Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Lambs of London, by Peter Ackroyd

As previously stated, I’m a philistine who doesn’t understand the global appreciation for Shakespeare’s writings.  I do, however, appreciate the impact he had on western literary tradition, and the global literary zeitgeist.  When I picked up The Lambs of London, by Peter Ackroyd, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, other than something of a love letter to the Bard himself.  And I was right – Ackroyd is obviously a fan, as his appreciation for Shakespeare’s writing pervades every page of the book.

First, an overview of the plot.  The Lambs of London is a series of stories that overlap and intermingle.  There are, however, two main story lines.  The first centers on Mary and her brother, Charles Lamb.  The names might sound familiar to some of you – their claim to fame was a series of children’s tales, based on Shakespeare’s works that were published in the early 19th century.  When the story begins, however, Charles and Mary are living at home – Charles is working as a clerk for the East India Company and is gaining some notoriety for being published in the weeklies; Mary, however, is stagnating – as intelligent as Charles (maybe more so), she’s stuck at home helping to keep the house in an era where educating women was not common practice.  The second main story focuses on William Ireland – another name that may be familiar to those in the historical know.  Ireland is famous for having ‘discovered’ a cache of previously unknown documents authored by Shakespeare, including a new play.  William, Mary and Charles develop an odd set of relationships and rivalries amongst themselves which carries all the other sub-plots.

The book, overall, is interesting.  The reader is treated to a fictionalization of the early lives of the Lambs, and to the events surrounding the discovery made by Ireland.  The characters, however, are hit and miss.  William is interesting and dynamic – his personal drive, intelligence and interactions with his over-bearing father all make for an interesting read.  Charles is slightly less interesting – he’s a young man about town with no real sense of responsibility for those in his life, and Ackroyd almost skims over any character development concerning him until the last chapter.  As for Mary… well, Ackroyd gave her short shrift.  On paper, her story should be the most interesting and well developed by far, and yet Ackroyd alludes to character development without giving us any real sense of the whys and wherefores.  Her end is startling in that it’s abruptly presented and poorly explained.  

Where Ackroyd does excel, however, is in the history.  You can’t read through a history about London (and many about English society) during all periods without coming across Ackroyd’s name in a bibliography.  Ackroyd is a prolific author on English history, and is especially noted for London: A Biography and Albion.  Both are expertly researched and presented, and both are widely acclaimed.  Before seeing The Lambs of London, I was unaware that Ackroyd was also a fiction writer, but he’s apparently prolific in that arena as well.  While his plot and characters may leave something to be desired in this work, the backdrop he paints for them is stunningly rich with historic detail.

Final verdict?  If you’re interested in London, early 19th century British history, Shakespeare, and/or the Elizabethan age, then I would recommend this book.  Somehow, Ackroyd manages to meld all of them together in this fictionalization of various truths.  While I found Ackroyd’s tale interesting, it wasn’t a barn burner; and while he presents some new arguments in favour of Shakespeare’s genius, I still find the Bard to be overrated.  

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Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

I have no patience for drama.  Anytime someone tries to bring it into my life, I shut down emotionally and then I shut that person out.  I think it’s a waste of time and energy.  Want to compare me to your ex-girlfriend?  Not on my watch.  Want to complain for the millionth time about your boss?  If you’re not going to do anything about it, then I don’t want to hear it.  Wish you could loose weight, but just can’t get there?  Put down the potato chip, then we’ll talk.  I think people who are happier with something to complain about are a waste of space and time in my life, and I’d rather they not be there.  So, what does all this have to do with my latest read?  Well, as it turns out, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, is nothing but useless drama.

A ‘quick’ re-cap of the plot: The Earnshaw family takes in a young orphan, Heathcliff, when the children, Hindley and Catherine, are in their early teens.  Hindley takes against Heathcliff in a big bad way, but Heathcliff and Catherine become inseparable.  When Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley inherits, his treatment of Heathcliff gets even worse.  By a twist of fate, Catherine meets the son of one of the neighboring manors, Linton, and being unable to do what her heart really wants which is to marry Heathcliff (because of his lower station), she marries Linton.  Heathcliff, heartbroken, disappears for a few years.  The night that he leaves, Catherine is so upset she develops a serious ‘fever’ that will forever impact her health.  When Heathcliff returns, the fight between himself and Linton so upsets Catherine that she has a relapse which eventually kills her.  During all this main drama, Heathcliff marries Linton’s younger sister, who leaves him, and later has his son, and Catherine has a daughter by Linton, only to die shortly after she’s born.  Heathcliff spends the rest of the book pining after Catherine, plotting to have his son marry Catherine’s daughter, to reduce the Earnshaw and Linton heirs to a lower station that he was originally in, and to destroying the happiness of everyone around him.  Ugh.  So much useless drama.

I have no patience for any of these characters.  Catherine is a spoiled brat who doesn’t really have a heart, and is literally feld by a long drawn out temper tantrum.  Heathcliff is just a monster.  Linton is a weak man who lets his heart take a beating and comes back for more time and again.  Catherine’s daughter is just like her mother, but worse because there’s a certain naïveté that makes you roll your eyes non-stop.  Heathcliff’s son is little more than a toddler in a young man’s body because he was so coddled by his mother.  The saving grace of all the characters is Ellen Dean, the long-time family servant, but even she’s got moments that make you wonder what the hell she’s thinking.

The worst part, to me, of the whole book, has to be Catherine’s cause of death.  The night Heathcliff leaves, she waits up for him all night, part of it outside (and in the rain).  The next morning, she’s developed a fever.  This is a completely reasonable expectation.  What’s not reasonable is the local doctor diagnosing her with a nervous condition as a result, which means she should not be upset by anything for fear of causing a relapse.  Then, when Heathcliff returns and a fight ensues between her and her husband, she locks herself in her room for three days without taking any food and very little water.  This causes a massive relapse of the nervous condition and when she recovers from this fever, she’s little more than a blithering idiot.  When she gets a visit from Heathcliff and they finally confess their love for each other, she goes almost catatonic, goes into premature labour, and dies later that night.  Why authors of the era thought that woman had such weak constitutions, I’ll never understand.  And Brontë, a woman herself, should have known better… But, Catherine is one of those women that we all know – she loves drama, seeks it out, and it eventually did her in.  As a reader, I fully feel she deserved the end she came too.

For all these complaints, Wuthering Heights isn’t a bad read.  The plot moves along at a good pace, and as much as they are unlikable, the characters are still quite engaging.  There’s only a little of the religious moralizing that makes some of the ‘classics’ impossible for me to get through.  I know, I just went on and on with complaints, and in the end I’m saying it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read.  But, for all the hassle around my problems with the characters, that I can still admit that it’s a good read shows how good the author was at her craft.

So, final verdict?  Read it if this is your type of book.  Wuthering Heights is closer in tone to Jane Eyre (which makes sense, as it was written by Brontë’s sister) than Pride and Prejudice, but what it lacks in light-heartedness, it makes up for in an engaging plot line.  However, don’t bother to read it if you not a patient person.  Getting through all of Catherine and Heathcliff’s crap, then their children’s crap, can be exhausting.  If you’re at all like me and hate drama, the fact that you can’t reach into the pages and smack a few characters upside the head to knock some sense into them might not make for an enjoyable read.  But, regardless of all that, Wuthering Heights is a major part of the western literary tradition and zeitgeist, and is worth a read.  

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters

Right now, the big literary story is Fifty Shades of Grey.  I can’t say that I’m all that interested in reading the series for three main reasons: 1- I heard it started off as Twilight fan fiction.  Shudder.  No thanks.  2- I heard it’s just poorly written.  And 3- if I want to read steamy books, I stick with my historical romance, thank you very much.  But, regardless of all that, I have a pretty good idea of what the series is about and what the big draw is.  So, while reading my last book, Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters, I think I was fair in characterizing it as Fifty Shades, but for lesbians in late 19th century London.  

I’ve read most of Waters’ books now, and I really enjoy her as an author.  When I picked up Tipping the Velvet, all I knew of it was that it was about an actress in 19th century London.  In fact, the story is about Nancy, the daughter of an oyster house keep who, as a teenager, enjoys seeing variety shows at the local theater.  One night, Nancy sees an act that will change her life – Kitty is a singer, but she dresses and acts as a young boy on stage.  Nancy quickly becomes enamored with the glamour of Kitty and visits the theater nightly.  She and Kitty become friends, and when Kitty is offered a chance to perform in London, she takes Nancy with her as her dresser.  While in town, Kitty and Nancy begin a love affair that doesn’t end well.  From there, Nancy finds herself lost, both metaphorically and physically in London.  Resorting to various forms of prostitution, Nancy quickly finds herself a kept mistress to a wealthy woman.  In the end, Nancy falls in with a crowd of activist/socialists and begins yet a third new life.

There are a lot of interesting quirks to this book.  The first is the repeated use of the terms ‘gay’ and ‘queer.’  It’s a cheeky inclusion in the book that Waters’ clearly enjoys.  In the modern lexicon, both terms have a homosexual connotation.  However, in the lexicon of the 19th century, the first means to be happy and the latter means to be odd in some way.  Waters never uses them in the 21st century connotation, but uses them frequently enough to remind you that this is a Sapphic tale.

Though Nancy is clearly a lesbian, there is no generally accepted space for this lifestyle in the era of the story.  It is heartbreaking to see Nancy trying to find happiness with the various women in her life, all of whom have a different perspective on their own sexuality.  Some are clearly uncomfortable being ‘different’ for the rest of society, others openly embrace it, but Nancy is the only one in the tale to be living her life regardless of anyone else’s impressions of the gay lifestyle.  

There are several passages where Nancy’s sexuality displays fluidity.  I’m of the opinion that you live your life to make yourself happy (regardless of your sexual orientation), but Nancy engages in a form of heterosexual sexual activity that is clearly intended to be hurtful to various people.  Waters never consciously taps into the idea that women who are heartbroken will often engage in detrimental sexual activities to bolster their self-esteem; this is clearly what Nancy is doing, but she never acknowledges that fact to herself and the consequences that always seem to follow such actions is never clearly addressed by the author.  

All in all, this was not the book I was expecting to find when I started reading it.  It is, however, an interesting (if not graphic in some passages) tale of a relatable and engaging character.  Though straight myself, I fully appreciate the ‘queer’ slant on history (and no, that’s not a slam – there’s branch of history that calls itself ‘queer history’).  For those with an open mind, I highly recommend this books – it’s well written, the characters are engaging, and the plot never lags.  For those that have no appreciation for the variety of flavours that make up humanity, I recommend you skip this book.  I, however, will be going back to Sarah Waters for more of her books in the future.  

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Puckoon, by Spike Milligan

…..  I just…. I don’t know where to start with this one….

Okay, a few years ago, as a gift, my aunt gave me Puckoon, by Spike Milligan to read.  At the time, I read few a few chapters then threw in the towel.  I didn’t find it very readable for a variety of reasons.  Puckoon is the perfect example of needing to be in the right place and the right time in your life to enjoy a work.  After reading Room, I really needed a light-hearted comedy to read and remembered about the quirky Milligan book; I rooted around on my shelves for it, and pulled it out in hopes of having it make me smile.  Boy, did it work!

Puckoon tells the story of a small town in Ireland during the division between the Protestant and Catholics.  Puckoon (unfortunately) falls right on the line of division.  Consequently, the boarder runs right through the Catholic Church’s grave yard.

Milligan’s story is packed full of the eccentric characters that live in Puckoon.  We are introduced to the local priest, the shifter, the barkeep and the doctor, along with a variety of others in the town.  We also get to observe the negotiation ceremony that decided on where to run the boundary line; the customs officials who are stationed in the village; and the IRA’s efforts to undermine the Protestant forces.

Milligan’s characters are hilarious.  They are charming and engaging.  They are a laugh riot.  Milligan was able to capture the voice of everyone he created, in a multitude of ways – he’s a master a writing accents (and there are a few!), as well as creating unique entities to tell his tale.

One of the oddest components of this book is the way that Milligan breaks down the fourth wall.  The narrator/author’s voice interacts directly with one of the characters.  The main character has a problem with how the narrator describes his legs and his wife, and calls him on it; to make up for it, the narrator promises to get him out of the story alive at the end.  I have never read a book where the omniscient voice of the narrator interacts with one of the characters.  It’s an interesting device, and well played by Milligan.

Well, I’m not sure this review does justice to Puckoon.  It’s a hard book to wrap your head around for a variety of reasons, but all the same, it is a hilarious read with lots to recommend it.  However, if you’re not a naturally light-hearted person, this book may not appeal to you.  I do recommend that you check it out – you never know, you might be in the right place and time in your life to fully appreciate it!  

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Note to self: do not start a horribly depressing book right before going to bed.  That was the lesson I learnt the hard way last night when I picked up Room, by Emma Donoghue.  Room is one of those books that have been kicking around on the featured tables at Chapters for more than a year, but it wasn’t until it was released in pocket paper-back that I took an interest.  While I might not have been able to drop off to sleep last night because of it, it is an incredible poignant and interesting read.

Sadly enough, the plot of Room is one that is familiar to anyone with access to the 24 hour new cycle.  Room tells the story of Jack and his Ma.  When the story picks up, Jack has just turned five and is happy to celebrate his big day.  Very quickly, it becomes apparent that there’s little to celebrate.  In fact, the room in which Jack and his mother live is only 11 feet by 11 feet.  Jack has never been outside.  Jack’s mother hasn’t been outside since she was kidnapped and locked in it.  Jack’s father (and captor) still visits regularly and is still assaulting Jack’s mother.  While Jack doesn’t understand quite what makes the bed creak on nights Old Nick is visiting, he does understand the bruises on his Ma’s neck.  

There are lots of things Jack doesn’t understand, like how the TV shows things that are real.  To him, the Outside is a concept that has never been fully explained.  His only friends are the cartoon characters he watches on TV (though he only sees about an hour of television a day).  The fact that a five year old can read, write and do math isn’t odd to him – all he and Ma can do all day is read from the ten books Old Nick has brought them, do calisthenics, and play games with the odds and ends you can collect while living in a box.  None of this seems odd to him – it’s the only life he’s ever known.  His mother, however, is an intelligent woman who’s been held captive for eight years, and she’s had enough. 

What’s so heart breaking about this story is that, while it is told from the point of view of Jack, the adult that’s reading it knows more about what is going on around him than he does.  To him, Old Nick is just the man that comes after 9pm, so he has to be hiding in the wardrobe by then; to the reader, he’s the sexual sadist who stalked a woman, imprisoned her in a small room, and raped her regularly.  To Jack, having breakfast between 7 and 8, lunch between 12 and 1, and dinner between 5 and 6 is just his routine; to the reader, it’s clear that these are delineations that have been imposed on the day by his mother to keep herself sane.  To Jack, having five picture books is an inconvenience, but they’re his friends so he loves them; to the reader, it’s clearly an additional level of torture imposed by Old Nick on the young college student he abducted and the son she’s encouraged to be clever.  None of this sits well on the heart, and all of it sits like a load-stone in the gut as you read it.  And all of it is (sadly) believable.   

Donoghue has crafted a remarkably intricate world.  My one complaint is in the character of Jack.  I don’t think adults can effectively write the voice of a child, let alone such a small child.  True, I don’t have kids of my own, and I haven’t spent a lot of time with them, but it seems to me that Donoghue has attributed a lot of grown-up qualities to a five year old boy with an 11 by 11 world view.  While many of the characteristics Jack does display are very young, every so often Donoghue strays into what looks to me to be the behaviours of an eight to ten year old, if not older.  It’s splitting hairs, I know, but I’ve yet to find an author that can provide a child’s voice effectively.

Final verdict?  Read Room if you don’t have children.  I think if you had kids, you’re asking for trouble in reading it.  For me, it broke my heart and kept me awake and nauseous last nigh – I can only imaging what this would do to the composure of a mother.  Donoghue is to be applauded for crafting such a believable and poignant read, but I think the world could probably do with fewer examples of these cases, even if this is only a fictionalized story.  

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Zombie Island, by Lori Handeland

Following War and Peace, there was nothing I wanted more than to dive into a less complicated, faster paced, and more light-hearted read.  I did this by following up on the sequel to Shakespeare UndeadZombie Island, by Lori Handeland.  Of course, I couldn’t read the sequel without reading the fist book also, so I immersed myself in Handeland’s tale of the Bard and his long, un-dead career.

 Zombie Island picks up almost exactly where Shakespeare Undead ends off.  In order to get away from her husband, Kate and Will agree to fake Kate’s death using a potion that will make it look like she’s dead, when in fact she’s only asleep.  Kate’s husband will bury her in the family plot, and Will will be there when she wakes up after the potion wears off in 42 hours.  In Kate’s words, “What could possibly go wrong?”  Sound familiar?  That’s one of the charms of Handeland’s work – she uses Shakespeare’s plays as inspirations to advance her own plots.  But of course, it’s Handeland’s plot that provides the inspiration to Will.  

Of course, with famous last words like ‘what could possibly go wrong,’ everything does.  Through a bit of trickery, Will and Kate (again, I love the name choice) end up stranded on an island following a tempest (of course) which is infested with zombies (again, of course).  The zombies are there at the summoning of a wizard, who claims to have been robbed of a throne, and were collected with the help of a sprite.  The wizard, who is kind of a douche, manipulates the sprite and Will into doing is bidding which, in the end, is the creation of a monstrous zombie army that he can use to reclaim his throne.  

Now, this is going to sound ludicrous, but bear with me: I didn’t like ZI nearly as much as SU because it wasn’t believable.  I know, I know – how can I accept that the Bard is a vampire and the love of his un-life is a zombie hunter, but I have problems with wizards and sprites?  I don’t know, okay, but I do.  Handeland takes the story from the familiar streets of London, with all the laws of Elizabethan society and culture, and focuses her tale on a remote and magical island with creatures that are equally magical and remote from the reality that was London.  It’s a hard dichotomy to explain, but the fact it, I don’t buy the extra trimmings that Handeland is selling in this one.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to read her next book when (if?) she releases it.  Handeland has a great devise at the end of both books – they end as if they could be stand alones without another book to follow (ZI less so, but there is some resolution).  I do have a feeling though that she will continue on with these characters and the larger plot that ZI introduces.

So, final verdict?  I would definitely recommend you read these books.  Handeland has a wonderful sense of history and humour, and has created wonderfully engaging characters.  Considering her main character is someone we all know at least a little bit about, her ability to craft a relatable and new persona to go with the name is commendable.  Handeland is definitely an author whose works I’m going to be on the look out for in the future.  

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War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Okay, wow.  It’s been a while since I posted anything to this blog.  I have two good reasons for that.  1- Olympics.  I’m all about the zeitgeist, so of course I’m going to watch and couch-surf my way through an international event like the Olympics.  Being Canadian, I’m more disposed to enjoying winter sports, but I can always find something to engage my interest during the winter Olympics, too.  2- My latest read: War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.  Yikes.  My version runs at 1,358 pages (and the font is teeny-tiny) so it took a while.  But, now I’m done, and can finally blog about some of the observations that have been swirling around my head during my reading for the last two weeks.

First off, plot: War and Peace is quintessential Tolstoy in that there are numerous plots which all swirl around each other.  The biggest piece is the story of the Franco-Russian War, ending with Napoleon’s (failed) attempt to subdue Russia by marching into Moscow.  Don’t get me wrong, Napoleon made it to the Holy Mother Moscow, but what he found there ended his reign in Europe: he found nothing.  The Muscovites had fled, many of the administrators and court to the cultural capital of St. Petersburg, thereby leaving Napoleon nothing by an empty city to ‘capture.’  He did, but many historians point to this ‘victory’ as the beginning of the end for his Empire.  The other plots, the fictional ones, revolve around a series of families – predominately the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, as well as Pierre Bezukhov.  The plots are further divided between the men and the woman, as well as peace and war times.  In essence, what we get are the tales of various lives, how they intermingle with each other, and how the interact with the history happening around them.  

I was worried when I started reading this book that I would be hopelessly lost; I had read Anna Karenina in Grade 10, and what I remember about it is the shear number of people you have to keep track of.  If anything, War and Peace is worse – more people, more foreign names, and a wider playing field.  But, knowing that this was the case (I once heard War and Peace has over 200 characters), I was super careful about focusing on each new person that was introduced, the setting, and their connections to the others around them.  If you’re going to read War and Peace, I highly recommend you take the same care – it’ll save you confusion later on.

For the quantity of characters, Tolstoy never skimps on the quality.  The author must have been a venerable people watcher.  His characters range from the poorest of Russian serfs (remember, serfdom was still alive and kicking in Russia during the first half of the 19th century) to the wealthiest princes of the realm; Tolstoy writes sincerely and earnestly about the feelings of a 15 year old girl falling in love, and the Emperor’s emotions at learning about defeats in the battlefield; he speaks eloquently to the failings of man, and to his triumphs as well.  It all makes for an engaging and interesting read, at every turn.

There is no doubt that with a title like War and Peace the reader is in for a bunch of contrasts and dichotomies.  The plot lines follow the lives of the families and people mentioned above during peacetime (when they fall in love, loose family fortunes on the turn of a card, do the social rounds), and during the war.  Tolstoy does an amazing job to taking his readers and placing them in the thick of battles like Austerlitz and Borodino.  It’s clear he researched troop movements, orders, and dispositions until he was blue in the face.  Normally, I don’t enjoy this type of story-telling, but Tolstoy weaves the stories of his characters in amongst the musket and canon fire to make it relevant and engaging.  When fortunes can be made depending on whose adjunct you are, or lives lost that will have such far reaching impact, the device of using real-life battles to tell the stories of such interesting characters is expertly used.

For all his focus on the history of the events surrounding the Franco-Russian War, it’s pretty damned clear that Tolstoy hated historians.  On multiple occasions, he goes off on ranting passages about the damage that historians do to the human narrative; we all know that history is written by the victors, but Tolstoy resents this one-sidedness of the tale and the omissions that it results in.  On the whole, it’s quite a hypocritical position for him to have taken.  For god’s sake, the man is telling a fictionalized account of a huge moment in European history, which many historians will cite to be a Russian victory (though I’ve always been of the impression that it was more of a French loss, which just happened to have occurred in Russia).  Tolstoy not only takes on historians, but he takes on various branches of history, including cultural history (which is my specialty).  He runs historians of this branch (in fact most branches) through the muck as blind fools telling only what they want the world to know based on their own closed-minded world view.  That’s a pretty high horse to be on for a Russian, considering it would be less than a century before the Marxist historians come along to shift the profession, and dominate the world-view for multiple decades.  I do wonder, however, what Tolstoy would think of the current professional field – he frequently rails against the “Great Man” method of history in War and Peace (that it, only telling the story from the higher-ups in society).  This hasn’t been history’s modus operendi for quite some time – thanks to the Marxists (hey they did something good!) and the subalternists, most historians now consider this whiggish interpretation of history to be passé and it’s generally no longer done (or, if it is, it’s styled a biography).  

If you really want to know what Tolstoy thinks of history, I highly recommend you read part 2 of War and Peace’s epilogue.  That’s right, I just wrote ‘part 2.’  With 1,320 some odd pages, the man just couldn’t leave well enough alone and obviously felt he had to keep going.  Part 1 allows the reader to catch up with Rostovs/Bolkonsky/Bezukhovs seven years following Moscow’s capture, and it’s great to see how peace-time has affected all the characters.  Part 2, however, is a 30 page diatribe about historians, man kind, and human perspective that I could have done without.  The problem was, after two weeks and 1,300 plus pages, there was no way I was going to walk away to the book so close to the end.  So, I stuck it out.  I read it, I absorbed about half of it, and I warn you all to not bother – it has nothing to do with the rest of the book (other than using Napoleon and Alexander as examples), and you’d be better of saving yourself the long-winded Russian rants.

One last word from me on War and Peace, and that’s about the translation.  My copy is Penguin’s new translation by Anthony Briggs, and I found it to be quite good.  The quality of a translation is only as good as the quality of the original writing, but Briggs seemed to have stepped up to the challenge, and delivered.  He did make some odd choices, like having the lower-class characters sound like cockney chimney sweeps, but I can understand the need to find a universally understood accent to represent another class from the high-brow counts and princes.

Well, this was a long post, but to be fair, I’m posting about a monster of a book.  My final recommendation is that you read War and Peace if you have the patience and interest in History.  This is one of those books that has become a by-ward for long-winded Russian literature, but I think that’s a bad reputation.  It is long?  God good, yes.  But the plot rarely lags, and Tolstoy’s ability to paint believable (though not always likeable) characters off-sets this.  If, however, you’re a person who needs immediate gratification and has no understanding or interest in the history depicted, I recommend you take a pass (even an abridged version might not be interesting enough).  Regardless, I found it to be a great read.

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