Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

Rounding Up The Reviews #3; Fairytales, Maids Versions, Resurrections and Sex Criminals

As you will have seen already this week, but this is the last one, both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year starting a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Some of them might be perfectly fine reads, I just don’t have that much to say about them and that happens from time to time for no rhyme or reason. So here are the final four for a while and indeed before Savidge Reads turns a corner next week.

The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

Oxford University Press, paperback, 2010 edition, fiction, 228 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Oscar Wilde and me have a funny old relationship. I think his quotes are the height of wit yet his works tend to really divide me. I either think they are utter genius or not really that good. The Picture of Dorian Grey is on prime example as there is so much that is gothic about it and so much about attitudes and the theme of fighting for youth and beauty, yet occasionally I found it really boring and it is only short.

Possibly sacrilegious I know yet the same can be said for his short stories in this collection – well this complete selection. Some of them (Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Nightingale and the Rose and the famous Happy Prince) are utterly brilliant, some (The Canterville Ghost) are okay and the others are a little bit, dare I say it, forgettable. Yet short story collections are tricky minxes because how you read them can really make or break them. I was reading these for Hear… Read This and possibly slightly more last minute and like a novel, rather than reading them over a period of time. That said dragging some of them out would still have caused problems. I have kept the collection though as some I will turn to again and again – mainly the three I named at the start.

The Maid’s Version – Daniel Woodrell

Sceptre, paperback, 2014, fiction, 176 pages, bought by my good self

In 1929, an explosion in a Missouri dance hall killed forty-two people. Who was to blame? Mobsters from St Louis? Embittered gypsies? The preacher who cursed the waltzing couples for their sins? Or could it just have been a colossal accident? Alma Dunahew, whose scandalous younger sister was among the dead, believes the answer lies in a dangerous love affair, but no one will listen to a maid from the wrong side of the tracks. It is only decades later that her grandson hears her version of events – and must decide if it is the right one.

How brilliant does that story sound? I was really excited about reading this novella after Kate chose it for Hear… Read This and sadly I came away really disappointed. The explosion happens very early on in the novel which would kill some books because why would you read on, some authors though make you want to. Woodrell sort of does. The problem is he shows too much too soon. The explosion happens, an affair starts before it (the book doesn’t go backwards, more hops about all over the shop) then we get some wonderful emotive short pieces about some of the victims and… and… then it sort of lost my interest. I felt, if I am being honest and that is what I will always be even if it’s harder when it is negative (The Beard would say I have no problem with this in real life), here Woodrell is trying so hard to write a novella unlike anyone has written before he couldn’t live up to his own desire. It’s a mish mash of voices and characters and chronological set pieces, yet not in an exciting way.

Resurrection – Wolf Haas                                                                                                                                                   

Melville House, paperback, 2014, fiction, 184 pages, bought by my good self

When Inspector Simon Brenner leaves the police force, he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet, and the lovely Alpine village of Zell seems like just the place. That is, until the corpses of an American couple are found frozen on a ski lift, and Brenner, doing some part time work for an insurance company, is called in to investigate the matter. It turns out that the victims have relatives in the area and the crime – if it is a crime – seems like it could be a family affair. Except the prime suspect has a solid alibi and no one in picture-perfect Zell is talking. (Stealing blurbs is so the way forward with these round up reviews, I waffle too much.)

Now this book was a really interesting reading experience and I am very much glad I read it even though I didn’t really like it overall. Some bits were brilliant, some bits were bonkers and some bits didn’t make any sense. I can definitely say it is a new form of cold crime novel, yet whether it will work for you or not is another thing. The omnipresent narrator is very unsettling, then funny, then baffling, talks in riddles and then suddenly seems to clarify towards the end. The humour flits between light, dark and then slightly inappropriate. The plot is fairly good, when it makes sense at the end, and there is a tour de force scene in a petrol station I will never forget. A real mixed bag, yet reading that back I feel intrigued and want to try it again. Maybe instead I will try his next in the series? Oh and before I move on, corking author name.

Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Image Comics, paperback, 2014, graphic novel, 128 pages, bought by my good self

Another recommendation from Rob, actually Resurrection was one of his choices for Hear… Read This where he also mentioned this title. Imagine if every time you reached a peak of sexual climax (yes it does feel awkward typing that and knowing you are all going to read those words) time stopped for everyone else, literally, until you thought about sex again. Imagine then you find someone else who can make the same thing happen? You could cause all sorts of mayhem, or rob banks to save a library. We would all do the latter as book lovers wouldn’t we? Well this is the premise of the comic/graphic novellas which make up the first volume of Sex Criminals, only something is chasing our heroes to stop them.

From its bookish and titillating (did they give that word its name on purpose?) premise I had to give it a whirl after Rob mentioned it. I was titillated (that word again) and loved the way the hero’s wanted to save a library so it ticked all the right boxes for me. I can’t say I was fully lost in the world as this did seem more of a comic than a graphic novel – if I have horrified comic and graphic novel fans saying that I am so sorry – as it did feel it was slightly more 2D than some graphic novels I have read. If you fancy some escapism and a bit of a bookish naughty giggle then definitely give it a whirl.

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So that is the final review round up for a while, have you enjoyed them? Do you want me to keep doing them now and again or would you rather I binned them off? Which of these titles have you read and what did you make of them? Have you had any books that you didn’t love but regardless are really glad you read and if so what were they? Who has accidentally arrived here because of the ‘sex criminal’ Google alert?

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Filed under Chip Zdarsky, Daniel Woodrell, Matt Fraction, Oscar Wilde, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Wolf Haas

The Week That Whizzed By Before The Looooong Weekend

I feel like I have no idea where the last week has gone. Actually that is a big lie, I know exactly where the week has gone. Work ate it. I spent Sunday working most of the day, then working until 9pm on Monday (in the office) and then 11pm (at home so in some comfort/reach of cupcakes) last night. I have been well aware that the summer will be utterly mad and I will be working left right and centre (which I embrace as I like to be busy at work), I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this mad this soon.

Hopefully the madness is over, for a while at least, though this has meant that in the last four/five days has involved working or slobbing on the sofa/sleeping. Though I did manage to record an episode of The Readers where I moan about having no time to read – oh dear! Hoorah’s ahead though as with all those extra hours I have now got a lovely long three day weekend ahead of me and (after having spent this afternoon having a lovely lunch and then lazing with a DVD, the cats, sweets and the Beard – who feels he hasn’t seen me in forever) I am going to dedicate those days to these…

A Long Weekend of Books

Yes it is time for a long weekend of book binging. I have a huge craving for crime so plan on heading straight into some S. J. Bolton, then I really want to read Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall which I bought in Waterstones when I fell in deliriously the afternoon before it won the Costa, Deborah Levy because I have become a huge fan and some lovely ‘early Levy’ books turned up in the post this week. Then I have two books with ‘deadlines’ of sorts to them. Oscar Wilde’s short stories have been chosen by Kate for the next Hear… Read This! and book group is a week on Saturday and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder has been chosen by Rita – all I know is it is a fictional tale involving philosophy and its history, I am terrified of it yet also hoping reading it might make me seem brainier and able to spout philosophical diatribe left, right and centre. Ha!

I also plan on doing some reviews and catch up on comments here and blogs all over the shop. Bliss. What are you reading at the moment or are planning to read? How do you manage to find time to read when there seems to be no time to read? Have you read any of the books I plan on devouring this weekend? Note: I know I won’t read all of them! What else is news?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #27 – Matt Cresswell

Hello and welcome to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves, which must mean it is the weekend and I have survived my first proper full week of work, and have been in blog-hiding after my honest and possibly offending post, and am probably/hopefully curled up with a good book somewhere or watching Kylie on The Voice. This week we are back in the Manchester area (because the north is the best, ha) as we join jack of all trades, as he would call himself, Matt Cresswell, who is a writer, editor and illustrator and soon hopefully bookshop owner. I will let him explain better…

The projects seem to be piling up. I’ve published short fiction in various places, including Icarus Magazine, Hearing Voices magazine and in Shenanigans: Gay Men Mess With Genre from Obverse Books, and, like half the people I know, am halfway through writing a novel – a steampunk/Victorian detective novel with Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Queen Victoria as the detective’s gang of assistants. I blog at www.mattcresswell.com, and I also edit Glitterwolf Magazine, a UK-based literary magazine showcasing fiction, poetry, art and photography by LGBT contributors. And I am the creator, writer and co-illustrator of End of the Rainbow, an online webseries (www.endoftherainbow.co.uk) set on Canal Street in Manchester, which has a print omnibus forthcoming in 2014 from Lethe Press. When I’m not balancing all those plates, I put the bread on the table with freelance copy-editing, graphic design and audiobook narration. I am also an avid reader.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

Before I moved to university I never threw a book out. But then when I moved out it was like Sophie’s Choice. From then on I’ve had to be picky about what can take up space on my shelves. I currently live with a flatmate who has almost as many books as me, and we had to negotiate our bookshelves, like negotiating a delicate truce. There’s bookcases in every room, including two in the hallway. I always judge people by their shelves though, so what’s left on display is just the favourites. And when I say ‘just’, that’s still quite a few of ‘justs’… My system for maintaining that is yearly trips back home with boxes of books for the attic because I still can’t bring myself to not in some way possess them.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I routinely re-organise them, create a complex system, which then immediately goes to pot. Currently there are three shelves of favourites (the top two of the black shelves, and all the shelves by my desk – which also have my slim section for my own publication credits), a shelf of LGBT fiction, about six or seven shelves of to be read, short story collections, non-fiction and what has come be known in the household as the ‘pretentious hardbacks shelf’ which were all the books I bought because Waterstones said I should, and I’ve never read.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

My god… I’m not quite sure. When I was growing up, my dad was an antiquarian book dealer, and our home didn’t have a television, so I was bought lots and lots of books. We spent half our lives in second-hand bookshops, and because he used to get dealer’s discount on whatever leatherbound tome he’d ferretted out, they just used to throw in all the paperbacks that I’d found for free—so I never had to buy my own books. The first I can remember buying for myself was Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques, when I was about seven, bought at a school book fair. I read the whole series, passing the books to my mother who read them after me. I was very sad to hear of his recent death—without exaggeration, it was like bit of childhood fading! It’s not on my shelves anymore, but it’s with the rest of the series on my mother’s shelves, where it’s been read by a few of the generation after me.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

When my parents visited once, I stripped the house of anything even slightly sordid, but missed the tattered paperback of Lolita that my Presbyterian minister dad leafed through then put back hurriedly. I’m not really embarrassed of any of it, although my partner John tells me that I am subconsciously embarrassed of his books – fantasy epics in the vein of Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Trudi Canavan, etc. – because I relegate them to the bottom shelves or the bookcases in the bedroom.

Mind you, I do get a bit defensive over the presence of both of Belle du Jour’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl books on my favourites shelf. But that just makes me stubborn and determined to put them on display, because I tell myself off for being a book snob.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

There’s a 15th century Bible that you can see on the desk shelves. Me, my brothers and my sister all took one book from by dad’s library after he died to remember him by. I have no attachment to the actual words on the page inside it, but the book itself would be the first thing I’d save in a fire. Aside from that one, there are very few things I’d actively be heartbroken about. I have some signed copies that I’d be quite sad about – Neil Gaiman, Paul Magrs, Iain Banks, and, um, John Barrowman – but as long as I can remember the events themselves, the books aren’t as important. 

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My mother had The Lord of the Rings on her shelves – which was very odd, because the rest of her reading was in the line of biographies of missionaries, and books like Harry Potter were frowned upon for their ‘black magic’. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine, but had to break the spine of the paperback into the three books because I couldn’t hold it otherwise. My teachers at school didn’t believe I was actually capable of reading it, and quizzed me to check I wasn’t making it up. It’s still on my shelves, the same, split-into-three copy, with covers that I made out of cut-and-stick photocopies. I didn’t think of it as an adult book though – I thought of it as another children’s fantasy that just went on a lot longer. My brother lent me the novelisation of The Fugitive the same year—he meant to censor the first chapters, but I was impatient, read it anyway and scared myself silly.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

Yes! I’m a completionist. I don’t tend to borrow books though – I’m usually the lender. But I’ll buy something for the kindle and if I like it, I’ll feel the urge to have a physical copy to put on the shelf. The reverse of this was The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I bought seven times, after each loaned copy was lent on to someone else in the excitement, and lost.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Hal Duncan’s forthcoming short story collection, Scruffians! which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of. I’m recording the audiobook version of it too, which when I was asked, made me giddy with hero-worship. He’s a wonderful, wonderful writer.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I’ve recently dipped into the starts of series and am now wishing I had the whole series on my shelves – George Mann’s Newbury and Hobbes, Discworld, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May, Lev Grossman’s Magician series, Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne and all of China Mievelle’s oeuvre. I’ve made a start with all of them, and am now panicking at the volume of ongoing series I’ve opened a door to. So many books, so little time…

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

My dad popping Lolita back on the shelf, or perusing all the gay fiction titles would probably think ‘Filth!’ but hopefully that’s not what everyone else would think. I was very conscious after English Literature at university of trying to get away from the ‘book-snobbery’ that kind of education brings on, so I hope that my shelves look like a hodge-podge of someone who loves books for the enjoyment, and isn’t trying to check off a list of ‘worthy reads’, as it were.

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A huge thanks to Matt for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Matt’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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My Top Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part One

Yesterday on the blog I was discussing my latest desire/reading whim seems to be for Victorian books be they written at the time or contemporary novels set in the period. (I also said that I would have another review of a book set in the era, thing is they are so full of twists and turns its hard to do anything without spoilers, it will appear honest.) This was in part, as I mentioned yesterday, thanks to reading Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist’ and I had an idea. With her blog Virtual Victorian who would be better than to give her suggestions for just these types of books? Essie of course, and so here is the first of her selection of novels from the time, tomorrow she will be giving us her recommendations of modern novels set in the period…

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Said to be one of the earliest examples of English detective crime fiction, Wilkie Collins’ thrilling sensation novel is full of unnerving gothic twists – not to mention one of the most hideous anti-heroes that you will ever chance to ‘meet’ in the obese personage of Count Fosco. Once you start reading, you will be gripped.

Note from Simon – “this is one of the best books ever written and if you haven’t read it then you must, or else.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

From Wilkie’s good friend Mr Dickens. Such a wonderfuly ‘human’ psychological drama which really has it all – love, lust and deception, class and wealth, not to mention one of the finest gothic heroines in the tragic yet dangerous form of Miss Havisham. And then, there is the house in which Miss Havisham lives, a brilliant realisation of materialised decay and corruption: Satis House, where every clock has been stopped, Satis House, where Satis means ‘Enough’. And it is, in every sense of the word.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I had to think very hard about my favourite Bronte novel, and although I might prefer to read Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ these days, if only for the beauty of the novel’s style and construction, in my heart Emily still has me enslaved, just as she did when I was seventeen, when I first read the story and wept for days at the doomed love of Healthcliff and Catherine. But, for those who may not have read Wuthering Heights, it is so much more than a simmering tale of thwarted love…think more warped passions and violent revenge, the twisted ambitions that result from desire for inheritance and wealth that seed like a canker in the flesh of those who live on after Catherine’s death.  It also has a very interesting structure – with varying levels of narration opening up like magic boxes to reveal the truth at the novel’s heart.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Oh, this was so hard – and again I had to really think to choose between Bram Stoker’s work and other supernatural tales such as Stevenson’s Doctor Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, or Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. But ultimately Dracula wins out for sheer gut wrenching terror imbued with a dark sensuality that still has the power to draw one in to such a compellingly dangerous world. And my, what fan fiction it has produced!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s debut, and his masterpiece. How a male writer so convincingly enters the mind of his passionate ‘heroine’ Emma Bovary is in itself a wonder. This is a far more ‘realistic’ novel than any of my other choices. It shows, with enormous psychological awareness, the unravelling of a woman’s mind – a woman who sees her life as if a romantic novel. But dreams and ideals are soon to be dashed in the mire of adultery and social ambition. A devastating cautionary tale. A woman born before her time.

NB: I realised too late that I’ve not included any Thomas Hardy, which is terrible omission. Perhaps ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, or ‘Jude the Obscure’, of the tragic ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ should replace my ‘Madame Bovary’ – but why not read and decide for yourself?

What a great selection of books Essie has chosen, and she is another person to recommend ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens who as you know I have somewhat struggled with in the past. Maybe it’s time to just give him another whirl? Which books have you read from Essie’s list? Which Victorian novels would you add?

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Elementary Dear Oscar

Last night was my first visit to the goings on at Wimbledon Bookfest. Now believe it or not I have never been to a book festival before, I know isn’t that shocking for someone who loves books so much? So I didn’t really know what to expect or what the whole thing would be like. I was intrigued, excited and as The Converted One had refused to come feeling slightly like a sad billy no mates. However when you are in a theatre people aren’t there to look at you are they, they are there to look at the stage. I always say this about going to the cinema alone which is something I love doing, oh dear painting rather a sad picture of myself, some people hate it.

I couldnt take a picture of him talking as theatre rules dont allow!

I couldn't take a picture of him talking as theatre rules dont allow!

So my first event at a book festival had something of a sensational era twist about it which I thought was just perfect both for my current reading and just because the whole late 1800’s fascinates me. It was a talk by Gyles Brandreth, at the Polka Theatre, all about his Oscar Wilde mysteries. I have only so far read the first in the series Oscar Wilde and The Candlelight Murders but have had the second one, Oscar Wilde and The Ring of Death, waiting in the wings for quite a while.

I wondered just how a modern author could put themselves into that historical era and make everything so real. Gyles admitted he had trouble and actually Oscars grandson phoned him after reading the first book and said ‘Oh Gyles why oh why have you done this, you have done something dreadful’ which of course left Gyles very worried ‘you let Oscar drink Bollinger… it wasn’t made until the 1920’s and he only drank Perrier Jouet’ which made us all laugh, and showed how much research needs to be done into the era. Laughter was a theme as Gyles Brandreth discussed his diaries which are soon to become a memoir ‘Something Sensational To Read On The Train’.

The part I was there for was all things Victoriana and it soon came as Gyles discussed how reading The Trails of Oscar Wilde had lead him to find a real hero as well as having his fictional hero Sherlock Holmes as a young man. When he went to boarding school he became a friend of the founder who he played Scrabble against once a week and who turned out to be one of Oscar Wilde’s oldest friends and illuminated him to the life of Oscar without the scandal and painted a portrait of a man many could not say they had met.

It was when a few years ago reading a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle that he found the two had met in a hotel invited by an American publisher looking for murder mysteries to publish. The two became great friends and two legendary books were created ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘A Study In Scarlet’. The friendship and that evening is what inspired Gyles to write the Oscar Wilde Mysteries where Conan Doyle plays sidekick to Wilde’s amateur detective role which has now spawned a series.

Why the Victorian era for the basis of his fiction apart from the two main characters? “I love being lost in it. It was such a time of great change and great drama. It was a time when six men would meet at a table, some unpublished at the time, for a dinner club. These six men included Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and J.M. Barrie. What was it in that fog of London during that time that made it such a creative era, it must be what makes modern authors go back and live it in order to be even more creative themselves.”   

A fascinating evening and a delightful first taste of book festivals. I am now very excited about Kamila Shamsie on Friday and Tom Rob Smith on Saturday, also annoyed missing Chris Cleave tomorrow and Sadie Jones on Wednesday but focus on the positive. I definitely need to go to more and shall do, which are the best ones? I also managed to get my copy of the second in the series signed and should really stop typing and get on with reading it…

A Savidge Reads Signed Oscar Wilde Mystery

Now before I do dash off I have something of a competition for you which involves the Bookfest. I have a spare ticket on Friday night to see the wonderful Kamila Shamsie talk about the wonderful, wonderful ‘Burnt Shadows’ and wondered if any of you would like it? It does mean spending about two hours with me which could be a downside ha! So if you can be in Wimbledon for 7pm and have read it and loved it, could read it by Friday but haven’t yet or are desperate to read it then do enter in comments either with a link to your review (I will be checking your reviews were positive – or why would you want to be there ha) or saying why you are desperate to read the book and The Converted One Will do a draw by 9pm tomorrow! Good luck, I may cry if no one wants to spend a few hours with me though! Ha!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Gyles Brandreth, Oscar Wilde

Savidge Reads on the Radio, Bookfest and Book Group

This is just a bit of an update post really; there is another post coming up shortly but more of that later on. I just wanted to let you know a few bookish bits and bobs that are on my radar and the like.

First up is Savidge Reads on the Radio though that isn’t actually the name of the radio show… hang on let me explain. A few weeks ago I got an email asking if I would be interested in being a member of a panel for a new radio show that is an hour of books, books, books. Now who could say no to a request like that? If that wasn’t enough it’s for a brilliant cause too, it just gets better and better, this is going to be for hospital radios all over the shop, which I think is brilliant. Having had a few stays in hospital myself one of the things that I spent hours doing was reading, but with no one to talk to about it and this show will encourage patients to chat, hospitals to start book groups etc. All absolutely brilliant and what’s more some of you could feature on it too! If you can be free in north London by 5pm (at the studio) towards the end of every month and want more info do contact me at savidgereads@googlemail.com

Next up is Wimbledon Bookfest which starts tomorrow; I will be bringing you some reports from the festival as it takes place over the coming week and a half. I am very much looking forward to hearing Kamila Shamsie and Tom Rob Smith talk and think that on Sunday Gyles Brandreth will be the perfect evening for my ‘Sensation Season’ as his series of murder mysteries with Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle and of course is set in the late 1800’s. So I am really looking forward to listening to him talk and might have to now have a binge read of the second in the series. I read Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders earlier in the year and it’s a series I have been planning on reading more of. Is anyone else coming along to any of the events would be lovely to see some of you?

Now last night was book group, more on the book we discussed last night later today, so what is the next novel that we will be discussing, and so can you? It was Gemma who was next up to choose last and she has chosen George Orwell’s ‘1984’. For those of you (like me) who haven’t read it here is the synopsis “Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101. “Nineteen Eight-Four” is George Orwell’s terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime.” You can pop here for more information on Book Group. I am really excited about this next choice as I haven’t read it yet though I have been meaning to for ages.

Erm, that’s all my bookish latest, apart from the fact I am doing a huge book sort over the next few days – one that is ruthless. What bookish news do you have?

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Dorian Gray – The Movie

I mentioned the other day that myself and the delightful Novel Insights were off to see the movie Dorian Gray which I was quite shocked so few of you had heard was out, maybe just for once they have released a movie in Britain before anywhere else? Why is it we always get the movies last over here? So off we pootled to the cinema with brimming bags of popcorn and sweets (or in Novel Insights case cheese twists) and prepared ourselves to be whisked away in Victorian times through the medium of cinema. I thought this would be additional visual back ground for The Sensation Season.

I have to admit, before I go any further, that though we were both excited to be going to the cinema together and to see the movie; we had also heard that it had received some quite harsh reviews from certain ‘literary quarters’ and yet also been raved about by some of the movie magazines, I don’t read them it just says so on the posters ‘a terrific gothic romp’ etc. So we were both excited but slightly dubious all in one. We decided to just sit back and let the movie take over.

The first thing that I will say is that though this film ‘is inspired by’ The Picture of Dorian Gray and isn’t actually an exact retelling which is why when Dorian arrives in London having inherited a huge mansion and looking very innocent and knowing no one I was a bit confused. “That’s not how it started in the book” I almost grumped, but these are film adaptations and you have to simply not compare them to the book however hard it is.

Though I liked the book, I utterly loved the movie. Maybe it was my current obsession with all things sensational and the era of 1870 – 1900? Maybe it’s the fact I have immersed myself in all things Victorian and this embodied it all. It’s a very dark film, the way I would actually describe it (sorry of this sounds poncey) is like a rich decadent yet dark velvety thriller. But enough of that lets get back to the movie and the story… 

After the success of the showing of his newly found friend Basil’s portrait of him Dorian becomes the talk and desire of London.  One minute you are thrown into the glitz and glamour of society as Dorian (a brilliant Ben Barnes) makes his way first innocently and then falls into the path of Lord Henry and everything gets seedier and much, much darker. From then on its all about ‘youth and beauty’, getting what you want in life and a dark pact made with the devil inspired by Lord Henry that takes the tale into the darkest parts of Victorian east end (which of course I loved) and the darkest parts of the mind. I don’t want to give too much away in case you haven’t read the book or seen the film. If you have read the book I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the movies ending.  

I thought the acting by Ben Barnes was superb, after seeing him as Prince Caspian I have to admit that I was quite dubious he could pull it off. As innocent Dorian on arrival in London I thought ‘no this won’t work’ but as the darkness of the character crept in I was so impressed with the way he played it, some could say he was near on a perfect Dorian in fact. For me though, no offense Ben, but Colin Firths portrayal of Lord Henry Wotton was utterly superb and any scene in which he was simply got stolen from who he was playing against. He had the leer, the gluttony, the rapacious appeal and the beguiling nature of Henry down to a fine art and you cannot stop yourself watching him.

Sadly the girls let the film down a bit for me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say wooden, that would be slightly unfair, maybe the way the plot was devised they just weren’t given enough time but the whole Sybil Vane affair was done too quickly and neither leading lady had enough time to grow on you or show you why Dorian, who could have anyone, would want them.

The costumes were wonderful (I need a cape for winter and a long sweeping velvet coat, I currently have the shaped beard and some new boots so am almost dressing Victorian already ha) and had slight modern twists of the Victorian era in terms of making the film real but unreal which I liked, it in some ways felt slightly Tim Burton-esque. The sets were wonderful Victorian London at its finest, most lavish and darkest. Highgate Cemetery (the star of Audrey Niffenegger’s new book) made a guest appearance which has only made me more desperate to visit. The film was also surprisingly scary!

All in all a wonderful way to spend a few hours of your evening deeply embroiled in the Victorian underworld with a few spooky happenings along the way. I utterly loved it. If you want to see more you can go to the website here, see if that wets your appetites any further. I do think I might get Dorian’d out though as The Converted One after not wanting to see it now is desperate to (and I will happily see it twice) and also soon I am off to see this in a few weeks too!

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This Evening, When You Read This…

…I shall be stuffing my face, full of popcorn and chocolates with the delightful Novel Insights by my side whilst we both watch this…

After reading the book recently I am actually really looking forward to the film. I also think its the perfect film for the Sensation Season and so how could I not go and see it on the big screen? I will of course be letting yuo know what I thought over the next day or three…

Has anyone else seen it (I have actually set this post to go when am sat in my seat phone off in case anyone says it was rubbish – I like you all to be honest) at the cinema yet? Is it on peoples ‘must see’ or ‘must avoid’ list of films?  Can films ever manage to be as good as the book was in your head?

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The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

I have recently felt that ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a book that deep down had the traits and darkness of a sensation novel and so decided that as I am doing The Sensation Season I would give this book a go. I have to admit I had tried and failed with this book before. I didn’t like the characters; I thought the book to wordy and filled with too many additional characters with too much to say. I also just didn’t believe it, aged 21 I put the book down after page 30(ish) and left it thoroughly unimpressed by this “Oscar Wilde”. Six years later, and reading it in Oscar Wilde’s old room, would I again be defeated by what I think I once deemed shamefully ‘a very silly short book’?

Though The Picture of Dorian Gray is a short book it has hidden depths and very dark undertones. We first meet the image of Dorian Gray in a painting which Lord Henry Wotton sees at his artist friend’s house, Basil Hallward and falls in love with the painting as he thinks the person depicted may be one of the most beautiful and alluring people he has scene. When Dorian then arrives Henry sees in the flesh he is even more so. Soon the two people Bail is closest too and never wanted to meet have struck up an unlikely friendship and under Henry’s influence Dorian comes to believe youth and beauty are the only thing that matter. He then makes a fateful wish as he wants never to grow like the painting of him. He soon notices that indeed the picture does begin to age and as it does so it gets crueller looking as if the painting is the true Dorian himself.

Now if the plot wasn’t enough the book is also very much about society and which on a first read years ago I didn’t care for I completely and utterly loved. Looking at the upper classes who have endless money to burn and too much time on their hands other than to ‘chase the dragon’ or embark on affairs the thing they go very well is gossip and discuss. I could easily write endless wonderful quotes from the book as to what they say “he is sure to be furious and I couldn’t have a scene in this bonnet. It is far too fragile” and also how they are described “she was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked like they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest” in fact so many quotes it would probably make up 98% of the book.

I found the whole book a truly dark and delicious read. It doesn’t quite fall under the exact ‘sensation’ definition but I definitely think its great reading if you like books like that or a classic from around that era. Have you read the book, I would imagine quite a lot of people have and I am very, very late reading this now. If you have, what did you think? Is it on anyone’s TBR pile or wish list?

I have also found it really interesting to try a book again that only six years I really didn’t like and now think is brilliant. It’s interesting to see how my opinions have changed and my book likes and dislikes seem to have changed in various ways. Are there any books you started at one point in your life and hated only to then go on and fall completely under the spell of after a second chance later on? I would love to know!

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Filed under Oscar Wilde, Review, Sensation Novels, Vintage Classics

A Wilde & Sensational Break

Now I am going to start today’s blog post simply with a picture of me reading The Picture of Dorian Gray over the weekend which was a sensational weekend break away in London (I know I live in London but this was a very different bit of London).

A Picture Reading The Picture

Nothing remarkable in the picture so I hear you cry “why Simon are you blogging with a picture of you reading The Picture of Dorian Gray?” Well it’s all about the detail so adding the fact that the sofa I am sat on is indeed in the room that Oscar Wilde used to stay in and treat as a home from home and indeed got arrested in then it adds a slightly sensational twist doesn’t it?

 Oscars Room... And Then Savidge Reads Room

I was there partly for Work II and normally I don’t blog about that job etc on here (soon you will be able to read much more about that and other non book Simon stuff as am setting up a new blog more info when its all ready) but as it tied in with books and also so much with the Victorian era and the sensation era I couldn’t not pop it on Savidge Reads. 

The Cadogan HotelThe Cadogan Hotel is in deepest Knightsbridge and seriously it’s the perfect area to be deeply engrossed in a sensation novel (and I do think that actually The Picture of Dorian Gray should be included as sensation, more on that tomorrow though) as you feel, if you wander down the backstreets, that you could actually be in a Wilkie Collins/Charles Dickens novel apart from the occasional Porsche or Ferrari (well it is a rich area) passing by. 

Going in the hotel and actually staying in the rooms that Oscar Wilde frequented is actually like going back in time. The hotel is one of the oldest in London and you genuinely feel like Oscar could actually walk in the door at any moment. The Converted One found it very, very difficult to drag me out of the drawing rooms, especially as they had full bookshelves. I also spent a lot of time relaxing and reading as you can see…

Savidge Reads Reading The Smallest Book of Quotes Ever!

Oh and what’s that lovely little book I am reading? It’s a little book of Oscar’s quotes the hotel gives its guests. So not only did we relax, sleep and read in Oscar’s room and manage to immerse myself even further in the Sensation period (am slightly concerned if go in any further may never want to come back) I also got a free book! What more could you want? Well as ever I could want a little more… one of the other famous occupants of The Cadogan was the actress, and lover of Prince Edward (Queen Victoria’s son)  Lillie Langtry who seems to be everywhere in, and even haunts the hotel and who sounds fabulous with a very interesting life story. So naturally, being me, I now want to read all about her… how come there are always more books we need to read? Does it ever end?

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Sensational September… And A Sensational Season?

So though we are actually nine days into September now I am finally launching ‘Sensational September’ (apologies for the lateness being abroad and the Man Booker read-a-thon pushed things back a bit) a theme for the blog that I came up with a while ago. Now if you are thinking “what on earth is Simon on about” then hereis the definition of a Sensation Novel. Some of these books, such as Wilkie Collins ‘The Woman in White’ and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ as well as books that they have inspired such as Jane Harris’ ‘The Observations’ and Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman In Black’ are some of my favourite books and the late Victorian era is one of my favourite in history so how could I not love them all, and well why not try? I have been wanting to read more classics and I think these are great classics that sometimes get overlooked.

Penguin had already kindly sent me a selection of the Wilkie Collins they print and a lovely new copy of Lady Audley’s Secret, when I came back from holiday I discovered this had been delivered (well dumped by Royal Mail way before I left into the shop next door – who thankfully are very honest)…

A Promising Parcel

Inside I could see a hint of something sensational peering out at me through the paper…

A Sensational Find Inside

And then it was like all my Christmases had come at once. Thanks to the lovely people at Oxford University Press who saw my previous post and had themselves wanted to get involved in some way.

More Sensation Novels Than a Man Can Handle

And so had sent me some Wilkie Collins (Basil, The Dead Secret, Man & Wife, Poor Miss Finch, Hide & Seek) and more Mary Elizabeth Braddon (The Doctors Wife, Aurora Floyd) and what is considered the mother of all sensation novels ‘East Lynne’ by Ellen Wood.

Now that brings my total of Sensation Novels upto a total of 14 (I bought No Name myself a few weeks ago as I just couldn’t not) and thats not including some of the other fiction from the era (‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde) up until the present day (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale) that were inspired by these novels. I hadn’t counted on just how huge the sensation novels are, most weighing in at 500-600 pages+ which will make great reading, but reading all that in a month… might be a slight push.

So I am now working on a Sensational Schedule so that should you want to join in, and I so, so, so hope you do, then you can. I am thinking of doing the big reads over weekends on Sensational Sundays very like when I tried to do the Sabidge Reads Big Weekenders, and then a smaller one midweek on Wednesday, though you can’t make a good alliteration based title out of that, ha! Mind you thats only a few weekends, maybe I should make Autumn a Sensational Season? I will pop the schedule on the blog today… I may make a new page actually! Can you tell all the excitement has thrown me?

So will you be joining in? Are you a fan of Sensation Fiction? Have you not read any but are intrigued? Which modern day books do you think have a sensational feel about them or have possibly been inspired by them? Which sensation novels should I simply not miss? All your thoughts as ever very, very welcomed! Am now off to delve back into Wilkie Collins ‘The Haunted Hotel’ which is my first read of the theme and already I am loving, and to mull over just which Sensation books to read when?

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My First Publishers Parcel of the Year

When I came back from my trip yesterday I got very excited as I received a parcel with Vintage stamped all over it. Now it shows how tired I must have been that I didn’t tear it open instantly. However I decide it would be much nicer to open today and also had done my daily blog and wouldn’t have one to write today and I have promised to write daily from now on. I opened it a while ago and look at what I had been sent.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
This bodes well for my reading of classics this year. I have never read any Oscar Wilde, though I did read Will Self’s version ‘Dorian’ a few years ago, so to finally have this to add on to my TBR was a real joy. I have heard this is a really dark tale and I know that the movie is coming out in November this year so must read it before then. Also isn’t the cover absolutely gorgeous, very decadent and Victorian, love it.

In Search of the Missing Eyelash – Karen McLeod
I saw Karen read Julia Darling’s ‘Crocodile Soup’ at the Lavender Library which took place at the Southbank last year and thought she was absolutely fabulous. She is also doing a reading at Polari this month so I am thrilled that this has arrived. It sounds like it is going to be hilarious, a tale of obsession and stalking. I have decided that as I am at the end of Part One of Anna Karenina I shall read this before I start Part Two to give me a little break. I might do that after every part actually as I have never managed to read more than one fiction book at a time so it might give it a try and see how it goes.

Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
This has only come to my attention in probably the last three or four months as all the book shops are really pushing his whole set of works. Obviously the film is coming out in the next few months which leads me to my only small gripe… they sent me the film tie-in copy and not the delicious Vintage edition. However as film covers go this isn’t a bad one at all. The story of a married couple in suburban America who aspire for greatness and in trying to achieve it obliterate everything, sounds unusual, have seen lots of people on the tube with this.

A great selection of books to head to the top of the never ending TBR.

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Oscar Wilde & The Candlelight Murders – Gyles Brandreth

The lovely people at John Murray sent me the second in Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde Mysteries Series I thought really it was about time that I read the first. I cannot read series in random order; I don’t know why I just can’t it seems wrong somehow. The premise for the Oscar Wilde Mysteries is that Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle became very close friends, along with Wordsworth’s grandson Robert Sherard who is Oscar’s sidekick become involved in a mystery after meeting and set out to solve it.

I have wanted to read this for a while, Arthur Conan Doyle is one of my favourite authors of all time and I like a good mystery. I also wanted to see how it compared to the brilliant ‘Arthur & George’ which I have recently noticed have lost my copy of, not that the two books are in the same market but I like the idea of writers in fiction and Oscar Wilde as a leading man could be an interesting read.

One thing I will say for Gyles Brandreth is he knows the 1880’s and has clearly researched Oscar Wilde and the areas of London he frequented. Occasionally this does border on too much as Oscar and Robert in all seem to spend as much time eating and drinking as they do trying to solve the mystery which is fine once or twice but after a few hundred pages I was wishing for slightly less prose and more plot.

The book starts as Oscar finds the body of a young man named Billy dead in a house of questionable repute; the young escort has been murdered. Having cared for Billy ‘as a brother’ he decides to take it upon himself to find out who murdered Billy and why, even when Detective Aidan Fraser of Scotland Yard shows no sign of interest after the body goes missing. What follows is a hunt for the killer told by Sherard as he notes Oscar’s detective skills, very Holmes and Watson indeed.

I did on the whole enjoy the book though I did find it lacked the punch it promised on the blurb, I need to do a blog on blurbs, as you are told a series of murders unravel after the first. In actual fact the next murder doesn’t happen for about 200 pages after trips to Paris and the seaside and of course some meals. This isn’t boring, you just want more action, and I found I was putting the book down and not rushing back to it but enjoying it when I did pick it up. Not the quick read I expected. Once the action picks up I couldn’t put it down even though I had guessed the killer very early on.

I did overall enjoy the book and it looks to be a promising series, I think that the second will hopefully win me over when I read it in a few weeks. Give this one a go and persevere this took me a fair few days. That’s my advice with this first in the series, keep at it and it will pay off dividends. 4/5.

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