Book Review

Books in Brief: Hardy, Sayers, & Ten Boom

I’ve written about about these authors before, and yes, they are delightful and entertaining. Today I’ll offer a few thoughts about a different book from each.

Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Just finished Hardy, moving onto Lefebvre

Because I loved Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, I decided to give another one of his novels–The Mayor of Casterbridge–a shot. (Thank you, Michelle, for the recommendation. It was well worth the read.)

I was hooked from page 12 wherein Michael Henchard, a dissatisfied and poor hay trusser in early nineteenth-century England, sold his wife at a refreshment tent at a country fair. Indeed, Henchard was hasty and drunk. Consequently, his wife was only glad to depart with an obliging sailor, who purchased her for five guineas.

Now that’s a beginning to grab one’s attention, for I was mighty curious to see just how this book would turn out. It was quite a rollicking ride for a Victorian novel. Oh, but nothing too scandalous, mind you. (Did I mention it was the early 1800s?)

This book reminded me a bit of George Eliot’s Silas Marner–what with people disappearing (think of Dunstan’s drowning and the sailor too) and little girls being raised by other more capable men (think of Silas Marner raising Eppie, and then the sailor in this book raising Elizabeth.)

But really, I was disappointed in the end because I wanted more. I would have liked an account of Mr. Farfrae’s fickleness. Really, the man was attracted to Elizabeth, but then was easily infatuated with Lucetta, only to return once again to Elizabeth. Just how did this change come about, I wonder?

The good thing about this book, and most Victorian novels that I’ve read, is that the good or virtuous characters, while experiencing hardships, are generally rewarded in the end. Conversely, the bad characters are given their due as well. In this case, Elizabeth experiences much persecution from Henchard, but with her quiet humility, she rises gloriously. Henchard, however, dies a lonely man.

Dorothy Sayers: Clouds of Witness

From Victorian novels to detective fiction, here we go. I do love variety.

Now, if you have not read a Dorothy Sayers crime novel, you are missing out. Do start with Gaudy Night, then follow up with Busman’s Honeymoon, for Lord Peter Wimsey is quite a dashing sleuth in those novels.

I’ve heard from somewhere, probably the Literary Life Podcast, that C.S. Lewis admired Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey because he was the only sleuth to have ever evolved throughout his fictional career. I mean, to have grown and developed into a more admirable man.

And it’s true. In Clouds of Witness, which was written prior to the Harriet Vane novels above, we see a more carefree and flippant Wimsey, than in Sayers’s later novels.

Because of that, however, and because there are allusions to complicated marital affairs, I wouldn’t recommend this book for immature audiences. For anybody else, however, this book is hysterical. Sayers is bitingly critical of communism. She’s continually pointing out its contradictions and follies, especially through the Duchess of Denver–my favorite character. (She’s the mother of Wimsey.)

You know, this is what sets Sayers apart from, say, Agatha Christie. Sayers has a way of developing her characters and cunningly using them to speak about something else. In this book, it’s communism. She’s brilliant.

I’ve enjoyed the Agatha Christie novels that I’ve read too, but the Christie novels have a completely different feel. It seems to me that her novels are more concerned with solving the mystery and restoring order than commenting, say, on the medieval theology that built beautiful churches complete with bells and bell choirs. (I’m thinking of Sayers’s The Nine Tailors.)

Corrie Ten Boom: In My Father’s House

Yes, another Corrie Ten Boom book. Really, if you haven’t read The Hiding Place, then I’m not sure what you’re doing wasting your time on my blog. Go get that book.

Since The Hiding Place was an incredible read, I thought I’d pick up her prequel, In My Father’s House. This short book is filled with lovely photographs, about Corrie’s life prior to WWII. So, if you were astonished and inspired by The Hiding Place, then you will want to read this book.

Now, that said, it’s not as gripping as the first, naturally. But there was one thing that struck me. Her family was a family that prayed, and I mean prayed at all times. They never decided anything without praying, and praying right then and there too, in front of anybody and everybody.

Do we do that? I mean, pray at all times?

Corrie is the second from the left. They were poor, and yet, look with what dignity they dressed.

More Books: Ciszek and Lefebvre

I had wanted to say a few words about another nonfictional book I just read, but really, I’m running out of time. So, I’ll just mention it: With God in Russia by Walter Ciszek. Ah! What a tremendous read! Do you have sons? Get them this book immediately. Read it yourself. That priest survived 23 years in Soviet concentration camps, and I’ve never been more inspired by his perseverance and faith in God’s will.

Lastly…what am I reading now?

I’ve picked up Marcel Lefebvre’s biography. I’ve always wanted to read about that controversial SSPX archbishop. I’m about 80 pages into it and loving it. When I finish, I hope to give you my thoughts.

Anybody else reading something good?

Book Review

All About Books: Hardy, Eliot, and Ten Boom

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I recently finished reading Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I’ve read it once before, back in my heathen college days, and didn’t like it. I suspect I was too stupid to appreciate Hardy’s vocabulary and too shallow to appreciate his detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, and architecture.

Let me tell you, though, I couldn’t put the book down this time, even in spite of its daunting 362 pages.

This is the same copy I read in college. It even had my old notes in it, which were hysterical to read.

Far From the Madding Crowd is set in rural nineteenth century England and follows the fate of Gabriel Oak who meets and falls immediately in love with a very vain woman named Bathesheba. Then we meet two more men in the novel: Mr. Boldwood and Captain Troy.

Now just looks at those names. What comes to mind? There are so many biblical and ancient references in this book that it’s no wonder I was clueless the first time I read it. (Which is why, by the way, it’s worthwhile to revisit a book that one read a long time ago.)

In any case, this book was amusing and a sheer delight to read.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

I read this book by George Eliot (i.e. Mary Ann Evans) for four reasons:

  1. It’s short.
  2. It’s a Victorian novel. (I love Victorian novels.)
  3. I enjoyed two of Eliot’s other novels, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, so why not read another?
  4. Since the gals (and Mr. Banks) were reading it at the Literary Life Podcast, I wanted to follow along with them.

Now, did I like it? Meh. It picked up as I went along, but I must admit, I got tired of the didactic tone, and I found parts of it unbelievable–possible, yes, but unbelievable.

Basically this novel follows the plight of Silas Marner, a thwarted weaver living in the sticks who loses all, but gains something even better. I won’t spoil it for those of you tempted to read it, for it is worth a read.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I’ve written about this excellent book before. (Click HERE for details.) The reason I reread it was for a local book club–The Well-Read Mom.

As I’ve said before, if you haven’t read this autobiography, you are missing out. Corrie Ten Boom tells her story of hiding Jews during WWII and of how she survived a Nazi concentration camp. I give it a 10+.

Go buy a copy NOW. You won’t be able to put it down.

Bonus Book Mention: And now, a book I tossed into the trash…

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

This book was another read for the Well-Read Mom Book Club. It seems that every year at least one sketchy book is selected.

I tried to finish it, really. But page after page was chock full of occult practices and disordered sexual references, that I quit on page 47. I then looked up the author. It would appear to me that she had an agenda with this book. She wrote it specifically for Young Adults and even won awards for it. Disgusting.

I should have known even before page 47 when Alvarez has one the older sisters tell her younger sister that, “Sometimes you need to do a bad thing for good to come.”* Nope. No, you don’t. The ends never justify the means.

It’s not that authors can’t write about bad or evil things, though. They can, but what matters is that the good is good and the bad is bad. It’s harmful to read books that don’t get virtue and vice right. In others words, you can’t pass bad things off as good, which I think Alvarez does.

Alvarez even admits to having no biographical information about these four sisters who died in the Dominican Republic under a totalitarian regime, and the picture she paints is, well, disturbing. She’s got them playing fortune telling games with a priest, buying and reading spell books behind their mother’s back, drawing pictures of private male anatomy and then laughing when caught, participating in a girl stripping naked for others just to look at, and finally, where I quit, the masturbation scene.

Now you tell me, with zero biographical information, was all that necessary? Or is Alvarez sending a different message? Regardless of what other messages she may want to portray in the book, it would appear that Alvarez is trivializing and therefore normalizing these other completely disordered and disgusting behaviors. And remember, her intended audience are teenagers.

What Am I Reading Next?

I don’t know yet. I might pick up George Orwell’s 1984. Or I might read another Dorothy Sayers detective novel. Or maybe Agatha Christie?

What are you all reading?

*I can’t verify the exact quotation, because I threw the book away. But if you still have the book, check between pages 40-46. Then throw that trash away.