Sunday, June 03, 2007

Catching Up with the Napoleons

Among the books about which I've fallen behind in reporting here at The Book Den have been the monthly reads of our longstanding literary society, the Notting Hill Napoleons. Therefore, these quick catch-up posts I;m typing this morning must certainly take note of those omissions too. Sorry; I'll never let it go this bad again, ma.

* I have campaigned to get Anthony Trollope approved by the Napoleons for several years now and finally made the grade when The Warden was selected as part of our 2006 rota. It was, as I expected, a pretty sound hit with the group and so Barchester Towers, Trollope's next in the series, received the nod for 2007. Though I wasn't able to make the NHN discussion, Claire assured me that it too was a success with the group. After all, the novel features many of the same characters, settings and themes plus Trollope's skills as a chronicler of the 19th Century English gentry are even more keen and well-crafted.

Now, of course, such characters as the domineering Mrs. Proudie and the hypocritical villain Chaplain Slope do not always make for easy reading but they are most distinctively drawn, memorable and effectively a "For goodness sakes, may I never be like these people!" kind of way. And, yes, the reader can rest assured that there will be a satisfactory conclusion to the novel with justice satisfied and peace among the good people of the diocese restored.

Reading Anthony Trollope is like eating muselix cereal -- there's crunch, there's fruits and nuts; there's plenty of flavor...and it's good for you! So, enjoy; the whole Barchester series is waiting for you.

* Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice was the April selection for the Notting Hill Napoleons and, since he's become a recent favorite of the group, it was no surprise that Alice was well liked and the conversation especially lively and fun. I've mentioned Shute often here at The Book Den and it seems with good effect; several have let me know that my enthusiasm has served as a persuasive introduction to Shute. And none yet have been disappointed.

A Town Like Alice is almost two stories in one. No...make that three stories in one because there is also an understated subplot involving the tender affections of the novel's narrator that I find very moving. But that's all I'm saying for, as is my custom here, I do not want to give away anything that would detract from your full enjoyment of the novel. Suffice it to say that A Town Like Alice is a well-written, lovely novel of courage, industriousness, romance, perseverance and optimism. It takes the reader to such locales as pre-WWII England, wartime Burma and postwar Australia and is a journey filled with the best fruits of the human heart.

* Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This too was a NHN selection (the month of May) and I'll let just a few comments about this fine book close out this “catch-up” post for The Book Den.

I admire very much all three of the Bronte sisters but Jane Eyre (this was the first time I read it) clearly jumped to the head of the list. I found it every bit as profound and penetrating as Wurthering Heights, Agnes Grey and Tenet of Wildfell Hall, but yet more entertaining a read, a provocative page-turner that successfully surprised me many times. It does have a couple of somber moments but nothing like the infamous "Bronte gloom" that so marks her sisters' work.

No, as a romance, a mystery, a gothic, a novel of manners and even a psychological study, Jane Eyre really produced and made my 5-star list rather easily.