All-Time Favourite Classics #3

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Yay I’m on a roll with these posts! (or I might have just done them all in a batch and scheduled them… but whatever) For those of you who are new here (hi!) or missed my last few posts (where were you?! JK 😉 ) I’m currently sharing my lovey-dovey feelings about my favourite classics. I went into how I was doing this in (probably too much) detail in the first week, so I’m not going to bore you with it- suffice to say this is part three of four and each week has a vaguish theme. This week it’s EPIC! (I mean the theme, not the post- though if you think my posts are epic, have a prize banana, I salute you 😉 )  Well sort of epics, some of these are just bunched into this group because they address BIG IDEAS.

count of monte cristoThe Count of Monte Cristo– boy this book has scope! From the ship docking in the opening chapter to the ever expansive horizons the protagonist treads, the reader is taken on quite the journey. On the surface, it is a wonderful adventure story- however simmering under the surface is a classic tale of revenge- one which holds many lessons.


theogony and works and daysTheogony– if we are talking scope, no story has more than the Theogony. We are talking the literal origins of the universe, from a Greek perspective of course (it’s upto you whether you take that literally 😉 ) And my goodness, Hesiod might have been one of the world’s most adept misogynists, but dude sure can spin a story. No matter how often I read this, I’m always entertained by these myths. Oh and Works and Days is great too 🙂


aeneidAeneid– I own the most atrocious translation of this- and yet this still struck me as one of the most powerful stories ever told- which says everything. If the majesty of such a story could shine through a translation (so bad it made me laugh out loud) then you can imagine just how good it is. One thing I love about it is how it manages to splice the basic narrative structure of both the Iliad and the Odyssey together, combining the two into one incredible tale. It may be technically unfinished- nonetheless it is one of the most tightly woven stories I have ever read.


war and peaceWar and Peace– I honestly never expected to love this as much as I did. For years, I saw it as little more than a challenge- but when I finally read it WOW– it blew me away. I was instantly wrapped up in the characters, the philosophical discussions, and the beauty of the imagery that crossed the boundary a translation often erects. Of course, it took a lot of commitment, yet ever since I read it, I’ve been itching to give it a reread (it did completely kill the adaptation for me though, cos nothing could live upto that level of epicness).


grapes of wrathGrapes of Wrath– speaking of language, this book has some of finest writing I have ever seen. I don’t care what you think of Steinbeck’s philosophy, no one can argue that the writing here is anything less than profoundly stunning. There are few books that have blown me away as much on sheer imagery alone and this is one of them.


TheGreatGatsby_1925jacket.jpegThe Great Gatsby– and yet another beautifully written book. Here, my taste for lyrical, flowery prose shines through unashamedly again. As I’ve mentioned before, I love the Romantics and Fitzgerald drew heavily on their seductive style. Ergo, I adore this book. And if that wasn’t enough, I find the study of human nature in this book so compelling- especially because the characters are so ridiculously unlikeable. (Yes, I love to hate characters sometimes)


eastofedenEast of Eden– I actually love this for very different reasons to Grapes of Wrath. Yes, it has a lot of the same skill in terms of writing and yes, it likewise has a magnificent scope. However, what I love about this is the family drama and mirroring of the Kane and Abel story at the heart of the book. It is such a fascinating exploration of humanity, I cannot help but find this one of the most compelling family epics in existence.


the chosenThe Chosen– moving from a story about brotherly and fatherly love, to one about friendship. This story is a gorgeous modern day allegory about two friends who grow from being enemies on the baseball court to best friends. What I loved most about this was how it tackled Jewish philosophy and struck at the heart of the universal question of baseless hatred.


daniel derondaDaniel Deronda– I know that normally people are especially fond of Middlemarch by Eliot- and that’s cool, whatever floats your boat. Yet while I’ve read it twice and have been struck by the characters both times, the provincial life setting prevented me from fully forming an emotional connection. This book on the other hand… I do not expect everyone to be as in love with this as I am, yet I was fundamentally blown away not only about how it had mature philosophical debates and drew realistic Jewish characters (in a non-Holocaust book! without being anti-Semitic!), but also how it managed to show that people are not simply their group identity, they are textured and complex (I know *shocker*)


heart of darknessHeart of Darkness– this book is a puzzle- and yet I enjoy cracking it. Layer upon layer of meaning is coated onto this slightly bizarre, tightly woven book. I do not know that I will ever get to the bottom of it- all I know is that there is something which compels me to read and reread it.


fahrenheit-451Fahrenheit 451– well I had a burning desire to put this on the list 😉 (gosh- apologies for that appalling joke, I am thoroughly ashamed of myself 😉 ) Seriously though, this is one of the most illuminating, powerful books I’ve ever read. The imagery from beginning to end is burned into my brain. With a grand vision, this book illustrates the true horrors of collectivism.


1984 book1984– while I often envisage Fahrenheit 451 as depicting Nazism, 1984 strikes me as the cold knife of communism. Twice in my life I have read this book and twice I have put it down with no intention of picking it up again. Not because I dislike it, but because this book shakes me to my core. The imagery is terrifyingly realistic, the messages echo across time and the book paves the way for every dystopia that follows. There is nothing quite like it.

Previous Posts:

All-Time Favourite Classics #1

All-Time Favourite Classics #2

So have you read any of these? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments! This feature will be back again next week… for the last time! (well for now)

War and Peace Adaptation: What is it good for- absolutely nothing!

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Last year two exciting things happened: 1) the BBC made an adaptation of War and Peace and 2) I decided to finally bite the bullet and read the book so that I could watch it. HOWEVER when I finally got to the end of that mammoth, wonderful tome, I checked out the trailer annnnd no longer felt like watching the TV version. It just didn’t seem like it would do the book justice, so I decided to hold off from watching it until that stunning work by Tolstoy had faded from my memory (well, at least a little). Naturally, when I saw it pop up on my Netflix a year later I thought “why not…?” Well it transpires there were plenty of reasons “why not”- cos as you may have guessed from my title I wasn’t too impressed with this lacklustre mimicry of Tolstoy’s genius.

Let’s start with the most obvious issue: the disappointing characterisation. Now, in the book I simply adored Tolstoy’s complex cast- rooting for the characters, loving them, watching them grow was my favourite part of the story by far. It was so so important that they got this right… and yet for too many of them they were either miscast or mischaracterised- here’s just the ones I noticed:

war and peace characters

  • Pierre– oh gawd, you know it’s gonna be bad when the main character is completely misunderstood from the source material. This was the most glaring mistake by far. Instead of all the nuance of him being a decent person with his head in the clouds, here we get a bumbling fool, whose main attribute seems to be his glasses-wearing. I swear they spent more time making sure his costume didn’t fit right than directing this guy on how to act, because he has as much stage presence as a damp squid. Plus, instead of just having him fall for the first attractive girl in thrown in his path, they had to force the engagement so that he becomes spineless and daft, instead of a poor judge of character. Oh yes, I know he wasn’t good with the ladies in the book- but that doesn’t mean he was a total idiot or that they had to focus on him being an ugly duckling over everything else. Grrr so peeved about this. Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED
  • Sonya– nothing much to say other than it was straight up bad casting. Verdict: MISCAST
  • Vasily– for some reason they made him wayyy too much of a schemer. For instance, the scene where they tussle over the will is added in. Unfortunately this unnecessary addition didn’t add drama, just silliness. Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED
  • Vasily’s daughter and son– why did they have to have some incestuous relationship? Note to showrunners everywhere: not every show has to be Game of Thrones! Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED
  • Andrei’s father– so I actually like this actor, but the lines they gave him were too frothy and don’t fit the actor (or the character really). Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED and MISCAST

It’s not all bad though- I will freely admit that I found Boris, Boris’ mother and Nikolai all adequate. And I even had a *ding ding ding we have a winner* moment when I saw Andrei and Natasha Rostova on screen. STILL my satisfaction was short-lived, because they could not help but throw a massive spanner in the works when it came to Natasha. I don’t want to say exactly what it is, because it’s a massive spoiler, but for some reason they decided to slot in some overbearing foreshadowing in episode 1 for something that it takes 1000 pages for the character in the book to feel. So *slow clap* for destroying any promise of actual growth. We wouldn’t want that in a TV show, now would we?

And since I’ve gone the gripey route with this review, I may as well go in for a penny, in for a pound, because I wasn’t too crazy about the setting either. While I found the music spot on, somewhat liked the glossy representation of Russia in the panning out shots, and appreciated the costumes, it never really captured the atmosphere of the book for me and didn’t sit quite right. One part that was especially noticeable was that the only time they used French was when they said batard– sorry but how laughable!! I mean- imagine if the only time Tolstoy used French in the book was to swear! It wasn’t that I wanted them all speaking French at court- but if they did have to include that aspect, they could have had it in the background, or used subtitles (I am in no way advocating anything so pretentious as the way Hollow Crown’s Henry V chose to divert from the play for half an hour in French). Man- I know this is pedantic- but all these little details piled up to irritate me to death!

In the end, the whole thing felt like a slog and I won’t be continuing past episode 1. It’s a real shame, because I loved a couple of the casting choices and usually adore Andrew Davies adaptations. Ah well, maybe next time.

Rating (yes I know I don’t normally do this for TV adaptations but whatever): 2/5 bananas


(Edit: when I first published this post I managed to put 5 bananas at the bottom- which made zero sense considering the review- clearly I was hungry 😉 )

So have you seen this? Have you read the book? Did you like either of them? Let me know in the comments!

A Lot of War and Very Little Peace

war and peaceI meant to do this review immediately, but my mind was slightly numb after finishing it and as anyone that follows me on twitter might know- I was absolutely *shvitzing* yesterday! So on with the review…

For so long, I have treated this book as a massive challenge (I mean it is literally *massive*). So in all my calculations about how long it would take and how hard I would find it, I didn’t actually expect to enjoy it. I never considered what it might be beyond that. And my goodness- I couldn’t have been more shocked. Because I loved it. Yes- I realise it’s no ground-breaking statement to say I loved a major classic that so many people have loved before me. But in a way, it’s ground-breaking for me and my silly brain that was so distracted by the humongous size of the thing, that I never thought to consider what was inside (boy does that sound like a weird innuendo!)

Anyhoo- in true bizarro fashion, I’ve as yet failed to review this book- somehow going on a random tangent- which is admittedly appropriate when talking about a book that, in true epic fashion, is 90% tangent 10% plot. Yet- don’t let that put you off! I know, I know this is rich coming from me (who just wrote a whole post about the boring bits in Classics) but in this instance, I can say *categorically* that I wasn’t bored for even a second! Yes- a friend of mine did warn me about the “dull” historical parts- but personally, I found this fascinating instead of dry. Rather remarkably, I found this loose history of the Napoleonic wars, both informative and educational. I found that, as Tolstoy discussed historical theory at length, my mind actually switched on instead of turning off. I am therefore delighted to say that this book wasn’t even remotely dry- but was in fact invigorating and one of the most intellectually stimulating books I have ever read. It is in part a philosophical indictment of individualistic history and in part a criticism of individuals in history. My only complaint is that it made my brain feel a little fried from all the concentrating and thinking it had to do- which is not a bad thing!

In terms of plot and character, the world Tolstoy created with his intricate, beautifully constructed imagery (which thankfully survived the test of translation) that everything in it was so vivid and impossibly realistic. I mean it was so real, that Tolstoy himself rocked up within his own pages to validate the reality of his world (no word of a lie!) I know us bookworms like to say this a lot- but while I was wrapped up in this book, everything in it felt more real to me than my own life! I fell so quickly into a world that was totally alien to me; I forgot straight away that this was a world long forgotten. Because the remarkable thing about a book like this is that it stands the test of time. Impossibly, Tolstoy still speaks to the modern reader just as much as his contemporaries.

Beyond the characterisation and the surprising relatability of their relationships, it is the themes of War and Peace that make this book a timeless masterpiece. Because even with its historicity and context, it is still one of the most human and relevant and universal books I have ever read. The depictions of war and the garish contrast with so-called peaceful societies is a wakeup call of human cruelty. In fact, the ability to ignore the reality beyond the drawing rooms and dances of imperialist Russia highlights, more than anything, the ghastliness of warfare.

Which leaves me with this…


Rating: 5/5 bananas


Have you read it? And if you have- did you spot the Tolstoy cameo? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!