British


I’d heard of the movie Atonement but knew nothing about McEwan.  If my life lasts long enough, I may get to one of these recommended five.

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Author Rating: A

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, or Anthony Hope as he was known to his readers, was born February 9, 1863, a young contemporary of Thomas Hardy. While Hardy is remembered and celebrated today, Hope is largely forgotten as a writer. I only discovered him by chance while looking through Andy Minter‘s Librivox catalog. I am delighted to have discovered Hope. His writing is quick and engaging.

His tenth novel, published in 1893, The Prisoner of Zenda put Hope firmly on his contemporaneous public’s map and then further popularized when it was made into a movie in 1913, again in 1922 and 1937. Even though he’s forgotten as a writer, his storytelling has influenced movies and TV shows well into the late 20th century. Hope published 32 novels by 1925 and died July 8, 1933.

The Prisoner of Zenda: being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman (Listened 09/2016) Recommended

Rupert of Hentzau: being the sequel to a story by the same writer entitled the Prisoner of Zenda (Listened 11/2016) Recommended

I listened to both of these as audio recordings, read by the wonderful Andy Minter who brings the stories alive with his deft chracterizations.

The two novels are set in the imaginary central European country of Ruritania, where adventure and true love and heartbreak await.

Author Rating: A

The Thirty-Nine Steps (read 9/6/2014)

First published as a magazine serial in the last half of 1915, this is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, adventure hero.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the earliest examples of the ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as an often-used plot device. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan holds up Richard Hannay as an example to his readers of an ordinary man who puts his country’s interests before his own safety. The story was a great success with the men in the First World War trenches. One soldier wrote to Buchan, “The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.”

Richard Hannay continued his adventures in four subsequent books. Two were set during the war when Hannay continued his undercover work against the Germans and their allies the Turks in Greenmantle and Mr Standfast. The other two stories, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep were set in the post war period when Hannay’s opponents were criminal gangs.

I listened to the Librivox recording read by Adrian Praetellis and enjoyed it very much. I will be on the lookout for Buchan’s other novels.

Author Rating: A

When I indicate “read” in this instance, I actually mean listened to Librivox recordings. I am very surprised that I have never read anything by Burnett (1849-1924). She was left out of what I thought was a comprehensive study of 19th century English literature. I guess the men who organized the list of who is important did not consider her or her subject matter important. Perhaps because, according to the Washington Post at the time of her divorce in 1898, she had “advanced ideas regarding the duties of a wife and the rights of women.” (Gretchen Gerzina, Frances Hodgson Burnett: the unexpected life of the author of The Secret Garden, pg 204)

While Burnett is best known for what are considered children’s stories, she is much more than that. Further, what are deemed “children’s stories” are belittled by that categorization. Her stories are beautifully rendered studies of the lives of women.

The Secret Garden (read 81/2014) Recommended

I listened to the Librivox reading by Caroline Griggs. It is a wonderful story, and Ms. Griggs was a perfect reader. This is not a book to be ignored because it is labeled “children’s literature.”

The Shuttle (read 9/1/2014)

A novel set during the late 19th century when young, wealthy American women were marrying titled but often poor Englishmen. The “shuttle” is a reference to the back-and-forth trans-Atlantic trips made by the rich American women and their would-be titled English suitors. The heroine is Bettina “Betty” Vanderpoel, who travels to England to find her sister who married one of those poor but titled gentlemen and had seemingly forgotten her American family. Betty is a strong, delightful character who, through intelligence and compassion, rights wrongs and finds true love. Burnett is masterful.

The Making of a Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst (aka Emily Fox-Seton (read 8/10/2014)

Burnett’s two novels describe the difficulties of women and their limited options. I listened to a Librivox recording, and although these are two novels they are run together into one under the title Emily Fox-Seton.

A Lady of Quality (read 8/20/2014)

Also listened to a Librivox reading. This is a historical novel set in, I believe, the 16th century. Somewhat reminescent of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew,the story opens with the tragic death of Clorinda’s mother who had borne her lord and master many girls but no male heir. Clorinda grows up to turn her father’s opinion of women on its head.

Author Rating: A

Billy Budd, Foretopman (read 1981 and again 3/26/2013) Recommended

I’m not sure that what I read back in 1981 was the same as the version I have sort of read today. Included in a paperback copy of Six Great Modern Short Novels, published originally in 1954, is what is described as “the definitive transcription of F. Barron Freeman published by the Harvard University Press, corrected in accordance with the Corrigenda later issued with that volume.” The writing is extraordinarily obtuse and difficult to get through but, in hindsight, delivers a boatload of information. I will confess though, I didn’t have the patience to read the entire thing. Are other published versions of Billy Budd “cleaned up” to make them more readable? I don’t know, but if you have an interest in language and/or sociology, you can’t go wrong with this “definitive transcription.”

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (read 1981) Recommended

About a man and a whale.

Author Rating: Not Yet Read

A trilogy of historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the court of Henry VIII of England. The first novel won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  In 2012, The Observer named it as one of “The 10 best historical novels.”

Author Rating: B+

Reginald Hill is a contemporary English crime writer, awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement in 1995.

Death Comes For The Fat Man (read 8/20/11) Recommended

This is Hill’s 22nd crime novel featuring Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalziel, Peter Pascoe and Edgar Wield. I would have liked to start reading this series with the first book, but my neighborhood library has a limited selection and, not knowing whether it would be worth the wait to order the first (A Clubbable Woman), I plunged in. If you are a fan of crime fiction and enjoy a good series, I can tell you, if your library has to order it from elsewhere in the system, it will be worth the wait to be able to begin at the beginning. Hill is definitely one of the better crime fiction writers.

Dialogues of the Dead (read 9/3/11) Recommended

Hill does a great job creating compelling characters and sustaining the reader’s interest throughout. I highly recommend this novel for its intelligence.

Pictures of Perfection (read 9/30/11) Recommended

A Dalziel and Pascoe mystery in which appearances can be deceiving.

Good Morning Midnight (read 10/6/11) Recommended

Dalziel and Pascoe investigate a suicide done in such a way as to throw suspicion of murder on the “wicked stepmother” and uncover hints of an international arms conspiracy.

The Woodcutter (read 11/13/11) Meh

I actually haven’t finished reading this one yet and I wouldn’t if I had anything else on my table. It’s a stand-alone story about a guy who leaves home as a young man to seek his fortune so that he can win the hand of his true love. The source of his fortune is the big mystery. When he’s been happily married for about 16 years, he’s convicted of fraud and pedophilia. The story really starts when he’s in prison and we learn his past through his conversations with his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist character is badly drawn and really annoying. I’m in a section now where that character is not involved but I dread her reappearance. I’ll keep reading until the library gets the books I’ve ordered but I doubt I’ll finish this.

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