Friday, 25 November 2011

Book #90 O, Pioneers! by Willa Cather

O, Pioneers!

O, Pioneers! was the first novel, published in 1913 of Willa Cather's Prairie Trilogy alongside My Antonia (1918) which is book number 35 in this challenge and Song Of The Lark (1915) which I have yet to read. Like My Antonia, O Pioneers! concerns the European immigrant communities of America's frontiers in this case a family from Sweden and like My Antonia charts their struggles working on the land and trying to live the American dream.

Though setting and theme are very similar to My Antonia, the overall stories though they bear comparison are ultimately different. Alexandra Bergson inherits the responsibility of her fathers farm following his death as he places more faith in her abilities than those of her brothers. Over the course of a relatively short novel we trace Alexandra's life from her teens to her forties with chapters often jumping large spaces of time.

Alexandra's relationship with childhood neighbour Carl bore some similarity to that of Antonia Shimerda and Jim Burden, but reminded me more of Corelli and Pelagia in Captain Corellis Mandolin. Although we get the resolution I expected in My Antonia in O Pioneers, i really felt more moved by Antonia and Jim than Alexandra and Carl.

The other main strand of the novel, the growth and relationships of Alexandra's brother Emil is the main thing which makes this story different from My Antonia. It shows how mistakes and frustrations of life as we know it, though they can be easily rectified in modern society, choices were permanent in those days, and to not adhere to choice was to bring shame.

Simplistically written, but none the lesser for that, O Pioneers is a sweet little book which is evocative of the era in which it is set. I would recommend My Antonia for it's tender nostalgic qualities, over this book though 7/10     

Friday, 11 November 2011

Poem #8 Dulce Et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen

We will remember them - Remembrance Day 2011

Dulce Et Decorum Est

 Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Poem #7 The Poison Tree by William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

An interesting poem about love, rivalry, friendship and deception all of which were themes in Erin Kelly's The Poison Tree

Book #89 The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

The Poison Tree

The Poison Tree, sharing its title with a a William Blake poem which I will also shortly post, is a novel which has finally broken what has been a lengthy reading hiatus for me. I have attempted unsuccessfully to read Frank Herbert's Dune in this period and have struggled, aiming to return and complete it before the end of the year.

The Poison Tree is a novel which has some shortcomings and flaws yet even with that is strangely addictive. Our protaganist is Karen Clarke, a girl from a humble background who goes to university and is settling in to what promises to be a very ordinary very boring very middle class future alongside similar girls when her life collides with that of Biba, a "Bohemian" carefree spirit in whose world she not only becomes entangled in, but willingly and deliberately becomes an essential part of, so in love is she with what she sees as an extraordinary world.

The story flashes between Karen in the present day, a single mother struggling to readjust to her partners return from prison, and in Karen in the past when she first met Biba and subsequently Biba's brother Rex. I felt like I'd read a tale of "enigmatic, slightly strange, brother/sister who enthrall people whilst living in a state of shambolic decadence" before, but I am still unable to pin down which novel it was in my head, suggestions welcome

I identified with the situation of meeting someone whom you so admire and want to emulate that you are blind to their faults and failings in not a sexual sense but in an inspired sense, almost as if you had been hypnotized by them, because part of you sees the person you would like to be in them. Like being in love, yet not quite. So, I understood Karen, yet to the reader as bystander Biba is an utterly obnoxious egotist, for whom people cease to exist when no longer physically present or no longer useful or interesting. I understood this too, and so ultimately does Karen. I liked this, I thought there was very strong characterisation throughout the novel I could clearly picture Biba and Karen both.

The problem with the book is that the writing isn't perfect, I've read so many much better written novels, it is only slightly above average in the actual quality of prose department yet the plot is very enjoyable, and there were parts I didn't see coming, although perhaps I should have. The final and the largest flaw really is the way in which the initial prologue of the phonecall in the middle of the night hangs together with the end, though it is what feels like a fitting outcome, it is unbelievably quickly done, too quickly, in a sense that makes you doubt the ultimate likelihood of it happening. It is satisfying though.

This, a book about intensity in friendship, loyalty, rivalry and deception would not automatically spring to mind if asked for a recommendation, yet with that, it has stayed with me in a sense, after I finished it. It is enjoyable and not at all heavy. It is easy to see why it was on so many summer reads lists. I wouldn't say, run and get this book or your life will be incomplete, but if you are humming and haa-ing in a bookshop, you could do much worse than pick this, and ultimately I don't think you'd be sorry  7.5/10