Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

GreatExpectations2012

I started reading Great Expectations back in late June 2013, by signing up to dailylit.com. That way a piece would be sent to my email every day, and I just needed to read that part for that day. If I stuck through it, I would get through Great Expectations in 229 installments – or 229 days.

And I did. Slightly quicker than that because there were days when I felt like reading more and I only needed to press a link in the email to get the next installment.

I did not think when I embarked on this project that I was going to get til the end, but I did. I think it was almost 7 months long, wow. I found out that now I could get through any thick classics by doing the same thing. Thank you dailylit!

I do believe that I probably wouldn’t finish GE if I read it the normal way. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but like most thick classics, there are parts that are interesting, and some parts that are simply boring, boring, boring, you’d-rather-do-anything-else-apart-from-reading boring. With this method, I only needed to read a small chunk every day, and made steady progress anyway. We read countless emails and web pages every day (or at least I do), why not treat this installment like any other email that I have to read? Also that way I was free to read other books the normal way, so it didn’t feel like I was hogging all my time to read this one thick classic.

So that is how I got through Great Expectations. I recommend this method if you have failed before by reading it the “normal way”.

I quite like the story, though at the end there are too many coincidences that made it a bit soap-opera like. Also I wish the boring parts could be abridged. There were a few events, usually somebody visiting somebody or a group of people visiting a group of people, and the description and conversation just went on and on. As I only read a few hundred words every day, this event could go on for something like a week or more, and induced internal comments like: Omg, are we still here? Can’t we just move on?

I watched the latest (2012) movie adaptation as soon as I finished the book – which was alright. I think everyone is pretty well cast. The only one that was a bit off was probably Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. I usually like her, but I picture Ms Havisham to be very skinny (and most people do, or she’s even described as so by Dickens), but HBC is a bit too.. buxom. I’d love to see the depiction by Gillian Anderson in the older GE movie.

Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

After my trip to the site of Troy in Turkey, I finally got to reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I intended to read it before the trip, but didn’t get around to. It’s a question I often ask myself, is it better to read a related book before or after the trip? I’d say there are pros and cons to each.

Would the 2 hours I spent in Troy be more meaningful if I had read the book earlier? (I realised the serious of us would be thinking about Homer’s Iliad, but I’m not there yet.) As in my case, I ended up bringing home the memories of Troy, and read The Song of Achilles with the view of Troy – the coast, the city ruins – vivid in my mind. It made for a wonderful reading experience.

The Song of Achilles is told by Patroclus, a person close to Achilles whose fate is an important pivot point in the course of the Trojan War. Who is Patroclus? In Iliad he is a minor character whose death sends Achilles into outrage and despair. The experts have always argued about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Are they friends, comrades, lovers? (The Troy movie made them cousins.)

Madeline Miller made them lovers in The Song of Achilles, and the whole tale is told from Patroclus’ point of view. It starts from the very beginning when Patroclus is a child, which slightly bothered me at first, because the voice of the book felt mature and very feminine. But as he grows up, his voice got more believable to me. And at the end – I know lots of people probably say the same – I did shed a tear or two. It was odd, because I knew how it was going to end. The whole book builds up to that moment that most of us knew before going into the book (I’m sorry if you didn’t know, but I don’t think this is a spoiler). But their relationship is so believable, so tragic, and so sad. I was sad for them, Patroclus broke my heart.

I remember the time when I was at the site of Troy, overlooking the foggy coast, where the entire Greeks have sailed across the ocean to take Helen back, and to overtake Troy. Our guide, who also has read the book, told us about the two mounds in the distance, that people believed to be the tomb of Achilles and the tomb of Patroclus. The memory and the reading made the most profound impact.

It is historical fiction at its best.

Mee’s Rating 4.5/5

The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

the dead lake

In The Dead Lake, we meet Yerzhan, a boy growing up in a remote part of Kazakhstan, where there are only two family living in two houses. His body stops growing and keeps the look of a 10 years old. How does he get into this problem? What happens when his childhood sweetheart grows up and he stays the same?

After The Sibyl and from reading The Dead Lake’s blurb, I was expecting the tone to be more fairy tale like, but it is mostly grounded in realism, which I was slightly disappointed about. I found the beginning to be a bit slow, though with only 120 pages the pace started to pick up halfway through.

The book is told in a collection of vignettes, so it could feel a bit disjointed at times. I’m not sure whether it was the combination of the foreign hard-to-pronounce character names, translation, and the vignettes style, but I felt the reading didn’t flow as well as most books written originally in English. I have not read translated works for a while, so that might be one of the reasons.

I quite liked the second half of the book, but at the end, I’m not sure what the book is about. Is it sociopolitical commentary on nuclear experiments? Is the physical effect that happens to Yerzhan something that happens in real life? (I never heard of it before) Is the book a mere coming-of-age? Is it an exotic tale of two families living in a very remote area? What is the purpose of the book? I think this probably would work well as a book group book, as I had questions after finishing and wished I had someone to discuss the book with.

This is my first Peirene Press books, and though I have some reservations for The Dead Lake, I look forward to reading more Peirene books. The term “Literary Cinema” is dead-on to me. The after-reading is akin to the feeling after watching a foreign film – the feeling of uncertainty whether you get the whole thing, but that you’ve learned a bit more about life and another part of the world.

Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5

Thank you to Meike and Peirene Press for the review copy.

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