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The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

When I mentioned to my wife that my next book was The Catcher in the Rye, the only question she had was “…why?” Given that I have read the book before, it was a fair enough question. My thought process was basically that I’d not read it since I was 15, and I was wondering how it would hold up now that I’m nearly double that age. I’d heard that re-reading it as an adult is something that either ruins its appeal or otherwise comes across as entirely different.

The Catcher in the Rye covers three days in the life of its narrator, Holden Caulfield. Shortly before the Christmas holidays begin and his parents are informed of his expulsion, he decides that instead of waiting it out at Pencey Prep he’ll hang about New York for a few days and go back home at his leisure. Whilst there, he’ll meet with several people that he has counted as friends in the past and consider what he really wants from life.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started this re-read. The last time I’d picked it up was, as mentioned earlier, when I was 15 and would have been for a GCSE class. I seem to remember being the only one in my class that enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, and the only one that engaged with the material on a personal level. I couldn’t really remember all the events of the novel in great detail, but I did remember sharing Holden’s loathing of anything that seemed “phony”, despite the scope of phoniness completely undefined and nebulous. There was a kind of passive “me against the world” kind of sentiment that really spoke to my emotionally repressed teenage self.
Re-reading it as an adult has kind of been a wild ride. It’s sort of been an interesting exercise in introspection in a way, because in many ways I still identify with Holden. Not for the “phony” stuff, though that does still ring true of a wider teenage experience. No, the stuff that I identified with now was the experience of depression. If I’d met Holden Caulfield as a teenager, I would have low-key wanted to be his friend. If I met him now, I’d be on the phone requesting some kind of mental health assessment, because he is clearly on the verge of a crisis and I’m uncomfortable at how much of that rings true at a horrible base level. There’s a passage that really stuck with me, where he’s talking to his younger sister, who asks him to tell her one thing that he really actively likes. And when he answers, it’s an obvious struggle to think of anything, and the only things he makes note of are both of his younger siblings, one of whom is dead. I realised that he had nothing outside of them, no other protective factors, nothing to look forward to day-to-day. It still bothers me just how much I recognised that scene. You see, when I’ve been at my low points, I’ve not necessarily noticed that I’m in a bad spot until the day that I’ve stayed up way too late, and started crying hysterically and considering how feasible it would be to sneak out the house and throw myself into the river. It’s not necessarily something that is constantly a matter of high urgency, but a weird baseline of struggling to care about things that you once loved or things that should flag up as really important, interrupted by deep lows of self-loathing and spiralling panic. And The Catcher in the Rye really gets that. I was talking to my wife about this change in perception and it got me thinking about another depression book that I should probably re-read once I get a new copy of it: The Bell Jar. When I first read that, I loathed it because I couldn’t stand the main character and how whiny she was. I realised that when I was younger, I thought that my low mood was a result of where I was at that moment in time, and that in order to be happy I just needed to work hard and get to the next step on the education/career path. The protagonist from The Bell Jar irritated me because she had the 1950s equivalent of what I wanted my life to be, and she still couldn’t make herself be happy. Whereas Holden was the golden child in my eyes, consciously unhappy because he’s in a world that is trying to shape him into something alien, something false to his basic nature. Now, Holden just makes me sad, because I see a lot of my low mood with no reason or trigger in him, and I can finally define what my own experience is like through what he experiences. It’s not necessarily a comfortable or enjoyable journey, but it is an enlightening one.

The Catcher in the Rye is an odd book to recommend. There are some who maintain that only teenagers can stomach Holden Caulfield, with his vendetta against the phoniness of the adult world. But I think that if you’re looking for an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of someone who is deeply depressed, then this might be the book for you. It’s certainly helped me work out some things about myself through reading it again as an adult. 4.5/5

Next review: Quill by A. C. Cobble

Signing off,

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Given that I have still been struggling with reading post-slump, I thought that I would pick out a book that I had read several times before, but hadn’t looked at since before I started this blog. Hence Therese Raquin, one of the texts that I studied for college, complete with underlined quotes that were evidently important at the time.

Therese Raquin follows the eponymous protagonist and her lover as they plot to murder her feeble and sickly husband, so that they can carry out their affair in peace. What they don’t anticipate is the dramatic effect that it has on their psyches, and how little they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their crime.
When I mentioned that I would be reading Therese Raquin to my partner, they were less than impressed. I had forgotten that they took the same class in college and had studied this text as well, and had evidently not taken away fond memories of it. Re-reading it and taking a look at some other reviews, it would appear that this is something of a love-it-or-hate-it type of book. And I think that that comes down to two things: the bleak and grimy tone, and the characterisation.
The tone is kind of interesting, as it’s produced by using very artistic language and references to contemporary artwork of the time, but with a distinctly unpleasant twist. There’s a definite green/grey/brown palette to the imagery described, like everything’s a bit dirty and waterlogged, and it influences the whole atmosphere of the novel. Even before anything bad has happened, you can tell that nothing good will come of Therese and Laurent’s actions, because their surroundings are such that it cannot come to pass. For me, the focus on murkiness and chiaroscuro is really interesting and easy to envisage, but I can definitely see why it could come across as overly oppressive and unpleasant.
With regards to the characterisation, there’s a kind of simplification going on that can go very poorly. The characters in Therese Raquin are not complex people, they are at worst caricatures and at best archetypes drawing from Hippocrates’ humours. Again this is very subjective, but I would argue that in conjunction with the atmosphere it does work in a grotesque kind of way. The side characters are frequently compared to dolls and puppets, bringing to mind jerky movements and unnatural articulation. Therese and Laurent are the most complex of the characters, but their actions are solely influenced by their assigned temperaments, making them little better than animals instinctively reacting to outward stimuli. There’s something fascinating about a collection of people that are so unpleasant coming into close contact and clashing so spectacularly. There are no good people, just a lot of individuals indulging their own egos. It’s not something you’d read for pleasure per say, but it is engaging.

Very much a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel, Therese Raquin works best for those readers who are willing to forgo anything pleasant in exchange for watching some unpleasant people slowly fall apart at the seams. The characterisation is basic, but it combines with the tone and atmosphere to create a grim sort of spectacle that is greater than the sum of its parts. 4/5

Next review: Occultist by Oliver Mayes

Signing off,

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

I vaguely remember picking this up as part of a sale on Wordsworth Classics, along with Wings of the Dove. After the disappointment that I had with my last classic pick, I was hoping that the unusual subject matter of opium would hook me better than Henry James would.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is an account of Thomas de Quincey’s experiences with opium. Addicted after he treated himself with laudanum as a painkiller, he decided to recount the surreal visions that it caused him.
I was actually looking forward to reading Confessions of an English Opium-Eater because what’s a more stereotypically Victorian drug than opium? I figured it would be interesting or at least a laugh. That is if it ever got there. I got through the updated introduction and part way through his explanation of how he got hooked on opium, and I had to stop because I was literally falling asleep at my desk trying to read it. He’d start talking on a point and go on a completely unrelated tangent that is of absolutely no interest to the reader. Like when he stated that he was first introduced to opium as a painkiller, he wraps that bit up nice and quickly, only to whinge for several pages about how another author slandered him and his opium usage. And it just wasn’t a fair representation. And it’s not like the other guy can talk, considering that he also uses opium. Stuff like that, that would just drag the pace to a complete snail’s crawl. I know that my pledge when I started this blog was to complete books if at all possible, but there comes a point where it just isn’t worth it.

I wanted to like Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but the only thing I find myself able to recommend it for is as a sleeping aid. 1/5

Next review: Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

Signing off,

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

I’ve had The Wings of the Dove on my shelf for quite some time now, and it seemed a good time to have a read of it now. I seem to remember that about this time last year, I had just finished Lady Audley’s Secret, and judging by the blurb, this looks to have the same sort of scandal and tragedy. Hopefully without the sharp veer into unnecessary happy ending territory.

The Wings of the Dove follows American heiress Milly Theale, as she travels Europe in what she believes are her last days to live. Along the way, she befriends a pair of lovers, Kate Croy and Merton Densher, who start conspiring to get their hands on her fortune so that they can be married.
I wanted so badly to like The Wings of the Dove, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I’m sure that the plot and characters are stellar, but there were two things that infuriated me and caused me to not finish. The first was the writing style, which was a mess of overworked vocabulary and sentences overstuffed with clauses. During my attempt to read this, it would be a fairly regular occurrence to reach the end of a sentence and have only the slightest idea of what I’d just read. It’s more than a little aggravating having to continually parse what you’re reading, just so that you have an idea of what the hell is going on.
The second thing that put me off was the pacing. I stopped at around the 1/3 part, because nothing of interest had actually happened. That book summary that I gave was taken from book blurbs that I’ve read. None of that had actually happened by the time I quit. When it takes you over a third of your novel to get past the set-up and into the main meat of the story, then you have done something terribly wrong.

A disappointing time all round really. The story and the characters could be very well-constructed, but the whole endeavour is sabotaged by a writing style that is overly complicated and overstuffed with unnecessary clauses. Combine that with a pace that is utterly glacial in speed, and I was close to throwing the book out the window in frustration. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. 1/5

Next review: Battle Spire by Michael R. Miller

Signing off,

True Grit by Charles Portis

I’d mainly heard of True Grit from my dad. See, he’s a big fan of both John Wayne and the Coen Brothers, so he was quite keen on both movie adaptations. When I got this as part of a bundle, I wasn’t sure how I’d find it, as until recently I hadn’t really read any westerns before Blood Meridian last month. I had heard good things about True Grit though, so I went in hopeful.

True Grit follows Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl who travels to Fort Ross upon hearing that her father has been shot and killed by his hired hand, Tom Chaney. Determined to avenge her father’s death, she hires Rooster Cogburn, a deputy marshal known for his meanness and quick trigger finger, to help her find Tom Chaney and bring him to justice, either by the hangman’s noose or at the end of a gun.
True Grit would be a fairly straightforward revenge story if it weren’t for the fact that Mattie has such a distinct and interesting voice. For a 14-year-old, she is strong-willed and no-nonsense, with a particularly good mind for business. It’s refreshing to see a character that in any other book set in the era would be meek and timid, and they’re powering on ahead, taking absolutely no shit from anyone. It gets her in trouble, because of course it does, but she’s all the more interesting for taking this strength/weakness to its logical conclusion.
The setting is definitely less bleak than the one presented by Blood Meridian, but the violence depicted stands out a lot more comparatively. It comes as more of a surprise when it does come, highlighted in particular by Mattie’s comparative naivety. It ends up being a mid-point between the sort of heroic cowboy narrative that my dad grew up with and the unrelenting “humanity is scum” viewpoint that Blood Meridian settles on. There are clear distinctions between who is “good” and who is “bad”, but there’s a definite moral flexibility that can be seen in the characters, especially Mattie’s reluctant travelling companions.

Despite my initial concerns, I found myself falling almost instantly in love with Mattie and her no-nonsense attitude. I would definitely give True Grit a read if you’re looking to try out the Western genre, as it seems to be a nice middle ground between unrelentingly bleak and entirely ignoring the negative aspects of Reconstruction America. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 2 by kakifly

Signing off,

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

So Blood Meridian took me longer to get through that I was hoping. Evidently audiobooks are not something that I get on with. I’ve been looking to read some of Cormac McCarthy’s ever since seeing the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, cliche as that may be. It was such an odd film that I was curious to see how much of that was the Coen Brothers’ direction and how much was from the original source material. But I got my hands on Blood Meridian first, so that will have to be my introduction to his works. 

Blood Meridian follows a runaway known as the Kid during his violent coming-of-age as a member of a group of scalp-hunters, headed by the infamous John Joel Glanton and the eerie and erudite Judge Holden. As part of the Glanton Gang, he is tasked with collecting the scalps of natives attacking settlements at the Mexico-USA border. 
Right, so something quick to start the review off: if violence is not your thing, then Blood Meridian is not for you, as it comes up startlingly often and usually in a great deal of detail. If I were to guess, I would say that the majority of the narrative can be filed into one of three things: an act of mass and/or out-of-proportion violence, travelling in some truly wonderful descriptions of the landscape, or sitting around the camp-fire listening to the Judge preach about the world. 
Weirdly enough though, I found that the violence wasn’t all that shocking. I have read that many readers who have gotten through to the end experience desensitisation, but it probably says something about me that, while the violence is vivid and utterly brutal, I just had a weird sense of dissociation. There was something about the stark nature of the writing style and the bleak, lawless setting that meant that when the violence did come along, it just felt like a natural extension. It didn’t feel as shocking to me as, for example, Chuck Palahniuk’s violent scenes, which stick out because they’re meant to be set in modern day and contrast with mundanity. 
The thing that really stuck out for me was the Judge’s speeches, just because he’s such a well-written Devil figure. He is an unusual figure in pretty much every way compared to the company that he keeps, from his huge stature and arresting lack of hair, to the eloquence with which he completely runs circles around his uneducated travelling companions, to the obvious enjoyment that he takes in the violence that he inflicts as opposed to killing from necessity or for money. In addition to his unusual features, he seems to get a lot more spotlight than the nominal protagonist, the Kid, which gives the reader a better idea of his nature, if not his true origins. For me, I couldn’t shake the idea that he was meant to be Satan, considering some of his actions appear to have no physical explanation at times, which gave the whole book a weird kind of Biblical parable feel to it. It felt like if new chapters of the Old Testament were written, but God never interjects as a guide, leaving the world to descend further and further into evil in their absence. 
A fascinatingly grim book, Blood Meridian is definitely not for those who can’t stomach violence. Personally I found the Judge’s speeches to be the far more disturbing part of the narrative, but I can understand it would be a deciding factor. I had this as an audiobook, but I would be really interested in re-reading it as a print or e-book at some later date. 4/5 
Next review: K-ON! Volume 1 by kakifly 
Signing off, 

Junky by William S. Burroughs

Growing up, my dad was part of Customs and Excise, or Border Force as it is now (though for how long remains to be seen). As such, there was a loudly spoken rule in my house that drugs were bad and that under no circumstances should my sister or I ever partake in them. Considering that we lived in the most bumfuck nowhere type of village whilst still having a bus connection, I’m not sure looking back how they expected me to initiate such a habit, let alone maintain it. In any case, since starting further education my opinions on drug use have somewhat softened, with my perspective shifting more from the criminal to the medical. But I still hadn’t ever read what addiction was like, so when Junky turned up on my shelf, I saw an opportunity to delve into a topic that is somewhat dangerous to look into first-hand.

Junky is the semi-autobiographical tale of Burroughs, under the pseudonym William Lee, and his experiences of opioid addiction. It covers the experience of the drug itself, the process of pushing drugs, run-ins with the law across the United States, and several episodes of withdrawal.
I don’t know quite what I expected, but I hadn’t expected the experience of drug addiction to be so mundane. After the first description of his initial kick, any positives are kind of toned down. It soon becomes just a background element of the narration, the way that you assume that characters in books obviously eat, sleep and clean themselves but don’t need to explicitly say so unless there is something to be implied from this routine. There’s a point where he states that no-one deliberately sets out to be a drug addict, and instead fall into it out of a lack of passion for anything else. It’s kind of a weird realisation, and it makes the scenes of withdrawal all the more intense. You can usually see them coming as they’re signposted by some downturn in personal circumstances, whether that be a lack of funds or increasing pressure from the law, but each is sufficiently different from the previous detox to maintain interest. It’s in these moments where Burroughs describes trying to minimise the symptoms of “junk sickness” that the writing is at its most vivid, where all the visceral processes are drawn out with grotesque, but somehow still clinical, detail.
It’s a strange realisation, but the main thing that I took away from Junky is the feeling that this was just a drawn out musing on the nature of decay. Once a habit is sufficiently established, maintaining the habit is described more in terms of staving off the symptoms of junk sickness rather than for any kick that the addict may get. There doesn’t seem to be any pleasure in it after a while, but just a resigned continuation of a state of self-poisoning in order to avoid the worst of the symptoms. And oftentimes, the attempts at a self-administered cure make the addict worse off than they otherwise would have. Bodies seem to decay at alarming rates, and often at odds with the personalities behind them.

Junky is a strange read, although that may be due in large part to my aggressively anti-drug upbringing. The drug itself sort of fades into the background, fuelling a tone of low-key desperation and disquietude. What stands out most are the episodes of withdrawal, where the body seems to fall apart in the most agonising ways possible. Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone thought that this would encourage people to try drugs, because I come away from this with a sense of sadness more than anything. 3.5/5

Next review: Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Signing off,

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Of all the books that I have on my reading list, this was the one that I had most trepidation about starting. There was the inevitable concern that the controversy about it and the possibility that it would eclipse whatever actual merit the book would contain. But, as I had received the book as part of a larger bundle of audiobooks, it seemed a bit of a waste to just leave it languishing on my computer unread. The fact that my attempts to listen to it on my tablet made it sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks were narrating did somewhat mar the experience too.

The Satanic Verses follows two Indian actors who miraculously survive the explosion of a hijacked plane over the English Channel, and the strange changes that come over them following this. First there is the popular Bollywood star Gibreel Farishta chasing after a lost love, who finds himself taking on the personality and divine powers of the archangel Gibreel. The other is Saladin Chamcha, a long-time resident of London returning from an unsuccessful reunion with his father, who takes on the rather more unfortunate shape of a satyr-like devil. Interspersed in their narratives about their lives after these unusual and distressing changes, are dreams that Farishta has about events in his celestial persona’s past. First is the sequence starting with the episode of the Satanic verses. Second is a sequence focusing on a modern day Imam in exile. Third is a sequence following a seer named Ayesha, who convinces her village to go on a foot pilgrimage to Mecca, claiming that she will invoke God’s will and part the sea for them to reach their destination.
Before I continue onto the review properly, there is something that I feel should tackle, if only briefly, lest it become an elephant in the room. I’ve been able to find out the basics of why The Satanic Verses was so controversial with some Islamic readers, mostly in response to the dream sequence about the Satanic verses themselves. And while I can definitely understand that some of the imagery and allegorical naming would be considered incendiary, I won’t pretend to know enough in the realm of religious scholarship to comment too deeply on them. In addition, I would rather not start up a discussion about free speech here, because it is a complex subject that I would only be able to scratch the surface of. All I suppose I would commit to here is that while I am all for people facing up to the consequences of their proclamations, it is a step too far to try and kill someone for those statements.
Right then, so onto the actual book. The Satanic Verses is an ambitious work focusing primarily on the immigrant experience in Thatcher-era Britain, and the strict divide between white and non-white cultures. Chamcha’s insistence throughout the majority of the book to model himself off of the ideal aristocratic, stiff-upper-lip style of Englishman, only becomes more pathetic and futile as the narrative goes on and he finds that London has retained all of the smugness inherent in conquerors but none of the sophistication. Similarly, Farishta’s increasingly unhinged attempts to mold London to his city of ideals only ends with disillusionment. The book does a lot of clever things to create multiple, interconnecting stories of isolation and the conflict between being unyielding and maintaining one’s cultural identity vs compromise and changing to suit your new culture. It does a lot of interesting things, but still I find myself quite content to never re-read this book. I think I may have a similar reaction to Salman Rushdie that I do to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: the books they write may be very clever and worthy of study, but it does nothing for me emotionally. The Satanic Verses is a book that, were I still in university, I would be quite happy to study and analyse to death, but I very much doubt that I will revisit it for reasons of pleasure. This is a matter of personal taste though, and I do wonder whether I would have been more forgiving if I had been allowed to tackle the text at my own pace instead of in the irregular intervals where it would be appropriate to be anti-social for hours at a time.

A clever and interesting novel about the immigrant experience in Thatcher-era Britain that unfortunately didn’t really do much for me. Definitely more a text for debate and analysis than it is for pleasure. For those readers who are Islamic, then there are definitely elements that could be controversial, but I don’t feel that I am really the person most qualified to discuss how inflammatory the novel is or isn’t. 3/5

Next review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Signing off,

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

It’s been a while since I read a classic, but of the many classics out there, why pick up Lady Audley’s Secret, a book by an author that I had never heard of in my life? Well, the blurb promised all sorts of scandalous acts that shouldn’t come anywhere near the neutered Victorian ideal, so of course my interest was peaked.

After three years spent gold prospecting in Australia, George Talboys is keen to return home to his beautiful wife and young child. Upon his return, he finds that she has just died and, utterly bereft at this turn of events, he stays with an old friend to try and recover. His friend, Robert Audley, suggests a visit to his wealthy uncle in the Essex countryside as a form of distraction and as an excuse to meet his new aunt, a woman renowned in the local area as a great beauty. When the trip ends with George’s disappearance, Robert finds himself driven to discovering what happened. The more he investigates though, the more suspicious his new aunt becomes, and he risks miring his family in scandal.
You probably noticed that I didn’t mention any of the scandalous things that the blurb tempted me in with. Because knowing them in advance kind of ruins any surprise that Lady Audley’s Secret has. Lady Audley, in my read-through, had no real secrets because with a couple of exceptions the twists are pretty clearly signposted if you’ve already been told the spoilers. Despite this though, I found this thoroughly enjoyable. The writing is a bit on the flowery side, but considering the focus on Victorian domestic arrangements it does work quite well. The only thing that truly bothered me was the ending. If you’re interested in actually reading Lady Audley’s Secret, which I really would recommend, then you might want to skip the next paragraph.
So, the ending. Lady Audley has been revealed to be a murderous bigamist who pushed her first husband, George Talboys, down a well after he discovered that she wasn’t dead as he had first believed. In order to save his family’s honour, Robert Audley spirits her away to a madhouse to quietly expire at a safe distance, but can never honour his departed friend by giving him a proper burial for fear that it would go to a criminal court. All well and good so far, and I could have accepted that as an ending. Then it turned out that George Talboys was alive all this time and just doesn’t have any understanding of how this “keeping in contact” thing works. And everyone who isn’t the eponymous Lady Audley has a happy ending. The book ends with a reference to a Bible quote where the righteous shall not be forsaken, and honestly it’s so bloody saccharine after a plot that has been gratifyingly scandalous and treacherous. It was such a disappointment. Not enough to entirely ruin the book, but enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Even having had the majority of the secrets spoiled by the blurb of my edition, I found myself really enjoying myself. That’s probably why I was so disappointed by the abrupt turn into happy ending territory in the last couple of chapters. Still worth a read though. 4/5

Next review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Signing off,

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

I’ll admit, I wasn’t actually intending to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when I first picked up my edition. Having tried and failed to read it when I was younger, I wasn’t all that interested in the actual novel itself. But, as you can see from the below cover, this looked like it would be a manga adaptation, which I was interested in purely because I like that whole Wonderland aesthetic. When I got it home and out of the shrink-wrap, however, I found that rather than an adaptation, I had picked up an illustrated version of the original novels, which was a tad confusing considering it was a comic shop. Either way, it seemed a shame to waste a perfectly nice edition of a book, especially when the art looked so pretty.

The reader follows Alice, a young girl who finds herself in another world after following a white rabbit dressed in a waistcoat down a rabbit hole. There she meets a series of strange characters and must navigate an assortment of situations in which logic appears to have disappeared entirely.
I went into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass expecting to absolutely hate it. As I mentioned above, I couldn’t get into it when I was younger, so I wasn’t really expecting a huge deal. As it was, I was pleasantly surprised to find it thoroughly average. In a weird way, I think it is both too universally well-known and also too hopelessly old-fashioned to really speak to people in the way that they expect it will.
Firstly, the too well-known part. There isn’t much of either book that the general public isn’t familiar with in some fashion. Off the top of my head, the only parts that were unfamiliar to me were the Duchess’ pig-baby and the giant puppy from Adventures in Wonderland and the battle between the lion and the unicorn from Through the Looking-Glass. As for the rest of it, it’s all pretty familiar. Even some of the more minor parts have become part of everyday pop culture. “What’s the difference between a raven and a writing desk?” has been so over-analysed that the riddle has gone from having no answer to too many. Hell, I remember being told “Time for bed the Walrus said” when it was getting too late, which is unintentionally sinister now that I think about it. It’s so ubiquitous now that public consciousness of the property is probably influenced as much by modern reinterpretations as it is by the original.
This mention of modern reinterpretations leads me to my second point, which is the hopelessly old-fashioned part. You can kind of tell from some of the poetry that Carroll is playing on rhymes of the time, but it’s hard to appreciate the cleverness of it when the original rhymes aren’t well-known anymore. Without that context, the book has to rely on its plot, and if you have any concept of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland then you can already tell what the problem with that statement is. Without the contemporary context, the book is left to rely on events that only barely have continuity with one another and don’t have any stakes to speak of. It feels like a story that a child would make up and honestly it just strikes me as bizarre that it would last so long in cultural memory.

I think the only thing that really surprised me coming out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass is how little the books actually hold up. The rhymes that it plays with haven’t survived the test of time, and it means that the reader is left with a plot that is disjointed at best. The writing itself is okay but there’s not much content to work with. It only really works on an aesthetic level these days. 2.5/5

Next review: Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Signing off,

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