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Tag Archives: 1920s/1930s

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

I decided to read this book because it sounded like an interesting self-discovery book. I can’t say that I was disappointed, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I would label this book a classic, primarily because of its language and content. I actually found it was quite interesting although I’m not quite sure why.

The story follows Kitty Fane. She is a young (mid-20s) woman living with her husband Walter in the English colony in Hong Kong, China in the 1920s. Kitty had only married her husband in order to be married before her younger sister, and there is no love in her heart for her husband. She has an affair that her husband found out about. He gave her two choices he divorces her (leaving her ruined socially) or she goes with him to a remote Chinese village to help fight a cholera epidemic. After fighting with her lover, she consents to go to the village.

When she gets to the village, she is in a severe depression and the rest of the story is how she comes to view herself and those around her. There is the local English Customs official for the town that she finds herself in company with a lot, her husband Walter, and the local nuns that she spends the bulk of her time with and help to shape her ideas. The nuns in particular have a profound impact on her as she slowly changes her views of the world.

I think this book was a wonderful cultural read. You learned quite a bit about the English in China in the early 1900s. There’s prejudice and racism. Kitty in particular is quite racist, but for the time the language and opinions wouldn’t have been at all unusual. The first third of the book is Kitty having and being caught about her affair. After that, you move into rural china where a lot of the interesting aspects of the book are. You learned about nuns and why they become missionaries and how they are happy in their work. They reference traveling by chair all the time. I was correct in what I thought that meant, but was still surprised by this mode of travel. Here is the chair that is described. It is carried by collies (indentured servants) from the front and back.

Overall I thought it was an interesting read. I can’t say way in particular I thought it was good, but it was just the general impression of writing style, language, culture, and emotional growth. I can’t say Kitty grew by leaps and bounds, but she did grow some. I liked that the romance scenes happened ‘off stage’ by being alluded to and then a scene change. I enjoyed the language and writing style as well. The chapters are extremely short, some only a page or two long. It made it easy to stop as needed.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys classical fiction. Also, anyone interested in early 1900s China or the English colonization of China in that time frame might enjoy this, as long as they keep in mind it is still fiction and the story focuses on the emotions and life of a young woman. I’m giving it three cheese slices only because I think this is a one and done read. I can’t think that I’ll go back and read it, but it was an enjoyable read the first time through.

My rating:

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Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I have wanted to start reading Agatha Christie for a while now. My husband recently read And Then There Were None by her and absolutely loved it. It is hard to find a book that engrosses him, so when he was so captivated I knew I would have to read one of her books as well. I had downloaded the complete Miss Marple collection on my Kindle, but  I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. So when we had a long trip coming up, I decided I would download us a couple Agatha Christie books to listen to on the way. My husband actually suggested Murder on the Orient Express and I am extremely glad he did.

Let me start by saying the book is part of the Hercule Poirot series, which I have discovered is similar to Sherlock Holmes with a few full length novels and many, many short stories. This book is one of the full length novels and can be read independently.

The book is set between 1930 and 1932 (based on context clues) and opens with Mr. Hercule Poirot getting on a train with two passengers to head toward Turkey. During the ride, he observes the couple and notes so inconsistencies. He disembarks in Istanbul never intending to see them again, but is obliged to board with them on The Orient Express in order to quickly return to London. In preparing to board, he runs into his friend, the owner of the train line, who helps him gain a berth in the fully booked train. Two days into the journey, a wealthy American is found murdered in his suite after the train is stopped at a snow drift. From there, Mr. Poirot is assigned to help solve the mystery of who murdered the man.

There are a lot of twists and turns, several surprises, and an ending that is unexpected. I found Mr. Poirot to be a highly amusing, well-rounded character. For me there was a lot of humor in the book. The book also made you think and try to puzzle out what really happened. There is a mysterious woman in a red kimono, a monogrammed handkerchief, and a few mysterious sounds.  Mr. Poirot does a good job of helping to sort out the timeline and who was where. My husband and I didn’t figure it out until just before he revealed the murderer. You have to be into interesting mysteries if you read this book. There is very little action and most of the book is sort out the facts from interviews with the people on the train and observations made by Mr. Poirot.

The audiobook was very well done. The narrator, Dan Stevens, did an amazing job bouncing between characters and accents. I would highly recommend his audiobook if you want to listen to it.

I think this book should be read by anyone who really enjoys a good mystery that has you puzzling out how the murder was done. Anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes mysteries will most likely highly enjoy this. There is not a lot of action, so if that is what you are looking for, this book is not for you. But if you want to be entertained and have a great way to work your brain, then this is the book for you.

My rating:

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

 

The first thing that surprised me about this book was the time period it was set in. Usually “classics” are set in times before 1900/1910. This book actually takes place in the thirties, after the invention of cars, telephones, and general connection to electricity. It had a faint Gatsby type quality to it. The second thing that surprised me was that the narrator never gave her name. Throughout the book she is not addressed directly, except as “Mrs. de Winter” after she is married. It was quite interesting for some reason.

The narrator is a young woman you first me working as a companion to an American woman in Monte Carlo. There she meets Maximillian de Winter, a recent widower. The two have a very fast courtship and marry within the month. The return to Manderley, his well-known estate house. As the narrator settles in to married life (and during her courtship), she becomes aware that any reference to Maxim’s first wife Rebecca causing great tension within him. He doesn’t like to talk about her or hear her mentioned. At the house, she feels the anger of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who resents her taking Rebecca’s place. The narrator feels a constant competition going on between herself and the deceased Rebecca. This causes much heartache, pain, and tension through the first half of the book. Everything comes to a head at the Fancy Dress Ball that is held in her honor. Afterwards, you learn a great deal more about the drama that unfolded at the house before her arrival and the previous Mrs. de Winter’s death. The twists and turns the story takes at this point are quite fascinating and you really get to know and like several characters.

As I read it, I could see how it was considered a classic. The story line was quite interesting, but took it a step further by adding twists and turns one never saw coming. It takes a while though to really get into it. I had a feeling like I was reading Wuthering Heights for a while, where you hate (actually feel rage and hate) toward many of the characters in the book. It gives the impression of a twisted love story for a while. After the Fancy Dress Ball there is a marked change in numerous characters that improves the story greatly for the better. You let out a sigh of relief when you discover the different truths scattered throughout Manderley and with the de Winter household. I have trouble deciding whether or not I like the book actually. I really despised the beginning, actually wanted to stop reading it, but my husband assured me it was well worth it to finish. He was quite right. I was glad I finished it, not exactly happy about the way it ended, sort of a cliff hanger, but it ended strong. I chose to go with 4 cheese bits instead of 3 for my rating because I would read it again if I was looking for an interesting, non-traditional story.

My rating:

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