1910s Audio Book Classics Novella

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Audio Book)

The Metamorphosis

Five words from the blurb: salesman, transformed, insect, trapped, room

The Metamorphosis is a book I’d always avoided as I suspected it would be disturbing and/or impenetrable. I’m pleased I decided to give it a try as neither of these preconceptions were true. The Metamorphosis is actually easy to read and isn’t very dark at all – in fact it is quite funny in places. 

The book begins with Gregor, a travelling salesman, waking up to discover that he’s been transformed into a giant insect. It is one of those rare cases where an author manages to take a fairly unrealistic concept and make it feel real. I loved Gregor’s confusion and the way he slowly learnt what life as an insect felt like. 

….when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

It is a short book (just two discs in the audio version) and the plot is very simple, but I was entertained throughout. Martin Jarvis’ narration was excellent and I recommend this book to anyone looking for something a bit different.


1950s Classics Nobel Prize

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies: Educational Edition by Golding, William Educational Edition (2004) 

William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983

Five words from the blurb: boys, marooned, island, transformed, savages

There are several large holes in my reading history and Lord of the Flies was one of the biggest. It is so entrenched in our culture that I felt I knew what it was about, but when I heard it mentioned twice in one day I decided it was time to fill the gap and so got a copy from my local library.

I knew that Lord of the Flies involved a group of boys marooned on a desert island, but didn’t realise it was set during a nuclear war. Most of the rest of the plot was known to me; in fact I think this might be one classic better left unread as I had a far greater opinion of it and its cultural significance before I opened the cover.

The book began well, with some good character development and wonderfully vivid descriptions of the island, but as it progressed I became increasingly frustrated with it. The depiction of life of a desert island was unrealistic and there was no real knowledge of the way the body reacts in a survival situation. I also thought the reactions of the boys was unlikely and the plot became increasingly implausible as it progressed.

I can see why it has become a classic and there are some good messages within it, but I think this is one of those books that might be best read when young as it doesn’t stand up to careful scrutiny.

Overall, it’s a good concept and there are lots of strong, enduring images, but I’m afraid I found it lacked the insight to be convincing.


1800s Audio Book Books in Translation Classics Recommended books Uncategorized

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (Audio Book)

zola Narrated by Paul Freeman

Five words from the blurb: loveless, marriage, affair, murder, revenge

Zola is one of those authors I always wanted to try, but kept putting off as I was intimidated by his reputation. I really shouldn’t have worried – Thérèse Raquin wasn’t difficult to read. Instead I found an engaging book, deserving of its classic status. 

Thérèse Raquin is a young woman who is forced to marry her sickly cousin, Camille. She resents the time they spend together, especially when she falls in love with Camille’s best friend, Laurent. Thérèse and Laurent begin a passionate affair, revelling in the secrecy of their relationship. Eventually they realise they cannot continue like this forever and plot to kill Camille. This leads to a gripping narrative that is packed with atmosphere and emotion.

I listened the the BBC audio production of this book and I think that this the perfect way to experience this story. The text can appear quite dense and difficult on the page, but Paul Freeman did a fantastic job narrating this unabridged version. He made the story come alive and the difficulties seemed to melt away when the words were put into the mouths of the characters.

This book probably contains the best portrayal of jealousy and regret that I’ve ever read. The complex relationships felt realistic and the fear and paranoia of this couple jumped from the page. I completely understood the thoughts and emotions of everyone involved and was entranced throughout; longing to know what would happen, but simultaneously dreading the conclusion.

He turned the same idea over in his head until daybreak. Previous to the visit of Thérèse, the idea of murdering Camille had not occurred to him. He had spoken of the death of this man, urged to do so by the facts, irritated at the thought that he would be unable to meet his sweetheart any more. And it was thus that a new corner of his unconscious nature came to be revealed.

Beneath the dark and twisted story the book was packed with symbolism. I’m sure that it could be read multiple times, with new layers of meaning being discovered each time. It is amazing to think that it was first published in 1867 – it must have been even more shocking back then.

Thérèse Raquin is a powerful warning about the danger of wanting what you can’t have. I can’t fault this book and it has shot straight onto my list of favourites.


Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

Which of Zola’s books do you suggest I try next?


1990s Chunkster Classics

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

A SUITABLE BOY [A Suitable Boy ] BY Seth, Vikram(Author)Paperback 01-Oct-2005

Five words from the blurb: love, India, independent, struggle, destiny

After 10 months I’ve finally finished A Suitable Boy! It has been a strange reading experience as half the time I loved it and the rest of the time I was battling the urge to abandon it. 

The book is set in 1950s India and gives a complex picture of what life was like as the country struggled to adapt to its Independence. The main plot revolves around Mrs. Rupa Mehra trying to find a ‘suitable boy’ for her younger daughter, Lata, to marry; but it is much more complex than that. There is a massive cast of characters, each with their own subplot, and the book covers many different aspects of Indian politics, religious conflict, and family life. It is an impressive record of Indian history during this time period, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.

The book had a frustrating structure:

  1. 30 – 50 pages to become familiar with a set of characters
  2. Enjoy them for about 20 – 30 pages before being thrown straight into the lives of entirely new group of people
  3. Repeat this process about 10 times
  4. After about 750 pages some of the different sets of characters start to come together (but by this point I had forgotten who many of them were and had to do some research!)
  5. Continue to add new characters
  6. After about 1000 pages finally understand what is happening
  7. Finally, after 1500 pages, experience a massive sense of relief that it is all over!

I might have enjoyed the book more if I’d read it quicker, but reading was such a battle that I dreaded the experience. I often fell in love with it 20 pages after picking it up, only to be thrown out of the narrative a few sections later. It was infuriating! I did enjoy the last 500 pages, but that still meant I struggled through 2/3 of the book. 

I normally love epic reads like this, but I think A Suitable Boy reinforced my need for a small cast of characters – I’d prefer to know everything about a few people, rather than a little about lots. Perhaps my struggles were compounded by the fact it reminded me of my favourite book, A Fine Balance. Mistry’s book managed to convey many of the same themes, but within a smaller, more memorable cast of characters. I wonder how many characters readers will remember from A Suitable Boy a few years after finishing? 

Vikram Seth plans to release the sequel, A Suitable Girl, in 2015. I wont be reading it.


1990s Chunkster Classics

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

We Were the Mulvaneys

Five words from the blurb: family, farm, rape, tragic, consequences

Joyce Carol Oates was one of those authors I’d always wanted to try. She has written over forty novels so it was difficult to know where to start, but a quick Twitter conversation suggested We Were the Mulvaneys might be her best, so I bought a copy.

The Mulvaneys are a fairly wealthy family who live happily on a big farm, seventy miles south of Lake Ontario. The three brothers and their sister, Marianne, grow up as well respected members of their community, but everything changes when Marianne is raped and the family must cope with this massive emotional upheaval.

I initially loved this book. The descriptions of the family and their surroundings were vivid and engaging.

You could do an inventory of the Mulvaney staircase and have a good idea what the family was like. Staircases in old farmhouses like ours were oddly steep, almost vertical, and narrow. Our lower stairs, though, were always cluttered at the edges, for here, as everywhere in the house, all sorts of things accumulated, set down “temporarily” and not picked up again, nor even noticed, for weeks.

The pace was slow, but I didn’t mind as I loved becoming a part of their happy world. Their little stories about every day life were compelling and I came to feel I knew exactly what it would be like to live amongst them.

Unfortunately things went downhill after about 100 pages and I’m in the unusual position of having conflicting reasons why. On the one hand, I want to criticise the book for being too ordinary, failing to add anything new or interesting to the sad story of teenager who has been raped; but on the other hand, I didn’t think the plot was very realistic and POTENTIAL SPOILER HIGHLIGHT TO READ I thought that such a strong family would have bonded together, not fallen apart in that way. I guess the truth is that I just got bored. The plot was too slow to justify the length and I fell out of love with the characters.

Joyce Carol Oates is clearly a talented writer and I can see myself enjoying some of her other books, but I’m afraid this one wasn’t original or entertaining enough for me.


Which other  novels by Joyce Carol Oates would you recommend?

The thoughts of other bloggers:

 It is such a complete portrait of the human experience… Book Lust

…it was worth reading, if only to quench years of curiosity. Literary Amnesiac

I could write more about what happens, but I can’t be bothered to, which sounds dreadful, but that’s how the book made me feel by the end.  Book Snob

1970s Classics

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down

Five words from the blurb: rabbits, leave, warren, journey, danger

I wanted to read Watership Down as a teenager, but several friends warned me about how sad it was and so I avoided it. Even as an adult I’d been scared to read it or watch the film. Recently I realised how ridiculous this aversion was, especially given the number of disturbing books I read, so I bought a copy and settled down to read it in the sunshine.

Watership Down is the story of a group of rabbits who decide to leave their warren and set up home in a new field. Along the way they meet numerous dangers, including foxes, owls and people.  It is a wonderful story for children, but unfortunately it didn’t have the same impact on me as an adult.

The main problem was that it was a bit predictable. It quickly became obvious that they would encounter every threat possible, suffer mild peril, but ultimately be OK. I’m afraid I became a cynical reader and started looking for the patterns, groaning as each new predator approached and they escaped AGAIN!

I also found the plot too slow and meandering. It probably didn’t help that I already knew the ending (a sign that this classic book has become so important to our society) or that there were so many rabbits it was hard to bond to any of them individually.

On a positive note, the writing was good and there were some lovely ideas about rabbit mythology.

Rabbits (says Mr Lockley) are like human beings in may ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not  be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now.

I’m glad I’ve read it, but I wish I’d done so as a fourteen-year-old.