I’m currently on a big family vacation (first one ever where it’s not a trip to visit family), so the brain is in low power mode, and this is going to be pretty short. However, I have finished another book for each of my reading challenges and wanted to post about them. First, for the Official TBR Pile Challenge:
Title: The Miser and Other Plays Author: Molière Genre: Classic Plays Pages: 280 Rating: 3 of 5
They say (whoever “they” are) that plays are meant to be watched rather than read, and I think that is probably the case with these plays by Molière. This collection included mostly his “second tier” plays (e.g. it’s lacking Tartuffe and The Misanthrope), so I don’t feel like I got a good impression of the playwright at the height of his skill. As it was, there was some mildly amusing cleverness that probably would have popped a lot more on stage. Also, I’m pretty sure that he ripped off borrowed heavily from Aeschylus at a few points.
Title: The Black Robe Author: Wilkie Collins Genre: Melodramatic Victorian Fiction Pages: 390 Rating: 3.5 of 5
Wilkie Collins produced some pretty melodramatic nonsense in his day, and this is a prime example. The theme of this book: Watch out for the scaaaaaary, scheming Jesuits! (though we’ll put in one nice Jesuit who’s an exception to the rule so we don’t completely tick off the Catholics).
It was okay if you’re in the mood for Victorian nonsense and don’t mind some Catholic-bashing. I can only take so much Wilkie Collins. There’s a reason that the works of his contemporary, Charles Dickens, are much more highly respected.
Title: The Beetle Author: Richard Marsh Genre: Victorian Era Horror Pages: 335 Rating: 2 of 5
The Beetle was published the same year as Dracula and originally outsold it. Having read it, I’m not surprised that Stoker’s masterpiece has endured while this tale of an ambiguously-gendered Egyptian were-beetle seeking revenge on a British MP fell by the wayside.
The book starts out strong with some truly creepy moments involving human misery and supernatural compulsion. Unfortunately, the story became increasingly less interesting as we detour into a Victorian love triangle (or possibly pentagon) complete with a disapproving parent and wealthy spinster. One of our narrators at this point is a mad scientist who talks a bit like Bertie Wooster but whose mad science ends up playing no significant part in the plot (such a waste!).
The author never managed to recover the creepiness of the first quarter of the book. Once the supernatural stuff really picks up again, there’s the usual product-of-its-era casual xenophobia, sexism, etc., an uninspired telegraphing/dashing around trying to find the damsel in distress chase sequence, and a ridiculously abrupt ending.
I was ready to give this 3 stars as passable product-of-its-era Gothic horror if the author could land the ending, but it was so bad that it brought down the entire book. It feels like he couldn’t decide how to end it, got bored with writing, and covered it all up with a couple dei ex machina and a liberal dose of “it was too horrible for words.” Weird/horror stories don’t need to give the reader all the answers, but this ending was a complete cop out. Stick with Dracula!
Title: Idle Thoughts of and Idle Fellow Author: Jerome K. Jerome Genre: Classic Humor Pages: 210 Rating: 4 of 5
This collection of humorous essays by the author Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is entertaining right from the get-go as he dedicates the book to his pipe. As he covers topics like clothing, food and drink, babies, pets, and (of course) idleness, he occasionally flirts with trying to sound cynical and “wicked” like Oscar Wilde but mostly he swings back and forth between wry humor and Victorian maudlin sentimentality and ends up sounding like a real-life Bertie Wooster. As with Three Men in a Boat, it’s hard to tell whether the sentimental bits are intended seriously or sarcastically… perhaps a bit of both.
While not quite as funny as Three Men in a Boat, it is well worth reading for fans of wry humor. I had the added joy of reading it in the old copy pictured here that I got from my wife’s Grandfather. I’m not sure how old it is, but the gift inscription in it is from Christmas 1896.