Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Travels With Shakespeare

I’ve been on a literary trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and the humble origins of William Shakespeare.

Whilst I was there I saw Shakespeare’s birthplace (see above photo) as well as the house he bought for his family towards the end of his life. Although a lot of the house is gone there is an ongoing archeological dig for the foundations which you can look into.

Of course there was time for a little bit of second-hand book shopping, where I found these great editions of Middlemarch and Jane Eyre.

They were both printed in the 1960s by Zodiac Press – the patterns on the covers really caught my eye.

The main reason for the trip was to see an RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing. It was absolutely BRILLIANT. The play was set in contemporary Delhi and it really worked. The whole Indian spectacle and traditions surrounding marriage made a very natural mix with Shakespeare. Meera Syal played Beatrice and completely stole the show – whenever she was on stage I was mainly watching her. Being well known for comedy, she delivered all of Beatrice’s put downs and jokes like she had written them herself and the banter between her and Benedick was such a highlight.

Stratford is a couple of hours away by train, so I read Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare during the journey. I got the book as a Christmas present and I can’t recommend it highly enough! It is a great, very readable introduction to the life and times of Shakespeare. Bryson doesn’t try to hide that there are very definite limits to what we can know about Shakespeare. Instead he puts the facts forward and guides the reader through the various theories that scholars have come up with. He adds a perfect amount of background history to support his own leanings. I also really liked that he doesn’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories about Shakespeare either – this book is very much grounded in what can be proven.

The trip and the production have renewed my interest in Shakespeare – I was obsessed as a teenager and loved when I got to study the plays at school. I have read The Sonnets and a handful of plays and I’m inspired to read more, so I’ve created a page to follow my progress at the top of my blog – or you can click here to see it. As usual I have no time limit on this challenge, it is just something I’d like to do. I will be using a copy of The Norton Shakespeare for most of the plays and all of the essays.

Incidentally, Shakespeare’s Restless World comes out at the end of September and I can’t wait to read it. Neil MacGregor is curator of the British Museum and the author of The History of the World in 100 Objects. This sounds like a similar premise – discovering Shakespeare’s world through twenty different objects.

At the moment, my all time favourite Shakespeare play is The Tempest, although I do have a soft spot for the ones I did at school; Othello and King Lear. The Histories are probably the plays I am looking forward to least, they seem the most intimidating although I’m not entirely sure why.

What is your favourite Shakespeare play? Have you read any great books about Shakespeare? Recommendations are very welcome!

Reviewing July

July was a month of great books for me, but as it was also the month I went on holiday I haven’t written about any of them! This is a catch up post about some of my highlights.

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
This is the first book I’ve read by Iris Murdoch and I would very happily read others. This was a comedy of relationships with really great characters. Ridiculous, yes, but great.

This is Life by Dan Rhodes
READ THIS NOW! I’ve never read a book like it. A quirky adventure around Paris that all begins when Aurelie, as part of an art project, throws a stone that hits a baby. This is so original, enjoyably French, and one of the best books I’ve read in ages.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Why oh why did I ever wait so long before reading this? Highly, highly recommend this, especially for some holiday reading. An utterly glorious novel, set in rural France, a real feast of magic and charming characters. The little touches of magical realism are just right – never approaching outright fantasy or silliness. A warning: It is completely impossible to read without having food in the house.

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris
The second of the series is much darker, slightly bitter, when Vianne is struggling to move on from free spiritedness in order to protect her children. Called something like The Girl with No Shadow in America, this is very much like a dark fairy tale.

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris
Yes, I devoured the whole series one after another. Peaches for Monsieur le Curé feels like the real sequel to Chocolat perhaps because the story returns to Lansquenet, the setting of Chocolat. This novel is very much of today’s times – about the clashes of religion in secular France. By this point the main characters felt like old friends and I have to confess when it was over I was really depressed. What a brilliant series.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I can’t praise this highly enough! It was sinister and unsettling, gripping, well written, exciting… perfect, really. I was recommended it by a friend as a book to read after you have read something that changes your life, i.e. a perfect antidote to the heartbreak the comes when a truly brilliant book is over. It was great advice and I would say the same. The Secret History is such a good book to follow a great read because it is so absorbing. And brilliant in its own right. I was really unsettled at how the book convinced me  that the murder was completely logical. Read it, honestly it is brilliant.

Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roche
This was a bit of an odd book. On the one hand it was about Paris in the early twentieth century (a plus) and on the other it was about three ridiculous people (slight minus). I loved Jim – said to be a character semi-autobiographically based on Roche’s own life – and I liked Jules more and more as the book went on. The object of their affections, Kate, was a different story altogether. I don’t know how either of them had the patience to put up with her. This is an unusual love triangle but I struggled to really understand both her actions and motivations for them. I don’t think relationships have to be quite as complicated as these three made them out to be! This was a quick read and enjoyable because it was so unique. It was the author’s debut novel written when he was 70 so I suppose it was bound to be different.