Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood: Review

stone mattress

The Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast recently aired an episode titled Women of a Certain Age. Part of the show discussed how women are pushed aside as they age. No one wants to listen to the opinions of an older woman. They (we) become invisible. Some younger people think there is something creepy and sad about women who share their thoughts with the world. In looking for books with female protagonists who are older, I had a hard time finding any that weren’t about midlife crisis or featured crime solving spinsters. But then came Stone Mattress

Margaret Atwood has written women characters from young to middle aged to elderly. Stone Mattress is heavy on the elderly. The first three stories center on the life of a successful author of fantasy novels: Constance braves an ice storm with help of her dead husband’s voice, her old boyfriend is surprised by a young student’s interest in Constance’s writing rather than his own poetry, and finally Constance heals old wounds at a funeral.

Six more stories follow this trio. In Lusus Naturea a woman is born with a genetic disease that forces her to hide from humanity. I really liked this strange little story of loneliness and desire. The Freeze Dried Groom and The Dead Hand Loves You were my least favorite. The Dead Hand Loves You focuses too heavily on a campy horror novel written by the protagonist. I never did get around to reading The Robber Bridegroom so Zenia With the Bright Red Teeth was a tad confusing. Still, I got the gist and enjoyed Atwood’s cheeky humour.

If there is a clear winner in my opinion, it’s the title story, Stone Mattress. It’s about revenge. I’m Team Verna, even if she is a murderer through neglect and her secret weapon, her sexuality. The story took me on an emotional ride. Verna is not all that she seems on the outside and when she gets a chance to get (somewhat) even, I was cheering her on. (Because it’s fiction, people!)

The last story, Torching the Dusties, is a hyperbolic example of the elderly becoming not only obsolete but unwanted. A mob of young people decide that the elderly have taken too many resources and must die. Inside a very swanky retirement home, Wilma, a woman with macular degeneration can only learn about the events happening through other people. A very frustrating situation for her. The plot to destroy the elderly seems both ridiculous and repulsive, but even Wilma concedes that the young people have a point as the residents take on a “let them eat cake” attitude during the siege.

The older characters in this collection are never props for the younger characters to learn something about themselves or impart some wisdom. If anything, the stories show that we’re never finished. We’re never too old to feel hurt, or angry, and it’s never too late to mend fences.

Atwood is as dark and funny as ever, with everything I’ve come to expect from her work, including the naughty sex bits. I hope she never changes!

Media Madness Monday: The Craft

media madness monday

With Halloween on Friday, I picked an old favorite for a rewatch over the weekend. The Craft, yes, The Craft. I have so many feelings about The Craft.

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First of all, this was a cheap DVD from Walmart and it was a little blurry. I’m not sure if this is because of the cheapness of the DVD or if it always looked that way. The Craft was released in 1996 (I thought it was way older), and cost $15 million to make. That’s seems like a lot of money. Is that a lot for a movie in 1996?

Onto the plot. Three misfit girls who practice witchcraft find a fourth to “call the corners” in the new girl at school. The new girl, Sarah (Robin Tunney) has secrets and issues. Her mom is dead. She’s tried to kill herself. Lead witch Nancy (Fairuza Balk) says this is “punk rock.” Sarah is also a “natural witch” as is declared by the proprietor of the local witch shop. With the increase in their powers, the girls use spells to vanquish their enemies or improve their lives. Sarah wants a jackass to like her, Nancy wants out of her trailer home, Rochelle (Rachel True) wants to smite her racist swim competitor, and Bonnie (Neve Campbell) wants her scars to disappear (and finally wash her greasy hair, I guess). It doesn’t take long for things to go horribly wrong.

The actresses are great, especially Fairuza Balk who went all in as the demented, power hungry Nancy. She embraces the crazy, campiness of the character. Robin Tunney is an expert at crying a single tear. Just one tear. She plays this sympathetic character well, as this “good girl” is obviously the one we’re to root for. She definitely has a Bella Swan vibe to her. The other two ladies, played by Neve and Rachel, were actually compelling characters with real problems until the last third of the movie. I’ll get to that.

the craft girls

The adults though, where did they find these people? When they were present at all, they are caricatures of real humans. The homeless guy with the snake, I don’t even know what his purpose was other than to die in the first ten minutes. Nancy’s mom gives the worst drunk person impression ever. Sarah’s dad is more like a creepy uncle than a parent. I loved the last scene when he walks by, waves and says, “Hi girls!” like “No, nothing weird happened here.” The only decent adult part was the lady witch store owner. I got to say though I hope she had a second source of income because her only customers stole from her, something she knew. Even if she wasn’t a witch, she’d be an idiot not to know. She should have gave those moochers warts.

Despite the campy beginning of the film (the snake guy, the bad date, Nancy’s trailer), I thought the first part was the best part. It’s all “Yay! Girl Power!” After the girls “invoke the spirit” things get crazy. After the douchey football dude attempts raping Sarah, Nancy tries to sleep with him in some weird power grab. Who even wants this guy? Ovaries before brovaries, ladies. Plus, Rochelle and Bonnie become puppets of Nancy and lose all agency of their own. If they had any sense, they would side with Sarah who is less crazy and more gifted.

The Craft is so 90s. The soundtrack features songs from Elastica and Matthew Sweet. The clothes! Chunky heels, stockings, crop tops, nose piercings. Nancy rocks the goth look.

The Craft passes the Bechdel test, since they aren’t always discussing boys. These ladies don’t need saving from a boy either. They fight it out amongst themselves. It had some unintentionally funny moments, like Sarah’s flailing run down a dark alley. It’s a bit goofy. It’s not scary, if that is an issue for you. If you are of my vintage, you’ll enjoy this blast from the past.

Nightmare at 20000 Feet by Richard Matheson: Review

Nightmareat20000Feet

Well, that was disturbing.

Back in October 2008, I read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, a novella that really impressed me. Now in October 2014, I’m revisiting Matheson through the audiobook collection Nightmare at 20000 Feet.

Stephen King warns in the introduction of this collection that “he will wring you dry” and he certainly did. At the end of many of these stories, I was left with an eerie sense of unease. He has a cynical eye for the human race. What are the worst things we are capable of? What does madness do to a person? Can you trust your family, your neighbours, your own sanity? 

Nightmare at 20000 Feet is the classic Twilight Zone episode featuring the only man on a plane who sees a gremlin on the wing. It’s been remade many times. Even Bart Simpson had an encounter with the gremlin. The short story is much more scary than the television episode. We learn more about the man’s state of mind. He’s nervous, he’s taken drugs, he’s suicidal (he has a gun ON THE PLANE! Something unimaginable now.) Is he a reliable narrator? Is the gremlin real or a figment of his sick mind?

BartandGremlin

A couple of my other favorites were

Disappearing Act. A one night stand begins a chain of events leading to the literal disappearance of a man. He starts to freak out after trying to get into contact with the woman he slept with only to find she doesn’t exist. Then other parts of his life start disappearing, including his wife and home.

Legion of Plotters. A little too close to home. A man begins to suspect the little annoyances he endures throughout the day are part of a plot to destroy his sanity. It doesn’t end well.

Dance of the Dead. The future, 1997, is a place ravaged by war but young people are still seeking a good time. One thrilling entertainment is watching the Dance of the Dead performed by LUPs. You’ll find out what they are. 1997 sure sounds a lot like the 1950s though.

The Distributor. I can’t call it a favorite because it left me feeling terrible but it is compelling. A man moves into a quiet neighbourhood and slowly begins to destroy the lives of the people on the street. It ends in murder and suicide. I was most disturbed by the cold, calculated way he goes about it for no apparent reason.

The stories reveal a lot about attitudes towards race and gender during the time period. The women are harpies, victims of violence, or sexual predators. Slaughter House features sexytimes with a ghost! The men are driven crazy for it. One of the neighbours in The Distributor are afraid of being outted as black, whether they are or not.

There are ghosts, monsters, vampires, zombies, all your typical Halloween creatures, but not so typical.The writing is creeps up on you. The mundane details add up to the macabre. It’s a slow process that raises the hair on the back of your neck. If you want to be freaked out, read Nightmare at 20000 Feet.

About the Audio: No Stephen King does not read his own intro. Damn. There are several narrators for the collection, although only one woman, Julia Campbell. Yuri Rasovsky’s oddly cheese-grater-like voice was one of the ones that creeped me out the most. I couldn’t listen to him vocalize a child’s voice in Dress of White Silk. I had to skip that one.

Evil Book Bloggers: Everything You Heard Is TRUE!

First things first, just like Canadians, all book bloggers know one another (Shout out to all the Bobs in Saskatchewan!).

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We are all part of a Super Secret Society and have monthly meetings.

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A virgin is sacrificed. Virgins are so hard to get these days. It’s a hardship.

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We dance around a Fire of Vengeance and burn the books of our enemies. Sometimes there are marshmallows!

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Through a complex ritual, we decide the fate of authors. Who will be destroyed? Who will be revered?

nancy the craft

I’m not saying book bloggers eat babies but…

alison doesn't want to know


In case you didn’t get it, this is a (hopefully) humorous response to some authors’ ideas about what book bloggers do. Like we sit around plotting the demise of writers and books because we hate them so much. Or we’re all drunk with some imagined power, a power we do not actually have.

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But really we’re just sitting here like…

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Well, maybe not the stealing part though.

Shock-tober: Good Lady Ducayne

good lady ducayne

I actually paid cash money for this audiobook ($1.95 on iTunes).

Spoilers, but really there are no surprises here.

Bella (another Bella in a vampire story!) Rolleston is just poor girl, she needs your sympathy. She’s looking for a job as a companion to help her Mama pay the rent. Her only option is to pay an employment agency to find her some work. Although the Superior Person at the office takes her money, she informs Miss Rolleston that finding her a job will be near impossible since she has no skills. Bella, ever optimistic, hoofs it to the agency every week in hopes that someone will give her a job.

Being at the right place at the right time pays off, when she happens to be at the agency upon the arrival of Good Lady Ducayne. The old lady takes on Bella immediately, despite her lack of accomplishments. Like an employment ad on Kijiji, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Bella fails to see the red flags. Old Lady Ducayne wants to take her to Italy (red flag). She asks the following, “Have you good health? Are you strong and active, able to eat well, sleep well, walk well, able to enjoy all that there is good in life?” (Red Flag). She needs a healthy girl because all her other companions became too ill and had to leave her employment (RED FLAG).

In Italy, everything is fine until Bella starts feeling tired. She’s having strange dreams and has mysterious cuts on her arms. Lady Ducayne’s Italian doctor tells her those are mosquito bites. Yeah, that’s it, mosquito bites. What kind of crazy-ass Italian mosquitos leave bites that look like cuts? Bella buys this hook, line, and sinker. I began to question this girl’s intelligence. She’s like that girl in Mean Girls with the psychic boobs.

fifth sense

Oh and then she learns that no one knows how old Lady Ducayne is. She could be over a hundred. And by the way, all her former companions didn’t just get sick: THEY DIED. (RED FLAG!!!!! GET OUT NOW, GIRL!!!!)

Bella doesn’t get on the first coach to Splitsville because the money is good and Mama doesn’t have to knit mantles or whatever it is she does anymore. Plus, Lady Ducayne is sooooo easy to work for!

Eventually, Bella is rescued by a young English doctor because, surprise, Lady Ducayne has been syphoning off Bella’s plasma to keep her alive.

This isn’t a very scary story, really. Lady Ducayne doesn’t turn into a bat or a wolf or anything. She’s just using questionable scientific methods to stay alive indefinitely. The deaths of all those girls was just collateral damage. It’s a trope of the sensation novel that the Italian doctor, or count, or French maid is totally evil. Obviously Bella hasn’t been reading Wilkie Collins or she’d know this. Poor, stupid Bella needs a man to get her out of this one because she is too dumb to realize she’s in trouble. No one ever tells her what was really going on. 

Even though I found Bella too stupid to live, I did love that she didn’t just sit around waiting for her luck to change. She went out and tried to take charge of her own destiny. I had to admire her for that. It was a short one too so I didn’t have to put up with her for long.

About the Audio: Good Lady Ducayne by Mary Elizabeth Braddon was narrated by Anne Rosenfeld and she did an excellent job. It was very entertaining and over the top. This audiobook is just over an hour.

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Start Me Up: Readathon (Update)

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I’m awake. It’s time to get the readathon started. I’ll be posting and updating throughout the day. Here’s a small pile of books I’ll be reading. I also have to go to the library so I might get more there or download some graphic novels.

readathon books 2

So

  • The Stratford Murders by Agatha Christie
  • The Last Policemen by Ben Winters
  • Pirates! by Celia Rose
  • Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

Snacks

  • Chocolate cupcakes
  • Veggie Tray
  • Hummus and chips
  • Lays BBQ chips

 

Meme #1:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Nova Scotia, Canada
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? The Last Policemen
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Chocolate cupcakes!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I like to run, I do it a couple of times a week, but I do not enjoy races and rarely participate in any.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? I might take a little walk this time (weather permitting) to clear the cobwebs.

That’s it for now. I think I’ll start with The Last Policeman. I’ll start after I’ve been caffeinated.


Oh, hello! It’s Hour 13. I know, right! Where have I been?

I’ve been reading, The Last Policeman specifically. I also took a break to go to the library for books (How to Tell If Your Cat Is Trying to Kill You by The Oatmeal and The Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger: graphic books) and the liquor store for beverages.

cider

It’s been a good day.

Hour 12 Challenge

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? I think I’m moving onto the Oatmeal book.
2. How many books have you read so far? Just the one, Readathonerinos!
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Definitely the Oatmeal one. I need some humour.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Just a few. Once I had to fix a sewing machine, but that’s about it.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Not many surprises. I keep getting distracted by Twitter though.

Well, I think I need another snack. The husband is watching the hockey game (Canader!) so I think I’ll play a little music, eat some chips, and read my books.

Readathon Crasher: Readathon Oct 2014

I hemmed and hawed but when I saw all the excitement about the 24 Hour Readathon happening on Twitter, I finally decided to join in. I’m super late, a party crasher, really, but I couldn’t resist. Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy anyway, the perfect weather for reading.

wedding crashers

So I threw my name on the reader list. I’m not expecting to be visited by anyone though I always love visitors. I’m just going to do my thing and check out Twitter too. Did you know that there are literally almost 1000 people signed up for the Readathon? I remember when we had just 50!

I’ll post my reading list, if I make one, tomorrow. Hope to see you there!

Shock-tober: Aurora Floyd

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Successful banker, Archibald Floyd, owner of Floyd, Floyd, and Floyd, surprises everyone when after decades of bachelorhood, he marries a mediocre actress by the name of Eliza Prodder. They have a happy year together until she up and dies, leaving Archibald to raise their only child, Aurora, alone.

Aurora, with “black eyes and blue-black hair,” is doted upon by her father, he lets her live a wild country life with horses and dogs as companions.

She said what she pleased; thought, spoke, acted as she pleased; learned what she pleased; and she grew into a bright, impetuous being, affectionate and generous-hearted as her mother, but with some touch of native fire blended in her mould that stamped her as original.

Aurora sounds like a bad ass girl I’d like to hang out with, actually!

But all good things must end and Aurora “disappears” from her home for fourteen months after which she reappears, serious and grave. Her father asks, “Is he dead?’ “Yes,” she replies. Oh, a mystery!

Aurora may have changed but she still has obligations, including attending balls with her rosy-cheeked cousin Lucy. At Aurora’s birthday ball, she catches the attention of Captain Talbot Bulstrode, a dude with attitude. He will not be snared by some calculating female out to get his title. As the son of a baronet, he thinks he should have a high quality wife. He’d look down on the Virgin Mary if she was in the room. Aurora has no interest in this guy other than to ask him, “Do you know if Thunderbolt won the Leger?"

He is appalled! Disgusted! How dare a woman be interested in racing? How vulgar! Of course, he falls madly in love with her but he has a rival in the good-hearted Yorkshireman John Mellish. Talbot gets there first and asks her to marry him and it’s all good until he hears a rumour about that mysterious fourteen months. He confronts her and she tells him that she can’t reveal her secret and he must trust her. Imagining that she must have been dancing naked at the Moulin Rouge, he dumps her.

Moulin-Rouge

A much better man marries Aurora. John Mellish doesn’t care that she has secrets. He loves her the way she is. He and Aurora are blissfully happy together, breeding horses and dogs (not to each other), until a stranger appears. Dun-dun-dun!


This was the soapy-est! Secrets! Blackmail! Murder! I actually thought Aurora’s secret would be way more scandalous than it turned out to be. Oh well. These were also the richest of rich people who at times behave badly. They pretty much just go to horse races and play Master of the Manor, which they literally are. It was like Dallas without the oil.

lucille banana

I’m happy to report that Not All Men in this Mary Elizabeth Braddon novel are terrible for a change. Archibald is the best of dads, even Talbot turns it around at the end. John Mellish is slavishly devoted to Aurora, although some of the things he says are a teeny bit creepy.

"I would rather see your coffin laid in the empty niche beside my mother's in the vault yonder"—he pointed in the direction of the parish church, which was close to the gates of the Park—"than I would part with you thus. I would rather know you to be dead and happy than I would endure any doubt about your fate. Oh, my darling, why do you speak of these things? I couldn't part with you—I couldn't. I would rather take you in my arms and plunge with you into the pond in the wood; I would rather send a bullet into your heart, and see you lying murdered at my feet."

Er…simmer down now, Heathcliff. A murder-suicide is not the answer. There is a lot of allusions to Othello by Braddon too and with her penchant for foreshadowing I thought there’d be trouble in this area. Aurora seems to know that this is all just talk. She forgets Talbot fairly quickly once she marries Mellish. For once a Braddon heroine marries the right man. Two people could not be better suited. They’re both a little wacky.

Somebody gets murdered but whodunit isn’t hard to figure out. The Scooby-Doo gang could have it solved without even leaving the van. I suspect there will be some issues for the modern reader around who did the deed. Also, there’s not a lot of sympathy for the corpse, who was not a nice person, but someone died, people.

Anyway, it’s no Lady Audley but it ain’t bad. The surprise relative was the best!

About the Audio: This was another Librivox recording. It was a compilation of many readers. Some were very good and some were…. not at all. Maybe read this one with your eyes.

Media Madness Monday: Mid-season Outlander Madness

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I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

On the TV

Outlander

The mid-season finale (“mid-season” BS) aired last night and now I must wait until Whenever for Outlander to return. The first episodes of the series are beautiful to watch though sloooooow. Last week was The Wedding episode and my reaction to it was a lot like Tina’s.

tina butts

Yes, I’m twelve.

Claire gets to wear a lot of pretty dresses but how can she breath in them? I cringed watching her in her wedding dress. Ouchie. Memories of Mammogram. She’s got some fabulous hair though.

I was surprised by how much of the dialogue I remember from the book. It’s wedged in my brain. The series has followed the book closely, as far as I can tell, excluding the poor, sad Frank parts. My fears before watching the series were laid to rest. Huzzah!

Selfie

I first episode of the new series Selfie was just okay. I do love Henry (John Cho). He’s of my generation and his interactions with social media and Millennials are relatable to me. The second episode was much better than the first, in which Henry finally takes the Facebook plunge with disastrous results. I’m going to keep watching this one.

 

Tunes

weezer

Well, keeping with the Generation X theme, I bought the new Weezer album Everything Will Be Alright in the End for mostly nostalgic reasons. They sound the same as they did in their Buddy Holly days. Recently, I walked into an American Eagle where Say It Ain’t So was being piped into the store. A gentleman at the counter was explaining Weezer to his teenaged son. I felt so old. And so do Weezer. They no longer sing about going surfing but making up with their dads and marrying their girls. I’m okay with that. It would be sad if they were still hanging out In The Garage. There are some fun songs on this album: Back To the Shack, Ain’t Got Nobody. It’s a good soundtrack for hanging out with your married friends.

 

Podcasting

The ladies of Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast discussed (SPOILER ALERT) female sociopaths in their episode Gone Girls. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t a lot of them.

That’s my thoughts on stuff other than books this week! 

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Happy Thanksgiving!

THANKSGIVING

Tomorrow is the big day! Turkey Day! We have pumpkin pies made. There will be turkey and cranberries. Later, there will be hot turkey sandwiches. Yum! It’s the biggest eating day of the year.

Since it’s just the husband, kid, and I this year, the kid asked, “Can I wear my pjs to dinner?” I think pants are required for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe for sandwiches later.

Luckily, Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is not falling on Thanksgiving this year. I’m still on the fence about joining. If the weekends continue to be nice, I might not want to stay indoors. I have to think about it some more.

On the book end (ha!), I’ve finished three audiobooks this week: Aurora Floyd and Good Lady Ducayne by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Neverhome by Laird Hunt. Audiobooks are about the only thing I’m consuming these days because I can listen at work.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends tomorrow! Happy Monday to everyone else!

Shock-tober: The Golden Calf by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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We first meet young Miss Ida Palliser the last day of school, where she is being harassed by her teachers. The school’s owner, Old Pew (that’s what the other girls call her), was paid 50£ to educate Ida by her poor father, now living in France with a new young wife and child. Ida dares to not be ugly and humble as a poor girl should be.

She had the form of a goddess, a head proudly set upon shoulders that were sloping but not narrow, the walk of a Moorish girl, accustomed to carrying a water-jug on her head, eyes dark as night, hair of a deep warm brown rippling naturally across her broad forehead, a complexion of creamiest white and richest carnation.

And she’s super smart and wins all the Smarty Prizes.

Ida has just a few friends, though many girls admire her. One such lass is a girl named Bessie Wendover, a “plump” girl with a right smart mouth on her. Bessie follows Ida around like LeFou does Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Every exchange between them is missing a song exclaiming all her virtues, minus the eating of five dozen eggs.

gaston

Ida does have plenty of frenemies including a girl with the unfortunate moniker of Urania. During the school’s awards ceremonies, whereupon the girls’ families witness their children’s talents, Urania’s father, Dr Rylance, spies Ida for the first time. He declares her to be, “the handsomest girl I ever saw.” Reminder: Ida is all of seventeen and the same age as his daughter- the girl sitting next to him.

Bessie invites Ida to spend the summer with her in the country. She extolls the virtues of her cousin Brian in Norway, not to be confused with her other cousin, Brian the Poor. Norway Brian owns a nearby abbey but he’s never home. Ida falls in love with this ideal man she’s created in her head but has never met.

Bessie’s neighbour happens to be Urania and they all have awkward picnic parties together. Dr Rylance invites himself to the children’s excursions, where he is as about welcome as sunburn at a nudist beach. Urania tells him that he is being totally gross but he lacks any self-awareness. Imagine being a teenaged girl with a dad who hangs out with your crew so he can hit on one of your peers. Yeah, ick.

Finally, Dr Rylance proposes to Ida and is shocked that she’s not kissing his hand in gratitude. Is it because of Urania?… because he’d send her away if she’d like. Father of the Year, ladies and gentlemen. Ida is saved from this conversation by the appearance of abbey-owner Brian. Bessie oversold Brian because Ida finds him lacking. No abbey for Ida, she thinks, but Brian, smitten and besotted, follows her back to school where they have clandestine meetings during her walks. Big mistake because she gets ratted out to Old Pew who expels her. Ida is disappointed. How will she make a living now? It’s all good though because Abbey Brian wants to marry her. She doesn’t have to be a governess. Yay! Or is it yay? She knows she doesn’t love him, but what else can she do? She doesn’t know much about him and, unbeknownst to her, he has a secret.


First, let me say that all the men in this book are terrible. This is the best example of male entitlement I’ve read in a long time. To them, Ida is not much more than a lamp or chair. Something that can be bought and owned. Dr Rylnace doesn’t comprehend Ida’s answer because he believes the decision was made once he chose to have her as his wife. (He gets his comeuppance when Urania refuses to marry and spends her time at dinner parties discussing Darwin’s theories with everyone. Revenge for giving her a name that sounds like a bladder infection?) Brian is even worse because he declares that he will have Ida by any means necessary and when he does he’s put out that she is not ‘a good sport’ about his methods. Her dad keeps reminding her that she wasted his money on her education. Even Our Hero starts out as a jerk who has already made up his mind about her before he even meets her.

As for Ida, she starts off the story with a bang. She’s defiant, even though her education is important to her. She knows the only way she can escape poverty is by either marrying rich or making a living. When an opportunity to marry money arrives, she finds she can’t do it. Governessing it will be. She’s angry with her position and also with her beauty which has never given her anything but jealousy and unwanted attention. After being kicked out of school for foolishly hanging out with a guy, she’s desperate. It’s a sneaky trick she’s played by Brian who takes advantage of her vulnerability.

In Victorian novels, a mistake that you make as a young person is a mistake you have to live with for life and Ida is no exception. She tries to hide the truth but it comes out. Ida’s defiance is finally beaten out by of her and she, unlike Lady Audley, bends to duty. Although Ida’s fortunes change throughout the novel, she is ever dutiful and a heroine worthy of a Victorian happy ending. Could Ida have done anything differently? Probably not, she decides she must do what she has to and do it without complaint but it’s not without its consequences.

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Things about to get spoilery…

Brian ends up becoming an alcoholic. And also mad, though the doctors claim the madness is related to his alcoholism. I bring this spoiler up because it’s so interesting that Braddon Goes There. Brian is the Bertha Rochester of The Golden Calf. What happens when a husband is an alcoholic? You can’t just lock him in an attic and call it a day. Ida jumps through hoops to hide his behaviour from family and the servants while trying to keep them all from being murdered in their sleep. I also thought it was very modern that his alcoholism is treated as a disease and not just a lacking in his character.

End of spoiler.

The Golden Calf has plenty of plot twists, although at the beginning I thought it was going to be all picnics, all the time. As usual, Braddon is heavy handed with the foreshadowing: “it would be fortunate if this person died, yes, indeed.” I did enjoy The Golden Calf though not as much as Lady Audley’s Secret.

This was a Librivox recording read by Tara Dow. She did an excellent job.

Lazy Sunday Thoughts Are Full of Pumpkin

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It’s late and I’m getting ready to watch Revenge. I have high hopes for this season. Please don’t let it be terrible.

This weekend was all about The Pumpkin. The fam and I went for our annual pumpkin picking outing at a local farm. We got our pumpkins, bought some veggies, talked to the animals, and got lost in the corn maze. Amazing! (sorry) What a gorgeous weekend! I don’t think I’m ever going to read again because there is too much to do outside on these beautiful fall days. There are too many drives to take and hikes to hike.

But now I have this…

stone mattress

I will read Stone Mattress this week. I will! Thanksgiving is this weekend coming and hopefully, while making the turkey, I’ll have time to sit down and read.

Shock-tober: Mary Elizabeth Braddon Style

shocktober

Madness! Murder! Alcoholism! Bigamy! Secret Babies! And More!

This October I’ve decided that I’m reading- or more accurately listening to- several novels from Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the woman who brought you Lady Audley’s Secret.

Mary wrote sensation novels, a genre very popular with the Victorians. Sensation novels were soapy, and full of drama. If Mary were alive today, she could be writing episodes of Scandal or Revenge. Mary wrote what she knew. She had been an actress before living (in sin! Scandal!) with a married man. Her life was a sensation novel!

Recently I’ve become obsessed with Mary Elizabeth Braddon. On the surface her books seem like frivolous dramas but unlike say the books of *ahem* Wilkie Collins her heroines are more than one-dimensional Victorian dude fantasies. Her heroines struggle with their place within the stifling Victorian society. If Dickens revealed the harsh realities of the poor to Victorian readers, then Mary did the same for women. She’s sneaky and subtle about it though; there are so many little nuggets in her work that tug at my feminist heart, that make me say, “I see what you did there.”

Anyway, this maybe only a project of interest to ME, but if you’d like to comment on the future reviews of The Golden Calf or Aurora Floyd and possibly others, please stay tuned!