Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill
Firstly, let’s raise the tone. This play is lively, witty and has some of the snappiest comebacks in theatre (if you can survive the Americanisms).
Now I shall drop the bass.
Mundanity. Shame. Bitterness. Can we keep our spirits and our spirits (preferably whiskey) up when beneath the surface we feel so much more than our light-hearted jokes can say? What we get to see in O’Neill’s most personal work is a play that takes place in an American family summer house over the course of a day. Two parents; two sons, and something has been corrupted in each one.
Why should you read Long Day’s Journey into Night? Because the demons we face are sometimes in our head, and sometimes in our loved ones. There has never been such an apt study of this fact.
The back of the book informs us:
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
Ibsen lived quite a while ago, so you would be forgiven for thinking that, when he sat down to write about the faults of modern society in his exciting Hedda Gabler, his views might be a little old-fashioned. Not so.
Published in 1890, Hedda Gabler is a world which is both recognisable and alien. It was a time when Aunt Julle could still care about her fancy hat, and the late General Gabler could carry pistols. Homely, mundane and utterly vicious. If you just happen to be middle or upper class though, it’s a world you should still be familiar with.
The story follows the supposed wedded bliss of Mr. and Mrs. Hedda Tesman, an academic and his discontent, and most likely pregnant, wife. Both have just returned from a long honeymoon. Of course, Mr. Tesman remains blind to the secret manipulations that his spouse inflicts on his rivals.
All the while, Hedda plays with her late father’s pistols, and we are all made to wonder who is going to end up shot. The synopsis offers us:
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This has to be one of the more dramatic ways of warning people away from drugs such as opium.
I believe anyone would term this 1886 Victorian escapade a ‘novella’, or else ‘a very short book’. At 88 pages long, and with a larger font size than that of most Collins Classics, I challenge any average reader to take more than a day to read it, or some such transparent provocation to urge you to at least take a peek. The glossary at the back of the book would possibly equal the length of the story, if it were printed at the same size. For all that, let us not complain about how our adventure with Jekyll and Hyde does not last long. I recall reading an article that Stevenson threw his first draft of this famous book into a fire (talk about not taking criticism!), and he had to rewrite it all again. He did so, and reportedly in three days.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a king for spin-offs. If you haven’t watched a series which is based on it, you will at least have heard the expression ‘a Jekyll and Hyde’ character. However, I’m a firm believer that there is always someone out there who is new to any overly famous object, and so I will not be providing the blurb, which casually summarises the entire story. I will instead give you my attempt at a synopsis, attempting to be at least a little purposefully misleading:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I have titled this review with my favourite quote from The Great Gatsby, because you will rarely find a more random and cathartic moment in literature. Curious? You don’t have to be. Read it.
Published 1925, there is no better example of the American Jazz Age anywhere in literature (the flapper on the front cover should give you a clue). At 140 pages long, you could read it in a day (that is, a day of intensive reading). For me, it was a set text for my class, and I made the mistake of watching the film adaptation first. Still, despite these awful set-backs (that true book lovers will sympathise with) I managed to have a very good experience reading it. It’s a book that’s not exciting, but rather, intriguing.
The first thing I noticed, if you’ve read some of my earlier reviews, is that The Great Gatsby bears numerous similarities to Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate), apart from merely the title. Both stories are told by secondary characters, who almost ruin their own lives in following the story of the ‘hero’, who in turn stands to ruin his life chasing after some supposedly perfect angel of a woman.
Since I don’t want to give away the ending (why do blurb writers think they can tell you the culmination of the plot just because a book is a classic?) I have cut at its synopsis a little:
Le Grand Meaulnes par Alain-Fournier
Ce qu’on voit ici, c’est un livre publié en premier lieu en 1913. Il reflète certainement l’époque, mais j’en dirais plus plus loin. Le livre fait 212 pages.
Il serait difficile de trouver une personne qui n’a jamais au moins entendu parler du titre de ce roman, mais vous aurez peut-être des difficultés à trouver quelqu’un qui l’a lu par lui-même, si ce n’est forcé par l’école. Cependant, ce livre mérite d’avoir sa critique sur le blog.
Etonnement, l’intrigue n’est pas aussi simple qu’elle paraît à première vue. L’histoire racontée par François commence lorsque que nos héros sont adolescents et nous les quittons seulement quand ils sont adultes. On peut être sûr qu’avec tout ce temps passé, beaucoup de choses arrivent. La quatrième de couverture nous dit :
The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Alain-Fournier
This review may get a bit confusing, as I mix up the two versions of the book that I’ve read. The truth is that the version I’m going to be writing about isn’t the version that I read first. I can proudly brag that I first read it in the original French and then read the English… um, just to check that I was… reading it right? If I’m ambitious enough, or if I have the time and patience, I may rewrite this review in French. It depends on how geeky I want to be.
Anyway, what we see here is a book first published (in French) in 1913, and it certainly reflects the era, but I’ll write more on that below. In English, it’s 223 pages long.
Since I am going to assume that not everyone out there is bilingual, I realise that you may not have heard of Le Grand Meaulnes (pronounced ‘mulns’, or ‘moans’ if that’s easier), as this novel is better known. In fact, in France, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who hadn’t at least heard the title of this tale, but you might also have some difficulty finding someone who had bothered to read it, if not forced to at school. I therefore defend its appearance on a blog critiquing classic books – it’s not classic all over the world, but it’s certainly in France’s canon.
The plot, surprisingly, is not as basic as it first appears. We join the story, told by François, as our heroes are teenagers and we only leave them when they are adults. You can be sure that, with so much time elapsing, we have an eventful few years to read about. The blurb tells us:
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
I popped my head out behind my little rock, took a peek around and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Not too long ago, my best friend got hooked on the TV series Sherlock and I’ve always quite enjoyed the manga Detective Conan, as well as Eoin Colfer’s Half-Moon Investigations. These things all share the same stem, like a root word in Latin, as they are all sparked from the acclaimed genius that is known as Sherlock Holmes.
Here we have the first book chronicling the adventures of this well-known ‘amateur’ detective. At 127 pages, I read it in less than a week (and it was a busy week too). This speed was also due to the fact that it’s very easy to read as, produced 1887, A Study in Scarlet is so close to the contemporary novel (and had probably inspired a good number of contemporary novels) that you are sometimes lulled into believing that it’s entirely modern. Then you remember that Holmes’ adventures are only possible because modern forensics don’t exist.
As for the Penguin Classics edition of this book, it’s just right. Of course, there are parts which won’t make much sense to a modern reader with the amount of references made. The notes at the back of this edition are ideal for this; concise and informative. The introduction at the beginning of the book also is not nearly as stuffy as introductions tend to be, but instead give you a real flavour of how the book came to be written, which I recommend for you to read after you’ve read the book (even if you’re reading for pleasure, rather than study).
The best summary I can possibly give for A Study in Scarlet is that the eccentric sleuth Sherlock Holmes goes about trying to solve a mystery. Why, that sounds not so exciting. Therefore, we sprinkle in a narrator, the enthusiastic and gentlemanly Doctor Watson, some bumbling policemen (because where would we be if we couldn’t make fun of the country’s legal system?) and a violent murder, of course. And then, bizarrely, a Western.
The summary grants us all this: