Mini Reviews ~ Two Classics

 

Love and Mr. Lewisham

Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells

Young, impoverished and ambitious, science student Mr Lewisham is locked in a struggle to further himself through academic achievement. But when his former sweetheart, Ethel Henderson, re-enters his life his strictly regimented existence is thrown into chaos by the resurgence of old passion. Driven by overwhelming desire, he pursues Ethel passionately, only to find that while she returns his love she also hides a dark secret. For she is involved in a plot of trickery that goes against his firmest beliefs, working as an assistant to her stepfather—a cynical charlatan ‘mystic’ who earns his living by deluding the weak-willed with sly trickery. (via Goodreads)

Currently, I’ve been reading Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman, a nonfiction book about movies made in the 1980s. In the chapter about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hadley makes a point that one of the things that makes John Hughes teen movies special is that they are some of the few movies that address class in America. Indeed, class seems to be something that’s difficult for Americans to talk about. We’re above all that here in the US, right? Anyone can be anything, right? Yeah, well, probably not.

Of course, H. G. Wells isn’t American and Love and Mr. Lewisham isn’t set in the States, but the issues of class in this novel are just as relevant. Lewisham chooses love over practicality. He’s not rich enough to support Ethel while he finishes his education. In effect, he marries down in an effort to help her rise above her station. (He saves her from having to work for her stepfather who runs a mediumship scam, which is why this story originally piqued my curiosity.)  Lewisham and Ethel’s relationship almost doesn’t survive. Honestly, not a lot happens in this book. It doesn’t matter to me; I really enjoy Wells’ writing style.

Publishing info: originally published 1899
My Copy: ebook, Project Gutenberg download
Genre: literary

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Emmuska Orczy

Mystery readers and fans of detective fiction and the police procedural are in for a real treat with these twelve interlaced stoires featuring Lady Molly, head of the Female Department at Scotland Yard in and around 1910. Lady Molly is an ace sleuth and the Police Chief’s secret weapon when faced with perplexing and unsolvable cases.(via Goodreads)

I was listening to a podcast a while back (and I don’t remember the name of it because my usual podcast app tanked) and it mentioned that Baroness Orczy, of The Scarlet Pimpernel fame, also wrote some mystery stories featuring a female detective. Right up my alley!

These stories are definitely a response to Sherlock Holmes. Lady Molly has an extraordinary intellect and is assisted by a devoted “normal” person, Mary, who writes about the cases. Lady Molly isn’t a consulting detective. Notably, she works for Scotland Yard, but it seems that she’s mostly called upon when the male workforce is stumped. She then uses her feminine intuition and social savvy to solve cases. Refreshingly, most of the cases do have a sort of female twist to them. They’re not necessarily about domestic problems but they’re more concerned with marriages and property.

Sadly though, the problem with using “intuition” to solve cases is that, narratively, it looks like really good guessing. The reader isn’t given enough information to solve along with the story. (At least I didn’t find this to be the case. It could be argued that I lack a lot of feminine anything.) It isn’t really until the last story in this collection that Lady Molly looks even remotely fallible, and that story is the most satisfying of the bunch.

Publishing info: publisher, 1910
My Copy: Browser-based, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/orczy/molly/molly.html
Genre: mystery/crime

The Black Cat, No. 5, February 1896

Welcome to the fifth issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

Happily, no. 5 was not missing pages, though some of the scanning was iffy.

Stories

“The Mysterious Card” by Cleveland Moffett

While in Paris, Richard Burwell is given a card written in purple ink by a beautiful woman. Burwell doesn’t read French and everyone he shows the card to has a very bad reaction to it. He’s driven from his hotel and ultimately from France. When he shows it to his wife and his best childhood friend, they both disown him. And alas, the beautiful woman dies before she can tell him the meaning of it. It’s all very melodramatic. Cleveland Moffett was a journalist and writer of some note. “The Mysterious Card” was his first story and brought him some note mainly due to the unresolved aspect of the mystery. Alas, the literary shenanigans don’t work for me.

“Tang-u” by Lawrence E. Adams

Tang-u is a Chinese boy who ends up on a Japanese naval ship (during, I assume, the First Sino-Japanese War). He is of rat-catcher “heritage” which means his eyes are very keen even in the dark. And this is the brief story of how he becomes an honorary admiral in the Japanese navy due to those attributes.

“The Little Brown Mole” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

A friend finds Mr. Paul Fancourt in a state. What’s wrong? Fancourt tells of his marriage to the lovely and tempestuous Leila. His wife’s temper drove him away for five years and, when he returned, Leila was a different woman. Possibly quite literally.  This is Clarice Clinghan’s second story for The Black Cat. Her first, “The Wedding Tombstone,” was my favorite of issue no. 2.

This was my favorite of the month.

“The Telepathic Wooing” by James Buckham

Another tale of love for this February issue of The Black Cat. Dr. Amsden is hopelessly in love with Miriam Foote. Despite being quite good-looking, Amsden is terribly shy around women and can’t approach Miriam. Instead, he chooses an unconventional manner of “wooing” her: lucid dreaming. This is Buckham’s second story for the Cat. His first was the photographic evidence story “The Missing Link.”

“The Prince Ward” by Claude M. Girardeau

“The Prince Ward” was the longest story of the issue, a spine-tingling tale about a haunted hospital ward. Often hospital hauntings is due to, not surprisingly, the suffering and death of sick people, but here Girardeau gives us a spurned wife who is surprisingly sick and suddenly dies. There are maybe shades of Charlotte Perkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper” and a few chilling moments, but the writing is very clunky.

 “A Meeting of Royalty” by Margaret Dodge

The Great Man, a young train baron, is visited by a little girl who is wandering around the train while they are delayed at the station. The little girl is dressed as a princess (which I thought was a much more modern thing). She tells the Great Man about the Queen she knows who is very sad. Of course, the Queen isn’t a queen, she’s an actress. But she is sad—the train delay will cause them to miss an important performance and she’s has a lost love who looked down on her career because he’s a business man, but she misses him. The Great Man realizes that he knows who the Queen is and what he can do to make her happy.

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No ads in this issue, but at least the issue was complete!

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 5, February 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Review ~ Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Fall of Man in Wimslow cover via Goodreads

Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz, trans. George Goulding

From the author of the #1 best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web—an electrifying thriller that begins with Alan Turing’s suicide and plunges into a post-war Britain of immeasurable repression, conformity and fear

On June 8, 1954, Alan Turing is found dead in his home in the sleepy suburb of Wilmslow—an apparent suicide. Investigators assumed he purposely ate a cyanide-laced apple because he was unable to cope with the humiliation of his criminal conviction for gross indecency. But Leonard Corell, a young detective constable who once dreamed of a career in higher mathematics, suspects greater forces are involved. In the face of opposition from his superiors and in the paranoid atmosphere of the Cold War, he inches closer to the truth and to one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Second World War–what was going on at Bletchley Park. With state secrets swirling in his mind and a growing fear that he is under surveillance, Corell realizes that he has much to learn about the dangers of forbidden knowledge. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Alan Turing was an interesting guy and I’ve been wanting to read more about him since being pretty disappointed with the movie The Imitation Game. Unfortunately, I think I originally believed that this was a nonfiction work, which it isn’t.

What Worked
Lagercrantz does a good job with the setting. He needs a repressed, tattered, paranoid 1950s England, and that’s certainly what we get.

The book also slips into some rather lengthy passages about mathematics that aren’t too confusing, though I’m only assuming that the information is correct. The main character, Corell, studied mathematics in his past, and his delves into the subject seemingly give him some insight into Turing. It’s an interesting way to look into the character of Turing, though I’m not sure it was entirely satisfying for someone (me) who wanted more of a factual character sketch.

What Didn’t Work
It took the majority of the book to get to the actual plot—a noir-ish bit of spy story. Yeah, the mathematics is a great way of getting to know Turing, but it ended up being a bit long.

I also didn’t quite buy Corell’s character development. It felt too rushed, squashed into the last forty pages of the book after being in a holding pattern. As is always the case with translations, I wonder if some of the occasional clunkiness of Corell might be due to English word choice.

Overall
Regardless, this book did pull me along. If you don’t mind some digressions into mathematics (as a philosophical endeavor), give it a try.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Vintage, 2017
Acquired: Won this book from Goodreads, 3/31/17
Genre: literary fiction, mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Deal Me In, Week 22 ~ “Fable”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Fable” by Charles Yu

Card picked: 5
Found at: The New Yorker

So, I’m fairly certain that I picked this story due to Tom Gauld’s illustration. (Check out the above link for it, or more of his work at his webpage. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably familiar; I retweet him quite a bit.) Halfway through “Fable” I thought, “This story reminds me of what I consider the difference between YA and other adult fiction: YA asks, “What am I going to do?” and adult fiction asks, “What have I done?” And towards the end of the piece I thought, “Wait a minute. Charles Yu. Have I read other stories by him?”

As a matter of fact, I’ve read a whole collection by Charles Yu! And I enjoyed it! I just have a really bad memory. And rereading my review I thought the very same thing about those stories as I did this one. Charles Yu has a really good ear for telling stories to and about Generation X—a group raised on geek culture, who are reaching middle age.

Once upon a time, there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work through some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.

“Fable” is a about the stories we want to tell about ourselves and what our stories really are. The man in this story has made many compromises to have a comfortable life for his wife and for his special needs son. The metaphor of the fairy tale he uses doesn’t go far, but maybe it does lead him to a path through his own haunted woods.

Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Aloha Oe”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Aloha Oe” by Jack London

Card picked: J – Jack of Spades for Jack London, hadn’t realized I’d done that when assigning stories to cards.
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story
At the dock in Honolulu, a massive crowd is gathered to bit farewell to the Senatorial junketing party. Among those leaving are Senator Jeremy Sambrooke and his lovely daughter Dorothy. Among those staying is Stephen Knight. While the senators had been wowed by sugar cane and coffee barons, Knight had shown off the rougher side of Hawaii. In particular, he shown Dorothy volcanoes and taught her how to surf. And until this moment of parting, with “Aloha Oe” being sung to them, Dorothy had only saw Knight as a playfellow. In this moment under his gaze, she’s suddenly aware of womanly feelings for him.

Which is a little eye-rollingly cringe-worthy. Numerous times, we’re told of Dorothy’s “ripening,” which is at least balanced by how masculinly masculine Knight is. Though I am a child of the late 20th century, I’m kind of surprised that Dorothy, at age fifteen, is just now noticing boys/men and is just now being noticed by them.

Alas, even if distance didn’t separate Dorothy and Stephen after her departure, the fact that he’s hapa-haole, or of mixed heritage, would prevent him from being marriageable. Hapa-haole also can refer to music that is Hawaiian in tune, but with English lyrics. London concludes the story with the only time he includes English lyrics in the song:

Aloha oe, Aloha oe, e ke onaona no ho ika lipo,
A fond embrace, ahoi ae au, until we meet again.

The Author
I haven’t read much London. Is he better with nature than with people?

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “Scarlet Stockings”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Scarlet Stockings” by Lousia May Alcott

Card picked: 10
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story

“What will you do then?”

“Nothing, thank you.”

And settling himself more luxuriously upon the couch, Lennox closed his eyes, and appeared to slumber tranquilly. Kate shook her head, and stood regarding her brother, despondently, till a sudden idea made her turn toward the window, exclaiming abruptly,

“Scarlet stockings, Harry!”

“Where?” and, as if the words were a spell to break the deepest day-dream, Lennox hurried to the window, with an unusual expression of interest in his listless face.

Harry Lennox is a man of leisure, perfectly happy to while away the hours during his visit to his sister’s sleepy town. The only diversion is Belle Morgan, the lovely and spirited young woman who wears the scarlet stockings.

Belle initially sees Harry as a “peacock,” but after she becomes friends with Kate Lennox, she is willing to see more in him. Belle’s idea of happiness is to do service for others, joyously and uncomplaining. She is a patriotic American. She is appalled that Harry sees himself as half-English and believes he should remain neutral in the conflict between the Northern and Southern states. Eventually, Belle admits to Harry that she and Kate conspired to wake Harry out of his comfortable life, but not until, unknown to Belle, Harry has enlisted. Is he doing it only to win Belle’s heart? Is Belle a hypocrite when it’s Harry’s life and limbs on the line? Will Harry even survive??? I must say, I was a little worried when I came to Part III of the story WHAT BECAME OF THEM.

There is a lack of communication among the characters which I always find to be a frustrating trope in literature (and other forms of storytelling). This might be why I’ve never quite taken to Alcott as an author. But otherwise, this is a deft story told mostly through dialogue.

Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Hofzinser Club”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Hofzinser Club” by Michael Chabon

Card picked: Ace
Found at: The New Yorker

The Story
I bookmarked this story sometime last year, thinking that it was a piece by Chabon that I hadn’t read before, and perhaps an extra story about Josef Kavalier, one of the protagonists of his novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Alas, no; not material I hadn’t read, but a stand-alone-ish chapter of the novel. Chapter 3 to be more specific.

It’s a good chapter, detailing young Josef Kavalier’s initial interest in escapology. He decides to plan a stunt to get the attention of the Hofzinser Club—Prague’s foremost magician’s club. The stunt is successful, but there are consequences.

Funny thing: In the novel, this chapter led Eric to become quite grumpy with the book due to a detail that wasn’t believable.  In the novel, the river that Josef jumps into (handcuffed, shackled, and tied into a sack) is 22C. That’s about 71F which isn’t really cold. In the short story, the temp of the water is 12C (53F) which is probably more like what the River Vltava in September would be. Or at least the kind of cold you’d want for a death defying stunt. From skimming both the novel chapter and the short story, the novel version seems a bit padded out. I like the version in The New Yorker better!

The Author
From Wikipedia (because I find this to be a good summary):

Chabon’s work is characterized by complex language, the frequent use of metaphor along with recurring themes, including nostalgia, divorce, abandonment, fatherhood, and most notably issues of Jewish identity. He often includes gay, bisexual, and Jewish characters in his work. Since the late 1990s, Chabon has written in an increasingly diverse series of styles for varied outlets; he is a notable defender of the merits of genre fiction and plot-driven fiction, and, along with novels, he has published screenplays, children’s books, comics, and newspaper serials.