Saturday, February 1, 2014

1001 Books: Review of Book One and Book Two Pick!


On January 1st (feels like about 6,000 years ago, farewell January you lingering dose) I posted about the book challenge I want to do this year, where I'm picking random books off the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (click the 1001 books tab up top to view the list).

The first book thrown out was Erewhon by Samuel Butler, and I did finish it. I've also posted a variation on this review on Goodreads. (book images from Goodreads).

Erewhon (an anagram of nowhere) is a Utopian novel from the 19th century. Apparently it was written in parts, with years passing between each chapter. I can only presume he was as bored writing it as I was reading it. I read it in great chunks during night feeds, just to keep my mind going - I found it mind-numbingly boring in parts but funnily enough it has popped into my head a few times since!

At the start of the book, I really enjoyed the descriptions of the area - the main character initially spent his days looking after animals in a remote part of his homeland. He dreamed of exploring far away lands, so decided to set off on an exploration. His companion got the jitters and turned back, so the main guy had to go it alone. I really, really enjoyed reading about his trek through the dangerous waters and lands to get to Erewhon.

When he got to Erewhon (an anagram of Nowhere) it all went downhill for me. What could have been an amazing tale to rival Gulliver's Travels turned, essentially, into a man landing in a town, moving in, learning the language, and then leaving. I know it's supposed to be a satire on many European customs and traditions. Illness is punished, while criminals are pitied. The Erewhonians are desperately afraid of technological advances and machinery. Anything considered a machine is banned - his watch is instantly confiscated upon arrival.

There are huge, very detailed chapters on all the Erewhonian customs and traditions, their thoughts and opinions, and their treatment of various classes of society. I found myself speed-reading many of these chapters because I just found it so boring, and the language was hard to get to grips with sometimes. There's a chapter near the end about vegetables and plants that I read thinking "what is he going on about" the whole way through (albeit in slightly more flowery language).

The end is really confusing - he and his Erewhonian love feck off in a balloon (why is that allowed? Would that not be considered a machine?!) and then when they get back to England nobody pays him attention because they all thought he had died years ago - so he decides to try and get back to Erewhon.

I definitely, definitely won't read this ever again but I'm glad I gave it a go and I'm glad that I finished it and got to tick another title off the list. It's so far removed from anything I'd ever pick up, so I'm glad I pushed myself to finish it.

Apparently there's a sequel - but I have no desire to seek it out.

I hit for my next book in the challenge:

Number 5 on the list is "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides.

According to Newsweek: "It's the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes - the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned. Jeffrey Eugenides creates a new kind of contemporary love story in his most powerful novel yet."

Sounds much more up my street than Erewhon - although.......Grammaticus?


  1. I love Jeffrey Eugenides, although I've yet to read the marriage plot. I think this is such a good idea for a reading list, I'd never have picked up erewhon either so it's cool to try something different. X

  2. Well done on finishing Erewhon! I'm still about half way through it and cannot bring myself to pick up the kindle. I'd rather tackle the mountain of ironing than sit down to read it. Parts of it have been ok, but like you I've been speed reading it trying to get it over and done with,.

  3. Hmmh, not sure I'd ever pick up either of those! I love that feeling of challenging yourself with a book though and trying something outside your normal limits.


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