Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

I decided to have a little trip down memory lane a couple of weeks ago and picked up a copy of probably one of the most prolific children’s books in the world. I have not read this book in such a long time, and I kind of felt like it was time to reflect. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), based on a tale he created for a friend’s daughters and published in 1865. I ended up reading most of this book on a day trip to Edinburgh, in various coffee shops across the city. Definitely a good way to experience a book.

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Edinburgh

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: the first of the two stories follows Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in the land of the Queen of Hearts. On her adventures she meets all manner of strange creatures; the chief of which being the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts. Based upon a game of cards, the world Alice finds is complicated and plays around with logic.

Through the Looking Glass: on another little jaunt, Alice is able to pass through the mirror in her drawing room into the mirror opposite room.This time, the alternative world is based upon a game of chess, with Alice having to pass across the chessboard, passing through every square to become a queen. Both the Red and the White Queen help Alice in her voyage, whilst she meets various nursery rhyme stars.

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Excellent Veggie Haggis whilst enjoying the Adventures of Alice

Even as an adult this book was highly enjoyable. Yes, at many times the stories seem to be complete gobble-di-gook. But its fun, its wacky, and of course it makes a highly entertaining read. I feel with this one I don’t need to recommend, considering its massive cultural following, but I do suggest revisiting such a timeless classic.

Roald Dahl

The Complete Short Stories, Volume One: 1944-1953

No matter who you are, you have probably heard of Roald Dahl. Literally, he is one of the most prolific British authors ever. The man who brought us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and Matilda was a big part of my childhood – who did not love The BFG? For my birthday a friend gave me this collection of short stories (you all know what a big fan of short stories I am), and I was intrigued to see how Dahl writes for adult audiences.

This collection is the first in a special series of Dahl’s stories, from various magazines throughout the period. The first half of the stories are centred around the Second World War, drawing upon Dahl’s experiences as an RAF flying ace. These in themselves were intriguing, as a testimony to the proximity of death  for pilots and disillusionment with war. Often they feature the tribulations of the same squadron; following their adoption of a Greek girl on the decimation of her village, in their down time in various cities liberating brothels or whatever, and in ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, considering the legions of dead and the passage to the afterlife.

The second half is a lot more reminiscent of polite British society, with several stories featuring Brits abroad on various jaunts or participating in the last breaths of colonialism. One classic story, that I did not originally realise was Dahl’s, is the tale of a woman who murders her husband with a joint of meat, getting away with it by roasting  it and serving it up to his police colleagues.

I really enjoyed these stories. I think there is a little bit for everyone in here. It does not even need to be said that Dahl is a literary genius, yet each one was beautifully crafted. However, I do not know if this was due to the differences in subject matter, but I almost felt that this should have been two separate books. There was no cohesion, or an overarching style to the writing. Perhaps this is because each was originally piece work for magazines,not intended to be read all together.

If you know any big Roald Dahl fans, I would say that they would still definitely try some of his ‘grown-up’ stuff. I know I definitely want to read more.

The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories: Anton Chekhov

As it seems that I am apparently a fan of the odd short story, I’ve been reading a bit of Chekhov lately and thought I should keep you up to date. As one of the best novella writers, known for his ability to capture human nature and the significance of everyday events against the backdrop of the hopelessness of life. You have guessed it, this is not going to be a cheerful one.

This book is a collection of some of his work dating from around 1896-1904. The majority of these stories focus upon isolated or miserable characters trapped within their lives as they attempt to find meaning.

I had a few favourites from these:

  • The Bride: the story of a girl who has only wished for marriage realises within the weeks before her wedding that there may be more to life. As a tale of the opening up of the world and the female empowerment of exploring the wider options, this is one of the few stories in this book that is actually uplifting.
  • My Life (A Provincial’s Story): this is one of the longer stories in the collection, running as a narrative of a young member of the Middle Classes striving for more meaning from society through the labours of physical labour. However, he and everyone else around him continues to be unhappy, searching for more instead of appreciating what they have.
  • Man in a Case: one example of Chekhov’s exploration of character, this tale uses the storytelling of travelling friends to relay the idea of the man – trapped by his anxiety he attempts to change his ways.

Although this book is not particularly happy, it is realistic. There was something reassuring in its portrayal of life going on despite trauma and personal heartbreak. Each story is a thing of beauty, with Chekhov’s clever writing making them easy to read yet also complex – the people written about feel real, and people to empathise with.

Four Stories: Alan Bennett

Hello book fans! I realise it has been a VERY long time since I last posted (Easter holidays in fact), but it has been a busy term for me – unfortunately second year university actually counts towards final grades and I got distracted! Reading has been far from my mind, but let me write a post to make up for it.

Way back in the Easter break I read Four Stories, another Alan Bennett book-I enjoyed The Lady in the Van which I covered in another review and features in this collection of short stories. This book comprises radio plays, short stories and an exploration of a TV film.

The Laying On of Hands follows the unravelling of a funeral, as all those in attendance sit in fear of the reason for Clive’s death. As increasing numbers of the congregation are revealed to be linked to the dead man in compromising ways, the story follows the priest residing over the memorial service and the Archdeacon sent to review him. This story manages to make a moral statement about fear of taking risks and the unknown within British society as well as the taboo of AIDs, whilst also using the fact that – sex sells.

The Clothes They Stood Up In is a strange tale of a couple robbed of everything in a bizarre twist of mistaken identity, who in the process of trying to rebuild their lives discover the extent of their repression within their own lives.

Last but not least, Father! Father! Burning Bright explores the experiences of Midgley as he attempts to come to terms with the imminent death of his father, the person he holds to blame for his failures in life. It’s an interesting study of the selfishness of reaction to dying.

These short stories are great for those brief bus journeys. Bennett writes with a sharp witty irony that keeps the reader gripped and on their toes – something rare to find in this format. I would definitely recommend these, whether you are a fan of his previous work or are new to the world of Alan Bennett.