Monday 18 August 2008

I'm back! / Mockingbirds and Cousins

Hurray! The internet has arrived at Marlborough Road!

For those of you thinking "That's not news, you blogged on Saturday", I have to say - that wasn't me. Well, in a way it was, but it was a phantom post - I tried to link to the video on Youtube a couple of weeks ago, and failed. Obviously it was hanging around in the ether, waiting for som
eone to authorise it or something, and suddenly it appeared at the weekend. Strange.

I'm afraid my return to the blogosphere will be short-lived, since I'm
away on holiday on Friday, and back on 29th August - so more then. I do hope some people are still here, even with all the disruptions of late... blame the world of technology which eludes me. Thankfully one of my housemates has a very savvy boyfriend, who kindly tip-tip-tapped away at the keyboard and got everything sorted out. I am living proof that young + male doesn't necessarily = good at internetty things. In fact, if you use the word 'internetty', then you probably don't qualify. Though I once plugged an ethernet cable in upside down (no easy task), so I'm in a league of my own.

In the time I've been away from blogging, I've had quite a build-up of books to talk about, so that will probably take us up til I head off to Northern Ireland. Today I'm goin
g to write about the last two book group books I've read in recent weeks, both classics of the twentieth century.

My Cousin Rachel is the third novel I've read by Daphne du Maurier - I wrote about The Flight of the Falcon here, having not been overwhelmed, but Rebecca is one of my favourite novels. My Cousi
n Rachel probably fell between the two. (There are some spoilers here, but not too many...) It tells the story of Ambrose and Philip Ashley, cousins who are more or less father and son, living in Cornish rural simplicity, away from women and contentedly reliant upon one another. Ambrose is taken off to Italy, and it is here that he meets and marries Rachel - and dies. Rachel comes to see Philip in England, and he is prepared to hate her - but their relationship becomes increasingly complicated, as does the readers' thoughts about Rachel's potential culpability.

The novel has a lot in common with Rebecca - and not just t
he setting. The same intrigue, power, and issues about what is left unspoken in relationships. Though not as successful as Rebecca - I found the first 80 pages dragged a little, in fact until Rachel arrived - My Cousin Rachel is brilliantly successful in the sense that I have never left a novel so uncertain as to a character's guilt or lack of it - and either interpretation seems quite valid. Brilliantly done. There are such sophisticated themes of obsession and attracting obsession without being aware of it, the cyclical nature of the men's experiences... The group discussing the novel were divided from absolute loathing to absolute loving, and thus an 'interesting' meeting was held!

My other book group were rather more agreed on To Kill A Mockingbird. This is one The Carbon Copy has been telling me to read for years, and I've continually meant to, so was glad when someone recommended it for book group and spurred me on. What a great book. I don't think there's any point in me giving a synopsis, since almost everyone has read th
is novel before me, but having seen the film I was surprised that so little of the book was concerned with the trial of Tom Robinson. To Kill A Mockingbird is much more a depiction of Southern life for the Finch family, and a portrait of a daughter's relationship with her father - and a beautiful portrait at that. When I did the Booking Through Thursday about heroes, Colin put forward Atticus Finch, and I have to agree. The man is incredible - a very worthy father, a moralistic lawyer and a humble citizen, a combination which is tricky to write without seeming unrealistic or irritating. Atticus, though, remains wholly admirable and likeable throughout, and is one of the great male characters in literature, I'd say. I could eulogise about him, and this novel, for ages - but I won't. I want to hear what you think.

There, written about two books without quoting from either of them. Tsk. Here's one I like: "If I didn't take this case (Scout) then I wouldn't be able to hold my head up, I wouldn't be about to tell anyone what to do, not even you and Jem." Or this:

"I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system - that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty."


  1. Atticus was responsible for my choice of career, so the book is special for many reasons.

  2. I have always loved TKAM. I know that it is always one of those fall back American Classics, but still, I love it, I do.

    I had the same problem with My Cousin Rachel. I really loved it but for days I would find myself off in space wondering if it was her fault or not. And if so, how much? Is she to blame? Or just a woeful victim.

    The name has slipped my mind right now, but there is a playwright that says of authors- "My job is but to ask".

  3. I put off reading To Kill a Mockingbird for a very long time. I have this phobia of southern lit as it tends to be heavy and depressing and so I avoid and I really shouldn't! So when I finally got around to it--I loved it! It was heavy, but not in an oppressive way. I read My Cousin Rachel years ago, and I don't quite remember the plot (just vaguely). I'm not sure anything could surpass Rebecca, but I do remember enjoying MCR. Have a nice vacation and I'm with you on technical/computer/internet stuff. Luckily there always seem to be people around who are willing to help.

  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It's my all time favorite book.

    Have fun on your vacation!

  5. I have always loved Atticus. He's one of those characters that you fall in love with and almost start to believe are real.

  6. I like your blog...not so deeply scolarly that it put off this dim wit.

    Bad lcuk about the grant, but there is always the OU.

  7. Thanks for the link to this. It's interesting that some people dislike it for its ambiguity, which to me is the absolute strength of the novel.
    By the way, I am probably moving back to Oxford this summer! I've been there a few times recently and always look to see if I see you in the street (though whether I'd recognise you from the photos I've seen I'm not sure). So far I have not!

  8. I haven't read 'My Cousin Rachel' though I loved 'Rebecca' especially the way the twist is unfolded. I absolutely loved 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and the film is just perfect (though Robert Duvall's Boo Radley is more creepy than child-like). Atticus, and particularly Gregory Peck's depiction, is probably one of the best male characters in fiction or screen ever.

    The film is incredibly powerful; every time I watch it I am moved to tears of fury when the repellent drunk lurches out of the shadows and orders Tom's relative to tell Atticus to come out and speak to him, assuming a superiority over the respectable black man he in no way has, but that is legitimised by the values (and laws!) of the time.


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