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The 2009 Classics Challenge ended on October 31st.
2009 that is. Hence the title :\
And only today I got to write a short wrap-up post in which I have some good news, and some bad news to share…

Let’s start POSITIVE. I finished reading my 5 classics for the Entree Level of the challenge in time! I did tweak the list of my admittance post a bit (substituting titles), but that’s allowed. So below you’ll find the books that made it to the finish line.

The cover pics are links to the posts about the books here on Graasland. Well… that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. Because the BAD news is that I still haven’t reviewed all of them! Baaaaaad Gnoe. I hope to make it up by stating a short (ha!) opinion right here, followed by a quick recap of the other reviews. And you never know; once the fuses are blown (is that the correct phrase?), when the pressure is off — I might actually get to writing a full-scale evaluation of Brideshead Revisited and Revolutionary Road ;)

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
I saw the 1981 tv-series of Brideshead Revisited twice, so I couldn’t help seeing — and hearing! — Jeremy Irons in my head whenever Charles Ryder entered the story. (Likewise with the Sebastian Flyte character, although I didn’t know that the actor was called Anthony Andrews. It’s just Sebastian.) I loved the book and I got to understand the story better than I did before. Everything seemed to go SO much quicker than on the telly! I seemed to have forgotten big parts, like all that happened after Sebastian went abroad… But what I enjoyed most is that I understood why the novel is called Brideshead Revisited. I had never noticed it before and I think it’s grand. Maybe it was left out of the television series? Gosh, now I need to watch it a third time! ;)

After reading Brideshead Revisited with my online bookgroup, the Boekgrrls, some of the women came over to watch the 2008 adaptation on dvd. Of course we had a fun night, but I didn’t like the film at all. It was way too explicit about the homo-erotic motive that was so subtly hidden in the book. Maybe Waugh would have liked that if he had lived in our era. But for me it took the edge of the story. Also, I hated that ‘they’ had tried to find clones of the original actors — Matthew Goode even sounded like Jeremy Irons. Well, of course with a voice like Sir Irons (really, when is he going to be knighted?), such a thing is not really possible, but they obviously tried. Shame.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was a quick and entertaining read ad I’m glad to have read it. The story immediately grabbed me and I liked the atmosphere of doom, suggesting that ’something was going to happen’.
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road got under my skin, but in a different way than Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (see below). After I had picked it up I immediately got immersed in the story. But it’s quite depressing… The feeling of doom hardly left me during the day, even when I was not reading! It’s obvious from page 1 that something bad is going to happen. And still, the end came as a painful surprise.

The story revolves around image. “The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.” Frank and April Wheeler think they’re special, even though they live in the suburbs, like their peers, and Frank has a job in an advertising agency that is not much of a challenge. It is shockingly recognizable: don’t we all think we’re different? I kept seeing Jon Hamm = Don Draper in Mad Men, as Frank Wheeler btw. But that might have something to do with the cover picture ;)

Again, I watched the movie adaptation afterwards. Unlike Brideshead Revisited I really liked it — although I’m not sure if I’d have appreciated it as much if I hadn’t read the book.

I Am a Cat (vol.1), Natsume Soseki
After reading volume 1 of I Am a Cat I wasn’t sure yet what to think of it. I’m not much of a person for satire and I preferred the parts concentrating on the cat over sections digressing on humans. Reading the 2nd volume helped me form a clearer opinion — but only the 1st tome counts for the Classics Challenge ;) The fun thing was that while reading I Am a Cat I came across several parallelisms with graphics I read at the same time; Coraline and Mutts. That must mean typical cat tricks are pictured lifelike!
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath ended as my favourite read of 2009. I had been holding off this classic for a long time, not knowing what to expect, and even for about a 100 pages into the book I had my doubts. But after a while it really got under my skin — and I still can’t get it out of there. Heart rendering. A Must Read for anyone.

You know what? I believe reviews are not even required for the Classics challenge! Phew, three things to cross off my to-do list in one go. I am so relieved! I might even join the new Classics challenge in February/March… Or I may not ;) Let’s see what the future brings.

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I feel like I’ve been on a long (and sometimes arduous) expedition. I started reading The Mapmaker’s Wife on Quatorze Juillet, the French national holiday, and it took me more than f i v e weeks to finish those 350 pages of non-fiction by Robert Whitaker! I could have lost a lot of weight during this undertaking, but thankfully I didn’t (according to a fact on page 261):

Because women have a higher percentage of body fat, they tend to outlast men in starvation situations.

Isabel Godin GramesónThat information might come in handy ;) So, who is the mapmaker’s wife? Isabel Gramesón, a Peruvian girl who married Jean Godin (geographer in a 18th century scientific expedition at the equator), when she was thirteen years old. The title suggests the book is all about her — but it isn’t. For the most part it’s the story of the French-Spanish quest that meant to solve the Newtonian – Cartesian dispute about the shape of the earth: flattened at the poles or elongated, with a ‘waist’ at the equator. More details about this mission can be found in Monalisa(a)’s journal entry of the book — her enthusiasm made me participate in this Bookcrossing bookring (that is almost at the end of its journey).

Even though the main subject is not what you expect beforehand, The Mapmaker’s Wife is an interesting read. Scientists of the Enlightment still had lots to discover! Jean Godin and his group were the first foreigners allowed by the Spanish rulers to explore the New World in 1735. So their curiosity went way beyond their main objective: measuring a degree of latitude at the equator. Their expedition took 9 years — and even (much) longer for those members of the team that couldn’t return home immediately.

Cover The Mapmaker's WifeI sometimes felt that the author identified too much with the ‘scientific omnivores’ of that time. There were soooo many details holding up the story. In example: a long way into the history I really didn’t feel the need to hear extensively about Riobamba city. I wanted to learn more about the characters (some of whom I didn’t get to know very well at all). Let’s say that in his enthusiasm, Whitaker was very thorough ;)

This might also be the cause of why Isabel’s story only really starts somewhere in the second half of the book. And that is when it all gets very exciting. After having been separated from her husband for about 20 years, Isabel has to conquer the Amazon rain forest by herself to be able to join Jean in French Guyana and move to France with him. At times her journey left me in complete horror. And pretty astonished in the end! It is a moving tale, well worth reading.

Maybe I would have finished the book quicker had I read it in my native tongue (Dutch) — and maybe then I would have been less bored occasionally because of the scientific descriptions that I didn’t all ‘get’ but couldn’t find worth looking up? It did trigger associations with some favorite cinema though: Longitude, a tv-series about the 18th century quest to find the key to determining longitude, and one of my most cherished movies about a repenting slave trader in South America: The Mission. Attentive readers may notice that Jeremy Irons plays a main part in both ;) I will definitely watch The Mission again on a rainy day this autumn! I advise you to do the same :)

But for now: if you want to get a feeling of the adventures in The Mapmaker’s Wife, you can explore the book’s website where you’ll find reproductions of prints made by the expedition members, a copy of Jean Godin’s letter in which he takes 7000 words to describe his wife’s perils and, last but not least, a slide show of the author, Robert Whitaker, retracing Isabel’s steps in 2002.

Myself, I am going on another journey with a female traveler in the New World: next I will be reading Away, by Amy Bloom.

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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