual England, the book talks about the events that took place when Dickens visited or lived in that location. For fictional locations, the book talks about scenes that take place (with quotations) and locations that inspired certain buildings.

For some reason, I expected this place to focus on London, so I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of non-London places that were covered. There were also a lot of 'tourist spots' like Westminster Abbey, Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon in the book, which gave me even more to look forward to.

Also, I realised that Dickens was a very well-traveled guy, at least when it came to England.

I think this would be a good "guidebook" to read before or during a trip to England. Charles Dickens is a hugely influential English writer and if you're interested in literature, you might find your trip enriched by all these additional pieces of information.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

I don’t normally read Austen inspired fiction (the romance is a bit too mushy for me) but this was supposed to be set in Bath and it seemed a bit different so I got it. And you know what? I really enjoyed this!

In The Austen Escape, Mary Davis is the reluctant companion to her best friend Isabel as they go for the ultimate Austen immersion experience (on a side note, if there really is a place that lets you dress up and live like Austen characters, LET ME KNOW!). Unfortunately, Isabel has a dissociative episode after receiving some very bad news and loses her memory, instead believing that she is living in Regency England.

Unfortunately for Mary, she and Isabel have been having some issues between them, and her stress at work (which is actually a pretty big part of the book) isn’t helping. When she finds out that Isabel is dating Nathan, the man she likes, things get worse. Only, how can she be mad at an Isabel who doesn’t know who she is?

What I liked about this was that the romance was very muted. Although Mary and Nathan’s relationship is one of the key themes, a large part of the book focuses on Mary and Isabel’s friendship as well as her personal growth via work problems. Everything comes together pretty seamlessly to form one overarching story.

And the Austen immersion place sounds fantastic! I want to go there! Bath doesn’t really feature in this book (although the Jane Austen Center gets a mention) but the Manor House is so delightful that I didn’t mind at all. I also really enjoyed reading about all the other guests, and I like how they each had their own stories.

If you’re an Austen fan, I think you’ll like this. It isn’t overly saccharine and I like the balance of romance, friendship, and personal development. Plus all the Austen references are really fun.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Couples by Charles Dickens

I wanted to read something by Charles Dickens before my trip and this looked interesting. Plus the library didn’t have David Copperfield or A Christmas Carol.

Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples is a collection of ‘sketches’ of different stereotypes of men and couples in Victorian Times. Sketches of Young Gentlemen was written in response to Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswall (aka ‘Quiz’), and so Sketches of Young Ladies is also included in this slim volume. The people profiles include:

- The Young Lady who Sings
- The Literary Young Lady
- The Mysterious Young Lady
- The Bashful Young Gentlemen
- The Political Young Gentlemen
- The Funny Young Gentlemen
- The Loving Couple
- The Couple who Dote upon their Children
- The Egotistical Couple

And much more. In total there are 24 sketches of Young Ladies, 12 of Young Gentlemen and 11 of couples.

There’s also a really long introduction that I stopped reading, although I did learn that “the journalistic format of short fiction, essays, sketches, serials, and miscellaneous writings was very much the dominant mode of publication in the 1830s.

Personally, I really enjoyed these sketches, even those that weren’t by Dickens. Maybe it’s because I’ve read some older fiction, but I recognised a lot of the tropes and enjoyed the satirisation of them. They’re also pretty short, so it’s easy to read a sketch or two when I have some free time.

The main difference between Dickens and Caswall’s sketches is that Caswall speaks a lot more in generalities while Dickens tends to focus on one example of the stereotype. I like both styles so I don’t really have a preference (and they’re not that different anyway).

If you want to try reading Charles Dickens but don’t want to read one of his novels (because they can be quite long), you should consider Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Couples. It’s a pretty slim volume and good for a chuckle, which makes it easy to read.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Started and finished this in a morning because it is so good! If you’re looking for a Christmas read, this is definitely it.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a fictionalised account of how Charles Dickens came up with his famous story A Christmas Carol. While it’s true that the story before that, Martin Chuzzlewit, was a flop and that Dickens was in financial difficulties at the time, the rest of the book takes great liberties with the truth. But what an enjoyable read this was.

In this account, Charles Dickens loses the spirit of Christmas, driving away even his wife and children. But even though he cannot think of and doesn’t want to write a story, his publishers have promised a Christmas Tale and they are insistent that he must deliver. It’s not until Dickens meets an enigmatic young woman named Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son Timothy that he is able to write again.

Charles Dickens is definitely the star of the story. The author did a great job in creating sympathy for him, so much so that I was annoyed with his family for spending so much money without a care. While he was definitely a Scrooge, his stress over his finances made him a likeable Scrooge.

There are also a lot of fun, literary cameos in the book. More than a few Victorian-era authors appear, and there are many references to Dickens’ other works (including a character named David Copperfield who would like to be in Dickens’ book).

I’m so glad that I picked this up. I wasn’t even thinking of it, but it was in the “new books” section of the library and I remembered hearing about it before (from Wendy, so thank you very much!) so I borrowed it and now I’m in a Christmas mood. If you’re still looking for a book to read over Christmas, I would recommend this one.