Saturday, 26 October 2013

A Quick Review of 'Jude the Obscure' by Thomas Hardy

Jude the ObscureJude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This still comes in as a 5-star, even after the 4th reading. Hardy was not prone to writing cheery novels, and this is no exception, but it is a work that carries you along at a good pace. There is little of the description of Wessex that readers of Hardy would recognise from his other novels such as 'The Return of the Native', instead you walk through the fields of Jude's mind with its furrows, stones and seeds of a better life.

Jude's position in society is the stones that prevent the germination of the seeds of a better life. For a short while, though not as he would have envisaged in the beginning, Jude is happy with his love and his life. However, Hardy would not be Hardy if this continued. 'Jude the Obscure' is a vehicle for Hardy's views on marriage and divorce, and it is not just Jude and Sue who were at least 'fifty years ahead of their time'.

This is beautifully written and for all its doom and gloom, it is thought-provoking and enjoyable. The contemporary reviews of this work were initially so scathing that Hardy did not write another prose novel, focusing on poetry thereafter. Mrs Oliphant et al should have been placed in the stocks for their behaviour as this is arguably Hardy's greatest work and we may have been robbed of the chance of something even greater.

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Review of 'Something of Myself: Friends Known and Unknown' by Rudyard Kipling

Something Of Myself: For My Friends, Known And UnknownSomething Of Myself: For My Friends, Known And Unknown by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a shame that those who have little of interest to tell us release the third volume of their biographies by the age of 30, whilst others with a fascinating history leave it until the final countdown before starting their first volume. Such is the case with Kipling who did not leave enough time to complete his auto-biography before being called onto a greater place.

Where that greater place would be is difficult to say. From the first paragraph Kipling invokes Allah,and later states that as Islam was his first taste of religion he found it the sweeter taste. And so begins the slim volume, contradicting the racist colonialist impression that many post-colonialists force upon him and any of their readers.

Kipling was a product of his time, and a staunch colonialist but that does not mean that his works represent any race that is non-white, European as second class. Kipling had a genuine love for India, though his views of Hindus were negatively influenced by the Islamic outlook of his early life, and this is reflected in his works.

Kipling lightly touches on each of his works showing how his experiences shaped them, leaving some legwork for the reader. He met Hardy, Theodore Roosevelt, Cecil Rhodes and many other lumninaries of the time and the insight into their worlds is enlightening.

This is a witty, light-touch biography that is tantalising in its incompleteness.

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From the waiting room of Bologna station

All life passes through the waiting room of a station; it is always the same life.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Review of 'The Impressionist' by Hari Kunzru

The ImpressionistThe Impressionist by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fabulous work - a response to/reverse take on Kipling's 'Kim', this novel follows one young man's attempt to discover, or create, his own identity. From a high caste Indian home in Agra, via prostitution, public school and the hallowed grounds of Oxford University, to the unmapped lands of Africa, we follow Pran Nath's journey to find self. At times Kunzru is laugh out loud funny, reminiscent of Tom Sharpe at his best, but the humour is balanced with sober moments as the impact of British Imperialism is felt on all - black, white and all the shades in-between.

Like 'Kim' this novel highlights how racism exists not only within the imperialist mindset but also within the 'native' one. Neither wholly English or Indian, Pran falls into the gulf that lies between and struggles to find the identity that best suits him. But without doubt, it is the imperialist machine (and reactions both negative and positive that arise from it)that causes Pran to suffer.

This is a well-written novel, with pace changes that make one pause and think but, that all the time keeps you flowing nicely to the end. Pran sheds his skins so effectively that it is difficult to build an affinity to him, but throughout I felt sorry for the boy within, and could empathise with the decisions he made - even the most unsavoury.

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