The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

In case you didn’t notice, I’ve changed my weekly posts to Wednesdays from Mondays. It just works out better for my schedule and who doesn’t want more hump day posts right?! Oh, and Happy Canada Day! Alrighty, moving on.

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“You see, but you do not observe.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 282 pages.
Read from May 27 to June 05, 2015.

Alright, don’t hate me, but this is the very first piece of work that I’ve EVER read by Sir Author Conan Doyle. I’ve been exposed to his work in a variety of other mediums (mostly movies) but this is the first time I’ve ever endeavored with the original. I’m actually surprised how well the latest Hollywood movies with Robert Downey Jr. captured Sherlock and Watson’s characters practically perfectly. I mean, the movies are  by far more action packed but the overall feel that comes from the books is still there.

What surprised me about this book the most was its format. I had no idea that the book was written in a string of short stories. The stories are in chronological order but they are separated by each case that Sherlock and Watson take. Like the most recent movies, the whole book is also narrated by Watson. Sherlock, while not actually a detective, he is respected by the police and has a substantial reputation and attracts a variety of reputable clients. Not that it matters to Sherlock, it’s all about the intrigue of their case. From the King of Bohemia, Dukes, ladies in distress, and prominent business men, they’re all looking for Sherlock’s help to solve their strange and particular problems. From issues of scandal and reputation, to stories of curiosity and love.

In terms of the most curious plot, that title would have to go to The Red-Headed League. A gentleman, with flaming red hair inquires Sherlock to investigate a special league for red headed men to which he has recently taken up employment with. The work itself requires him to write out portions of an encyclopedia and the gentleman finds the whole situation to be very suspicious. The result of this story is rather amusing.  However my favourite story is the one the book opens with, A Scandal in Bohemia, in which the King of Bohemia is requiring Sherlock to recover a photograph from one of his previous lovers in order to avoid scandal before he is married to someone else. Admittedly I liked this story the best because Sherlock gets out witted by a woman! This woman becomes the infamous Irene Adler:

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen…. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.”

Having Sherlock fail from time to time also makes his stories easier to read and comprehend as while Sherlock is a genius, his rare failures still show us that he is still human.

Admittedly, Sir Arthur is a pretty decent mystery writer. I found myself thinking that I knew the outcome to story and how the mystery was going to be unraveled, only to be to be fooled at the end. Some of the stories are almost a but overkill in their complexity but are still great reads. I actually really enjoyed the short story format and found it really appropriate for the book. Watson is able to tie the cases together nicely as well by adding a few tidbits about his personal life and his close relationship with infamous but curious Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Author has created some fascinating characters that are very memorable. This book is witty, humorous and overall entertaining. I think that this book would appeal to wide range of readers, from mystery lovers to young adults.  I look forward to working my way through Sir Author’s entire collection on Sherlock Holmes.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from May 27 to 30, 2015.

This book has been on my to-read list since the beginning of my university days. I recall reading some of Plath’s poetry during this time but having known so little about her at the time and not having the maturity in regards to her situation, I never found the poems as potent as they were intended to be. Without getting into too much into literary theory, I will state that I do believe that with some pieces of literature it is important to know the history of the author and how their history can intentionally be placed into their work. I believe that Plath’s work fits for this circumstance.

For those that don’t know, Sylvia Plath was an American writer who was born in 1932. Her father died when she was just a girl, an event that would change Plath and affect her writing substantially in the future. Plath attended college and was a promising student with top marks. She was offered a guest editing position at a top women’s magazine but it was not what Plath hoped it would be and this is when her mental health issues started to show. She survived her first suicide attempt after overdosing on her mother’s sleeping pills and crawling into a hole outside. She was hospitalized and given psychiatric treatment which, at the time, included insulin shots and electric shock treatment. Plath seemed to make a decent recovery after 6 months in treatment and returned to college. It was here where she meets her future husband, Ted Hughes, who ends up becoming a famous and notable English writer.  During their marriage she gave birth to two children and had one miscarriage, an event that also presents itself in her writing. Plath was also in a car accident, which was likely another suicide attempt. Shortly after, Plath and Hughes separated after Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair. After the separation is when Plath wrote some of her most important pieces, but sadly she committed her final act of suicide and died on February 11, 1963, just days after being prescribed anti-depressants. Plath died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She barricaded herself in the kitchen and placed her head inside the oven with the gas turned on.

Plath’s life was tumultuous and tragic and The Bell Jar is a semi-biographical story that reflects the beginning of Plath’s life and illness before she meets Hughes.

Esther Greenwood is a young, smart and ambitious woman who has just started the beginning, of what she is hoping to be a prominent and promising career in writing. She has been awarded the opportunity to intern at a popular women’s fashion magazine in New York, which is a dream come true for Esther. However, Esther slowly watches her ambitions drain away as an unstoppable depression begins to take over. As her ambition fades and the depression takes its toll, so does her once in a lifetime chance of making it in New York, in which, at this point Esther is so numb with depression she nearly doesn’t care. She almost marries, she is hospitalized and nearly dies. The ending does give some hope that perhaps there is still a chance for her.

The events Esther lives through are nearly identical to the ones Plath went through herself. Esther is pragmatic and brave. Esther wanted something more for herself so she is brutally honest about aspects of relationships and her refusal of a what would have appeared to be a perfect match for marriage. She is also honest with her depression, while not naming her condition, Esther describes perfectly what it feels like consumed by depression:

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“…because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

“I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”

Even though it was written long before I was born, this book will always be timeless for its honesty with depression and mental health and particularly because it comes from the perspective of a woman. Even some of the social issues in this book are still relevant for women. Esther’s thinking on marriage was very forward for its day and age:

“So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.”

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

I wonder if these were Plath’s own views and what changed her mind later in life to marry Hughes? There are many aspects in the book where Esther, despite protesting that she will never marry, still indicates that she wants it all: love, a family, but also her freedom. However she knows that she cannot have it all. Perhaps these are the same thoughts that brought Plath to succumb to her own marriage?

Plath’s short life feels like a story unfinished, which also contributes to her still present popularity. Feminists have taken her under their wing and are devoted to her prose and the continuation of her legacy. It makes me curious to what kind of woman Plath would be now and what she would have become. This book has made a lasting impression on me and is a hugely important book for the continuation and understanding of mental health issues.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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5/5 stars.
Paperback, 717 pages.
Read from November 06 to 12, 2012.

I’m going to start doing some throwback reviews as I have a lot of reviews that I’ve written that haven’t been published on my blog as of yet. I’ll start with one of my all time favs, Jane Eyre which I read for the first time back in 2012.


 

Oh wow! The best book I’ve read this year by far! I’ve got this one my favourites list. This book caught me right from the start and I couldn’t put it down. I devoured a 700+ page novel in less than six days.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel and it proved to be unlike any book I have ever read from this era. I think what I love most about this novel is that it is partially autobiographical, so it pleases me to know that woman like Charlotte existed in that time frame and that her brilliance has been retained in writing.

Jane is a head-strong and ambitious woman and this story entails her struggles growing up as a woman in the 1800’s and the difficult choices that she had to make to keep her independence and dignity, many of which most women today would even struggle to deal with. This book was a head of its time (published in 1874)  but was well received by the public even though it contradicted some of the widely held beliefs about women. While this novel is a feminist coming of age story about Jane it is also a love story, and one of the best I believe.

***Spoilers Ahead***The anticipation and build up of her relationship with Rochester I found extremely intense! The descriptions of yearning and heartbreak severely tugged on my heartstrings. Even when things did work out and they were first set to be married, I was surprised to find  found myself yearning for the standard romance that was famous in this era, and I could not understand why Jane would not participate in the happiness and romance that Rochester was trying to instill on her. I did eventually understand though, Jane did not want to be cared by or doted on by Rochester as she could take care of herself. She wanted an equal companion to love, which she would not get until the end when Rochester is blinded and they are finally are able to be together after so much separation and misery. It was so beautiful to have to two of them come together in the end after everything they had both been through. ***End Spoiler***

Jane’s personal struggles, rebellions, strength and the self-respect that she demanded out of herself and others in an age where men controlled the lives of women still blows me away. I find myself thinking in certain aspects of my life “What would Jane do?” and it helps me remember that I am the most important person in my life, that I deserve respect and thinking of Jane helps to remind me to continue to take care of myself in this way.