Behind a Mask or A Woman's Power

In Behind a Mask Louisa May Alcott takes a turn from her usual style. Known for writing the light family drama Little Women, Behind a Mask glimpses towards the darker side. The characters all seem charming in the beginning but we are left wondering how an author who can create such good characters as Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March can create a Jean Muir.

Louisa May Alcott, in her novels, focused a lot on morals. Her heroines are strong-minded young woman who, at the same time are feminine. Jean Muir, a governess, is at first shown as a meek, misunderstood girl of 18 - but she is not what she seems. She quickly instigates herself into the family, worming her way into the hearts of all the occupants. Even the most mistrusting soon succumb to her unique charm. Is she what she seems? Or does she have a dark purpose behind all that she does? What is behind the sweet, misunderstood mask of Jean Muir? Lucia, the fiance of the master of the house, has enough womanly instincts to see past Jean Muir's feminine wiles, but she lacks the scrutiny and cleverness of Jean Muir. She knows something is wrong but does not have enough insight into the matter, or quickness to do anything about it. Instead, she plays right into Jean's hands and becomes a catalyst for the inevitable reaction.

I really enjoyed reading Behind a Mask. I have always loved Louisa May Alcott's writing style and after reading this novel, I like her character portrayal even more. It was refreshing to see another side of human nature and to see how the less fortunate members of society may act. Set in England, the book appeals to me even more; especially since I love books set during the Victorian Era!

Hungry Hill: Daphne du Maurier Challenge

I had avoided reading Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier for a long time. Books covering many generations don't appeal to me. I usually like a story centered around one main character. I picked up Hungry Hill at last for the Daphne du Maurier challenge hosted by Chrisbookarama, and was instantly absorbed. The writing is, unlike Maurier's other novels, not in the first person-narrative form, but the more common third person.

Perhaps, what interested me was the fact, that although the novel covered five generations of an Irish family, each generation was linked to the Copper Mine built on Hungry Hill. Their lives are surrounded by misfortune even though their monetary strength can't be challenged. Everyone in the Brodrick family is left unsatisfied in some way. They are all pursued by demons that won't let them lead the life they try to build.

Who hasn't felt alienated from the rest like poor young Johnnie? The feeling of being 'different' or 'strange' is one that we all at some point or another feel; if we don't, we're among the lucky ones. Then we have Hal who wants to be respected and loved by his father. He has inherited a feeling of impotence and inadequacy from his uncle Johnnie, who inherited it from his father John. Is their bad blood in the family or is the land trying to expel them? The curse of Hungry Hill devastates the Brodrick family, pursuing them relentlessly.

In the end, Hungry Hill is the land of the people. The Brodricks and the Donovans have fought over it for generations. Each generation faces its own struggle against the Hill and the Donovans. The Brodricks are interlopers on the land, and whereas they have money, they can never possess the spirit of the land.

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

The Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry will run from January 1 2011 to December 31 2011. The levels range from reading 20 books, (if you're really adventurous) to reading 2 (for tentative people like me!) Here are the levels:

1. Severe Bookaholism: 20 books
2. Undoubtedly Obsessed: 15 books
3. Struggling the Addiction: 10 books
4. Daring and Curious: 5 books
5. Out of my Comfort Zone: 2 books

Although Historical Fiction is definitely NOT out of my comfort zone, I am putting myself down for the fifth category because of my busy schedule during exams! As of yet, I don't have any books in mind that I would like to read, so suggestions are welcome. I'm thinking of reading something set in Scotland.

You don't even have to have a blog to join the challenge. Any type of historical fiction is allowed. Each month there will be a new post relating to this challenge to which you can link your own blog post!

Heart of Darkness

I begin the New Year with exams (It's horrible I know!) I can't start any new books yet so I thought I'd review one of the novels from my course! I know it sounds boring but Heart of Darkness took me by surprise; its tackling of issues prevalent in Europe during the 19th and 20th century is superb. The massive continent of Africa is divided into various colonies rules by different European countries. Marlow, an English seaman, takes a long desired voyage to the heart of darkness - Africa. What he finds there leaves him a changed man.

Joseph Conrad is said to have been ahead of his time. He viewed his age as the next generation was to view it: with a critical eye for its faults. He saw imperialism for what it was and Heart of Darkness abounds in his use of symbols to portray it. The novel is semi-autobiographical; Conrad believed that literature should be realistic; it should include one's own experiences.

Marlow, the protagonist, tells his story to a few of his sailor friends who then narrate it to us.  He pulls off the mask of virtue from imperialism and shows it for what it really was: greed. Money is the primary concern of everyone, and here money takes the form of ivory. In one of the most expressive dialogues Marlow describes the lust for ivory that had ensnared them all,

"They word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By  Jove! I've never seen anything so unreal in my life."

The natives are maltreated to the point of death and starvation. Everywhere Marlow looks he finds misery. But the 'pilgrims' stand firm in their belief that they have come to Africa to 'civilize' the brutes. They are here to bring a change. Marlow travels to the interior to find the one man he has heard so much about. A man, who had ideals, and now possesses strength and power over the natives. He is said to bring in more ivory than all the rest put together. Marlow's interest in him increases as his journey progresses and when the final meeting takes place, the mask is off and all the ugliness of the situation in Africa is shown at its height. Marlow returns, having fulfilled his wish at a cost. He knows now what other men don't. How is he to carry this burden?