Pre-loved book haul.

I’m currently postponing a considerable amount of Uni work to write this blog post, which is far more interesting! Anyway, a few weeks back, I adopted some unwanted, lovely new books from my relatives. Here, I shall be going through some of my fiction and non-fiction choices…

My first adoption is ‘Walking Dickensian London’ by Richard Jones.

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If you enjoy classic literature and like London, then you’ll enjoy this. This is a delightful 200-page commissioned guide, covering twenty-five walks through the Victorian quarters of London, all associated with the life of Charles Dickens. The book opens with a modest biography of Dickens, revealing that it was a broken heart, poverty and a stifled intellectual desire that finally plunged him into writing in 1833. I’ve also learnt from this section that Dickens directed and acted in Willkie Collins’s 1857 play, ‘The Frozen Deep’.

Collins was another nineteenth-century writer who is perhaps best known for his psychological thriller novel, ‘The Woman in White’ (1859).

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BBC One’s 2018 adaptation of the “Woman in White”

At the bottom of page nine, you will find a short key which helps identify local churches, train stations – if you’re commuting to London beforehand, the walking route – highlighted blue, as well as city parks and gardens. Directions are generally broken down by short paragraphs, focussing on historic points of interest. My favourite walk is “Tower Hill to Barbican”, not least because Barbican is home to the Museum of London and the Barbican Centre – where I’ll be graduating (fingers crossed), but because the whole route is described as going straight through the “very heart” of the City of London and has a “warren” of very ‘Dickensian’ back alleys. I would say that since this guide is relatively old (published, 2004) and it feels slightly dated in terms of its layout and aesthetics. Nevertheless, a very interesting book. It’s relatively lightweight and a perfect companion to slip into your backpack. I feel inspired to embark on some walks!

My second adoption is
‘Walking Shakespeare’s London’ by Nicholas Robins.

As you may have noticed, this is related to the last book as a ‘Walking Guides’ series. This guide contains twenty walks and compared with Dickens, the introduction on Shakespeare is, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite short as very little was known about the bard himself. The introduction states that one of the most evocative Shakespearean buildings you’ll find in London, Shakespeare’s Globe, is incidentally one of the most modern additions, reconstructed from the original Globe Theatre in 1997 and 200 metres from the old site. This guide is similarly scattered with photographs, route maps, information on local buildings like Temple Church (p.112) as well as lots of context on historical society, Shakespeare’s contemporaries, political figures and literature in time gone by. This guide’s wide-ranging presentation of information offers an immersive insight into the past and is, therefore my preferred addition of the two.

My third adoption is ‘Nathaniel’s Nutmeg’ by Giles Milton.

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I took ownership of this book from my Dad who has had nothing but very high praise for it. In 1616, an English adventurer, Nathaniel Courthope, stepped ashore on the remote island of Run, six-hundred miles from the coast of Australia, to persuade the native islanders to grant a monopoly to England over their nutmeg. You may forgive the book for having such a seemingly mundane title, but if you’re interested in British naval history and the Age of Discovery, I have seen this book being frequently described as a “truly fascinating” read. The book is based on a little-known but very true story and from what I’ve read so far, Milton has interwoven imaginary writing in his own re-telling of the story of the spice trade; so we may call this a factual book with a little creative licence. Naturally, with any book covering our historic imperial past, there is the issue of a racist ideology which crops up as early as page two: “(the islanders of Run) are peevish, perverse, diffident, perfidious people…” Nevertheless, it serves the correct purpose of acknowledging ignorance of society of the time. I am yet to read this novel as it’s on my summer reading list, but I have high hopes for its depth of information.

Hello, there!

Hello to my intimate group of followers.

It seems I have been running this blog for little over a month and things are settling in quite well. There are currently nine of you who are actively following my blog; I’m so pleased you could join me! And I didn’t expect to achieve quite so much positivity this early on – it’s all relative 😉

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I thought it might be helpful to share a modest amount of personal info so you – or anyone can get a better concept of me as I blog. I’m nineteen, rolling on twenty in June (tragic). People I meet tend to say that I’m way older than my years, which probably comes as a result of numerous family stresses. We all have baggage, don’t we?

I’ve been experiencing some serious medical issues lately, which means I’m not at Uni. And this leads me on to the blog – my new hobby – since I’m predominantly housebound. For now, let’s just say I’m extremely introverted; I read a lot of books and I enjoy writing about them, I like gardening, baking (mostly sweet things), a country lass at heart, I tend to get fired up when it comes to Politics and the NHS, I enjoy popular television shows, and I spend pretty much 100% of my time with my family.

Thank goodness for the internet because since I don’t have any close friends, I would have otherwise become very lonely – which can still be the case sometimes, but hey-ho!

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‘After Me Comes the Flood’ by Sarah Perry.

 

{Saturday 21st April}: If like me you live in Britain, you’ll be well aware of the recent heatwave we’re experiencing, with temperatures as high as 29.C degrees – the highest in April for 70 years! I woke up this afternoon (cheers, insomnia) from the depths of an amazingly vivid patchwork dream, which I’m still experiencing the hangover from. And in my state of confusion and distant consciousness, I remembered reading the equally evocative and heady writing in Sarah Perry’s debut novel ‘After Me Comes the Flood’. First of all, I didn’t like it much. Here’s why…

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March Winds and April Summers.

Since I’m sitting here in an empty house with a mug of hot tea, (we Brits drink tea in all weathers) I think, to establish the opening scenes of the novel is the perfect way to begin.

This 230-page debut by Sarah Perry centres itself around the mundane life of a solitary man, John Cole, who owns a bookshop in London. When the perpetual silence of his shop and the feverishly hot weather become too much, John decides close early and leave for Norfolk where his brother lives by the coast. On his way, John’s car breaks down and when he ventures off in search of help, he comes across an unusual house in a clearing in the countryside. The mood from this point on takes a colder turn and starts to decline.

 

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A gorgeous cover, but looks can be deceptive!

John is welcomed by a scruffy and slightly childlike family who know his name and claim to have been waiting for him for some time. There is a broken sundial on the lawn and John later finds mysterious, cryptic graffiti in his laid out room. The house emanates stagnation from its unsightly descriptions and sensory imagery to its inhabitants who seem to have become part of the woodwork, not attaching themselves to a particular time or place. Not only did I find this slightly disorientating, but the juxtaposition of setting with the family’s warmth and friendliness created a feeling of unease throughout.

John tries to inform them that he is not who they think he is, but every time he is briskly ignored or misses the opportunity to speak out. Accepting the family’s hospitality with some degree of guilt, he waits for the earliest opportunity to make his unannounced escape. Of course, this is prolonged further and further, which only added to my level of frustration. I got the impression that the novel was like a very weird dream and its style reminded me very much of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. You’ll have to read into it to find out, but let’s just say it’s left a lasting impression upon my studies in Literature!

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Credit: Unknown Source.

I thought the novel started off very promisingly with a high degree of intrigue, and Sarah Perry’s beautiful flair for lyrical and poetic passages is indisputable. However, when this and an excessive amount of boring dialogue overwhelms the novel, her writing (in my humble opinion) comes across as quite pretentious. The story lacked a chunky middle and an end, and it quickly became confusing and dull. Instead, I got the impression that the novel was a showcase of Sarah Perry’s capabilities as a creative writer rather than a fully fledged author. I’d say that it’s a typical book that will appeal to the feminine mind – only I’m not a typical female reader. Nor is it my cup of tea. 

 

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Some positive reviews. I’ll leave it to you!

Published in 2014 by Serpent’s Tail, Reprinted 2017

Written by Sarah Perry, front cover design by Peter Dyer

ISBN: 978-1781259559

‘The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack’ by Mark Hodder.

One place you’re most likely to find me is: nowhere. I don’t get out much; I mainly escape through the pages of the latest book I’m reading. After many school years over-analysing lines of text, I had forgotten how to simply read a book. It wasn’t until Christmas that a tall stack of gifted novels triggered me into making a first determined effort to break the back bone of my reading anxiety. As it turns out, I enjoyed the first book I read so much, that I decided to write a book review on it here:

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The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack’ (2010) is a 479-page Victorian Steampunk novel, written by Mark Hodder. I was initially apprehensive, because if reading the dystopian passages of Mortal Engines was anything to go by, then I would find this one mighty tough read. However, this exciting novel is set in an alternative ‘Albertian’ London and makes use of an array of 19th-Century historical figures. Sir Richard Francis Burton is the multi-disciplined and charismatic protagonist who investigates two parallel subplots. The more interesting of which is his terrifying encounter with the alien figure of Spring-Heeled Jack. I enjoyed Hodder’s use of a third-person narrative, told from the perspective of Burton, as I ‘shared’ the sensation of being plunged into a murky world of terror and mystery. I also liked the fact that I had stumbled across a story about the lesser-known urban myth of Spring-Heeled Jack. There are too many stories which revolve around Jack the Ripper and if you haven’t heard of Spring-Heeled Jack before, then just a mention opens you up to a new avenue of education into English folklore.

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   Credit: The British Library.

At no point is the plot tiresome and this is diverted with the aid of Burton’s youthful and naive companion Algernon Swinburne. Swinburne not only provides opportunity for exciting and daring plot twists but instant likeability and flippant humour along the way. I was able to sit down with this book and become engrossed in its pages 2-3 hours at a time.

Another thing I appreciate, and respect is Hodder’s extensive knowledge of the period and this is clear with his rich detailing of factual events that occurred at the time. Not only does this offer a real flavour for 19th-Century history, but the material is beautifully entwined with fictional creativity. If you have an appreciation for the Victorian period, this book will be well within your comfort zone – both engaging and rewarding with a few delightful guest appearances sprinkled throughout. On the fictional side, the narrative is set against the backdrop of an alternative London, where the Romantic-like factions of society known as the Rakes and hard-line Libertines are waring with the Eugenicists and Technologists, who form the backbone of the empire. There are velocipedes and swearing messenger parakeets, a vicious albino panther man, and wolves which kidnap chimney sweeps in the smog. And Burton finds himself plunged into this insane reality when he is called upon by Prime Minister Lord Palmerstone as the King’s secret agent, to investigate the strange disappearances. For a considerable chunk of the novel I wondered about the significance – if any – of Hodder choosing to write a story in ‘Albertian’ Britain. As it turns out, there was a lot of significance and this concept was a result of a key part of the plot.

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Just when I thought things were being tied together, Hodder flipped the narrative on its head and the reader gains a completely new version of the story from a different perspective. Yes, the novel has elements of Victorian Steampunk in it, but I’d argue that this doesn’t define it. The combination of a 19th-Century setting, the mystery, grime and Hodder’s detailed navigation around London are what largely set the mood, and this isn’t the typically ‘dry’ result you get from a lot of books set in similar periods, like Terry Pratchett’s ‘Dodger’ (sorry Terry).

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If I had to find something potentially negative in Hodder’s writing, it would be his characterisation of female figures. And characters like Isabell Arundell and the famous Florence Nightingale have very limited dialogue to none whatsoever, which makes them come across as quite two-dimensional. However, in a period which was effectively a man’s world, I guess this can be accepted. Another questionable aspect were instances of assault, but again in the greater context of the storyline, it made sense in its own twisted way. Hodder’s writing was plausible enough to even make me feel pity for person responsible for the acts. Whilst I did get the impression that the story became convoluted and it dissolved into dramatic fantasy near the end, the overall experience of the novel was so enjoyable that the next book in the Burton and Swinburne series is on my eventual wish list. If you’re into mystery slightly more than crime, as well a clash between science-fiction and history, then I’d recommend.

Published in 2010 by Snowbooks Ltd, Reprinted 2017
Written by Mark Hodder and Illustrated by Kate Hiscock

ISBN: 978-1-906727-20-8

 

Every story starts with a blank page.

If you have been interested enough to open the link that has led you to this blog page, then congratulations! You are part of a small minority of people who are not exclusively engaged by visual media – but the power of the written word, too. I myself am not the most prolific writer, but I hope I can sustain your interest with the musings of a humble young person. This space is yet to take shape, but we’ll see how things go. Every story starts with a blank page and this blog will always exist so long as there’s someone reading it.

Good company in a journey makes it seem way shorter. — Walton

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