“Sleep is good and books are better.” — George R.R. Martin
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a book series written by Daniel Handler under the pen-name of Lemony Snicket. However, unlike most pseudonyms, Lemony Snicket actually interacts with the book series and features as a part of the book’s universe. The book chronicles the lives of the rich Baudelaire orphans after their parent’s deaths. Lemony Snicket serves as a narrator and possess a personal connection to the Baudelaire’s. It turns out, he loved the Baudelaire mother, Beatrice, back when the two were still young. However, Beatrice ended up marrying Betrand, the Baudelaire father, rather than Lemony. Nonetheless, after hearing of her death, Lemony feels compelled to discover what happened to the Baudelaire children afterwards and hence the novel commences with him frequently remarking upon the terrible circumstances. Are you still with me?
The Baudelaire’s are made up of three children. Violet, the oldest at 14, is a genius inventor and often takes the leadership role in the various situations the children find themselves in. Klaus, the middle child at 12, is a voracious reader and has the ability to remember everything he’s read, the point where he can recite random quotations from random authors at verbatim. And finally, Sunny, is the youngest at 2(?). Although she can’t properly speak by the time the books begin, she is incredibly intelligent, possess the ability to understand complex situations and communicates with ‘babbles’ only her siblings understand. The trio lived happily with their well-off parents until a mysterious fire destroyed their house, presumably also killing their parents although no bodies were found. A local banker, Mr. Poe, is tasked with executing their parent’s will, which includes the huge inheritance the trio are to inherit once Violet comes to age. Despite being foolish and self-absorbed, Poe is also responsible for finding a new residence for the Baudelaire’s, as the parent’s will specified that the Baudelaire’s were to live with their closest living relative. And herein enters Count Olaf, the main antagonist, an actor with circus henchmen who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune by any means possible, including murder.
There are 13 books in the series and each book deals with the children adapting to their new living situations, trying to get away from Count Olaf and his schemes to take over their fortune, and attempting to figure out their parent’s past/ present. The parents, it turns out, were spies (?) of some sort for the VFD (volunteer firefighters department?), a secret organization. Apparently, there was a schism in the organization wherein people split and took sides. The Baudelaire parents were obviously on the good side while Count Olaf was on the bad (yes, Count Olaf knew the parents from long ago). A lot of the people the Baudelaire’s encounter in the book are/were a part of the VFD, but despite their occurrence, the Baudelaire’s never do find out the full truth of their parent’s participation in the VFD. In fact, readers themselves never fully find out what the VFD is/for/does/did. Every new piece of information is given incomplete, through small vague clues, leading to eventual diversions to other topics/ parts of the truth.
I read somewhere that this elusive, purposeful holding of the full truth, was actually one of the themes of the book (i.e. the incomplete nature of the full truth). While I guess that explanation would help to solve the question of why the books remain so vague in its answers, I don’t really care. I just found it incredibly frustrating. I read this series way back, around the time the first book was published (early 2000s). Immediately, the dark comedic tone and mysterious story caught my attention and enthralled me. I faithfully read the books until the 10th book, after which I realized that the full truths of the story would never be revealed. The series contains 13 books, and while I normally don’t like reviewing or writing about things upon which I only have incomplete knowledge, I’m willing to make an exception in this case. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to reach the 10th book because most people I know who’ve read the story have not finished it either, or even reached the 10th book. Despite the wonderful story and great suspense, the story is too frustrating and unfulfilling to follow, as the full truth is NEVER revealed. It’s just annoying to read a story only to realize that you’ll never actually know what happened.
Anyway, after that long recap, this post isn’t really about the books but about the tv series. This year, an original NetFlix production of the series was created and aired. Currently, only season 1 has aired and it has covered 4 books. Although I was quite frustrated by the books inability to answer its mysteries, I was still incredibly excited at the prospect of the show about them. The books are written well and do have engaging characters. The books had been attempted to be adapted for the big screen with a movie in 2004. But personally, I wasn’t a fan of it as I felt it rushed too many things. Hence, when I heard about the tv adaptation, I was excited because I felt a tv format would allow for greater detail and accuracy. To be happiness, that is exactly what happened. The sets, stories, scenes, larger VFD mystery are all well done and plotted and remain fantastic. I honestly had not expected it to be as great as it was. That said, I do want to address a few things.
Firstly, I heard that there was some criticism over Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf, with most people saying that he wasn’t scary enough. But to be honest, I don’t think that criticism holds. Yes sure Harris plays Count Olaf with more humour than his book counterpart, but that doesn’t detract from the scariness. His Olaf is still terrifying. There’s a menacing undercurrent to Olaf’s humour that comes through with Harris’s acting which prevents Olaf from coming across as too comedic. If anything, I think it enhances the character. Olaf fancies himself a great actor and Harris’s Olaf embodies that delusional identification with crazy costumes, weird voices, and general oddness. But he still manages to imbue Olaf with a scariness because his Olaf is also absolutely ruthless with his violent tendencies, devious tricks, and general horribleness. It’s more of a low-key threat, which I quite appreciate because I think it helps keep the tone of the show/ books.
Secondly, despite my earlier claim of accuracy in the show, I want to iterate that this doesn’t mean that everything is 100% accurate. If anything, it’s about 80% accurate, which is still quite accurate in the grand scheme of things. However, some characterizations are definitely off. Violet, played by Malina Weissman, is one of the few that come to mind. In the books, she functions as the fierce leader of the Baudelaire trio and often comes up with plans to save them. In the tv series however, her fierceness is quite downplayed and she comes across as more complacent than active. Instead, her role of leader is given to Klaus, played by Louis Hynes. On a similar note, Aunt Josephine’s character, is given more of a saint-washing, as in the books, she much more selfish and horrible.
Thirdly, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in casting. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the cast was still white. But there were a few other people of colour in significant roles that I quite enjoyed. In particular, the Baudelaire’s guardians, Uncle Monty, a herpetologist, and Aunt Josephine, a formerly fierce but now cowardly woman, were played by Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard respectively. Not to mention that Mr. Poe was played by K. Todd Freeman. Similarly, one of Olaf’s henchman, The Hook-handed Man, was played by Usman Ally. It’s always really nice to see diversity and although it could 100% be better, I felt that it was still a nice effort (although on a more introspective note, it’s sad how happy I get when there’s more than one POC because there should be more and standards should be higher).
Fourthly, I quite liked the way Lemony Snicket and his commentary were employed throughout show (through the use of Patrick Walburton as Lemony). It brought a uniqueness I did not expect and definitely helped to capture the dark humour of the books. Similarly, I enjoyed the red herring put by the show (deliberately being vague because it really is great LOL).
That said, I also read somewhere that this is a show to be savoured rather than binged and I completely agree. The books themselves are quite dark, but are prevented from being too depressing by Lemony Snicket’s commentary. The tv series doesn’t quite have that advantage at the same level. While Patrick Warburton is good at diffusing certain tense and dark scenes, they still leave the viewer unsettled and focused on the dark scene. If you watch too much of it, there’s chances that you’ll become very sad at the Baudelaire’s plight. However, if you savour each episode and take breaks, I think it would be more enjoyable because you wouldn’t be overtaken by sadness. I did the latter and quite enjoyed the series despite its macabre gothic tone.
My rating: Watch it if you’re a fan of the book series or if you’d like to watch a hopeless show with a sense of misplaced hopefulness.
If you can recall, I reviewed the first book in this series, The Invisible Library, with great enthusiasm and expressed my fervent desire to read the sequels. This week, I finally got my hands on it! And to my delight, this book did not disappoint and instead left me with an even larger cliff-hanger/ desire to read further than the previous instalment!
If you’ve read my previous review, you probably know that one of my great attractions to this series, alongside its general plot (sign me up to become a library spy!), was the character of Irene. Irene is everything you’d want in a protagonist. She’s cool, smart, quick-witted, loyal, and even humble. There’s a few scenes in the book where other characters are visibly scared of her and she is always taken off guard and surprised (although this doesn’t stop her from manipulating the situation and scaring them more LOL). I usually don’t like it when characters are overly naive or modest, but Irene doesn’t come across like that. She’s genuinely unaware. Due to her position as a junior in the Librarian hierarchy, she believes that she still has miles to go before she can even consider herself to be a real, genuine, huge threat to others. So when characters do remark on her achievements or are terrified by her, she is taken off guard. That said, as I also mentioned earlier, this does not mean that she’s completely insecure or unsure of her capabilities. Irene is quite self-aware. She knows her abilities and she does have confidence in herself. I just, I really like her as a protagonist and this instalment just furthered my like. In this book, she goes beyond and demonstrated, not only how supremely talented and capable of a spy she is, but also how responsible, determined and loyal she is.
On that note, this book also goes further into Kai’s background. In the book’s plot, Kai is kidnapped and his kidnapping has the potential of beginning a war between his kind and the opposite of his kind (deliberately being vague, but hopefully for the benefit of new readers!). So, in terms of action, he actually doesn’t feature that much. He only really enters the scene near the end of the book. However, as the book is focused on him and his background, we do learn a little bit about him. And through learning more about his background, we’re also given more information on the world-building this series hinges upon.
We already knew that the Library existed in this timeless dimension with doors to other realities and we finally learn about some of the rules that govern how the other realities function. I had mentioned earlier how some worlds were “chaos-infested” where magic overtook natural order and in this book, we find out that this is because of fae (or fairy folk as I privately refer to them). Fae are described to be these powerful creatures who can create glamours and false realities (i.e. make you believe certain things through their words alone). When too many Fae inhabit a world, they make it chaos-infested because Fae tend to see everyone else as characters in their story. In an ironical twist, Fae see themselves as the protagonists of their story and everyone around them plays a supporting role. Apparently, this means that other humans are manipulated by the Fae so that situations can occur according to the Fae’s chosen story. Hence the term “chaos-infested” because too many Fae = too many competing Fae’s all crafting their own individual stories = humans manipulated and having basically no agency. Of course the degree of chaos- infestation also differs with the level. So while the previous novel was set in a mildly chaos infected London, this book takes place mainly in an extremely chaos-infested Venice (aka different reality). Hopefully, you’re still around after that complicated explanation.
Like my previous review, I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the novel because I think I’d like readers to experience it for themselves. However, I would like to discuss some other things I disliked and enjoyed.
Firstly, I was taken a little off guard by the relationship/ interactions between Detective Vale and Irene. As our lens through the story is Irene, it’s obvious that my observations are undoubtedly influenced by her emotions and POV. Hence, although perhaps it is arguable that Vale’s tone/ words were fine, when Irene found them to be quite harsh, I also found them to be harsh. And personally, I also found Vale’s behaviour with Irene to be quite rude. I understood that he was worried for Kai but at the same time, a little politeness wouldn’t hurt you know. Also, I was also quite peeved at the way Vale seemed to treat Irene’s job/ power. From my perspective, he was almost disdainful of her profession and dismissive of the amount of effort her powers took to be used. He was so callous in his remarks to her that I felt hurt on her behalf. Maybe Vale acts like this because he’s supposed to represent the archetype snobby, know-it-all detective. Whatever the reasons, I was not a fan, although his determination and abilities are indeed amazing.
Secondly, I also found this book to be more…tongue-in-cheek? I’m not quite sure what the exact word is, but throughout the book, Irene and other characters talked at length about stories, story-telling, plot cohesion/ creation, the role of characters, etc. As this is a book based upon books/ a library, I thought it was pretty humorous and ingenious of Cogman to include such discussions in her book. Although perhaps I interpreted it wrongly and perhaps the discussions on books were not meant to be ironic but rather educational? Either way, I thought it was quite interesting and subversive.
Thirdly, related to the second point, there was a whole bit in the book where Irene learns of the story of a horse-and-knight and it’s through that medium quite a bit of the latter discussion on books/ characters/ motivations takes place. However, it just really confused me. I didn’t quite understand the purpose? In my interpretation, the entire discussion was really just a means to an end, rather than being an end in itself. Which isn’t bad I suppose, but not something I’m a big fan of either (i.e. spending too much time on something that isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things). Or maybe I just interpreted it wrong. Whatever.
That said, I personally found the previous book to have more of a thrilling adventure. Don’t get me wrong, this book was definitely a roller coaster of a ride. Yet, as engrossing as it was, I don’t think it lived up to the original novel. I think it fell a tad, very very tiny bit, short of the original. There were a few mentions made of Alberich in this book and I found myself repeatedly more curious about his story/ unfinished business with Irene then the general plot of this book. However, perhaps this is not so much a critique on this book as it is of my own preferences. I suppose I am just more into the general personal plot of the book, centred on Irene specifically, than I am into general world of the book. And that’s actually what a lot of the book focuses upon: fleshing out the general world building of this series. Again, it’s not a bad thing and it’s definitely really interesting.
So the book is still definitely rated pretty highly in my opinion. I’m SUPER excited to get my hands on the final instalment and hopefully have all the little mysterious hints dropped about Irene and her past/ future to be resolved!
My rating: read it for fun and to continue The Invisible Library adventure!
The Winter Palace, for those of you unaware, used to be the official winter residence of Russian monarchs. Of course when the monarchy was abolished in 1917, it stopped being used as a royal residence and instead became a tourist attraction. Nonetheless, when I saw this book titled The Winter Palace, I was intrigued. And when the book claimed to be about Catherine the Great, I was further intrigued and hence picked up the book to read. While the description of the book isn’t explicitly accurate, it was still an enjoyable read and I intend on reviewing it. So let’s get into it.
The Winter Palace is written by Eva Stachniak and claims to tell the story of Catherine the Great’s rise to power, beginning from when she was just Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst. However, our lens for this story is not Princess Sophie, rather it is a Polish royal maidservant, Barbara (or Varvara as she’s known in Russia). And so the story actually begins with a history of Barbara’s life and how she came to be so close to the monarchs.
Barbara has a semi-uninteresting beginning. She was originally the daughter of a bookbinder who managed to repair a book for Empress Elizabeth of Russia and impress her in the process. He manages to ensure that Barbara is taken in by the royal court after his death. In other words, Elizabeth used to take in young orphan girls and have them work as her servants. Hence Barbara initially begins as a seamstress in the court, but finds the work tedious (she sucks at it) and hence begins covertly listening to others instead. Her ability catches the eye of Elizabeth’s chancellor, Bestuzhev, who then becomes a mentor of sorts for he and teaches her advanced spying methods. From his teachings, she comes a ‘tongue’ for him and Elizabeth. She spies on all servants and reports on their sayings/ activities to them. Eventually, she advances to the point of becoming a ‘reader’ for the next-in-line for the Russian Throne, Prince Peter (eventually Peter III of Russia).
It is through this line of work that she first meets the young Princess Sophie and becomes familiar with her. Despite being told to be suspicious of Sophie and given the duty of spying on her (Bestuzhev severely disliked Sophie), Barbara finds herself taken with the young Sophie. Sophie gifts Barbara an amber necklace and forges a pact with her, based on the fact that the two of them are ‘foreigners’ in the court (Sophie was German/ Prussian). Barbara then switches sides and covertly becomes Sophie’s tongue, protecting her and warning her about potential conspiracies.Barbara is eventually found out by Bestuzhev and he persuades Elizabeth to get Barbara married off and thus forced out of the palace.
During this time, a lot of stuff happens in Barbara’s life. And through bits and pieces, we’re also given some happenings with Sophie. Turns out, she suffers from a horrible marriage as her husband dislikes her and doesn’t like consummating with her. Desperate for an heir, Elizabeth sends one of her Romanov cousins, Sergei Saltykov, to seduce and impregnate Sophie. Unfortunately, once Sophie becomes pregnant, Sergei is ordered to leave her (Sophie loves him by this time) and once she gives birth, her son is snatched from her womb by Elizabeth. Elizabeth takes the newborn, future Paul I of Russia, and raises him on her own, refusing Sophie even a glimpse of her son.
By this time, Barbara is able to come back to the palace and support Sophie. She also becomes Elizabeth’s main room-servant. Sophie, meanwhile, hardens herself and continues to live life. During this time, she also grows braver, sneaking out to meet friends in the middle of the night dressed as men, having her lovers come into her room without bothering to hide the signs, etc. Barbara continually does her best to protect Sophie from Elizabeth (who really dislikes both Peter and Sophie and only loves Paul) and lies to her. Alongside Sophie’s life, Barbara’s life also changes as her husband eventually dies in war. She is left alone with their seven year old daughter and a loyal female servant. It is at this point that Barbara realizes how badly she treated her husband and how she had happiness within her grasp as a young newly married woman/mother but failed to see it.
Eventually, the book talks of how Elizabeth’s health fails, how Peter’s reign is disliked, and how Sophie gains the support of the soldiers. Once Sophie becomes Catherine the Great, Barbara becomes Chief Steward and her friendship with Catherine is at an all time high. Things are running smoothly and everything is going as it should. However, through certain circumstances, Barbara discovers that Catherine employs other ‘tongues’ beside her and also uses her daughter to keep tabs on Barbara’s life. She is furious, seeing these things as a betrayal and unwilling to have her daughter involved in court life. She confronts Catherine who looks at her with pity and tell her that it’s no big deal. Barbara is still really angry, so she decides to take some time off and takes her daughter and servant travelling with her. They first visit Paris and then go to Poland, Barbara’s homeland. The novel ends with her deciding to stay in Poland and leaving the court behind.
As you can tell from the review, the book doesn’t really talk about Catherine the Great that much, it’s more about Barbara and her life and how it relates to the royal court. And actually, that’s one of my critiques of the book. It’s misleading in its title and cover blurb. It doesn’t really tell the story of Sophie’s rise to becoming Catherine the Great. We’re only given side hints as to what type of character Sophie possesses. Hence, our view of Sophie/ Catherine depends on our own individual interpretation. However, even then, it’s difficult to feel too connected to Sophie, because she just doesn’t feature predominantly. If anything, I felt like we got more of a glimpse into Empress Elizabeth and her court. We learn more about Elizabeth’s lifestyle and feelings and motivations, then we do about Sophie. And more than that, we learn extensively about Barbara. At times, it felt like this book was about Barbara who accidentally fell into the royal court and her life that followed, vs. Barbara as a proxy for readers to experience Sophie’s rise to power. On that note, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because on her own, Barbara is a decent character. She’s definitely flawed and does unlikeable things at times, but she’s also quite engaging, or at least I thought so. I enjoyed reading about her life outside the palace and her various thought processes. I just wish that the author/ publishers had been more honest in their descriptions about this book.
Which brings me to my second point, I actually quite enjoyed the writing in the novel. It was clear and understandable. I also found the descriptions of the Russian Royal court to be quite apt and well done. It didn’t feel too overly-descriptive and I quite enjoyed the little touches Ms. Stachniak added, like when talking about how the characters would drink kvass vs just using the english translation of the word (beer-like drink). They helped the book have an authentic, historical feel. All in all, a pretty enjoyable historical fiction read. Albeit more geared toward a specific era in time vs. a specific person in history.
My rating: read this if you’re curious about what the Russian Royal Court was like, but you can skip it if you want to read about Catherine the Great and her rise to power.
So there’s two main reasons as to why I picked up this book. Firstly, it was placed in the ‘classics’ section in my library and as someone who has made it a goal to read as many classics she can, I felt compelled to read it. Secondly, it talked about Siddhartha and Buddha. I’m not particularly religious, but I find myself really digging Buddhism a lot of the time so I figured this book was a safe bet. So basically, it was a book that I assumed I would probably enjoy because I enjoy classics and Buddhism. Unfortunately, my logic did not turn out as I’d assumed it would.
Siddhartha purports to tell the story of a Brahim named Siddhartha. As a young boy, in an effort to discover atman (enlightenment), he leaves home. He ends up joining some ascetics and begins to adapt to their lifestyle, believing that once you strip away everything, you’ll be able to finally find enlightenment. Once he realizes that he won’t find nirvana with the ascetics, he gets drawn to one who has been assumed to already been enlightened, Gautama Buddha. He meets Buddha and is taken aback by his holiness. However, he discovers that Buddha’s teachings don’t exactly gel with him, so he declines to serve him and be a part of his group. Siddhartha believes in the unity of the world, which contrasts with Buddha’s teachings to transcend the world. Similarly, Siddhartha argues that teachings of any nature, including those of Buddha’s, while worthwhile, cannot really take the place of individual experience. Teachings can only teach you, they do not lead you to the experiences that really *change/ broaden your understanding/ enlighten* you. And those experiences are necessary in order for one to achieve enlightenment.
At this point, he comes to a stand still, not sure of what to do. He decides to go across a river to meet people on the other side/ see what life is like there. In his journey, he meets a curious ferryman who prophesies that Siddhartha will return to him and repay him in some way. Anyways, Siddhartha comes to the other side of the river. It’s a city filled with merchants, barbers, courtesans, etc. As he went to one extreme to find enlightenment and failed to find it, he decides to go to the other extreme. Hence, he meets a courtesan, named Kamala, and learns how to love (i.e. sex/ seduction techniques). On her insistence, he also becomes involved with a local merchant becomes a merchant himself. He remains in the city for a long time, continually taking part in life’s pleasures and slowly forgetting his teachings from the ascetics. Instead of stripping himself of everything, he gives in to everything. However, through time, he realizes that despite going to the other extreme, he still hasn’t obtained enlightenment. The guilty, materialistic, lustful life was a farce, a game, to cover the emptiness inside.
Taken aback and overwhelmed, Siddhartha leaves the city and contemplates committing suicide. However, after a spiritual moment with the word “om” and a chance meeting with an old friend, he decides to live and instead devote himself to the river. So he reunites with the ferryman and attempt to learn from the river’s spirituality. He and the ferryman become quite famous as sages as the two are content to detach themselves from the world and just listen to people and convey the messages of the river.
A few years later, it turns out that Kamala had given birth to Siddhartha’s son after he left the city, and had become Buddha’s devotee. She comes to the river to ferry across to meet the Buddha and chances upon Siddhartha. However, this reunion is short-lived as she is fatally bitten by a snake and dies. Siddhartha then assumes responsibility for his young son, who is himself bitterly opposed to this. The son refuses to listen to Siddhartha and adapt to his simplistic ways. Siddhartha tries to kill him with kindness (figuratively!) because he loves him so much, but the boy refuses and runs away after stealing all his money. Siddhartha attempts to go after his son but is persuaded by the ferryman to let his son find his own path; just like how Siddhartha found his own as a young boy. Peering into to the river with the ferryman, Siddhartha realizes that all things are connected in unity and that time is immaterial. So happiness and sadness, sufferings and pleasure, good and evil, are all together and part of the oneness of the world. In other words, he attains enlightenment.
Many years later, his friend having heard of a great enlightened man living near the river (Siddhartha) comes to meet him. When he recognizes Siddhartha, he asks Siddhartha to teach him or at least impart some of his wisdom. Siddhartha initially refuses but then relents, telling his friend of how time doesn’t exist and how for each true statement there is an equally opposite true one. His friend thinks of Siddhartha as a mad man and gets ready to leave. Before he leaves, he kisses Siddartha’s forehead, on Siddhartha’s request, and immediately experiences the same timelessness Siddhartha had seen in the river. Hence, the book ends.
To be completely honest, I did not find the book to be as enlightening (LOL) as I hoped it would be. I just, I felt bored. A lot of the ideas and themes discussed in this book were things that I had already looked into/ heard about. So there wasn’t anything extremely new in it for me to learn about. I think I expected too much.
That said, this doesn’t mean that the book is a bad book. I mean, I could see how this book has attained its ‘classic’ status. It does grapple with some really interesting themes and the final idea about how everything is connected and how each experiences matters is a really great one. One that I actually believe in as well. So in terms of message, it’s really solid. In terms of presentation, it’s pretty solid as well. The idea of someone going from one extreme to another in an attempt to find something is one that has been done before but always remains enjoyable to read. Siddhartha’s journey was indeed nice to read about. And there were some incredibly insightful sentences and paragraphs in the book that I really, really enjoyed. To illustrate my point, I’m going to actually copy down a portion of the book:
Siddhartha said: “What could I say to you, Venerable One? Perhaps that you are seeking too hard? That you seek so hard that you do not find?
“What do you mean?” asked Govinda.
“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, Venerable One, may truly be a seeker, for in striving toward your goal, you fail to see certain thing that are right under your nose.” p 121-122
Like I said, it is pretty insightful and quite profound. The passage also illustrates another feature of the book, it’s simple writing style. I think that’s actually the one thing that made me struggle with the book the most. I just, I was not a big fan of the writing, or perhaps I should say translation. It was written in german and then translated into english. I think I would’ve probably enjoyed the german version more, if I could read german. I enjoyed what was being said but my enjoyment was often brought down by the writing style. I found it difficult to keep up and found myself just reading over passages rather than reading through them. Perhaps I’m quite challenged when it comes to reading philosophical content. In sum, I think it’s a good book and worthwhile, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations and left me a little puzzled in my feelings about it. Good message, but not quite delivered the way I hoped it would be.
My rating: read it to learn about what enlightenment could be, but don’t expect to have your life changed by it.
So I’m a Potterhead. Got into Harry Potter as a kid and have stayed into it ever since. One of my favourite things about the series (like many others I’m betting), is the very concept of being sorted into Houses. I just thought it was so cool to be sorted into houses with people who were similar, or at least shared similar values, and be shown what qualities you exhibited/ valued. So, like other Potterheads, I took as many sorting hat/ house quizzes as possible. When I first took an online quizzes (probably in late 200os, can’t even remember at this point), I’d always get Gryffindor, with the occasional Ravenclaw. When I first took the Pottermore quiz, I surprisingly got Slytherin. When I took another Pottermore quiz, I got Hufflepuff. And finally, I came across a quiz that contained all possible Pottermore questions and sorted you based on the percentage of how much you fit into the Houses (aka the most accurate one). That quiz stated that I was 64% Hufflepuff, 64% Ravenclaw, 62% Slytherin, and 54% Gryffindor. So in other words, I pretty much fit into all the houses (LOL). But, on a more serious note, this entire sorting business got me thinking about each house and their interpretations.
Gryffindor is seen as being the house of heroes, brave people. Ravenclaw’s are seen as being the individualistic scientists. Slytherins are seen as the clever, shrewd, tricksters. And finally Hufflepuff, is commonly seen as the house of leftovers, people who aren’t particularly brilliant. Partly out of ego (I’m a Hufflepuff) and partly out of genuine interest, I ended up googling the houses, the Harry Potter series, rereading the books to see what they said about the houses, and roaming odd chat rooms to see how other people interpreted them. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people held the previously mentioned viewpoints. But other people, those who enjoy nit-picking and analyzing things (people after my own heart!) actually provided in-depth viewpoints that didn’t necessarily agree or even disagree with the previously mentioned viewpoints. I quite enjoyed reading the latter people’s points and hence I’ve decided to write my own version of what I think sorting really does/ means and what each house signifies.
Firstly, I don’t think that sorting actually tells you what trait you exemplify the most. I made this mistake and assumed that if you were sorted into Gryffindor, it was because you were brave. Or if you were sorted into Ravenclaw, it meant that you were smart. However, this is clearly demonstrated to be wrong through the various characters who don’t always live up to their House. A famous example being Petter Pettigrew who sold out his friends out of fear. Rather, I think the sorting hat tells you what trait you value the most and then sorts you based on that. So if you value being in the spotlight for your bravery, then you’re in Gryffindor. If you value being ambitious and want to make something out of yourself, then you’re in Slytherin. It’s about what you value vs. what you demonstrate. You can be brave but not be in Gryffindor (Luna). You can be smart but not in Ravenclaw (Hermione). You can be loyal but not in Hufflepuff (Ron). You can be resourceful and cunning but not in Slytherin (Harry). It’s your values the sorting hat bases your sorting (along with personal preference for houses).
Now let’s get into the houses themselves.
Gryffindors are commonly assumed to be among the best. They’re seen as brave, chivalrous, and bold. They will stand up for others and will do so at their own expense. But they’re also very egoistical, reckless, and self-righteous. They want the glory that comes with being brave. They want the audience to witness their feats. They dive in head-first, without thinking about the consequences. They like the theatrics to show off their skills. They aren’t always concerned about doing the right thing. They’re the risk-takers, the fearless fighters, not afraid to get down and dirty and be absolutely brutal. It’s not about being fair or even. And their moral compass may not even be pointed in the moral direction. But they are noble, or at least attempt to be noble in their own way. They do believe in mercy and forgiveness. They will fight for their causes, even if there is no hope in winning. They are strong-willed, refuse to give up, and will stay till the end (even if their motivations are a little suspect).
Ravenclaws are commonly assumed to be among the brilliant. They’re seen as incredibly smart, creative, logical, and keen learners. They love working out problems or figuring out solutions and crave knowledge. But they’re also arrogant, obsessive and self-absorbed. They’re not interested in making small talk or talking to people seen as “ignorant.” They don’t need an audience as long as they have books or any other sort of knowledge keeping them company. They only like the theatrics for the sake of being able to know them. It’s not about using your knowledge for the good of the world. They will manipulate people if it suits them. They will use pawns rather than fight themselves. But they are able to be objective. They are able to intuitively sense the underlying politics and motivations that drive people. They are the ones who learn the most from mistakes and try to correct them. They are the visionary inventors who propel our society forward.
Slytherins are commonly assumed to be among the sharpest. They’re seen as ambitious, loyal, and clever. If you scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours. But they’re also sly, willing to bend the rules to reach the top, and not afraid of stepping over others or those who betrayed them. They’re the social climbers. They stand with their own and close the ranks to outsiders. They like the theatrics in order to prove that they have greatness. It’s not about supporting your causes or defending them. They pick and choose their battles, often willing to abandon at any sign of defeat. They’re willing to be deceitful and even dominate others in their quest to achieve greatness. But they are resourceful. They have excellent self- preservation skills and live purposeful lives. They’re the negotiators, able to be diplomatic and work with others for a common goal. They are the leaders willing to do the difficult things to get the show on the road.
Hufflepuffs are commonly assumed to be among the hardest-workers. They’re seen as loyal, just, and honest. Everyone pulls their own weight and does their fair share of work. But they’re also stickler’s for team work, inflexible when it comes to justice, and skeptical. They’re impartial to a fault and refuse to align themselves with anyone until sufficient proofs have been provided. They don’t care for the theatrics, unless purely for enjoyment. It’s not about forgiveness or sympathy. They won’t hesitate to call you out on dishonesty or unfairness. They’ll willingly play the role of the judge, jury, and executioner. Mercy is not one value they hold dear. They prefer the safer path, one that’s been judged to be true with no tricks or discrimination. They value practicality, straight-forwardness and equality. They’ll work tirelessly to achieve the greater good, whatever that good may (or may not) be, without any expectations for recognition.
In sum: The Harry Potter houses/ sorting represent the traits you value the most rather than those you represent and the 4 houses are open to interpretation.
Although this book was published in 2015, my library only acquired it in, or at least displayed it, in the middle of 2016. Right away, the beautiful navy and gold cover caught my eye. However, it was actually the small blurb on the back cover that convinced me that this was a book I had to read, at all costs. In essence, the book is about a young woman named Irene, who is actually “a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all the different realities.” I don’t know about you all, but growing up, there were two careers I was really drawn towards: being a spy (hey Charlie’s Angels) and being a librarian (a dream almost every book lover has had — like forreal). Although I recognize that there’s no hope of me achieving either of those careers, it’s been difficult to discard that dream. And then comes along this book, that literally speaks to me in my soul (AKA gets my dream). Unfortunately, my need to read this book had to wait a while because other people were faster than me and borrowed it from the library before I could. Anywho, I finally got my hands on it this week and I’m super ready and excited to review it.
The book starts with an introduction to Irene. We see her on a book retrieving mission and get to understand what it is that she does, i.e. understand what her job entails. We’re also introduced to the Library; albeit this introduction is short and shallow. The book then moves onto the real adventure, i.e. another book retrieving adventure. After finishing her initial book job, Irene arrives back to the Library only to find out that she’s been given a new mission and a new protege, Kai. As the book is mainly from her POV, we don’t really know too much about Kai, aside from what Irene knows, which itself isn’t that much. Kai claims to be from an alternate reality and has been studying to become a Librarian (Irene’s official position is junior Librarian) for five years. He’s been itching to go on real fieldwork but he’s also quite mysterious when it comes to his past and behaviours. Regardless, Irene and Kai travel to another reality to retrieve the book they were assigned. However, when they get to the alternate dimension, it turns out that the book has already been stolen and that there’s also a lot of other people out to get it. So the two have their work cut out for them. That’s the basic, very, very basic gist of the story. Of course a lot of shit happens, but I’m refraining from writing it all down because I’d like it to be a nice surprise for readers when they read the book. That said, I will discuss some of the other aspects of the book, namely the characters and story.
Irene, as I’ve already mentioned, is the main character in this book. She’s actually pretty awesome. She’s very smart, witty, cool, nice, and an all around chill person. Basically, she’s everything you’d want your protagonist to be. But I’d also argue that she’s far more complex and quite relatable. For one thing, while she’s not completely confident about her abilities, she does in fact have confidence in them. She knows what she can do and she works hard on maintaining her abilities and acquiring new ones. She’s not a passive character at all. I also quite enjoyed her thought processes. In one passage, she remarks upon the trying position of being a leader. Usually, (even in books), people assume that being a leader means that you are in control of the situation, that you are confident in your abilities and those of your team, that you have an idea or two of what you’re doing, that you believe in your decisions and have knowledge to back them up. But in reality, it’s often the opposite. Having been in leadership positions, I have first hand felt the insecurity and fear that crops up when you have to make decisions or lead a group of people. Often times, you’re not even sure if the decision you’re taking is the right one. And there’s also the difficulty of trying to pretend like you know everything will be alright. Plus, whenever something goes wrong (something always does LOL), it’s on your head alone. It’s not the easiest job in the world. Or as Irene puts it, “A leader’s job was a crock of shit” (129). As the sentence also implies, Irene’s way of thinking is both fresh and relatable. Another characteristic of hers I really liked, was her way of dealing with her former commander, Bradamant. Bradamant is not the nicest of characters and when on missions with younger students, she tended to take all the credit and blame the students for any mistakes. Irene experienced this first hand so obviously she had some resentment toward Bradamant. But, as some of you can probably relate, resentment doesn’t necessarily mean hatred or indifference. And this is exactly what Irene experiences and remarks upon. When Brandamant is in danger, Irene cares, even if she doesn’t understand why she does. After all, the woman basically tried to ruin Irene’s career and yet Irene tries to help her even if she doesn’t want to (heart vs. mind). I found that instance just so understandable and relatable, having gone through such conundrums myself. Human emotions are so complex and being able to see them and understand them through the lens of fictional characters, is just something else. For me, it really helps me appreciate the complexity and the absurdity of our feelings. Irene was a really well thought-out character.
What I also quite enjoyed, was that despite being the main character, Irene was not always the one solving the entire mystery or noticing strange things. Okay well, disclaimer: she does end up solving the end of the mystery, but the blanks and other parts of it are filled in by others. One character who played such a role, was detective Vale. Unlike Irene and Kai, Vale was actually a resident of the alternative reality the two characters journeyed to. He gets entangled into their affairs as the story goes on and actually does quite a bet of deductive work. The author’s biography stated that the author was into Sherlock Holmes as a child, and I think Vale’s character is a reflection of that. He’s very perceptive and notices minute details. If anything, I’d have to say that at times, he was actually a better investigator than Irene as she had the tendency to get lost in her thoughts and forget to surveil her surroundings. Vale’s character also sort of functioned as proxy for readers as he often posed questions about the Library and the general book world to Irene. It is through his questions and reasoning that we get a glimpse into the workings of the library (along with Irene’s thoughts). While I did appreciate that, for me, Vale also sort of fell short as a character. I’m not quite sure if this was Genevieve Cogman’s goal, but Vale came across as your stock, oldish/middle aged English detective. He came from a reasonably well-off family but pursued detective-hood (?), has a nice house with lots of books, is friends with the police, is very knowledgeable about the seedy underbelly of his alternative dimension, and is often on guard. Maybe I’ve been reading too many Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie) books or watching too much Elementary (hello Sherlock Holmes), but Vale just came across as so stereotypical. Mind you, it’s not a terrible thing. It’s just sort of predictable. But part of me wonders if this was done purposefully. I mean, this is a book about libraries and books and it would be pretty much in character (LOL) to introduce and use the trope of the typical detective. I mean, Irene even remarks upon her affinity for detective novels and characters when thinking about Vale. So maybe it was just Genevieve Cogman being ironic? Not sure but just something to think about I guess.
On the topic of predictable, we also have Kai functioning as the arch-type sidekick to Irene. Whenever she needs help, he’s there to lend a hand. She bounces ideas off him. He challenges her with his ideas (though they aren’t always right LOL). He’s referred to as her assistant in the back book blurb and he just functions as that. Although he’s also sort of mysterious (actually, it’s not that mysterious because Irene, being a sharp little cookie she is, manages to uncover his secret pretty quickly so when the truth does come out, she’s not that shocked and nor is the reader), he’s also quite predictable. But again, just like there was nothing wrong with Vale being predictable, there’s nothing wrong with Kai being predictable. And to be honest, I quite enjoyed having Kai around. A lot of the times, at least with mystery, adventure novels (at least some of the more popular ones), the main character is usually a boy who is a dynamic hero with some other sidekicks, or the main character is a girl who transforms from a damsel in distress to a warrior through the help of some other characters. But here, the main character is a woman, who is self assured, confident, and smart. She’s able to figure out things on her own and can save herself. Instead, the male protagonist functions as a side kick, who learns from her and even gets saved by her. He respects her and her mind and understands her authority. I just, I found it a nice change and quite inspiring as well. We need more women protagonists like Irene; smart, complex, and flawed.
Now coming to the story. If you haven’t been able to glean from my review, the world building in this novel is complicated. Briefly put, the Library exists in this timeless (?) dimension with doors leading to other alternate realities. These other alternative realities are all different realities of Earth, but they have different laws governing them. For example, there were worlds that combined magic and technology (aka Cyborgs and other machinery). There were worlds that focused strictly on magics like necromancy, spells, and gargoyles. There were worlds without any magic (aka our version of Earth). And then among the various possibilities that existed, there were worlds that were “chaos-infested” which meant that the balance between magic and natural order tipped toward magic resulting in the creation and sustenance of supernatural beings (vampires, fairy folk, werewolves) and magic alongside other non-magical humans. Sometimes, these parallel dimensions also had different histories, resulting in different historical events. So for example, in the alternative London Irene and Kai travel to, India functions as a trader partner to the British rather than being colonized by them. So basically, a very complicated premise, well depending on how you see it. Personally, I quite enjoyed the world building as I’m a huge fan of fantasy. But at the same time, I was definitely a little confused at times when it came to trying to understand this new world/ dimension idea. Maybe I just need things to be a little bit more spelled out for me.
However, despite the complicated world, I really enjoyed the sense of adventure that the novel presented. As mentioned earlier, the novel, in essence, is about the adventure Irene and Kai go on in order to complete their mission of retrieving the book they were assigned. I had a lot of fun reading the book (and imagining myself as a professional book spy LOL). And it also helps that Genevieve Cogman is a pretty good writer. I was able to imagine quite a few scenes very easily and I very much enjoyed how her writing steered clear of overly complicated descriptions (it was already complicated enough LOL!) and stuck to describing things in an easy-to-imagine manner. Particularly, I quite enjoyed how she didn’t really ascribe her characters to a specific race (or maybe that might just be my ignorance?). It really helped me imagine the characters any way I wanted and helped me get into the skin of Irene (although the fact that she was described as being 5’9 kinda made me sad haha). And finally, I’m a huge fact of the fan that Genevieve Cogman plans on making this a series and continue fleshing out the characters she introduced in this book (or at least I hope for the latter!). I’m really excited to see how she gets back to this world and what new adventures await the two/ trio, along with how the other mysteries posed near the end of the book get solved!
My rating: definitely read it if you love books, like adventure, enjoy mystery novels, and want to be inspired by a cool female protagonist!
So my blog tag-line states that I’ll be posting my views and reviews here. While I’ve definitely posted quite a few reviews (and even some quotes), I haven’t really posted any views. So without further ado, let’s begin. Word of caution, these ‘views’ I’ll be posting will vary in format and topic. On that note, today’s topic is the Twilight book series, written by Stephenie Meyer (again — super spoilery so beware) and will take the form of a view with a review.
When Twilight first came out in 2005, I didn’t really know about it. I know it apparently made The New York Times Bestseller List, but since I don’t follow it religiously, I had no idea the book existed. My introduction to Twilight only began after the movies had begun filming and the hysteria that would soon overwhelm was just starting. It was literally by sheer chance that I picked up the book in Chapters. And to be honest, I’m not ashamed (at least not anymore LOL) to admit that I really, really enjoyed the book. I was an impressionable teenager and Bella’s story seemed so romantic and Edward seemed so lovely. Together, their love story was exactly what made my angst-y teenage heart melt. My like of the series was further fuelled when my best friend also read them and got into it. There’s nothing like having a friend to share in your obsessions and so Twilight became ours. She fuelled my adoration for the book, while I fuelled hers. And then the movie came out.
I remember being so incredibly angry when the first movie came out in 2008. I felt like I was ripped off. The movie, for those of you that have seen it, was just something else. It was filmed by this indie filmmaker who was obsessed with random moving camera angles (there’s literally a scene where the camera is pointed toward some trees at an upward angle and it’s just spinning LOL), cool blue tones (there wasn’t a single warm tone in the entire movie tbh), random musical intervals (scenes with just music and nothing else), and of course, those crazy close-up face shots (where the actors try painfully hard to act LOL). If you can’t tell by my tone, the movie was a mess. Sidenote – I actually re-watched the movie recently and found that I didn’t mind it as much (of course this experience was also made better by my siblings joining me and making snide remarks and witty comments during each scene and thus fashioning the movie into some sort of satirical piece rather than the angst-filled, serious love story it was supposed to be LOL). Not only was the direction weird, but the acting, my god the acting was just atrocious. I’ve written about Kristen Stewart and her lack of acting chops on this site before, so I’ll skip her here. But it wasn’t just her acting that was off, Robert Pattinson was hilariously bad too. All he did was grimace like he was in pain, or at least try to make it look like he was grimacing in pain LOL. The two leads were so incredibly one dimensional and flat in their acting, my teenage self was mortified. The side characters were 100x more engaging, and it’s actually telling that Anna Kendrick, who was on screen for maybe 20 mins max, made such an impact, that it led to her getting more movies and critical acclaim. But even if you take acting aside, the casting itself, in terms of looks was so weird too.
The Cullens are described as being these perfect, too-beautiful-to-be-real sort of people and so when it came to the movie, I was really excited to see who was who. The only people who I felt sort of embodied their characters, were Kellan Lutz as Emmett and Ashley Greene as Alice (although her tallness was really distracting; Alice is supposed to be barely 5 ft and Ashley Greene was almost as tall as her co-stars, and the hair was pretty bad too). Okay, if I want to be kind, I can maybe also justify casting Jackson Rathbone as Jasper, but that’s it. Peter Facinelli as Carlisle and Elizabeth Reaser as Esme did not work. They both tried to make it work with their acting, for which I will give them props, but looks-wise, they didn’t fit, especially not in the way their characters were described in the books. The worst casting of all though, was Nikki Reed as Rosalie. Let me put it this way, in the books, Rosalie was described as being as pale as ice with super icy blonde hair and a tall, imposing height and presence. Nikki Reed, is tan with brown hair and is super, super tiny. I mean, she’s actually really pretty, but the way she was made up in the movie, with makeup to make her look lighter, her hair dyed blonde, and wearing triple times the platform heel to look taller, was just bad and wrong. They did her so dirty. I mean, how difficult was it to just cast some tall looking blonde, or at least any sort of tall person? Alas, it’s useless to talk about these things now because the movies have finished. However, as the author of Twilight is still alive and could potentially write more books (remember JKR always said she’d never visit HP again but she did!), I think it’s still worthwhile to talk about the books.
I already mentioned how I enjoyed the initial love story between Bella and Edward. I think what also facilitated my quick positive reaction to Twilight was the writing. Many people have commented on this before, saying that Stephenie Meyer isn’t the most brilliant or original writer. And to be honest, maybe she’s not. But I think it kinda works for her in Twilight. Because the books are written in such a simplistic manner, it makes them very easy to understand. Sure you don’t get the pleasure that derives from reading beautiful, poetic, flowery language, but at the same time, it also doesn’t necessarily take away from the reading experience. Not all books have to be very touching or beautiful to read. Sometimes, even fluff books can be enjoyable; and a fluff book is exactly what I consider Twilight. It’s simple with a relatively uncomplicated plot. And like I said earlier, it works for Twilight. But I think it was also this very thing that ended up making the other books in the series less enjoyable. Because the writing was so simplistic, when Stephenie Meyer attempted to increase the drama and add more angst and complications to the plot, it kinda fell flat. A lot of times, writers can make certain scenes or situations sound a lot more emotional/ excitable than they really are. I think Cynthia Ozick’s book, Heir to a Glimmering World, is a good example of that. Those of you who have read my review on her book probably know that I wasn’t a big fan of the book at all. But, since she’s such a good writer, she was able to infuse depth and create a rich reading experience in quite a few scenes that were drab otherwise. However, within the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer didn’t possess that talent, or if she did, she didn’t display it. As a result, once the reader stepped back from the book and stopped to think about it, the two main characters and their love story actually got really annoying and stale eventually. As the Twilight series continued on, that’s exactly what happened to my friend and I. We grew really annoyed with Bella and Edward and ended up discarding our adoration for the series.
That said, I still cannot bring myself to say that the series was trash or bad or whatever. Despite her lackluster characters, I think Stephanie Meyer really did create some interesting side characters with fascinating back stories. I mean, take the Cullens for example (since I was discussing them earlier anyway). Carlisle is a vampire who has no problems being near humans with blood and has never drank it. Just in terms of like logical application (LOL okay bending the rules a little), how would one even go about accomplishing that? How much personal development would someone like Carlisle, who spent his human life thinking of vampires as evil and trying to kill them, need to go through in order to become what he is now? Or, if you prefer action to mental trauma, think of Jasper and his experience in fighting through Vampire wars. That’s a story just begging to be told (think of the logistics of having to train newborns and then direct them in battle and improvise battle strategies). Think of Alice and her experience as being psychic in the early 1900s, being imprisoned in an insane asylum and befriending a vampire. And finally, think of Rosalie and her backstory. I actually found Rosalie’s story to be really cool and even though her acting bit in the Eclipse movie was really short, I think it was one of the best parts of the entire movie. She literally choreographed the murder of her rapists and did it in the most dramatic and theatrical way ever. That’s literally brilliant LOL. And on that topic, imagine hearing their stories from their own mouths, aka through their mental narration. How incredibly interesting would that be? I bet Rosalie’s narration would be a hoot and Emmett’s narration would be just downright hilarious. Jasper’s would probably be both, bitingly sarcastic with humour thrown in.
And the interesting side characters aren’t just limited to the Cullens. Despite its mixed reception, Breaking Dawn is actually one of my favourite books in the series just because of the numerous side characters it introduces. I had so much fun imagining each distinct character and fashioning out little backstories for them. There’s Nahuel and his vampire father and life as a vampire hybrid. There’s the Amazonian coven and their exclusive lifestyle. There’s Leah and her experience as the first ever female werewolf. There’s Benjamin with the ability to actually manipulate his physical surroundings. There’s Vladimir and Stefan with their vendetta and past with the Volturi. There’s the Volturi’s themselves and their rise to power. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so many wonderful hints to the amazing backstories of the compelling side characters. I find them all so creative, with so much more potential and vitality than Edward and Bella (and even Jacob). And that’s why I can’t label the series as being trashy or just horrible (although I will say that the series has some real critiques), because there’s so much potential. My hope is that one day, Stephenie Meyer will go back and visit her Twilight universe again. But instead of sticking with her main trio, she’ll bring forth a new perspective and expand on some of the characters she introduced. And even if she doesn’t do that, it’s okay because there’s so many talented fanfiction writers who have taken her hints about the side characters, recognized their potential, and have crafted wonderfully beautiful stories about them.
In sum: Despite its simplistic writing style and horrible movie adaptations, the Twilight series has an incredibly interesting world with some fascinating characters whose amazing backstories just waiting to be told.
Firstly, I’d like to apologize for being so awol these past couple of days/ weeks. Turns out, I no longer have as much free time on my hands and as a result, my reading and writing hobbies have really taken a back seat. Hence, this entry itself will probably read quite choppily and awkwardly as it’s definitely been some time since I wrote something. As such, I’d like to offer my apologies in the beginning of this post and just say that I will not begrudge any of you if you comment on how horrible this review it. With that out of the way, let’s begin is super spoiler-y review (hint – I actually give away everything LOL).
As some of you may know, I have a friend who adores Agatha Christie, so I’ve been slowly going through some of Agatha Christie’s books on the insistence of my friend. While I have found some books of hers to be absolutely wonderfully charming (recommend Endless Night to EVERYONE), there are some that I do not like quite as much. This book falls in the middle of that spectrum, but I suppose that actually also might be my fault. As one of her more well known and celebrated books, I had expected Murder on the Orient Express to blow my mind and leave me amazed. And when I didn’t get that reaction, I was left a little confused and humdrum.
Briefly put, the book revolves around a murder committed on the Orient Express (surprise, surprise LOL). Midway through the journey, the train gets stuck in snow, and amid the stalling, the dead body of a passenger is found. Luckily, famous detective Hercule Poirot in also on the train, and he spends the book trying to and successfully finding out who murdered the victim. Spoiler alert – it was a joint effort by all 12-13 people on the train coach. It turns out that the dead passenger, Cassetti/ Ratchet, was a horrible man who had kidnapped a young heiress, Daisy Armstrong, in exchange for money. After receiving the money, it was discovered that he had actually killed Daisy and never meant to exchange her back in the first place. However, he managed to evade justice and left the country (USA) with the money and changed his name. As he was a horrible man, most people who came into contact with him weren’t big fans of him and some could even sense the evil coming from him, like Poirot. On his second (?) day on the train, Cassetti approaches Poirot and offeres him a job. Apparently, Cassetti had been receiving threats and felt his life was in danger, so he asked Poirot to figure out who was after him. However, due to the evil vibe Poirot could sense from Cassetti, Poirot declines to take on the case. The next day, Cassetti is found dead and the director of the train, M. Bouc, also a friend of Poirot, enlists in Poirot’s help to find the murderer aboard the train (remember the train had gotten stuck in snow). The rest of the book is about how Poirot comes to the the conclusion of who the murderer was.
In terms of the mystery, the book is actually pretty solid. Agatha Christie leaves quite a few red herrings around and makes it incredibly difficult to guess who the murderer could be. I myself felt like I went around in more than a few circles trying to figure out who murdered Cassetti. So I’d definitely rate the book highly when it came to the suspense. Similarly, the characters are actually quite enjoyable to read as well. I know I’ve ragged on Poirot in the past, severely disliking his pompous personality, but I gotta say, I actually didn’t mind him in this book so much. Maybe it’s because he was with friends so he was on good behaviour or because there was no Hastings around to focus Poirot’s rudeness, but I actually found Poirot to be very well behaved and likeable. Now don’t get me wrong, he was still pompous, but that pomposity was toned down here. Instead of getting a prideful vibe from him, I got more of an fascinated vibe. In other words, in the previous books, I always got the feeling that Poirot was incredibly proud of his ability to solve cases and that pride was what kept him going. In this book however, I got the feeling that Poirot was instead being fuelled by his curiosity rather than his pride; he genuinely liked the puzzle of trying to find a murderer on a stalled train. Either way, I really quite enjoyed reading the book. Similarly, when it came to the technical details, the book performed very well. The writing was easy to read as always and the plot was laid out in a manner that felt organic and yet still produced more mystery as the book went on.
Some of you might be wondering why after all these praises, I did not find the book to be an absolutely wonderful reading experience. And that, my friends, is due to the focus in the book. I know the book revolved around Poirot as he is Agatha Christie’s main character and hence resolved around the murder that was committed, but somehow, after the conclusion was revealed, I found myself increasingly drawn to the murderers themselves. How did they all manage to meet and plan the murder? Who came up with each idea? How did they all come into contact with each other after so many years? Why wait so many years to commit the murder in the first place? What were their discussions like after Poirot took on the case? I just found myself really into the planning and strategizing of the murderers rather than the case. I mean, the entire case is so damn interesting. The way Poirot solved it was amazing in itself, but the way it all came together, albeit behind the scenes, also seems incredible to me. I really wish Agatha Christie had focused on explaining the murderers planning and processes. I think I would’ve been more engrossed in the book then.
My rating: read it for the Agatha Christie style and to experience an interesting mystery that you have no hopes of solving before Poirot (LOL).
“In my mind I am eloquent; I can climb intricate scaffolds of words to reach the highest cathedral ceilings and paint my thoughts. But when I open my mouth, everything collapses.” — Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion