Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (65th Book)

The novel 100 book I am reading this month is very bizarre and extremely difficult to read. I chose the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a light fluffy read for bed. It turned out be a book that was not only enjoyable to read, but also uplifting. I knew a bit about the story, in that I knew it was someone who had two parts to their personality, but I was surprised by the philosophical bent to the novel.

The novel follows a friend of Dr. Jekyll's as he converses with a mutual friend. On a walk one day they pass a strange house that they rarely ever see anyone go into. The narrator's companion tells a horrible tale of a man who stumbles over a child and doesn't even care. This heartless tale that affects both of them deeply turns out to be a story that is much closer to home for them.

The premise is that Dr. Jekyll doesn't like the fact that he has a conscience and would like to separate out the two pieces of his personality so that he would be either all good, or all bad. As he experiments with this, being a chemist, he happens upon a chemical that does just that. The only trouble is that it separates out the bad  part leaving the other half with a conscience and knowledge of the wrong doing. In time, the chemical requires a stronger dose to maintain, and there comes a point where Dr. Jekyll get's trapped in Mr. Hyde. Rather than face life as horrible person knowing the wrongs he is likely to commit, he kills himself. The story is finally revealed through a series of letters that he leaves for his various friends.

The story, is engaging, and interesting. It is a true Gothic novel with a dark theme and even darker descriptions. It has elements of mystery to it as well, although the story is so well known, now that modern readers will lose a little of this facet of the story. What surprised me the most was that it also had a moral: the fact that human nature leaves us trapped with both a good and bad side to each of us. Try as we may, there is no way to separate the fact that as humans we are both good and bad. "all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil". One of the deepest statements in the novel about the nature of good and evil is this: "...two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said  to be either, it was only because I was radically both". No matter whether someone is described as good or evil, a nice person, or a bad person; we are all a mixture of both. It is only a matter of perspective as to what the world sees. I like this theme, dark as it is, because it is one of the basic tenets of my belief system. I have a magnet on my fridge that says "we are all junkies and prostitutes". I get a lot of comments on the magnet as people question what it means and why I like it. The reason is this: we all have our weaknesses that make us chase after certain things and we all have something for which we would sell ourselves. In our basest nature there is very little difference between the homeless man on the side walk with his addiction and the Wall Street CEO with his obsession with money. What separates the two, is merely the degree of social acceptability of their foibles. I try really hard never to judge anyone because I haven't had to live in their shoes. With the work I do in homeless outreach and youth outreach there are often very traumatic stories hovering just below the surface. I can't say that I would end up any different if I had to live their life. We are all valuable human beings, no matter what we have done. This is one of the deepest parts of my faith and a part I have held very dearly. As a teen, to express this to the world, I took the idea to the extreme and created a fake company called "Serial Killers go to Heaven, too: A branch of the Charles Manson Christian Fan club"! As horrible as it sounds it was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that I believe I was no better than the worst human being on earth.

 I like that this book gets across the idea of human nature in an interesting and engaging way. It had me thinking through deep philosophical questions while being thoroughly entertained. That is a sign of good fiction.

Thank You, Jeeves (64th Book)

So I read a quick little read last month, shortly after finishing Robinson Crusoe, but I never managed to blog about it. This is mostly because I don't have a lot to say about it. I chose it because I thought it would be a light fluffy read and it certainly was. I have no idea what genre this book fits into, but I picked up thinking it was a British style mystery. Turns out it is a British-style mystery sans the mystery!!!! The series follow Wooster and his traditional style butler, Jeeves through a series of shenanigans. Jeeves seems to be the brightest of the pair and is constantly having to save his bachelor employer, Bertram Wooster from a series of socially awkward situations. This is apparently book 13 of the series but the first full length novel.

I had heard a lot about PG Wodehouse, and contemplated picking up a novel while I was browsing book stores in London. I purchased this book on my Kobo during a 30% off sale and I am glad I did. I don't think I am going to become a Wodehouse fan. Although it was a rather silly little read, I didn't gain anything by my perusal of this novel. I am a huge fan of British humour but minus the mystery part, this novel didn't quite have enough going for it. As a stand alone read it was enjoyable, but I can only imagine, that Wooster would start to drive me crazy because the series appears to focus entirely around Wooster's near misses, and social faux pas with various ladies.

If you like British humour, you would probably find this book slightly enjoyable. If not I would pass this book by unless you are reading the 1001  Novels. It was a quick easy read off the list, but that is all it had going for it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Robinson Crusoe (63rd Book)

I have lost count how many books I read in March, but I think it is the most books I have read in any given month in my entire life! This past weekend I was in Vancouver visiting my boyfriend for the Easter Weekend. He had some work to do for the first few days so while he typed away in coffee shops I had the enjoyable experience of motoring through The Moonstone. God bless Kobo and ereaders, though, because rather than lug around a stack of novels I was just carrying around my  light ereader in my purse. This is also fortuitous because I had started the weekend believing I was going to read Thank You, Jeeves which I purchased for just such an occasion. After the many references to Robinson Crusoe in The Moonstone I felt I HAD to read it. Luckily it was a free novel and I already had it loaded on my ereader. For those who don't know, I originally started the list of 100 greatest novels of all time as an ereader project. I believed that most of the classic novels on the list would be free or low cost. While this hasn't held to be entirely true (some are more expensive, or the older ones are too difficult to find), there are several on both the list of 1001 books and the Novel 100 which will be 100% free thanks to being past the 50 year cut off for copyright enforcement.

I knew a little about Robinson Crusoe but was pleasantly surprised by the actual experience of reading it. I was in a good space to absorb the theme which is predominately one of thankfulness for what you do have, rather than looking at what you don't have. "We may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set in the description of good an evil, on the credit side of the account". Robinson survived his 28 year solitude on the island by continually  looking at the blessing of having been saved from so many crazy ordeals, and being thankful for the supplies that were saved, rather than the things that he didn't have. ""All our discontents about what we want, appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have" The book does a fantastic job of chronicling the everyday things that we take for granted. Everyday things took him much longer to by simply not having the modern day conveniences that we are used to. Carving a boat, took many days to cut down the tree without the use of a proper axe, hollowing it out took even longer without proper implements.

I started reading the book because of the many references in The Moonstone to this novel. Gabriel Betteredge, the servant in the story, had a habit of finding predictions of the future in the pages of Robinson Crusoe. This made me giggle because I have had this happen with the Bible, and other random songs, books and stories. There have been moments when words leapt off the page at me and I knew they were meant just for me. The fact that Betteredge had found one random book that spoke to him in the same way made me grin. The great thing for me as I read Robinson Crusoe is that he too had the experience of words leaping off the page as he started to turn toward God in his long exile. One of the most poignant ones that starts his whole journey back to faith is "Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me". Another reference that stuck out to Robinson was the scripture about counting the cost before beginning a work. I was in the right head space when I started this, book because I was touched beyond reason, by the references to faith in the novel. I was so happy that this fictional character was able to find that God was faithful even when He seemed like He wasn't around. I started this novel during Easter Weekend when I too was reflecting on the many things that God had done for me. This novel actually helped to revitalize my faith which had fallen by the wayside in the busyness of life.

I was pleasantly surprised by this side tangent in reading, and glad that I took the detour after all the references in The Moonstone. The next novel I started reading, Thank you Jeeves, also had references to Robinson Crusoe too so I was even more grateful that I had read it.

The Moonstone (62nd Book)

I started The Moonstone at the tail end of March as my 7th or 8th book for the month. As such, I decided to chose one of the fluffier ones of the list. This is a traditional British mystery which just so happen to be my favourite type of mystery. This one is particularly clever however because you are passed through the hands of several eye witnesses as they account for their first hand knowledge of the Moonstone (a beautiful diamond from Indian that was stolen from a Hindu temple). The diamond is said to be cursed and to affect any family or individual that is in possession of it. The priest's or Brahmins of the temple also are said to be tracking down the stone, generation upon generation trying to recover it to its rightful place.

I loved listening to the story through a series of eye witnesses, because you could never quite tell who was being honest, or what they hoped to get out of their version of the story. My favourite narrator who both started and stopped the story was the servant Gabriel Betteredge. He was loveable and honest, but faithful to a flaw towards his lady and her daughter. He had a funny quirk of believing that random lines from Robinson Crusoe foretold the future. He mentioned so many obscure references from it that I determined that I needed to read the book immediately upon completion of this novel... but that story is for another review.  My least favourite narrator was Drusilla Clack whose narration is littered with judgemental ramblings about the various people who are in the story, as well as several embarrassing attempts to proselytize her family members. As a Christian she embarrassed me because she presented everything that people hate about the faith. I sadly, have been guilty of behaving like her in my younger years.

The story was fast paced and engaging. I was dying to know what had happened to the Moonstone and was convinced that I knew what it was. Turns out I was wrong (which I usually am in mystery novels). I am too easily lead down the  track of Red Herrings.

The novel also provides an example of how crime has its own punishment. The theft of the Moonstone led to several tragic happenings and those who had done wrong in the novel, were the ones who paid the price. One of the characters stated, "crime brings its own fatality with it". I have always felt that to be true. That even if people do not get caught by the laws of the land, that the crime itself takes its toll on an individual.

Overall, I would say this is an excellent read. It is engaging and a clever twist on detective fiction. I was guessing right up until the last page, and enjoyed the process immensely.