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  • richardfinegold
    Full Member
    • Sep 2012
    • 7291

    Katherine Boo, behind the beautiful forevers, about an Indian underclass living in the shadows of Mumbai ultra modern airport. The writing is excellent , but the relentless description of duality and misery takes its toll on this reader

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    • Ian Thumwood
      Full Member
      • Dec 2010
      • 4013

      I have read abiut 5 Dickens novels. The better ones were excellent but then you read a book like "Hard Times" and you realise even he was capable of an off day.

      I find that quite a bit of 19th century literature is dark in it's tone so the dialogue in Dickens is a relief. In my opnion., he is great simply because he gives his such great dialogue that we know who is speaking by the tone of the words within the speech marks. I have aways been attracted to great dialogue in writing and i feel it sets great writers apart from good ones. As a whole, the 20th century seemed to usher in writers who were less dense and often easier to read. I know there are writers from 2t century who are really difficult but, as a rule, i find books written in the last 100 years to be more concise.

      The other point I would raise with Dickens is to contrast him with his contempories. I think he had the edge on Balzac who was also capable f creating memorable characters. If you cast your net further afield, I have been intrigued by the likes of someone like Jose Rizal who dealt with the social issues of his native Philippines. It intrigues me to see how authors were writing elsewhere in the world. He may have been the most important writer of his nation and a champion of social issues as much as Dickens and Elliot, however I feel that he was not writing on the same level as Dickens - this is coming as a Rizal fan. British writers have tended to be superior to their foriegn contemporaries in 19th century. Comments about being non-pc are ridiculous. Dicken's work will always stand the test of time even if some books are better than others.

      i have finished Ian Rankin;s "Set in Darkness." I find Rankin to be a great writer and this novel is expertly plotted. In the future, there is much for critics to mull over in his novels as Rankin deals with the independence referendum and issues like Brexit. There is plenty in here to paint a vivid picture of life in Scotland in 1990s - repesent day. I would like to say that people will still read Rebus novels in 100 years time as I think Rankin is an exceptional writer. However, I wonder if the cultural references will have been totally lost by then and future readers left unable to appreciate just how salient Rankin's Rebus novels have been. When you consider this, you realise how good writers like Dickesn or Orwell are.

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      • smittims
        Full Member
        • Aug 2022
        • 3174

        I'm sorry you were disappointed with Hard Times; I found it enjoyable and as good as his others.

        I think one reason why 20th-century novels are more concise is that they weer first published in book form aimed at readers who had less time to sit down on long winter evenings. Many if not most 19th-century novels were first published in serial form, either in periodicals or in separate issues of two chapters at a time. The length was sometimes deterined bythe publisher's requiremets. For instance , The Heart of Midlothian had to be lengthened unexpectedly when Scott's publisher told him its successor had failed, and more chapters were required; Scott had to invent a new story just as he was rounding off his main plot nicely.

        Despite much searching, I've never found any 20th-century novelists (since Woolf and Forster, that is) whom I regard as the equal of their predecessors. DH Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, William Golding and others seem overrated to me. I've enjoyed Patrick Hamilton and Julian Barnes but, compared with James and Trollope,they have their limits.

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        • french frank
          Administrator/Moderator
          • Feb 2007
          • 29393

          Originally posted by smittims View Post
          I'm sorry you were disappointed with Hard Times; I found it enjoyable and as good as his others.
          I haven't read that many Dickens novels, but Hard Times was the one I enjoyed most, probably because of its subject matter. Is it one of his best? His weakest? I've no idea.

          Originally posted by smittims View Post
          I think one reason why 20th-century novels are more concise is that they weer first published in book form aimed at readers who had less time to sit down on long winter evenings.
          There are some modern blockbusters but I suspect the length of earlier novels was because there were fewer alternative pursuits - no television, no cinema &c. I did some research on one minor Victorian and in his contract with the publisher he agreed to produce a novel in three volumes 'of the usual number of pages', which would have been about 300 pages per volume.

          It isn't given us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world.

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          • richardfinegold
            Full Member
            • Sep 2012
            • 7291

            I’m rereading A Tale of Two Cities for a book club. Third time for me, the initial being the mandatory school read at 14, but then again in my forties which I really enjoyed. I’ve just gotten to the storming of the Bastille so the pace is picking up. One impediment is the dialogue between Charles Darnay and Lucy Manette, so mawkishly Victorian. Dickens could be so excellent and catching the voice of so many of his characters, particularly the Cockney side characters, but his depiction of marital bliss is so awfully stiff and formal

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            • smittims
              Full Member
              • Aug 2022
              • 3174

              Maybe next century it won't seem so! Victorian art and achitecture used to be despised but have come back.

              I don't think A Tale of Two Cities is rated very highly by Dickens fans. Hard Times is reckoned to approach the best few in quality, they being David Copperfield, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, The Old Curiosity Shop, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. I'm very fond of Dombey and Son, which I re-read occasionally.

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              • french frank
                Administrator/Moderator
                • Feb 2007
                • 29393

                Originally posted by richardfinegold View Post
                but his depiction of marital bliss is so awfully stiff and formal
                But possibly accurate? Behaviour was different then.
                It isn't given us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world.

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                • Pulcinella
                  Host
                  • Feb 2014
                  • 10097

                  Originally posted by french frank View Post

                  But possibly accurate? Behaviour was different then.
                  And maybe a reflection of his own?

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                  • vinteuil
                    Full Member
                    • Nov 2010
                    • 12372

                    Originally posted by Ian Thumwood View Post
                    British writers have tended to be superior to their foreign contemporaries in 19th century...
                    ...Stendhal, Flaubert, Balzac, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Lermontov, Fontane, Raabe, Stifter, Storm, Eça de Queiroz, Machado de Assis, Louis Couperus, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville ....

                    I think I would place 'British writers' a poor third in any such national competition

                    .


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                    • french frank
                      Administrator/Moderator
                      • Feb 2007
                      • 29393

                      Originally posted by Pulcinella View Post

                      And maybe a reflection of his own?
                      That too, though perhaps more critiquable in a novelist, less valued, than reflecting his own times?
                      It isn't given us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world.

                      Comment

                      • Ian Thumwood
                        Full Member
                        • Dec 2010
                        • 4013

                        French Frank

                        It is interesting to read your comment. I believe that Dickens wrote"Hard Times" in order to get some ready income as he was halfway through Nicholas Nickleby at the time and it was anticipated that it would take more time to publish it.. He parked writing that book and started work on "Hard Times" purely for financial reasoms as he could churn this out quicker.

                        The plot is a hotchpotch in my opinion. It starts are a critique of the current eductation system and then turned in to a "sub-Germinal W commentary on industrialised, Northern England, It is like two different halves joined together. I have to say I never returned to Dickens after " Hard Times" which made me realise he was not always consistent. I often do this with authors - finding one I like and exploring their ouevre until I have come across a stinker. With Zola, it was the book about the priest meddling in affairs in Aix-en Provence, "Lord Jim" with Conrad.

                        Smittims is 100% correct about how we perceive the Victorians these days. Maybe the balance has swung too far the other way. They could be mawkish and sentimental but it always feels like it was something those generations needed to get out of their system. Writers increasingly became leaner although I think I have to totally disagree with Vintieul regarding American writers as that is one country whose writers I generally find insufferable. It is even worse with current American writers who either seem to over-write and be overblown or go down the route of Tom Clancy and churn out endless streams of crud. Even supposed "American Classics" such as "The Great Gatsby" are very over-rated. I very rarely read American literature and , if I go "foreign" have historically read French literature although, even there, there are writers like Proust who have driven me mad as they are frustratingly slow.

                        I will put something out there which is a bit controversial. I had read Ian Fleming's books as being lauded for their tight, "journalistic" prose. I found this fascinating , especially as the best of the Bond novels do fit this description whereas the worst ones are dreadful. I think it is an interesting concept. I love Dickens because of the dialogue but then feel that more contemporary writers like Kate Atkinson, Philipp Kerr and Ian Rankin are all very good in this respect too. Nothing is wasted. I am not sure how posterity will record their works nor indeed writers like McEwan or William Boyd whose works I love too. I tried one book by Julian Barnes and left it unfinished as I hated it. Same with De Bernieres. I does make you wonder which current writers people will still be reading in 100 years time. In 2024, I feel that Atkinson, Kerr and Rankin probably compose the best dialogue with modern writers and their snappy styles sits better with our times. I love the concept of writers being economic and concise but also find that cracking dialogue is something that ticks the boxes for me. I think that this is Dicken's legacy and maybe Atkinson's dark and wicked humour that would not be out of place in a "One foot in the grave" episode captures exactly why British writers always rock more than those from other countries in my opinion.

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                        • Petrushka
                          Full Member
                          • Nov 2010
                          • 11993

                          Just started 'Sing As We Go. Britain Between the Wars' by Simon Heffer.

                          This book is right up my street and the sort of political, social and cultural history of the subject I've been seeking for years. Alongside reading the book it will be a good opportunity to play some of the British music created during the period (Walton, Bax, Holst, Britten, RVW etc, etc).
                          "The sound is the handwriting of the conductor" - Bernard Haitink

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                          • smittims
                            Full Member
                            • Aug 2022
                            • 3174

                            You might also be interested in 'Britain's War' (2 vols.) by Daniel Todman. I found it fascinating. Instead of re-telling the received stories about Britian's involvement in the second world war he has researched all the sources afresh and revealed some surprising facts. He starts with public reactions to George VI's coronation in 1937 and goes on to 1947 to show how life changed for so many.

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                            • Petrushka
                              Full Member
                              • Nov 2010
                              • 11993

                              Originally posted by smittims View Post
                              You might also be interested in 'Britain's War' (2 vols.) by Daniel Todman. I found it fascinating. Instead of re-telling the received stories about Britian's involvement in the second world war he has researched all the sources afresh and revealed some surprising facts. He starts with public reactions to George VI's coronation in 1937 and goes on to 1947 to show how life changed for so many.
                              I've got the first volume of Daniel Todman but not yet read it. I've really been looking for a history of Britain that deals with the period from 1919 to 1939 taking in all of the social, political and cultural issues. Heffer's hefty volume seems to fulfil exactly what I want and, unusually for me, I've started it almost on purchase.
                              "The sound is the handwriting of the conductor" - Bernard Haitink

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                              • Ian Thumwood
                                Full Member
                                • Dec 2010
                                • 4013

                                Originally posted by Petrushka View Post

                                I've got the first volume of Daniel Todman but not yet read it. I've really been looking for a history of Britain that deals with the period from 1919 to 1939 taking in all of the social, political and cultural issues. Heffer's hefty volume seems to fulfil exactly what I want and, unusually for me, I've started it almost on purchase.
                                I love old aeroplanes and found Greg Baughen's "The rise and fall of the French Air Force - 1900-1940" to be quite fascinating if you have interest in the inter-war years. The book tackles the issue of aircraft development in France and how it went from producing the best aircraft of the First World War to some designs prior to the outbreak of the Second World War which were barely flyable. It is fascinating because the French were effectively looking to produce one aircraft which could carry out mult-combat roles and ended up with a suite of fighters and bombers which could barely function. When the French received reports of the capabilities of the Spitfire they flatly refused to believe the claims and continued developing inferior planes. However, the book does stress that the British, Germans and Americans along with the French struggled to develop effective aircraft in the 1930s.

                                Just finished David Grann's "The Wager" which is about a ship assigned to Admiral Anson's fleet and was shipwrecked in the 1740s . The survivors were abandone on a remote island off the coast of Chile and managed to rebuild a viable boat which they then navigated back to Brazil, The style of writing is quite light as is typical for American historian but the story is an absolute page-turner and recalls a tale of survival as impressive as Shackleton's. I really enjoyed this book.

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