To be read books July 2014Two more novels to review today – I’ve been galloping through my July reading, with a mere five books left on the front of the bookshelf and loads of good stuff read and enjoyed. If I don’t have a pressing deadline, I’ve been having a bit of a read in bed of a morning, which has certainly helped, and bus journeys back and forth to my parents-in-law at their new house have helped, too (plus a train journey to York). So here are two oldies but goodies – thanks for the lend, Ali, and the gift, Laura!

Thomas Hardy – “A Changed Man”

(Borrowed from Ali)

I gave up reading the collected Hardy on my Kindle near the start of Ali’s Hardy readalong, as you never knew where you were in the books (the percentage it gave was for the whole series of books, not progress through the one you were actually reading). Although I’ve liked the look of the new Kindle Paperwhites, I have to say that waiting for my old one to break down so I can buy a fancy new one might take a while, because I really do not use it an awful lot. Anyway – back to the Hardy.

This was rather a momentous read, as it was the last published work of Hardy’s fiction, and thus I have now, along with Ali and a group of other people, read the complete works of Thomas Hardy in publication order! Wow! I really hadn’t read as many as I should have (or people thought I had!) and found some lovely reads in “The Trumpet-Major” and “Tess” in particular, plus “Jude”, which I had been rather dreading, was actually a very good read and, dare I say it, not as depressing as I thought it was going to be. Thank you for organising the challenge, Ali. I did get a bit behind, but I got there in the end!

This collection of short stories was a great selection, treating themes of love, marriage, changed opinions and twists of fate. There was some interesting experimentation in this set of stories, with “Alicia’s Diary” being written entirely as a diary and letters, and “What the Shepherd Saw” and “A Tryst at an Earthwork” being told from the point of view of an observer rather than the main protagonist. A couple of the stories were full of the reverses of fortune, opportunities almost grasped then missed and snatches of defeat from the jaws of victory that Hardy is famous for, and some had plot twists so extreme as to be almost Sensational, giving an interesting link back to the Gothic elements in the early short stories we read.

A very good collection, with no tailing off of quality, and a worthy end to the read.

Ruth Park – “The Harp in the South”

(21 January 2014 – from Laura)

The last in my set of slightly random books kindly given to me by a friend to address some of the gaps in my Reading a Century project, this is set in a poor community in Australia and is a vivid, unusual and affecting novel about love, danger, family and trying to escape from the fate you were born to. It follows the fortunes of one central family as they try to survive and make ends meet, as well as their rather eccentric lodgers and the wider community. There are some violent scenes and one upsetting animal incident – but this was justified in the context of the dumb and pointless suffering of many of the characters with their lack of agency and the sudden violence that can flare up in a crowded and poverty-stricken environment. Some very lively and fresh characters, a good plot and great insight into the inner workings of many of the characters in turn – an engaging read.

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Currently reading: I’ve got a couple more to review, and I’m enjoying a book about Canadian English and “Underground to Everywhere”, another book about London Underground. What are you all up to? Have you read anything by the hitherto unknown (to me) Ruth Park?