Anna Karenina

What can be said about a classic? Simply that it was beautifully written. Its fluidity of expression made me glide across page after page without effort, relishing each sentence for its uncanny ability to express. I rarely come across a book that reads itself! Anna Karenina was all that and much more. It was a book that covered not only all elements of style, but of theme and characterization as well.

Anna Karenina covers the drama around Anna's life as she steps into a world of affairs and deception. Swept off her feet by the charming Count Vronsky, Anna, a married woman, finds herself moving away from all that she has known and into the life of a social outcast. We follow her through the initial deception, later revelation and final despair. Life is not all glamor and gold in the upper sphere - something we are shown through the eyes of the various characters. Side by side to this story, we have that of Kitty, a young unsophisticated girl who, rejected by Vronsky, finds herself questioning her choices and feelings of love.......

Anna Karenina fascinated me mostly because of its realism - or so I imagine life would be in the Russian upper class. I found myself drawn into the various scandals, behaviors and accepted norms of the society. The representation of the characters and their actions was satisfyingly realistic. You were sure that it could have happened in no other way. The emotions felt by Anna, by Vronsky, Levin and Kitty were those people in similar situations have felt and never been able to put into words. When you find an author who has the ability to express those intangible thoughts and feelings, reading becomes a pleasure.

As one critic puts it, "we do not judge: we watch".

Endless Night

Rating: ****
The first time I read Endless Night, I had no idea the title was taken from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence; now, a masters in English literature later, I instantly recognized the familiar poem.

Michael Rogers comes to Gipsy's Acre and falls in love with it. But how can a penniless nobody afford to buy an expensive estate? Fate introduces him to Ellie, a rich, young heiress. The young couple fall in love and decide to build the home of their dreams on the site. Unfortunately for them, there is a curse on the land and it won't leave them in peace. Things get from bad to worse until one day..........

So that I don't give it away, I won't say what other Christie novel Endless Night reminds me of. It has altogether an eerie atmosphere to it and one is never sure what it is: a love story? a psychological mystery? a supernatural novel? or just simply what is normal for Agatha Christie? a mystery? The main plot twist comes when you are well past half-way point and the ending comes as a huge surprise; but the story manages to be intriguing even before the twist and turns Agatha is most famous for. The psychological element is introduced so cleverly, so effortlessly that before you know it, you understand it all.

I find myself agreeing with critic Anthony Berkeley's views on Agatha Christie's books. Below is his take on Endless Night.

"The old maestrina of the crime-novel (or whatever is the female of 'maestro') pulls yet another out of her inexhaustible bag with Endless Night, quite different in tone from her usual work. It is impossible to say much about the story without giving away vital secrets: sufficient to warn the reader that if he should think this is a romance he couldn't be more mistaken, and the crashing, not to say horrific suspense at the end is perhaps the most devastating that this surpriseful author has ever brought off."
Definitely one of Agatha Christie's best. A story that you can relish and sink your teeth into.

The Labours of Hercules

Rating: ***
Hercule Poirot has never doubted his abilities - until one day a parallel is drawn between him and his namesake the great Hercules of Greek lore..... To live up to (or in his own mind surpass!) the glory of Hercules, Poirot decides to take up the famous labours that the Greek hero went through. The twelve stories that follow are all that an Agatha Christie fan could wish for.

The novel contains some of the most famous characters in the Christie universe including Inspector Japp and Countess Vera Rosakoff. I enjoy this novel each time I read it because it has some of the simplest and sweetest stories Christie has written. Among them is The Arcadian Deer which tells the story of a young, handsome mechanic who is searching for the woman he fell in love with, The Augean Stables which concerns the reputation of a good and honest politician (really!); The Labours of Hercules also introduces the character Amy Carnaby - a timid old lady's companion who turns out to be something more. Of course there is also the final reappearance of Poirot's one and only flame Countess Vera Rosakoff. Now old and retired from a life of crime, in Poirot's eyes, she still has more fire than all the girls of the younger generation! All in all, reading these stories passes a fun couple of hours.

A Caribbean Mystery

Rating: ***

Miss Marple is vacationing in the West Indies - an out of the world spot where her nephew Raymond hopes she will regain her health and find some time to relax. But where Miss Marple goes, murder soon follows. The first inkling she gets of something not quite right is when Major Palgrave dies from 'natural causes' a day after telling a story of a serial murderer. Apparently, the Major had a photograph of the said murderer, and yet none is found on his body! Miss Marple must figure out who Major Palgrave had recognized from the photo and who the next victim will be before it's too late....

In A Carribean Mystery, we again hit upon one of Agatha Christie's best. The setting with the confusing murder story, the misleading (yet in the end always clear!) evidence is as charmingly laid out as ever and gets the reader every time! I enjoyed the characters and was so happy that Mr. Rafiel, a rich character in the novel, was to appear in a future novel as well: Nemesis.

Sir Nigel

I have all my best ideas when I'm so sleepy that I can't write them down. Then, in the morning, they're all gone!  That was the case with what I wanted to get down about reading Sir Nigel. I've lost the words that can grasp how the novel combined the brutality of war with a sense of chivalry and romance. Sir Nigel, a young impoverished man of gentle birth, has no other desire than to fight for England. He has his chance when the King visits his home and he is made a squire to Sir Chandos, one of the bravest knights of England. War is never a pretty business, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle infuses this story with Nigel's youth and innocence and his love for Lady Mary.

Honor. Sir Nigel shows the worth of honor in 14th century England. A man's honor lies in fighting for England, for one's lady, or dying by the sword. To gain this glory, Sir Nigel takes a vow to do three deeds of honor for Lady Mary. Journeying through England, he fights battles against the French, Spaniards and all at Brittany always in the search for more honor.

I loved the character of Sir Nigel and how his optimism, energy, chivalry and honor molded him into a great knight. The novel is a pleasant way to wile away the summer hours when there is no electricity to take your mind off the heat!

This is also my fourth historical fiction book this year, which means that I have only one more to go to complete the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry. Yay! \o/

Passenger to Frankfurt

Sir Stafford Nye is known for his sense of humour and his love of the unconventional; so, when he is given an unusual suggestion by a lady at an airport - she wants to switch places with him - he decides to gamble and willingly allows himself to be drugged. This meeting later drags him into a vortex of international conspiracy in which people are striving for world domination with the aid of the youth - a popular theme used by Christie.

A mediocre novel: That's how I feel about Passenger to Frankfurt. Nothing much caught my attention - not even the main character. The story was uninspired and unreal, the characters were passable, and so was the amateur detective: Sir Stafford Nye. We don't even have the satisfaction of a good ending.

Rating: **

The fact is, Passenger to Frankfurt is an international crime mystery and I hate those. Just read my review on The Big Four and you'll see....Now since this is clearly not my cup of tea, I'll leave you to form your own opinions.

Appointment With Death

Rating: ****
Another one of Christie's psychological mysteries, Appointment with Death deals with the dynamics of the Boynton family. At the head of this dysfunctional group is Mrs. Boynton, a woman who takes pleasure in psychologically controlling and torturing her victims - and who better as experiments than her own family? her own daughter? Travelling through Jerusalem, the Boyntons make their way through the tourism sites. But even a cornered rat may strike back when pushed to the limit and soon Mrs. Boynton is found dead at Petra.

I always enjoy the more psychological of Christie's detective novels and this one was right up my alley. I enjoyed the characterization, the portrayal of people under psychological duress, and the hopelessness of those who feel they are beyond all aid - it was all expertly drawn. How many of us have seen in films the effect of prolonged torture which inevitably ends in a numb, broken acquiescence to all requests? The whole process of mental control and what it does to those subjected to it was subtly shown in the Boyntons. While the images were not brutal like those in the movies (!) it was a truthful representation. Definitely one of my favorites.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables is one of the greatest classics in French Literature. Written in the nineteenth century by Victor Hugo, it covers many of the highs and lows of the time, its instability and the miseries of the lower stratum. The time period in the novel covers the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napolean's rule. With a violent history behind it, and more bloodshed yet to come, Victor Hugo shows through one man, the shaping of a whole new society.

Jean Valjean, a young peasant condemned to 19 years in prison, finds his mind broadening after meeting Bishop Myriel despite the years of ignorance that have warped it. Faced with honesty and goodness, he is forced to review his life and begins the journey towards greatness. Where one man who has never known the light, fights against generations of darkness, others will soon follow. Jean Valjean goes through struggle after struggle in Victor Hugo's stupendous novel, finds himself thrown back, yet perseveres against all odds.

At times, the length of the novel and the long pages of history and architectural lessons forced me to skip (a lot!) of the sections, but I found the story pulling me through it all. It was amazing to read how Jean Valjean faced life, how he, an uneducated peasant with nothing except his two hands, educated and broadened his mind, his knowledge and his wisdom - not only for himself, but for others. There were set backs which made it only all the more real. This was no easy walk in the park, but a struggle against his darker self and that of others. It took great courage and strength to become the man he at last becomes.

Now I hear that the novel is being turned into a film starring Hugh Jackman as the famous hero Jean Valjean, Russel Crowe as his main antagonist Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. I look forward to watching it!