Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

I read this comedy by Shakespeare as part of a challenge from the Classic Club in co-operation with Rachel @ Hibernator's Library -  2019 Year of Shakespeare. The idea is to read a Comedy for Jan - April - The Taming of the Shrew, a historical drama for May - Aug - King John and a Tragedy for Sep - Dec - Hamlet. At the same time Hamlette's Soliloquy announced the February blog party of We Love Shakespeare Week. Hitting two birds with one stone, I read The Taming of the Shrew.  I find it very difficult to read Shakespeare, that is maybe why I expose myself to the challenge. On top of it, I promised Hamlette's Soliloquy to write a review of The Taming of the Shrew. So, here we go.

The story, in short, is set in Padua, where wealthy Baptista Minola has two marriageable daughters. The older one, Katherine, is vicious and ill-tempered and the young one, Bianca, is beautiful and mild. Bianca has suitors, but the father has announced that she can only marry when Katherine is married. Since most men are afraid of her and she does not have any suitors, there is a problem. Petruchio arrives and announces he intends to marry a rich woman. He does not care what she looks like or how she is. The rest of the play is taken up by Petruchio's taming of Kate and the various suitors' fight for Bianca. In the end, the newly wed men enter into a contest to see which wife is the most obedient, Petruchio wins. Katherine is not only the most obedient, she gives the other ladies a lesson how to be loyal to their husbands.

Researching the web, I ran into a very interesting article by Rachel De Wachter (teacher of English Literature at Esher College) Power and gender in The Taming of the Shrew

She discusses how we should think about the relation between the sexes in the play, and how writers, directors and actors have explored it in productions ever since the time of Shakespeare. As early as as the beginning of the 17th century a John Fletcher wrote a counterpart play to Shakespeare's play called The Woman's Prize or The Tamer Tamed. Here the tamer is the wife and the tamed is the husband. "It concludes with the lesson that men ‘should not reign as Tyrants o’er their wives’ (Epilogue, l. 4). Indeed Fletcher’s play aims ‘to teach both Sexes due equality / And as they stand bound, to love mutually (Epilogue, ll. 7-8)." I must say he was rather ahead of this time. Should probably try to find this play.

Looking at the introduction of the play, which really has nothing to do with Padua and the main story, we meet Christopher Sly. He is, as usual, drunk. A Lord decides to clean him up, put him in his own castle and tell him, but the time he wakes up, that he is a Lord. Although Sly does not believe it in the beginning he slowly learns the advantages of his new rank. However, it does not last. He is put back to his original place and old life. De Wachter means that this dehumanising of people is also shown in the main story. Kate is seen as an 'household item', part of what belongs to a house, including the animals.

"She is my good, my chattels, she is my house, 
My household stuff, my field, my barn, 
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything; (3.2.230–32)"

With the two stories Shakespeare shows a similarity between the lower classes and women. They are both dependent on their livelihood by their masters/husband.  They have to be obedient to be taken into the protection of the high ranking man and/or husband. Katherine is fighting against being married, but in the end she is lured into it, against her will. She has to accept the situation and find herself outwitted by Petruchio. To survive she has to give in to his whims. Is this what she is doing? Or has she got a higher cause?

In the last scene Katherine has a rather long monologue.

“Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And no obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I asham’d that women are so simple
‘To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions, and our hearts,
Should well agree with our external parts?”

Can this be seen as a speech of independence? To say that women are different than men, and so it should be. Men are out fighting, but women know better than that. Women try to solve problems another way. Maybe it is she who has tamed Petruchio, although he does not know it.

Well, well...!  It is rather outdated, probably more than any other of his plays. One has to take into consideration the time in which it was written, although it is no excuse. But what do we know, maybe Shakespeare wrote it as a satire? There are numerous modern productions (stage and film) with various interpretations of especially Kate and her relationship with Petruchio. It would be interesting to see one of those. It is certainly not a play you want to mention in connections with today's question of gender equality, which is still a strife. Maybe this play should not be considered a comedy at all, but rather a tragedy?

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

A Man Of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson

This is an audio book I downloaded without knowing too much about it. However, the introduction sounded like something I would like. 
"Selchester Castle in 1953 sits quiet and near-empty, its corridors echoing with glories of the past. Or so it seems to intelligence officer Hugo Hawksworth, wounded on a secret mission and now reluctantly assuming an altogether less perilous role at Selchester. The Castle’s faded grandeur hides a web of secrets and scandals—the Earl has been missing for seven years, lost without a trace since the night he left his guests and walked out into a blizzard. When a skeleton is uncovered beneath the flagstones of the Old Chapel, the police produce a suspect and declare the case closed.
Hugo is not convinced. With the help of the spirited Freya Wryton, the Earl’s niece, he is drawn back into active service, and the ancient town of Selchester is dragged into the intrigues and conspiracies of the Cold War era. With a touch of Downton Abbey, a whisper of Agatha Christie and a nod to Le Carré, A Man of Some Repute is the first book in this delightfully classic and witty murder mystery series."
Definitely a little bit of Agatha Christie in it, but much more witty and funny. It was a perfect book to listen too (maybe I will become more positive to audio books?!). The narrator, Michael Page, was absolutely fantastic. He changed his voice and dialect according to the person who spoke (and there were many persons involved). It was almost like sitting in the theatre and see it all in front of you. The mystery is slowly told and developing in front of you.  The characters were such a delight, from Hugo to his 13-year-old sister Georgia, who is far ahead of her age. They temporarily settle in at the castle and Hugo gets a secret mission. Georgia keeps her eyes and ears open.

It is 1953, war memories are still fresh, as is the defection of Philby, Burgess and Maclean. Authorities are suffering from a little bit of paranoia. The mystery of the Earl's disappearance gets and answer when his corps is unexpectedly found. There are only a small group of people suspected. The Earl seems to have had only enemies, including his two children. Is it convenient for the police to blame it all on his son, who died during the war? Maybe a little bit too convenient?

Elizabeth Edmondson also wrote under other names (Aston and Pewsey as surnames). When she studied she fell in love with Jane Austen and has written two series connected to her; Darcy series and Darcy Novellas, and other series not connected to Austen. This book belong to "A Very English Mystery Series, which include another three books. Can't wait to dig into them as well. A really, true, traditionally, slowly developed murder mystery of which there are few today. And so funny you laugh out loud sometimes. It is probably, for a foreigner like me, the perception of the very English life.

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone

This is a book that I have had for a long time. I did start reading it years ago, but never finished it. Time to start again, since this was the book for the Book Challenge by Erin: 5 points - read a book that is at least 200 pages. My pocket version is 579 pages.

Irving Stone is mostly known for his biographical novels, or which A Lust for Life about Vincent van Gogh, and The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo are his most famous. The Greek Treasure is about Heinrich Schliemann and his Greek wife Sophia and their quest to find the city of Troy and Priam's treasure. It is a fascinating book in many ways. The characters, their goals in life and the pride in their achievements.

Heinrich Schliemann was born in Germany, but had the world as his home. He was a self-made man and made three fortunes in different countries. He spoke many languages and said he could learn a language in six weeks. He was interested in the classics and learned Greek just to be able to read Homer in the original language. Archeology was another interest and he had a dream of finding Troy, and he had his own idea of where it was located.
"'To the questions: "How much time in a Collegiate course of study should be given to the study of languages?" I answer as Charles V justly observed to Francis I: "With every new language one acquires a new life"; for by the knowledge of the language of a foreign country we are able to get acquainted with its literature its manners and customs...'"
In order to pursue his dream he needed a Greek wife. He announced in the papers for a wife with similar interests as his. His friend, the Archbishop of Athens, suggested a relative of his, 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos. In spite of the age different, Schliemann was 47 at the time, they got along and married. It turned out to be a very successful and happy one. As is seen from a letter extract below (from Henry Schliemann to Sophia on September 6, 1869) Schliemann approaches all parts of his life in quite a practical way.
"... Could you please ask your excellent parents and write to me if it is possible to see you without all those people around, but alone with you, and not once but more often, because I think we are seeing each other to get acquainted, and to see whether our characters can get along together. This is quite impossible in the presence of so many persons. Marriage is the most magnificent of all establishments if it is based on respect, love and virtue. Marriage is the heaviest bondage if it is based on material interests or sexual attraction.
Thank God I am not so crazy that I should go blindly into a second marriage; so if the fashion in Athens does not allow me to see you often alone with your parents, to know you well, then I beg you not to think any longer of me. ..."

Friday, 1 February 2019

Book beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

Back to this, one of my favourite challenges! A book beginning and a quote from page 56. This week's book is a new purchase, a non-fiction book that sounds interesting. It is Prisoners of Geography, The maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics, by Tim Marshall. From the back cover:
"All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements - but if you don't know geography, you'll never have the full picture."
The book covers the following countries and regions; Russia, China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, The Arctic.

Book beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader
"It has become a truism to think, and to say, that we live in exceptionally unstable times. The world, we are told, has never been more unpredictable. Such statements invite a cautious, even sceptical, response. It is right to be cautious. The world has always been unstable and the future, by definition, unpredictable. Our current worries could certainly be much worse. If nothing else, the centenary of 1914 should have reminded us of that.

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice
"Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China (ROC) to differentiate it from the People's Republic of China, although both sides believe they should have jurisdiction over both territories."

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

In November Classic Spin #19 we were encouraged to read a chunkster book, and were given a deadline for 31 January 2019. I had not adjusted my list to chunksters only, so my no. 1 was Henry James' Washington Square which I finished rather quickly, since it is not really a thick book at all.  I decided to choose another, thicker book, from my list. I wanted to read Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset for a long time.  My version compiles all the three books (The Wreath, The Wife and The Cross) of this Norwegian family saga, set during the Medieval Ages, mid 14th century.

Sigrid Undset was born in Denmark in 1882 and died in Norway in 1949. She wrote the book in Norwegian. The prize motivation was: "principally for her powerful description of Northern life during the Middle Ages." On this I can agree. It is a fantastic family saga, a strong female 'heroine', traditions, life at the countryside, or mountains, religion and superstition.
"No one and nothing can harm us, child, except what we fear and love."
Sigrid Undset, The Wreath
The book tells about nature, traditions and above all religion in this small corner of Norway. It is mixed with the story of Kristin Lavransdatter, her love for Erlend and their children. In the summer of 1959, the Swedish Radio asked their listeners to choose the best love story in the world. Kristin Lavransdatter won a clear victory. It is a love story, but not of the romantic kind. Kristin and Erlend love each other, but the hardship of daily life takes its toll. Kristin has been raised to take care of a big farm. Erlend was out fighting for his king and lived a different life. Kristin is the pillar of the family, taking care of house, children and people working for them. Erlend is a restless soul and have difficulties settling down. I think most people can identify with both of them, and we can also see similarities with our lives today.
"Many a man is given what is intended for another, but no man is given another's fate."

Sigrid Undset, The Wife 
Kristin Lavransdatter is an epic saga and an excellent story of how life was at the time. I was quite surprised how strong religion was (although I guess I should not). Religion was mixed with superstition, a lot of rules for people to live by and it added a sort of anxiety. Undset also manages to include politics and how it affects the families. It was turbulent times and a fight for the throne. To complicate matters, there was a union between Sweden and Norway and a minor on the throne. Political turmoil in other words.

It is a chunkster of a book (860 pages for all three books). It took a little bit of time to read, lots of text and less dialogue. However, this is a book that grows on you.  Although a love story, real life takes over and the love of the young very quickly disappears behind the daily chores. I am glad I read it, and I have thought a lot about it after I finished it. It does stay with you. I can understand why it got the Nobel Prize in Literature, and as such, it is more 'accessible' than most other winners.

Friday, 25 January 2019

New purchases

At Christmas I received a book voucher, so the other week I went over to the bookshop to see what was on offer. Since I try to read from my TBR shelves, and download to my ipad, I don't often go an buy a book in the bookshop. I have found though, since I am back in Sweden, that I go there a little bit more often than before. Still, I like to read English books in the original language, but it is a pleasure to find book in Swedish these days.

My voucher, plus an offer of three books for 10€, gave me ten books, to the price of 17€! Yes, a good deal indeed, since books are quite expensive in Sweden. Plus I ordered one from Amazon (Prisoners of Geography). Here is a short summary of the books. Some of them are translated in English and some are not.

Prisoners of Geography (Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics) by Tim Marshall. I ordered this via Amazon, since I wanted it in English. From the back cover:
"All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements - but if you don't know geography, you'll never have the full picture. ...
Prisoners of Geography looks at the past, present and future to offer an essential insight into one of the major factors that determines world history. It's time to put the 'geo' back into geopolitics."
I have been looking at this book for some time. It sounds like an interesting mix of geography, history and politics.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo probably do not need any more detailed introduction. One of the most popular thriller writers in the world.
"He’s the best cop they’ve got. When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. But a man like him won’t get to the top. Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his. Unless he kills for it."
I am almost ashamed to say I have not read anything by him. I have The Leopard on my shelves and started it once. The murder in the beginning was so terrible I could not continue to read. I don't know why murder mysteries these days have to have such violent murders (many of them in Nordic/Scandinavian books). Well, hopefully this starts less terrible. One read I can go back to the other one.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Metropolis by Philip Kerr

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Son's (Penguin Publishing Group
The book will be on sale on April 9, 2019
Hardcover - 384 pages
I received a copy of this book (via Edelweiss) for a fair & impartial review

Ever since I read my first book about Bernie Gunther some years ago, I was hooked. With Bernie Gunther, Philip Kerr has created a different hero, in a different time. Bernie Gunther is a homicide detective in Berlin's Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) during the Nazi time. Not an easy task under normal circumstances, and even more so during these turbulent times. That could be why Bernie Gunther is tough, rough and cynical, but with a very special sense of humor.
"He's sardonic, tough-talking, and cynical, but he does have a rough sense of humor and a rougher sense of right and wrong. Partly that's because he is a true Berliner." (Philip Kerr)
In his latest book, Metropolis, Kerr takes us back to the very beginning; that is, to tell the story how Gunther ended up at the Kripo. Having been in Vice for some years he is honoured to be offered the very prestigious post and accepts without further ado. More or less immediately, he is thrown into a  a serial murder case, aiming at prostitutes and war invalids begging in the streets. Gunther thinks it is the same murderer, and he decides to go undercover to find some traces of the illusive murderer.

As he tries to concentrate on the murder case, he is nevertheless affected by corruption within his own force. The Nazi party begins to infiltrate the state organism and anti-semitism is ripe. You don't know who you can trust. The theatre world is booming and as he is about to go undercover, he meets a make-up artist. She helps turning him into a realistically looking, handicapped war veteran. She is strong and witty and Gunther finds a soulmate.

The story takes place in 1928, during the Weimar republic, in a Berlin still suffering from World War I. Gunther is a disillusioned war hero, and it is his cynicism that helps him survive. Kerr visualises a Berlin, raw, with its vices, dark underworld of criminal gangs, prostitution and perverse sex clubs. It takes my mind to Christopher Isherwood's  Farewell to Berlin. The same decadence and lack of trust in the future. A fight to survive and living by the day. It is so well done.

Metropolis as a title for the book is very well chosen. It gives us the connection to Fritz Lang's famous, urban dystopian film from 1927. This is how we are imagining a city going towards its doom. To make an even stronger connection, Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, are side characters in the novel. Bernie Gunther moves between the different layers of society and seems at home in all of them. Berlin is an interesting background, although always present, in this Bernie Gunther's first murder case with the Kripo.

In Metropolis we meet a younger and less experienced man than we meet in later books. His memories of the war are still ripe and affects him. His wife died in 1918 in the Spanish influenza pandemic, and privately he is a little bit lost. Or maybe, he is just afraid to be hurt again. He is a ladies' man, so never short of temptations. Gunther is a very likeable character, although he sometimes takes short cuts. His intentions are good at least, and it is good to meet a character who sticks to his belief in what is right or wrong.

I can highly recommend this, or any of Kerr's other books about Gunther. The stories are good and the time is very well portrayed and researched. That is with most of his books; they fit into a time and circumstances that are interesting to read about. On top of this, you always get a good murder mystery. If you have not read any of Kerr's books about Bernie Gunther, this is a good one to start with.

There is a Bernie Gunther fan site which is very interesting to read. There is also information about Kerr's other books.

Unfortunately, Philip Kerr died in March 2018 of cancer. Just before, he finished his 14th Bernie Gunther novel, Metropolis.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

When I read the text on the back cover of this book I was a little bit hesitant to read this book. I have read quite a lot about the Romanovs, especially the last family, and felt that I did not need another story about them. Especially, since modern discoveries and science have put an end to the discussions whether one, or more, of the siblings survived their ordeal. I did start it though and I could not put it down until it was finished.

From the web-site of Gill Paul a short introduction.
"Two stories.
Two very different women, linked by the secrets of history. 
2016. After a devastating revelation, Kitty flees to her great-grandfather’s cabin on the shore of Lake Akanabee, New York State. There she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to an extraordinary, long-buried family secret… 
1914. Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with injured cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance – and their lives – in danger…"
Paul has written a fascinating story about a time of turmoil, that affected so many people. It is exciting, emotional and well researched as come to actual events. She has combined real and fictional events into an intriguing story of love and war, that stretches from World War I, the Russian revolution, into World War II and beyond. A fight for love that never ends, that affects the people concerned, but also the people that they meet. It even affects later generations. 

The two parallell stories work very well. Kitty's inheritance leads her to her great-grandfather of which she has hardly heard anything. Going through his cabin, talking to people, researching the internet, she slowly gets to know more about the man he was and the secret he kept. In the end his life and destiny give her a new look on her own life and relationships. It is Kitty and Dmitri who are the narrators. Through Kitty we learn more about the bigger story of the Romanovs and through Dmitri the smaller, more detailed parts of the story. It works very well in getting the story through. 

I really took to this story and the writing of Gill Paul. The link goes to her web-site, where you see other books she has written, both fiction and non fiction. I will certainly read something more of her. This was a book I really loved and although it is a romantic story, she has kept it on a realistic base, which makes it all so real. 

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Nele Neuhaus is a German writer and new to me. I found the book (original title: Schneewittchen muss sterben) while using my Christmas gift card.  I was intrigued by the story on the back cover, and when I found the front cover with a snowy landscape, I knew I had to take this one. I needed a snowy motive for the Calendar of Crime 2019 challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. The criteria for January was themes connected to this month or the season. A snowy landscape was therefore perfect. And what a hit this crime novel was.

I have to admit that I started the book in the afternoon, could not put it down and finished it at 3 a.m.! Yep. One of those 'unputdownable' crime stories, where you just need to know 'whodunnit'.

Tobias is coming out of prison after a ten years sentence for killing two teenage girls. The bodies were never found, so the verdict was based on circumstantial evidence only. Coming back to the small village where he grew up and where the murders took place, he finds the family restaurang closed and his father living in a poor condition. The neighbours are not happy to see Tobias home again and try to force him away. At the same time a skeleton of a girl is found and the police starts an investigation. Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein are the two policemen put on the case.

It is a crime story, and I would not like to reveal too much of the story if you intend to read it. If you are a crime fan, you just have to! It is very well written. Pia and Oliver are well characterised and we follow them both privately and professionally. The police work is very well described and seems realistic. What makes this story so fantastic is the psychological effects on a small village, where everybody know each other, and where a local 'important' person makes sure that everyone is dependent on him, so he can pull the strings in all aspects of village life. And, so it seems, most of the village people have a secret to hide.

The intrigue is so well composed that it keeps up the excitement all through the book. It is impossible to guess who the culprit is until the very end. The village characters, who are very diverse, are well built up and you think you know them all. It is a nerv racking book, and as I said, impossible to put down until you know the end.

Nele Neuhaus has written nine books about Kirchhoff and Bodenstein, of which this is number four. I am happy to see that there are more books where this came from.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Trains & Boats & Planes by Killen McNeill

"Love for Harry Moore will be forever linked with Marie, the beautiful girl from Alsace. Ever since his magical teenage encounter with her in a tine holiday resort in Donegal, it has never lived up to his expectations.
Thirty years later, Harry, middle-aged, but not quite disillusioned, travels to Strasbourg to take up the search for Marie and the innocence and longings of his youth."
McNeill's book is a coming of age story. Events of his early youth affects Harry Moore his whole life. He is not able to forget Maria, the girl he met during an enchanting summer, at a time when he is going from being a teenager to become a man. Good and bad things happened during this last summer of childhood, and it affected all of the people involved.

The story starts in the present time when Harry Moore is visiting Strasbourg on a business trip. Having never forgotten Maria, he intends to look her up. Thirty years is a long time and people change. He is hesitant, but in the end he contacts her.

This is Killen McNeill's first novel (from 2001) and a very good one. He is from Norther Ireland, but is living in Germany. The story is set with the Northern Ireland conflict as a background, although it is not at the forefront of the story. McNeill's way of writing reminds me a little bit about two Irish writers that I like, namely Colm Tóibín and Sebastian Barry. It is something in telling a story, where nothing much is happening in the physical sense, but more on a psychological level. Wonderfully, straightforwardly written, with a feeling of how young people act, their dreams and visions, or no visions at all.

The younger years and the devastating summer are seen in flash backs, and take up the bigger part of the book. It is only now, in middle age, that Harry finds the possibility to see clearly what happened all those years ago. Maybe we do need a life time to settle certain parts of our life. However, what if that has prevented us from living a full life?

Meeting Marie opens up a lot of feelings within Harry, feelings not easily controllable. And then he finds out other things, about Marie and his wife. A low toned book with a lot of feelings, thoughts and an outlook on what life is really about. Is it not all about the people we love?