North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Margaret Hale returns to her childhood home ‘Hellstone’ when her cousin Edith gets married. Her father is vicar there but this weights heavy on his conscience and he decides to give up his position. The family moves to a town called Millstone in the north of the country. Millstone is an industrial village where there’s a lot of poverty. Margaret also meets the wealthy Mr Thornton, one of her father’s new pupils who she takes an immediate dislike to.

North and South is my first Elizabeth Gaskell and can be summarised as a socialist version of Jane Austen’s works. It is a slow-paced love story with some political criticism and plenty of melodrama. Which is the general summary of a typical Victorian novel.

The story is well put together, although a little predictable. I had trouble with the pacing. It is so slow, only to end suddenly. There are also some characters (The Higginsen in particular) who speak dialect which didn’t help the readability. There’s another love interest involved, but we don’t really get to know him. So you can only root for Mr Thornton, even when I didn’t really like him.

I don’t have much else to say about the book. It’s certainly not a bad classic, but you have to take your time for it. And I don’t need to read it again at the moment.

This is book 16/50 of the classics club, which I’m going to put off for a while as I don’t enjoy these classics as much as I’d hoped. I’m still constructing my own house at the moment and I feel better reading ‘lighter’ books written in modern times.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Elizabeth Gaskell before?


Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Protestant Lucy Snowe leaves her traumatic childhood in England behind and takes on a job as a nanny in the French town of Villette. Soon, she gets promoted and becomes an English teacher in the boarding school where she lives. This way, Lucy gets involved in the love affair of Ginevra, one of the pupils, and Dr John. And that doctor turns out to be a childhood friend of Lucy.

Wow, this is such a different book from Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë can certainly craft a good novel but this story proved difficult for me. It’s rather uneven in pace and seems to go nowhere at times. Lucy Snowe is a complex main character who doesn’t think very highly of herself and even struggles with a depression at times. So it’s an intense story that doesn’t exactly make you happy.

When she’s working as an English teacher in France, Lucy meets two completely different men and gets involved with both of them, while always keeping her distance to not get too closely attached. I found the story around Dr John interesting to follow. But the character of Mr Paul Emmanuel is one I just couldn’t fathom. I did liken’t reading about him and didn’t understand Lucy’s behaviour towards him at all.

Apart from the personal indulgences of the different characters, the clash between the two religions (protestant and catholic) and countries (England and France) is also a strong theme. Lucy remains a Protestant foreigner and has to fight against prejudices.

Apparently, this book is very autobiographical to Charlotte’s life and I can understand why it has its value and charm. But I’m really glad I finished this one and I’m sure I won’t read it again. I found it lacking of a story that really gripped me.

This is book 14/50 the classics club.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What’s your favourite Charlotte Brontë novel?

CC Spin #29: My result

Don’t know what a classics club spin is? The idea is to list twenty books for your classics club challenge. Last Sunday a random number was chosen and I should read (and review, but my reviews are always a few weeks late :p) the corresponding book before Sunday 30th April.

Here you can find my list for this spin edition. And the lucky number this time was 11!

My result is thus Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is certainly a result that I’m happy with as it isn’t the longest book on my list and I’ve enjoyed ‘The great Gatsby’ of the same author a few years ago. I’ve already started this classic as I was looking for a new Kindle book to start on the train. I must admit that after 50 pages I’m not quite sure if I like it or not, but I always need a bit of time to adjust to the setting and the writing, especially with classics.

Have you read this one? Are you happy with your result?

CC Spin #29: my list

Woohoo, time for another Classics Club spin! The rules are simple: list 20 books from your CC list you still need to read in a random order. At the end of this week, a number is chosen and you have to read the book that corresponds to that number on your list.

The last edition was in November 2021 and made me finish Marquez’ ‘Love in time of cholera‘. The result of the 29th edition is announced on Sunday 20th March and you’ve got time to read and review your spin book until Sunday 30th April.

  1. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  2. The handmaid’s tale by Margaret Atwood
  3. The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  4. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  5. The Borgias by Alexandre Dumas
  6. To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee
  7. Great expectations by Charles Dickens
  8. The idiot by Fyodor Dostoeysky
  9. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  10. Utopia by Thomas More
  11. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  12. The remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  13. Richard III by William Shakespeare
  14. And then there were none by Agatha Christie
  15. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  16. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  17. North and south by Elizabeth Gaskell
  18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  19. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  20. The bell jar by Sylvia Plath

Do you participate in this spin edition? Which one do you hope I get?

The trial by Franz Kafka

Josef K is arrested when he walks out of his bedroom with the message that his trial is being prepared. He doesn’t know what he’s charged with and nobody seems to be able to help him out with that.

Pfioew. Kafka is hard. 😅 I admit: I read this book quickly (it’s not that big), because otherwise I would get too depressed. The trial is one of Kafka’s unfinished books with a strong beginning and gripping end. And then something in between. I didn’t really have the courage anymore to also read the fragments that Kafka hadn’t yet given a place within the story.

The story is chaotic and at times claustrophobic. Josef K lives in a kind of totalitarian regime and ends up in a bureaucratic incomprehensible legal system. With corridors and secret attic rooms full of offices. This is the layer I understood, no doubt there is much more symbolism in it, but there is also so much uninteresting dialogue in the book that I didn’t want to dwell on it too long.

The women in the book are only out for sex and often not very intelligent. I have since learned that Kafka wrote this after a break-up and we must of course place it in its time, but I find the perspective on the women somewhat problematic.

I can now use the word Kafkaesque in conversations and that in itself is an achievement :).

This is book 13/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Have you read Kafka?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj

Anna Karenin is stuck in a loveless marriage with the much older Alexei. When she meets Count Vronsky (also named Alexei) at a ball, she falls head over heels in love with him. And he with her. This is unfortunate for Princess Kitty, as she had just refused a proposal from landowner Levin because she had a crush on Vronsky. Anna’s affair will become a much debated subject in Russian society for some time to come.

Anna Karenina is one of those thick scary classics that I wrapped around myself like a blanket. An ideal winter read in my opinion. But sometimes it got very warm under that blanket. Let me explain just that. Although this is about a tragic love affair of a proud woman yearning for love, a large part of the story is told from Levin’s point of view.

Levin is pretty much the alter ego of Tolstoy himself. A wealthy, introverted landowner who has rather conservative views and doubts his belief in God. Levin has a passion for agriculture and so the book regularly makes excursions into several chapters of Levin working the land together with his serfs. Or he goes hunting with his friends. And then you also have the large political and philosophical discussions between (male) characters that are so typical of classic literature.

Levin is certainly a sympathetic main character, but he took the pace out of the story for me. I was always waiting to get back to Anna, Vronsky or Anna’s husband. Or to Stipa (Anna’s brother) and Dolly (Kitty’s sister, if you still follow me), who were my favourite couple.

Anna is a complicated woman and I liked that. I’m not sure if I pitied her or if I disliked her. That’s the charm of this book. The characters are real, egocentric at times and even a bit superficial. But it just works.

Tolstoy’s writing style is pleasant. Especially the many short chapters make it manageable and give a sense of progression. I have the feeling that the story doesn’t draw heavily on the historical setting. We get a picture of 19th century Russian and especially the contrast between the elite and the peasants. But I had expected that this would be more a ‘historical’ novel. It’s very character-driven and this surprised me.

I’m less scared now to start War and Peace some day.

This is book 12/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this famous classic?

My first year of the classics club

A year ago I had the ambitious – or insane, that depends on your perspective – idea of joining the notorious classics club. The classics club is a book challenge where the goal is to create a list of 50 classics novels and read them in the coming 5 years. And then you win totally nothing :); but you can boast to your friends that you’ve read 50 classics in 5 years and they will mock you.

But how I do I look back on my first year of participating? And am I still on track? Which means I should have read a fifth of the list by now. By the way: you can find the whole list here.

Well, the good news is that I have already read 11/50 classics and am in the middle of my 12th which I hope to finished around New Year. So I’m on track.

As you can see, I’m more or less aiming at a monthly frequency of reading a classic. For me, that’s a way to structure this project. I also did participate at all the spin editions, which helped me choose my next novel.

I did notice that I hadn’t read a real bumpy classic yet this year, so that’s why I decided to start my first Tolstoj, which are lengthy novels. I’m also aware that it’s easier to read classics for me during the Winter (especially December – January), so I’m just going with the flow at the moment.

Before starting, I thought that reading classics would have an impact on my reading pace. Literature tends to read slower and takes more time, but this wasn’t really the case. I’ve never read more books than in 2021.

I must admit that there were times when asked myself why I started this challenge in the first place. There were some disappointing reads which made me scan the books and look forward to finishing it. I had expected to love these books as they survived for so long and pop up at everyone’s favorites’ list. But I sometimes just didn’t get it, or I could only admit that it was well-written prose but that I just didn’t liked the plot.

But the good news is that there were 4 books that I did enjoy enough and that I can recommend if you want to read a classic during the holidays. These were my favourites of 2021:

Jamaica Inn by Du Maurier is just a great gothic novel. I know by now that I mostly enjoy gothic or Victorian classics, so this one was right up in my alley.

Alexandre Dumas is another author whereof I knew I like his writing and storytelling. The man in the iron mask is full of humor and adventure. Maybe not so good as ‘The three musketeers’ (because it lacked Milady, one of my all-time favourite characters), but still good.

The tenant of Wildfell Hall was my first Anne Brönte. It’s a very readable classic that incorporates modern themes. I’m eager to read ‘Agnes Grey’ now.

And then The color purple! The most recent book on my whole list. This is a great book about the struggle of black American woman in the previous century. It has an unique writing style and I understand now why they say that every woman or girl should read this. I would certainly recommend it to my daughter or sister. If I had one of the two.

I don’t know what 2022 will bring, but it will bring some more classics for me. I’ll not give up on this project yet and I hope I can give you a higher number of recommendations in a year from now.

How many classics have you read in 2021?

Love in time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

As a teenager, Florentino Ariza falls head over heels in love with the noble Fermina Daza. They send each other secret letters and promise eternal loyalty. Until Fermina returns from a trip and rejects him without giving a good reason. She decides to marry the rich doctor Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino is desperate, but continues to love Fermina during his life, waiting for her husband to die so that he can take another chance at her.

Let me start by admitting that ‘Love in time of cholera‘ has good and bad points. Marquez’s writing is poetic and incredibly atmospheric. Beautiful sentences flow from his pen. They do not always improve the reading pace, but they are not such a hindrance as with other literary classics. Columbia in all its scents and colours really comes to life. At the same time, there is a lot of melancholy in this book. I did not find any magical realism, for which the author is also known. That seems to be more prominent in his other works.

This is an extremely romantic story. The last 40 pages are amazing. Florentino would really do anything for his Fermina. But…

Florentino falls in love at a very young age with Fermina, who then chooses someone else. Florentino now wants to remain faithful to her by not taking another woman as his wife. Decades later, at her husband’s funeral, he stands at her door to declare her eternal love. Yes, romantic, isn’t it?

Only, in the 50 years in between, our Florentino will lie with literally every woman he meets. His heart is obviously already sold to Fermina, so he doesn’t care about those women at all. Some of his mistresses choose this kind of liaison consciously. But there are also problematic cases. For instance, one woman has her throat cut by her husband after her infidelity is discovered. Another dark-skinned woman confesses that she has been raped so many times that she has started to believe sex is her destiny. And at one point, Florentino becomes the guardian of a 14-year-old girl for whom he holds affection as a grandfather would, apart from also initiating her into sex way too early. And spoiler: that girl will commit suicide before her 20s when Florentino suddenly drops her. Romantic, huh?

So I think Florentino is anything but a nice guy and I am actually very happy for Fermina that she chose someone else. This story is more about obsession than romance I’m afraid. I get the hype for the language and the romantic ending. But for the 21st century, the portrayal of the women in this story is too problematic to be completely overwhelmed.

I might pick up his epos ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ one day, but I’m not sure about it yet 🤔.

This is book 10/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Marquez?

The catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield has just been kicked from school, again. He decides to already leave his school and takes the cab to New York. In the next three days, he will be wandering through the streets, meeting old friends, a tutor and his sister Phoebe. We learn that Holden has lost a younger brother Allie and that he’s struggling to find his place in the world.

This is the kind of classic that I didn’t know what to expect from. I didn’t understand the title at all, now of course I do. The story is about a seventeen year old teenage boy who experiences a difficult period in life and is forced to leave his school again. He knows his parents will be disappointed and already leaves for New York but without going home.

The language in this story is repetitive and filthy. Holden is an unsympathetic main character. The story also felt very American. And being told through the eyes of a teenage boy, it was not easy for me to empathize. But still, his thoughts, fears and pains felt real in some way. And I can understand that youngsters will identify with Holden’s story.

I can also understand the negative reviews of this book. It’s no literature. The language is a blur at times But I also think there are a lot of symbols in this book. So I’m a bit in between opinions. I am sure that it appeals to a certain generation, but I don’t feel a part of it. I also don’t know what to think about a certain scene where an old tutor from Holden makes a strange move during the night..

For me, it was nice to discover a more readable classic and finish it in a few days. I also feel that I understand the message the author wanted to bring, which is not always the case. I’m glad I read this book, but I won’t reread it I think.

This is book 9/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read ‘The catcher in the Rye’? What did you think?

CC spin #28: my result

Last Sunday, the spin number of edition 28 was revealed. And the lucky number is 12! So if you have a look at the list that I made for this challenge, you’ll have figured out by now that my book is….

‘Love in time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez! I believe some people might not yet consider this a classic, but I added some more recent books on my list. I must admit this result scares me, as Marquez is one of those authors I’m afraid of without knowing why specifically.

I just think it’s because I didn’t have luck with other South-American authors I’ve tried? 🤷‍♀️ Also, the English version on Goodreads is said to have only 348 pages, but I remember it being longer? And then I checked to Dutch version and it’s 510 pages! What a difference that is?

Anyway, as it’s a Spanish novel, I’ll read it in the Dutch translation and I hope it will be available in the library (it’s not at the moment) before 12th November, the deadline of this Spin edition.

Have you read this book? Any motivational thoughts?