April’s Goodreads Challenge – The Romance of the Forest

I was worried I might have to start this post reporting my failure to uphold my resolution. (Instead I need to start it with an apology that it’s so late, and a disclosure saying that I did in fact finish the book in April, and I wrote this post a week ago, but I’ve only just got round to posting it!) The Romance of the Forest proved a hard book to read. I could harp on about all the other things going on that have been taking up my time and attention, and granted they all exist, but in all honesty, I just really struggled with this book. But I’m happy to say I finished it, at about quarter to eleven last night, so just in time hurrah!

An eighteenth-century Gothic novel that has sat on my shelves for long enough, I had tried to read it before and stalled on the first page. I’m pleased I persevered, and I have enjoyed it (at times). The problem with eighteenth and nineteenth century writing – that I’ve found, anyway – isn’t in the old-fashioned style they use, the long sentences, the incomprehensible sentence structure, the wayward subjects or even subject matter now quite alien to a modern reader. I get all that and like all that. The problem is I am a fast reader. My imagination leaps beyond the words that I’m reading so when I’m in a story that has very dense writing, including join-the-dots descriptions and misleading sentence starters that begin somewhere and then randomly out of nowhere go off on a tangent, I struggle with it. I probably need to sit down with my imagination and tell it to behave. Not that it’ll listen, and not that I’d want it to anyway.

So The Romance of the Forest is a book that moves too fast and too slow all at once. Confusing? Yes. At least the majority of the characters have different names, right? Well, up until the last few chapters and then we had two characters with the same title and it was all a bit of a blur. The main character is Adeline, and I think the reason I didn’t like her is because I saw much too much of myself in her. She’s a melodramatic, melancholy slip of a thing, prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing, and she just annoyed me a little too much. The storyline starts with a mystery, then more mysteries come up and unless I totally just didn’t pay attention, the mysteries are all resolved at the end. Hurrah! Adeline is an orphan, essentially, and is placed under the care of the La Motte family, who are themselves fleeing debtors. Together they take refuge in a spooky abbey, where they find all these mysterious objects, some of which suggest a sinister past to the abbey. Then the abbey’s real owner appears and makes their lives very difficult.

There are some serious plot twists in this book. A lot of the twists happen in about the last 50 pages, and some twists are fun little false twists too, which do work quite well to keep you guessing. Part of the book’s style is the way Radcliffe starts by introducing a sinister motif, or a thrilling moment, and then dissolving it – spoiler alert: for example, Adeline sees a mysterious man in the woods and is afraid, but he turns out to be a nice chap indeed.

Radcliffe was a travel writing buff and so her own writing is rich with descriptions of exotic places that she herself may not have made it to. I must admit I did skim through a few of the longer passages waxing about the beauty of this French town or this lake with its acacias.

I thought I would enjoy this a bit more than I did. I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads, which is an OK rating on the Goodreads scale. It just was a bit of a slog, unfortunately.

For May I’m jumping into The Magus by John Fowles. Now Fowles wrote one of my favourite books ever, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, so let’s see if this one can live up to my high expectations. The blurb suggests it should be right up my street. I am feeling some The Name of the Rose vibes with it, so we shall see!

Kipling photobomb

The Magus, by John Fowles: On a remote Greek Island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. As reality and illusion intertwine, Urfe is caught up in the darkest of psychological games. John Fowles expertly unfolds a tale that is lush with over-powering imagery in a spellbinding exploration of human complexities. By turns disturbing, thrilling and seductive, The Magus is a feast for the mind and the senses.


Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime


Amazon have released a list of 100 books that they recommend you should read in your lifetime. I was pretty impressed to have read 35 of them by 23, and also quite chuffed to see some of my favourites in there, like Birdsong, Atonement, and The English Patient. I also think I have over 20 more on either my bookshelf or on my Kindle, so there’s time yet!

People often get quite heated about these sort of things: I like to read them for inspiration for future reads more than anything else (I added To the Lighthouse, Murder on the Orient Express, and My Man Jeeves to my Amazon wish list), and just to see how many I have read. Often it seems like the angsty academics (or more likely, failed wish-they-were-angsty-academics) kick off about the lack of classics, or the choice of classics, or the inclusion of this many modern books at the cost of a few more dusty oldies, but this isn’t a definitive guide. It’s subjective, obviously. The Guardian have been running a series on The 100 Best Novels, and the comments are always rife with criticism, outrage, andĀ uproar from the keyboard warriors who think because they read this book, it is simply better. Calm down!

One book that often crops up on these lists that I’ve tried time and time again to get into but never get past the first fifty pages is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It’s just impenetrable to me, and it sits on my shelf like a constant reminder of reading failure. Then again, when I was fourteen or fifteen I must have picked Dracula up about ten times and failed to get past the Brides in the Castle, and then for my Masters entry essay, I threw myself at it and read it in about an afternoon. Similarly, I’m not the biggest Dickens fan, but after reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood twice now and watching the excellent BBC TV show, I am now swiftly becoming a convert.

It’s all about growing! When I was 16, Birdsong was my favourite book. And yet now, I have no one single favourite book, but rather a selection that I love, and they are invariably individual and personal, and for the most part, remind me of a certain time or person or feeling. At that point, is it less the book and rather the personal connection that makes them memorable?

Isn’t that one of the themes in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which I finished recently? Another book missed off the list!