Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Uncle Silas (83rd Book)

I decided to read a themed book for my 1001 Book this month. Since Saint Patrick's Day falls in March I chose to read a novel by an Irish author. I could have chosen James Joyce, of course, but as much as I love his novels (and I really do) they hurt my head. I took a look through the 1001 Novels to Read Before You Die book and stumbled upon Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu. I had never heard of this author before, but the novel peaked my interest with its description of mystery and investigation surrounding an old house and a young heiress. I was not disappointed.

The novel follows Maud Ruthyn who is orphaned at the age of 16 or 17. Upon her father's death, she is sent to her Uncle Silas, whose life has always been surrounded by mystery, until she turns of age. While her father is still alive she finds out that her uncle was once accused of murder and his name was never cleared of the charge. He has lived as a hermit ever since. Before her father's death he asked if she would help to clear her uncle's name even though it may be a trial for her. She heartily agreed and the way she was to clear his name was revealed in the will.

As much as  I love this novel there is one thing that confused me. It was never really made clear whether her father was aware that her Uncle had never changed. I am assuming since he sent his daughter to live with him that he did not. To me Uncle Silas always seemed a bit mysterious and the father's blind trust in his brother seems a bit contrived.

The rest of the plot had me riveted. I was desperate to know what the outcome of the novel would be and sped through the book at a quick pace. Although the book was written in the late 1800's it has all the classic mystery/ horror features we have grown to love over the years: a family with a secret, a run down house that has seen better days, a physically creepy relative shrouded in mystery and a helpless girl with no one to care for her. The novel reminded me of Rebecca which has several similar elements included a mysterious relative, a murder in the past, and a rambling old house. I liked both of these novels and I am a fan of the genre. This novel has been likened to the novels of Wilkie Collins and I am very excited to read The Women in White when it appears on the Novel 100 list as I thoroughly loved The Moonstone.

It has been a long time since I have been sad when a novel has ended, but I felt that way when I finished Uncle Silas. I am at loose ends to know what to start next before April arrives and I can start my novel 100 book for the month, Jane Eyre. In keeping with reading themed books off the 1001 Books list I may read one of the novels focused on the life of Jesus for Easter. I have found two on the list so far and will have to make a trip to the library to pick one up if I decided to do it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book 51- The Trial (82 Book)

I read The Trial by Franz Kafka quite quickly. I was definitely engaged and interested in the material and I loved the sense of incomprehension and mystery that the novel presented. It seemed like a great allegory for the existential angst and guilt that we all face as humans and as I have expressed before, I love that stuff! This novel is gripping and engaging and it has been a long time since I have been able to say that about one of the books on the list.

Josef K. is a man who wakes up one morning only to discover that he is under arrest. Having no recollection of a crime, and being completely incomprehensible of the legal system he is ensnared in he limps along trying his best to live his life while he is under a trial of guilt. The novel progresses to his eventual execution at the hands of others and the reader is left wondering whether it might not be true that we are all guilty.

There are a lot of allusions to the Christian idea that we will all be tried and judged at the end of our life. "the final judgement can often come without warning, from anyone at any time". There is a reference made at one point by a lawyer who points out that the only way to escape these trials is to admit your guilt. There is also another reference to the fact that this trial is ongoing and that there will be no end. The book leaves you with the eerie feeling that you have felt the things Josef feels before and that as confused as the novel (and Josef K. ) is that there is something familiar about the whole process.

There are several references to the fact that the accused are still human beings and still beautiful even in their guilt. I love that! I have always been a big fan of human dignity and treating the worst offender with respect. "How is it even possible for someone to be guilty. We're all human beings here, one like the other." Even though we are all "guilty" in different ways (some more appalling in our eyes than others) we are all bound together by the same fate. "If, in spite of that, you're are still a gentleman then I'm just as much a gentlemen as you are" I love that on the show Doctor Who the Doctor makes frequent references to how amazing humans are. Even though his character is always rescuing humans from a horrible fate we caused ourselves, he finds us beautiful in our ability to be creative and amazing. I think that is how God thinks of us too. "If you look at them the right way the accused really can be attractive quite often".

There was also a beautiful metaphor used in the book about a man trying to enter the gates of heaven. It talks about how the gate was only for him, but the gate keeper wouldn't let him in. The man stood outside asking the gate keeper every now and again for entrance, but was frequently denied. It isn't until the end of the life that the gate is closed. Although we are all tied together by the common fate of existential guilt and anxiety. We are also alone in our "Trial". We are the only one that can walk the path set out before us and that can be a lonely feeling. We can receive help from others, but we must walk the path ourself. There is a great quote from a Mumford and Son's song that expresses this idea so well. I have always loved it. "As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand...but I can't move the mountains for you". The final thing the gatekeeper tells the man trying to enter heaven is "Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I'll go and close it". The man waited at the gate instead of living his life. In the end he faced remorse. The last few lines of the book, as Josef K. faces his accuses, are absolutely beautiful. I think he expresses the greatest human fear about death. Both the fear of death itself, as well as the fear of being found wanting in the end. "I always wanted to snatch at the world with twenty hands...Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of my case I wanted to finish it, and at the end I wanted to begin again? I don't want that to be said."