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Three reviews

Three reviews today, two short ones first and then The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

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First up Address Unknown by Kressman Taylor. This short work of fiction was apparently written in 1938 for a magazine and then published as a book. It concerns two friends and partners in an art gallery. One is an American Jew who lives in San Francisco, the other a German who moves back to Germany in 1932. The two correspond. At first the letters are just family greetings and news. Then the American, Max, starts to ask questions about Hitler and events in Germany. He's not easy about it - he has a sister working in Vienna etc. His friend, Martin, at first reassures him but gradually the letters take a more sinister turn. I won't say any more about the plot but this little book packs a real punch and I found it very disturbing. It only took me 45 minutes to read so I would say get it from the library if the subject interests you.

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Secondly, Short Stories from the 19th. Century selected by David Stuart Davies, bought cheaply because there were authors included that I wanted to try. I definitely had favourites though really they were all good. Several, like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Judge's House by Bram Stoker and the Sherlock Holmes yarn, The Red-Headed League, I'd read before but it was nice to reacquaint myself with them.

A little about two of my favourites:

The Squire's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell. This one concerns the arrival of a certain Mr. Higgins in a small village and charts his progress as he buys a house and settles down to marry. Slowly you realise there is something not quite right about the gentleman but there is only one woman who realises it. Beautifully written and very absorbing.

The Journey to Panama by Anthony Trollope. Shamefully I've read nothing by Trollope so this little story was an introduction to his writing for me. The story is a simple one about a young woman who is sailing from England to the West Indies and on through the Panama Canal. She's travelling with a family she doesn't know or care for, but becomes friendly with a young man. She starts to spend a lot of time with him and confides that she is travelling to be married but is dreading it. The point of this story is that people behave very differently to normal when confined for long weeks aboard ship and Trollope illustrates the point very well with this story.

Other stories I enjoyed were, The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy (again, never read any of his novels), The Sphinx Without a Secret by Oscar Wilde, The Kiss by Anton Chekov and Juke Judkin's Courtship by Charles Lamb.


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My first novel by Edith Wharton. I'm not sure if The House of Mirth is a good place to start with this author but that was all the library had so that was where I started. I'd decided to read this slowly and savour it because sometimes I read books far too quickly and can hardly remember anything about them a few weeks later. Sadly, the book had other ideas. I got so wrapped up in the dramas of Lily Bart's life that I ended up not being able to put it down.

Briefly, this is a book about a girl, orphaned at nineteen, after her father has lost all his money. Up to then she's been used to the best of everything and moved among the higher echelons of society. The setting is turn of the century New York. Almost penniless she goes to live with a rich but boring aunt who allows her some money but not enough to keep Lily in the style to which she's become accustomed. She gets into debt. Being a very beautiful woman the obvious answer is to marry a rich man and she isn't short of offers, but always falls at the last hurdle, whether from integrity or stupidity isn't clear. She makes some grave mistakes and because the majority of her rich friends are shallow and selfish, she pays for them, even though the mistakes are not always entirely her fault. And it's also clear that one particular 'friend' has got it in for her and is setting her up for a fall...

I won't say any more as there are twists and turns that would spoil it for others. I will say that this is not a particularly 'happy' read - quite frustrating at times in fact - but it is compulsive reading. You feel that Lily is on some roller-coaster ride and is about to fall off if she's not careful, (and she isn't!) I suppose the story is a warning to all about the dangers of mixing in high society; the rich are rich for a reason and it's isn't usually much to do with being kind and charitable. For me though it was more about the nature of friendship - why it is that some people have a need to be accepted by the worst kind of people? When push comes to shove who can you 'really' rely on to help you when you're down and out? Fascinating stuff and I thoroughly enjoyed this very readable but quite sad book.

I will definitely be reading more Edith Wharton but am not sure what. It depends on what the library turns up or what I can see in charity shops. Buccaneers appeals but I really need to do some investigating about her other novels first.

Comments

I've read House of Mirth, Buccaneers, and Ethan Frome by Wharton. I recommend the latter two, if you enjoyed House of Mirth. The last is very different from the other two, but still a good read.

Incidentally, you may be interested in this recent NYTimes article about the end of The House of Mirth. A word of caution to other commenters: there are spoilers, so read at your own risk!
Sorry to be so long answering this, I wanted to wait until I had a proper chance to read the article. Busy at the moment etc. Very interesting eh? I couldn't decide whether she meant to do it or not. Her decline was so shocking though and stayed with me for days after.

Thanks for your recs - I shall definitely be reading those two. And someone else recced The Reef and Custome of the Country to me if you're interested.
I know what you mean - I first read House of Mirth in eighth grade and at that time, I believed she meant to do it. Later, reading it for a high school class, I wasn't so sure. There are arguments to be made either way...

Thank you for the recommendations. I'll check those out!