24 February 2014

BleakAlong - Post the Fourth

Well well well. Here we are in week FOUR, which if you all recall was originally when we were supposed to be completely finished with this amazing Bleak House readalong.

I have a few things I'd like to discuss. Firstly, as much as I like Charley and want her to have a good life, I'm really supremely unhappy that it was Esther who got the ugly end of whatever mysterious illness they both came down with. Did she really deserve that, Dickens? No she did not. So why does it happen to her? I don't think necessarily that Dickens would have been on board with our working "so Woodcourt wouldn't love her and she would be free to live with Ada for the rest of her life" theory. But you never know.

(Also, 1850's germ theory: the era of We Haven't Quite Figured This Out, Have We?)
And then Boythorn is super-awesome and offers Esther his house to rattle around in, which is not at all a plot device to get Esther closer to Lady Dedlock, nosiree. It's just him being cheerful and nice and not at all creepy like the other jolly fat guy who likes animals.

Plot twist!
So last week I was really behind and missed the spontaneous combustion bit, and Alice and I discussed it yesterday and there's the moment where Guppy and Weevil nee Jobling are falling all over themselves to get out of Krook's room, and I couldn't stop picturing them as these two:

Guppy and Jobling, respectively.
which led to a conversation about dream casting for Bleak House. Shall we have at it to cover up that I'm STILL three chapters behind? YES LET'S DO.

Who would you cast?!?

18 February 2014

BleakAlong: Post the Second-and-Third

I can't even believe you guys are still reading this book. I mean, the characters are all bland and the story is boring. Also Lolita needed to go further into the "juicy stuff."

Can we talk about the SUPREMELY DISMAL parenting going on in this book? I am fairly sure that it's on purpose, given Dickens's first examples of motherhood are 1) the horrible godmother/aunt 2) Mrs. Jellyby and 3) Mrs. Pardiggle.

And then we have Mr. Turveydrop, whose deportment is the envy of us all I am sure, but sir,

Although while he's a trial to everyone around him and will expect Caddy and Prince to wait on him hand and foot until he expires in a cloud of lavender water, he's not as emotionally manipulative as the horrid Mrs. Jellyby being snide and ridiculous and so dismissive of her daughter and the things she wants. PARENTING, you guys. I know it's not easy but seriously, get your shit together. And you, Rick. Yeesh.

Mrs Rachel from back-in-the-day is Mrs. Chadband? Ugh he is so gross and his utterly nonsensical "sermons" give me the giggles.

"When this young heathen now among us - who is now, my friends, asleep..."

Hah. But I love how Dickens just throws the detail of the Chadbands in as if it's not important - she just walks up in the middle of an unrelated chapter and is all, "hey, remember me? I made your childhood a living hell. Also I married a guy you don't yet know you hate. Peace."

I'm sure that won't come back around later. Anyway, the bird imagery continues, have you noticed? And Hortense comes in and begs Esther for a job but does it in a very interesting manner. The kind of manner where she promises to do anything... she's very hot-blooded being from France, you know... she'll take care of Esther better than anyone could ever...

07 February 2014

The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There - Catherynne M. Valente

Sometimes you finish a book that was ohhhhhkay and you feel like all the good books were written in the past, and you're so woebegone that you ignore the somewhat glaring inconsistency that by definition ALL published books were written in the past.

"Books today," you think, "are just not what they used to be. I'm going to go back to classics and books with dragons on the covers.*"

And then you feel very smug with yourself and pick up this slim novel by Catherynne M. Valente, promising yourself that it's nothing but Brontes and Dickens and Collins after this because at least they weren't writing to be able to sell movie rights. This is when Valente - who is a year younger than you, what have you been doing with your life?!? - takes you by your smug nose and teaches an object lesson in Creative Writing.

Chapter 1: Exuent in a Rowboat, Pursued by Crows
 Valente's imagination should be a national treasure. Her work is full of the details that make Oz and Wonderland such indelible places.
"Once upon a time, a girl named September had a secret."
This is the second book in the The Girl Who series, which I'm sure has a better, more proper name but who cares about that. The point is, in theory you've already read the first book or at least heard its title, which is The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making. Thus it is not a spoiler to tell you that September's secret is that she has been to Fairyland before, and it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that - much like the rest of us would if we had been September - she spent a large portion of her time thinking about how to get back.
"Now, secrets are delicate things. They can fill you up with sweetness and leave you like a cat who has found a particularly fat sparrow to eat and did not get clawed or bitten even once while she was about it."
Nice job, Puss.
But they can also get stuck inside you, and very slowly boil up your bones for their bitter soup. So we may be very glad that September had the better of her secret...
Those are some Trufax (TM), you guys, and it's only page 1.  Observe page 180, if you please:

Wit laughed, which for a crow is a loud, rough sound. Crows look down a bit on birds that make pretty, trilling sounds. Pandering to humans, they say. Just shameless.

I gobbled this book up and ordered the third one from the library, tout de suite.

10.5 out of 11 Mazes that wouldn't be caught dead without a minotaur. It's not done!

*Can we please have a moment of silence for Anne McCaffrey, without whom  I would probably not be here - either as a writer or as a reader of books. Pern is a much beloved mark on my soul, and if the future doesn't bring me a fire lizard then what, I ask you, is science even for?

04 February 2014

BleakAlong: Post the First

Well, here we are in the first week of the #BleakAlong and I've managed to make it through ALL the reading!

This will not last, so I intend to celebrate while I can.

Okay, so far this book is about contrasts, yes? There's the excruciatingly obvious Mrs. Pardiggle vs. Mrs. Jellyby, whose husbands should absolutely have dinner together, Esther. And then there's Chetney Wold vs. Bleak House, and the different areas of London, and how the Chancery differs from the real world...

But there are some things I HAVE to talk to you about: are we established and all on board that Esther and Ada are as queer as a three-dollar bill? Poor Mr. Guppy and his awkward proposal.

GOOD; more on that later.

But first I want to talk about the wallpapers in this book. Ada's bedroom at Bleak House is full of flowered things - the wallpaper, the upholstery, everything. Is it because she is Virgin in this tale, Mr. Dickens? No need to whack us over the head with that one. Then there's Esther's room, with the hard working people on the walls, making hay and whatnot, because she'll be the housekeeper you see. Without any training I might add - Dickens, that's a stretch. But the description of the sitting room is what made me sit up (hah) and take notice. It's papered with birds. Birds, who represent freedom and innocence, but whose song - like the birds of the mad old lady at Crook's shop - is silenced, in the case of this room, forever.. Is this a hint to us that the Jarndyce judgement will never come down, or that it might not be everything it's cracked up to be once Chancery has its way?

Close readings are the best.
Are you as weirded out by Boythorn as I am? Alice pointed out that Bleak House predates The Woman in White, but it doesn't change the fact that I met Count Fosco first and therefore will never again fully trust a giant, overblown man who has a strange way with the beasts of the field. And I submit to you, my friends, that Wilkie thought there was something creepy about it too, which could be why the two characters resemble each other.

The exception that proves the rule.
There's so much stuff in here, you guys! We could do a week per chapter and I'd STILL fill up 2 pages of notes.