Ah, the dreaded yet beloved To Be Read list. A result of one of my favourite hobbies – going to a bookshop, picking up a book and shouting ‘Wow, this looks amazing,’ buying said book and then never picking it up again. Given the amount of free time I suddenly have (I’m furloughed from a job that I can’t do from home), I’ve set myself a challenge: finally, get through those books that have been sitting on my TBR list for decades. Here’s my list so that I can hold myself accountable – maybe some of you have read them!
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
‘When Arthur Clennam returns to England after many years abroad, he takes a kindly interest in Amy Dorrit, his mother’s seamstress, and in the affairs of Amy’s father, William Dorrit, a man of shabby grandeur, long imprisoned for debt in Marshalsea prison.
As Arthur soon discovers, the dark shadow of the prison stretches far beyond its walls to affect the lives of many, from the kindly Mr Panks, the reluctant rent-collector of Bleeding Heart Yard, and the tipsily garrulous Flora Finching, to Merdle, an unscrupulous financier, and the bureaucratic Barnacles in the Circumlocution Office. A masterly evocation of the state and psychology of imprisonment, Little Dorrit is one of the supreme works of Dickens’s maturity.’
I bought the book after the BBC Miniseries was released, and I haven’t been near it since, but don’t you worry Charles – I’m going to read it twelve years too late!
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
‘Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears.’
I know this book was on everyone’s reading lists when it was released in 2016, and after finally finding a copy at my local charity shop for £1, how could I say no? Well, no is exactly what I said, up until now. I’m about a quarter of the way through and it’s definitely living up to the hype.
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
‘Villette’s narrator, the autobiographical Lucy Snowe, flees England and a tragic past to become an instructor in a French boarding school in the town of Villette. There she unexpectedly confronts her feelings of love and longing as she witnesses the fitful romance between Dr. John, a handsome young Englishman, and Ginerva Fanshawe, a beautiful coquette.
The first pain brings others, and with them comes the heartache Lucy has tried so long to escape. Yet in spite of adversity and disappointment, Lucy Snowe survives to recount the unstinting vision of a turbulent life’s journey – a journey that is one of the most insightful fictional studies of a woman’s consciousness in English literature.’
I began reading this a few months ago and stopped for some reason unbeknownst to me, but I remember really enjoying it at the time. Now is as good a time as any to pick it up again!
Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
‘The orphaned heroine Ruth, apprenticed to a dressmaker, is seduced and then abandoned by wealthy young Henry Bellingham. Shamed in the eyes of society by her illegitimate son, and yet rejecting the opportunity to marry her seducer, Ruth finds a path that affirms we are not bound to repeat our mistakes.
When Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell’s second novel, appeared in 1853 its first reviewers were less scandalized than moved and intrigued. In considering a ‘fallen woman’, Gaskell explores the worlds of nineteenth-century experience concerned with women and family, sexuality, love and religion. She declared of her critics: ‘It has made them talk and think a little on a subject which is so painful it requires all one’s bravery not to hide one’s head like an ostrich.’
Having bought this on the same book shopping spree that I bought Villette on, you’d have thought I’d have finished it by now. Alas, I have not, earning itself a place on this list.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
‘The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest. With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown.
But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence — with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie’s death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.’
I’d become a bit disillusioned with the Outlander series after really loving the first four books, but hating the fifth. I hope the series hasn’t dragged on to long, because the sixth installment has far better reviews than the The Fiery Cross. If anybody has read it, what did they think? Is the fifth book just an outlier or is the series running out of steam?