bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #77: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

My friend S and I are both stressed-out doctoral students who wanted to do some “fun” reading over Christmas break that didn’t involve anything related to our respective research areas. We both enjoy Victorian novels, so we chose The Moonstone. I may or may not be questioning my love of Victorian novels after my experience with Jane Eyre and this novel.

So, in short: greedy colonialist soldier steals sacred (and ginormous) Indian diamond, known as the Moonstone, and wills it to his heirs. It ends up with a no-good scoundrel, whose name I have already forgotten and am too lazy to look up, who decides to leave it to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her 18th birthday. Rachel is a Mary Sue and oppressingly boring. Rachel’s mother, Lady Julia Verinder, is convinced that the diamond is a curse and is a last middle-finger from her brother’s grave. As the Diamond makes its way to England, we learn from our first of several narrators, that three suspicious-looking men from India are looking around the estate. It must be an omen. Sidenote: I was interested in the story, but Collins’ first narrator (Gabriel Betteredge) is a servant who is absolutely Jonesing for Lady Verinder. It’s so pandering and B.O.R.I.N.G. We get about 190 pages of his absolutely sickening devotion to the family. Dude, we get it. Julian Fellowes probably read your part when he created most of the Downton Abbey servants.

Ahem. Back to the story. The Diamond arrives via Rachel’s cousin, Franklin Blake, who is in love with Rachel. A servant girl, formerly a thief and found in a Reformatory (which means she was probably also a prostitute at one time) is in love with Franklin. On top of these hijinks, Rachel’s other cousin, Geoffrey Ablewhite, arrives and is *also* in love with Rachel. Apparently, England ran out of rich women.

There’s this birthday party, in which Rachel is determined to wear the Moonstone proudly, which makes me think she probably just discovered her boobies and is even more eager to show those off, but I digress. Weird conversations happen, the party is ruined, and Franklin makes a fool out of himself. The next morning, the Moonstone has disappeared from Rachel’s bedroom. And then the mystery begins.

It’s actually a halfway decent mystery, but the setup takes forever, and Gabriel is a profoundly self-important narrator who almost had me quitting the book entirely. The resolution is interesting and not entirely out of the realm of possibility. I just may have reached the limit of my enjoyment of Victorian novels. Or maybe it’s just that I like George Eliot too much to like other Victorian novelists.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

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#CBR5 Review #76: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I first read Jane Eyre as a junior in high school–I’d never read anything like it. My reading had previously consisted of a steady diet of Jane Austen and Anne of Green Gables, with some Christian romances thrown in for good measure, so scandal and syphilis was deliciously new to me. Now, as a 29-year-old woman, I don’t have quite the same reaction, but I still had a good time this read-through.

If you’ve never read Jane Eyre, you really should. There are three distinct “phases” of the novel, in my opinion. In the first phase, a young Jane Eyre is a fearless, precocious orphan, living under her grudging and cruel aunt’s care, but then exiled to a sparse boarding school, where she discovers that faith is more than black-and-white, that her aunt, Mrs. Reed, may not actually represent true Christianity, and to find her interiority as a self.

The second phase is the juiciest. In it, Jane is sent to live as a governess to a young French girl who is the ward (and likely illegitimate daughter) of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Up until this read, I was enthralllled by the Rochester. And with such depictions as these, who wouldn’t be?

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Clearly, Michael Fassbender is way too attractive to play Rochester, but we’re not complaining, are we? No.

Rochester is strangely charismatic, though he is actually too passionate and manipulative for his own good. I used to LOVE HIM. Like, find him delicious and exciting. This time, the magic was gone. Every time the novel got gushy and sentimental, I just sighed huffily and prayed for death to take me.

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Of course, it all goes sideways (inevitably), and it’s all linked to the mystery in the attic. I won’t spoil it, but it involves tertiary syphilis (not mentioned by name). Don’t google it. It’s dis.gus.ting.

So, in Phase 3, Jane runs away and finds herself in a rural village a few hundred miles away, living with the Rivers sisters and their clergyman brother St. John. I didn’t know until I watched the 1997 adaptation that you pronounce his name “Sin-jin.” Anyways, St. John is all about crucifying the flesh for the eternal glory of God. He’s determined to become a missionary in India, and he even goes so far as to snub the beautiful Rosamund because she wouldn’t make a good missionary wife (his words). I mean, this pretty girl is in love with him, and he says no to sex. What a kill.joy.

He is, obviously, a coldly handsome man.

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I mean…

So, naturally, he sets his sights on Jane as a utility for God’s grand mission to India. He even makes her learn Hindustani. And he tries to passively-aggressively force her to marry him. Of course.

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I won’t give it away, but it’s thrilling to see Jane become an individual and stand up for herself as a person worthy of some agency and independence. That, for me is the greatest part of the novel–the story of a young woman who chooses herself above all else.

This read, I found myself intrigued by the binary masculinities Ms. Brontë presents in the figures of Rochester and St. John. They actually reminded me of the poem, “Fire and Ice,” by Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

I think the choice in men is interesting–Rochester is this passionate, sex fiend, while St. John probably doesn’t even believe that sex is for anything except producing more missionaries. Is one choice better or worse than the other? It’s an interesting idea, and I’m not sure what I’d pick, if I was forced to choose.

I also said that the choice of Rochester and St. John reminded me of the Big-or-Aidan fanships on Sex and the City. My husband was not impressed with this comparison.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #51: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Oh, you guys. CBR normally fills me with such joy, but my heart is heavy. I’ve been struggling through Invisible Man for weeks and finally finished reading it last Wednesday. And then, the Zimmerman verdict hit on Saturday. I can’t believe, almost 60 years after publication, that Invisible Man is still relevant today.

A brief recap: an unnamed narrator finds himself living underground, away from the world, an invisible man. He is black, in the 1940s or 50s. To explain to us how he got there, he reminisces on life experiences: his expulsion from college, his attempts to make a life out of jobs in Harlem, a factory accident that leaves him maltreated in a hospital, being taken in by an older black woman, and his immersion into a political organization (something akin to socialism or Marxism, I imagine) that sours with the death of a Brother (the title given to all members) and a riot that finds him fleeing from police officers.

There are many images, metaphors, or scenarios that reinforce the loss of identity and transition black Americans had to undergo in the twentieth century. First, there’s the loss of the narrator’s name (and, temporarily, his voice)–many characters will ask him what his name is, and Ellison cleverly escapes giving it, so that readers are left feeling somewhat eclipsed. I also found the factory to have a sort of ironic humor–the narrator helps make paint named Optic White, and to get the right texture/color, he has to drop black substances in it.

Overall, this has been one of the most important books I’ve read all year. It’s difficult to dive into the first 100 pages or so, but the end goes much more quickly than the beginning. It feels eerily timely to have read Invisible Man now. I regret all the things in American history that have transpired to make it so.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

Kash’s #CBR5 Review #17: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m making a sweeping generalization and assuming that everyone has read this, so I’m not including a synopsis.

Like many mainstream Americans, I rushed out to re-read the American classic to make sure I had a firm base with which to judge the film reboot. Only I’m going to be brutally honest here, I’m pretty sure I never read this book in high school like I was supposed to. As much as I love reading, especially now, I avoided assigned reading like Kirsten Dunst avoids a bra. So now I’ve finally read it, and I was underwhelmed.

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