Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: Read in 2011

Overcoming Passions

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

This book has forced me to make the unusual statement: When it was romantic, I loved it.

But this is only about ten pages of the whole book. The plot itself is brilliant and Charlotte Brontë certainly has moments that make you convinced that she has a way with words, but there is something missing. There isn’t quite the intensity that a book dealing with such powerful emotions needed. Or, rather, when it was intense, it was pious and that wasn’t what I wanted.

From speaking to many people about Jane Eyre it seems that there are two camps: People who love Jane Eyre, and people who love Wuthering Heights. As much as you should ever base an opinion on just one book, I’m on team Emily.

A Trip to Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

This book seems to have a bit of a weird reputation: people who have read it always give such glowing reviews of it; a lot of people have heard of it; but I don’t think many people want to read it. I think it might be the name – Cold comfort sounds a bit grim, and the farm part probably puts some people off too. Until very recently all of Stella Gibbons’ other books were out of print (in the UK at least) but Vintage have just re-jacketed some others.

Cold Comfort Farm is the funniest book I’ve read in ages, and the humour isn’t dated despite it being first published in 1949. It mocks a lot of the modernist taking to the country type books (take that D. H. Lawrence). Definitely a very ‘English’ book. Stella Gibbons has created such a fantastic set of characters and named them perfectly: who else calls her matriarch Ada Doom?!

A very good start to my penguin classics reading project: funny, clever, literary.

This is going to be HUGE

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

I’m in love. Book love. This book comes out on the 13th of September and I can’t urge you enough to go and read it… This is magical realism at its dizzying literary highs. It is the story of two illusionists locked in an epic battle since childhood. They form part of a circus called Le Cirque des Rêves: There has honestly never been a fictional place I want to go more than I want to go there! This really reminds me of one of my all time favourite books Something Wicked This Way Comes and if you can write as beautifully as Ray Bradbury can for your first novel… I salute you. The proof copy I read compares The Night Circus to Angela Carter, Audrey Niffenegger and Susanna Clarke. Yes to the first two and bear with me whilst I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and I’ll let you know…


Cleopatra (Coming at Ya)

Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff

Overall this book was a chore. Which also makes it disappointing as I’d been eagerly awaiting starting it. I don’t read much non fiction compared to fiction, but even so this was hard going. Stacy Schiff is a good writer, but not a particularly clear one. I do like how honest she was about when there was evidence for things and when there wasn’t, and she was clearly very taken with her subject. I think I learnt a lot about Cleopatra, and a bit about the ancient world which was fascinating. It just didn’t do anything for me.

The Night Watch

The Night Watch, Sarah Waters

You can’t be let down by a Sarah Waters book, can you?

The best part of this novel is the use of time: set in three parts the book works backwards through 1947, 1944 and 1941. I can’t think of another book I’ve read that manages to do this so successfully – I was completely hooked on finding out why characters acted the way they did, and what secrets their pasts contained.

The war time setting is executed perfectly: you get a very vivid sense of what the raids and fire storms were like for the people living in London at the time. There is also a medical scene I read during my lunch break at work that made me feel like I was going to faint because it was so realistically written. I also enjoyed the focus on women’s roles during WWII – there is a real mix of jobs and relationships beyond the surface.

I loved the characters, their stories mingled together in a way that didn’t seemed really natural, the affairs were brilliant… After a slightly slow start this turned out to be a great book.

Asking Too Much

The Ask, Sam Lipsyte

This is marketed as (a) hilarious (b) culturally relevant.

I can’t think of a single thing that happens in this book that made me laugh. I hated all the characters. The plot was ok but it didn’t make a massive amount of sense. It was just nowhere near as good as I expected. I can get on board with the culturally relevant part. Sam, was it me?


This is by no means the worst book I have read but I think it just isn’t my cup of tea. I can, however, think of loads of people I’d recommend this to.

Broad Concepts

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

And then I started to think about her. Alma. Who was she? My mother would say she was everyone, every girl and every woman that anyone ever loved.

I did enjoy this, but she is so pretentious! This book was less cryptic than Great House, which is a plus (better plot?), and was very well put together. There isn’t a word that doesn’t seem considered; the result being many sentences beautifully but self consciously put together. I really liked the idea of the book within the book, but I thought what was actually written as part of Leo Gursky’s book sounded awful!

Things I did like:

  • The characters, particularly Alma and Leo. I sympathised with people more than I anticipated and enjoyed the way these strangers became linked together.
  • The general plot: the research, the letters, the lost loves, the families, the identities, the history.
  • Everyone told the story. The many narrators really worked.
  • The way she writes about being Jewish and what it means to different people.

The History of Love speaks universally whilst looking at the tiny parts of life. I just can’t believe Nicole Krauss is a real person.

Just Read Atwood

Delirium, Lauren Oliver

It has been ages since I read a Young Adult book, but I must admit it did fit my mood for quick and easy reading. I would describe Delirium as a simplified version of A Handmaid’s Tale. Fair play to Lauren Oliver to try to compete with the genius that is Margaret Atwood… But come on… there is no competition. I liked the whole idea behind the story – love is determined to be a ‘disease’ all adults are ‘cured’ of (sounds a bit like a lobotomy!) – but everything that happened was so predictable. However, having said that, everything did kind of happen the way I wanted it to. Maybe I’m the predictable one! Still, it sets a much better example than Stephenie Meyer ever managed.

Nuns on the Loose

Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant

My summer reading tastes have taken a beating! Do you like historical chick lit? Because apparently I do. Sigh. This books makes nuns (yes, nuns) appear incredibly interesting. It is set in an italian nunnery in the 1500s.

My favourite parts:

  • The old school medicine practice – lots of herbs and folklore
  •  Finding out apparently lots of women were sent to join nunneries because families couldn’t afford dowries for marriage
  • The psychology behind religious rapture and hysteria

When God was a Rabbit

When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman

I love love LOVE this book. It is a very refreshing change to read a story about love between a brother and sister rather than a couple.

The story is split into two parts; 1968 and 1995 where the main character is 9 and 36 respectively. The childhood part was sweetly nostalgic, familiar but really captured the whole sense of innocence clashing with growing up. Winman writes this part so elegantly, and so realistically through a child’s eyes. The second part takes some slightly surprising turns, with (if you’ve read nothing about the plot before you start, which is my style) some very unexpected merging fact and fiction.

There is a lot going on in this novel, but it all works. And the characters are fantastic – all of them are interesting and make for some pretty hilarious and heartwarming incidents. They are a wonderful mix of being completely believable but at the same time I couldn’t help thinking thats brilliant, how did she come up with that?!

I wanted to visit the childhood home, I wanted to stay with the family, I wanted to hug the childhood best friend, and now that I’ve finished it, I want more. In short; there is magic, subtlety, everything. Read it read it read it.