Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death

I’m not sure when I first came to M.C. Beaton, I have vague recollections of looking at the Agatha Raisin series in Waterstone’s when I was at university and I know I stormed through all the Hamish Macbeth books in my local libraries last year, but I can’t remember what first drew me to her books. I have read nearly all in the Hamish Macbeth series (and I love them), but this was my first Agatha Raisin mystery, although I have heard bits and pieces of the Radio 4 dramatisation staring Penelope Keith.

Agatha has taken early retirement from running her own PR firm in London and fulfilled a life long ambition to move to the Cotswolds. However village life does not quite meet her expectations and with conversation limited to ‘mawning’ and comments about the weather, Agatha is soon left wondering whether or not she made the right decision. As is typical with all good British villages, there is an upcoming village fair and Agatha determined to win round the villagers purchases a spinach quiche in a London deli and enters it in the homemade quiche category. Unfortunately for Agatha she doesn’t win…and her quiche ends up poisoning the local judge, sparking a murder inquiry with Agatha at the heart of it.

Since a young age I have always loved crime and detection stories (I have already admitted my love for Disney’s Basil the Great Mouse Detective and cite this as my first introduction to the world of crime), however in recent years I have been left slightly deflated by my lack of appreciation or interest in the latest crime fiction craze: Scandinavian crime thrillers. I have read Jo Nesbo and tried so hard to get in to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but they do nothing for me and I find I almost begrudge having to pick them up and read them. And I think I have found the reason why…armchair crime!

There is something about the cosy British detective story that gives it a special place on my virtual reading bookshelf; perhaps it is the British countryside settings, the amatuer detective who you can just picture in a quaint little teashop, or the whole ‘who dunnit’ finger pointing and clue searching that these books offer the reader, but for me I think they are perfect. They offer a form of pure and simple escapism where you need to work your brain cells if you want to catch the criminal, but you don’t need to worry about becoming bogged down with hi-tech crimes that require at the very least an interest in technology. Or at least that is how I see them!

Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death did exactly what I wanted it to…it allowed me to disappear into a world of ‘cosy’ British crime that wasn’t too taxing. I liked the character of Agatha, she is slightly haughty, but I like how she is beginning to change and realise that life is different in the country and that you need to make an effort if you want to be accepted. And I want to know what happens next with her new dishy neighbour! Unlike Agatha Chrsitie, M.C.Beaton’s novels have an almost throw away element for me. Yes I enjoy them, but I can’t say I would rush out to buy them, preferring to get them on loan from the library…and I can never really remember who the murderer was or the exact circumstances of the narrative, but that is besides the point. They are great for if you want to escape reality for a few hours, or if like me you used to work in a National Trust tearoom on your own and liked to read between customers/scowl at those who interrupted you at a crucial point of the story!

I can see I am going to become slightly addicted to the Agatha Raisin series, just as I did with the Hamish Macbeth series, but sometimes a little light murder is just what the reading doctor perscribed…and it might keep me sane when I start teaching again next week!

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The Perfect Romantic Hero

And I am back to singing my love for Jilly Cooper from the rooftops, well it is the holidays after all, and I promised myself one big Cooper novel every major school holiday. Of course this is a reread!

Appassionata follows the career of passionate violinist Abigail Rosen. After a dramatic suicide attempt puts a stop to her classical soloist career, Abby takes to the conductor’s rostrum, and meets the flamboyant and troublesome Rutminister Symphony Orchestra, and so another great Jilly Cooper story of loves, losses, highjinks, sexual encounters, dashing heroes and beautiful heroines begins. I love Cooper’s style of writing; it is so engaging and full of witty word play and references to poetry and classical music, that despite having read all her novels I know I will always discover something new and thoroughly enjoy the time I spent engrossed in her work. One particular description struck a chord (and having cleverly packed my copy of Appassionata this morning, I am going to have to adlib slightly. Cooper, when describing the orchestra cat, John Drummond, writes something along the lines of ‘John Drummond, having exhausted the catnip matador, had to resort to watching cat television, however with only a pigeon to gaze at, this didn’t last long. There was always so much more to see in the summer when the swallows were swooping make and forth.’ As I said this is not an accurate quote, but the description of a window as ‘cat television’ did make me smile.

Being as obsessed as I am, I always tend to read any article I come across by Jilly Cooper, and I read a particular interesting one recently that I feel is relevant to the ongoing rise of erotic fiction and the sheer craziness that has been triggered by E.L.James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. Unless you have been living under a rock, you cannot fail to have noticed that James’ books are EVERYWHERE! People who never read have become gripped in the lives of Ana Steele and Christian Grey, and I can say this in confidence seeing as my facebook feed went fifty shades of crazy about the books and my sister, who has bought a grand total of 5 books in her entire life, also began reading Fifty Shades of Grey (she quickly gave up, which says a lot in my opinion). I did devour all three books in quite quick succession earlier in the summer, and I will confess I fell a little bit in love with Christian Grey. But then I snapped out of that and got incredibly irritated by the poor, repetative writing, the dire and unbelievable heroine and the predictable plot; to be perfectly honest I think I could have written them myself, in fact most of the people who have read them would probably have done a better job.

The majority of facebook statuses I read about Fifty Shades raved about Christian Grey, and as I have admitted, I had a bit of ‘literary’ (I use that term in the loosest possible sense) crush on him. And then I read Cooper’s article. In it she pronounces that she does not understand why anyone would fancy Christian Grey; Jilly says that in her opinion, Fifty Shades protagonist Christian, a mercurial billionaire with a penchant for punishing his girlfriends, is a ‘terrible, terribly silly man, with his “long index fingers”. ‘To me he’s a joke,’ she says. ‘But then again, I’m old.’. Jilly Cooper also makes the valid point that it takes a lot of research to write one of her ‘bonkbusters’, as they are called, and you don’t have to enjoy them or think of them as literature to realise this is true. Having just finished Appassionata, it is clear that Cooper extensively researched life in an orchestra, from the day-to-day running of it to the taking part in competetions and being awarded grants from the Arts Council. I think it is fair to say that very little research went in to the Fifty Shades trilogy, well unless scouring sex shops for the latest craze counts as research.

In hindsight, I completely agree with Cooper. Christian Grey isn’t a romantic hero. He is a handsome man with an incredibly large bank balance, who is used to getting what he wants in and out of the bedroom and therefore tries to control everyone he meets. He seems to have very little personality, social life or interests, and he certainly isn’t renowned for witty conversation. When I compare him to one of the male heroes in Appassionata, it is clear that there is no comparison. Viking plays First Horn in the RSO and is passionate, caring, handsome, funny, yes he is an arrogant arse in places, but at least he has a sense of humour, something Grey appears to be lacking, and he is a well thought out, developed character. For me Cooper creates romantic heroes you can actually fall in love with, men you would want to know in real life, and not just some 2D masochistic ‘hero’ who you think you want to know, but in reality would have you running for the hills. And as a mini postscript and personal reading choice, as a woman, I would much rather read about a fiesty, intelligent, witty heroine, than a sappy, predictable one.

Give me a Cooper hero anyday!

So having once again prattled on about my bias love of Jilly Cooper, I was wondering if there are any romantic literary figures, male or female, that you couldn’t live without?

A Fortnightly Update!

Life has been pretty crazy the past fortnight, I feel as though I have been here, there and everywhere, hence the reason I missed last week’s update. In terms of reading, I haven’t done a great deal, having finished Claire Tomalin’s amazing biography Jane Austen: A Life, I swiftly moved on to Jilly Cooper’s Appassionata, well I was on holiday. This is a reread (of course), but I am loving it!

And what have I been up to to slow down my reading time? Last Thursday Mum and I hopped on the train to London to see ‘Richard III’ at The Globe Theatre. This was my Mum’s first trip to The Globe, and I was keen for her to enjoy it as much as I do. It was also the first time I had ever been to London with just my Mum; I went as a child once or twice with the whole family, but all my recent trips have been to visit some of my closest friends, so it was lovely to spend some time with my Mum in the city. We walked along the river to and from the theatre, which is so much easier than getting the tube, and I was able to browse the fantastic second hand bookstall that lives under a bridge (I can’t remember what it is called). We sat on the top floor of the theatre, which was another first, and had a surprisingly good view of the stage. It was an interesting performance, and quite humourous, which I wasn’t expecting. I found this quite refreshing and it certainly made the performance more engaging and easier to understand, which as Mum said is good for those who don’t really know the storyline. I look forward to next season at The Globe!

I then moseyed off for a long weekend at Center Parcs with some of my family. It has become a bit of a tradition, this being the 16th year in a row we have visited, but there is so much to see and do there that it never gets boring. I had a lovely relaxing weekend, and luckily the weather was fantastic, so I was able to sit on the beach and on the green reading my books and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I made a return visit to Longleat yesterday, as my sister and I went to the safari park. This has recently been updated and was so much fun, especially for someone who has a slight obsession with safaris and seeing wild animals. I am not a huge fan of zoos, but I think Longleat does an incredible job of providing lots of space and interesting and exciting activities for the animals.

The countdown has begun for the start of school…less than a fortnight to go, eek! I went in to begin sorting out my classroom today, which is going to take longer than expected as there are still a lot of books, resources etc. from the previous teacher; I helpfully shoved it all in a HUGE cupboard and a filing cabinet…out of sight, out of mind! Now if I could just get the 9 million drawing pins out of my walls I will be a happy bunny!

Jane Austen: A Life

I have been pretty quiet on the whole blog front this past fortnight, mainly because I have been in London and off on holiday, but I will get to that in my Weekly, or should I say fortnightly since that’s what it will be this week, up date. Luckily I am still able to get blog updates on my phone and ipod, so I have been able to keep up with the blogs I follow, which I really enjoy doing. Due to all this craziness I have only finished one book, fortunately it was a good one!

Claire Tomalin first came to my attention when I heard snippets from her Dickens Biography on the radio, and since I have a teeny hatred for hardbacks (they are expensive, you can’t really read them in the bath and you certainly cannot carry them about in your handbag) I decided to wait until it came out in paperback. Yes, I realise it is available now, but I am supposed to be on a book buying ban, which I forgot about until just now and I bought two books from a charity shop this morning, but they were only 50p each, so how could I refuse? But anyway, we will forget about that mini transgression, and move on to Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.

Jane Austen is an author I imagine most people have heard of, maybe they have only heard of one of her novels, or seen an adaptation on TV, but I think it is safe to say that she is a well known British author. But like most authors, it is her novels that hold the deepest interest for me. I did not study Austen at school, so came to her novels in my late teens, starting with the obvious, Pride and Prejudice, and finishing last year with Persuasion. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her novels, and admire her style of writing and how cleverly she has captured the trials and tribulation, loves and losses of all her characters…if only my own love life was like a Jane Austen novel! Despite all this, I knew very little about the woman herself: what inspired her? Why did she never marry? And something as simple as how many brothers and sisters did she have? So I was in dire need of a good Austen biography, and, although I have only read this one, I don’t think I could have picked anything better if I had tried.

Jane Austen: A Life is an incredible biography. It is well thought out, detailed, full of interesting snippets of Georgian life and the lives of the Austen family, and a completely engrossing read from start to finish. Tomalin offers detailed descriptions of the lives of Austen’s relatives and how they impacted on her and her writing, which was fascinating to read about, as it is obvious that Austen would not have succeeded without the input and support of her family, as female authors were a rarity in early 1800s Britain. It was great that Tomalin didn’t stop exploring the lives of the relatives as soon as Jane died, and instead discussed their achievements, and what they did with Jane’s letters, the majority of which were sadly burnt by various relations.

I know Jane Austen is almost synonymous with the city of Bath, and it was great to read about her experiences in the city. I was surprised and also quite pleased that one of the first house the Austen family inhabited in the city was on the same street as one of my brother’s old houses.

Tomalin dedicates several chapters to detailed discussions on Austen’s work, and these were possibly my favourite chapters. Tomalin offers valuable insight into all of Austen’s writing, from her novellas to her more popular novels, and I loved reading these sections. They really made me think about my own experiences with Austen and I cannot wait to reread all her novels with Tomalin’s comments in mind, as I know they will only benefit my reading.

I don’t like folding down the pages of some of my books, but I have made three tiny exemptions to my copy of Jane Austen, so I must have done so for very good reasons. I haven’t looked at them again until now, so who knows what I will find. Oh yes, so I have highlighted two particular quotes from Austen’s writing that I found somewhat significant to myself, both of which that made me smile for different reasons. The first comes from the novella The Watsons, and is on the subject of teaching, as a newly qualified English teacher, I do enjoy quotes about teaching.

‘ I would rather be Teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.’ Elizabeth, better informed about the harsh realities of women’s lives, replies: ‘I would rather do any thing than be Teacher at a school…I have been at a school, Emma, and know what a Life they lead.’

Not sure I would have chosen a career in education back in Georgian times. The next quote also links to being single (yes this is very much on my mind at the moment) and is from Austen herself to a niece who is umming and ahhing over who to marry.

‘Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.’ How true!

The final fold was on the last page, primarily due to the last paragraph. It is incredibly long, so I am not going to retype it, but it speaks about Jane at various points in her life; as a child who loved reading, as a young adult who missed out in love right through to her prolonged illness that led to her early death. It is a poignant last paragraph, and reminded me why I had read the book and just what an incredible woman Jane Austen really was.

Weekly Wrap-Up

I have been slightly blog happy this weekend, which is surprising as I feel I have been crazily busy, so I have obviously been far more proactive than usual. As well as watching hour upon hour of Olympic sport (what am I going to do now it is nearly over???) I have also packed and moved all my furniture and the majority of my stuff to my new house and planned some Year 7 lessons. There must be something in the water in Wiltshire!

This week’s reading has focused on World War Two, as I have finished both Operation Mincemeat and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The weekend has brought a ‘classics’ tone to my reading, having raved about my love of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone for The Classics Club, I have now started Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen, which so far is proving to be an interesting and superbly written read.

Last week I wrote about my successful quest to find a beautiful bookcase. Since leaving for university six years ago, I have lived in eleven different rooms/houses and my books have been split between my houses and my parents’ houses, packed up in boxes, or stashed on bookcases I would NEVER have bought for myself, so I am particularly happy with my purchase. And although it is nowhere near big enough to fit all my books on, it is the perfect size for my new room, so I have accepted that some books will have to live in the wardrobe.

Am I the only one out there who has become slightly obsessed with bookcases in recent years?

The Classics Club August Meme

As part of their newly re-styled site, The Classics Club are hosting a monthly meme, an opportunity for members to share their opinions and ideas on the classics, and as I am in a blogging mood I have decided it is time to tackle this month’s tricky question:

What is your favourite classic book and why?

As with most of the members’ comments and answers I have seen so far, I have struggled with this question. It is a tough one, and even now I am not entirely sure, and I know as soon as I press ‘publish’ I will think ‘oh, but I love [insert title of a classic]. My whole love of the classics stems from nineteenth century novels, from Jane Austen at the turn of the 1800s right the way through to Arthur Conan Doyle and the sheer genius of Sherlock Holmes. I’ll let you in to a shameful little secret…when I was younger I was convinced that Sherlock Holmes was a real person! Even my favourite Disney film takes inspiration from the famous Baker Street sleuth; that’s right, I might be the only person in the world who loves Basil the Great Mouse Detective.

And as I sit here now I keep thinking why didn’t I choose Conan Doyle, but I am going to stick with the novel that first sprung to mind as soon as I read this question, safe in the knowledge that it paves the way for Sherlock Holmes and all the other detective stories I so love reading. My favourite classic has got to be Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. I first read this when I was at university and studying a unit on detective fiction. It is true that chronologically speaking Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Dickens’ Bleak House have elements of the detective years before Collins appeared on the scene, The Moonstone is the first novel that solely focuses on a detective and a believable crime (apes and chimneys do NOT count!). It follows various narratives, with a host of characters pitching in their viewpoint and suspicions. There are carefully placed clues, some red herrings and a whole list of possible suspects, just what a detective fiction reader craves. Collins is a fantastic writer and for those of you yet to read any of his novels I cannot praise them enough; you should definitely read The Moonstone or The Woman in White, or better yet, both of them. I only wish I hadn’t packed up all my books and sent them to my new house today, because I am so tempted to read The Moonstone right now!

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

When I went for my first PGCE interview in 2010 ( I went on three, timing issues meant I was offered a place at a uni to start a year later, and if I turned it down I could actually spend that year looking and applying to a uni I really wanted to go to, which I opted to do instead, and in hindsight this was absolutely the best decision), I had to give a short presentation on a children’s book. Whilst the other two candidates chose to discuss vampire fiction of the Twilight style, I went for John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. A wise choice! I have reread it over the summer as I am planning on teaching it to my Year 8 class, so thought a quick refresher was in need.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is told from the perspective of nine year old Bruno. After a visit from ‘The Fury’, Bruno and his family leave war-torn Berlin and set up home at ‘Out-With’, a strange and desolate place in the middle of nowhere, with no one around bar hundreds of people in striped pyjamas on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Whilst out exploring one day Bruno meets Shmuel, a boy from the other side of the fence, and the two strike up a lasting friendship, sharing their different life experiences and developing their knowledge and understanding of life at ‘Out-With’.

For me The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a poignant and heart felt story, it never fails to make me feel shocked, saddened and amazed by the sheer naivety of Bruno, who refuses to question his father’s actions or believe that there is any possibility that he is doing something horrific. This innocence is the reason why I love the book; yes Bruno is annoying, selfish and seems to think he is always hard done by, but then isn’t part of being a child that ‘it’s not fair’ mentality? And I realise that the circumstances of the novel are remarkably different from any modern day childhood, but Bruno is still only a child. Bruno and Shmuel become friends because they are ignorant of their so called ‘differences’, although I always get the impression that Shmuel understands far more than Bruno about ‘Out-With’ and the reason it exists.

This is an incredibly easy book to read, when I first read it, I finished it in a day, finding it difficult to put down and step away from the story. The langauge is simplistic and childlike in places, as Bruno’s references to ‘The Fury’ and ‘Out-With’ prove, although they are very precise interpretations in my eyes. I personally like how Boyne has taken one of the most horrific events in twentieth century history and used it as inspiration for his novel. Literature can be a fantastic learning aid, and I think this novel is an interesting way for young adults to begin learning about the Holocaust. It is not perfect, and I know there has been some criticism about the novel, but it is a difficult and very raw subject choice, so it was always destined to draw mixed reviews.

The ending is quite possibily the only reason I would umm and ahh over whether or not to teach this. It came as a complete surprise to me, and I had just finished studying a whole unit on the Holocaust at the time, but perhaps that says more about my opinion and expectations about children’s books. However as someone who relishes the importance of historical context when studying/teaching texts, I do think it is important that we don’t shy away from difficult/horrific stories just because we are worried about how pupils will react. On the whole I am looking forward to teaching this text and hearing the reactions of the girls in my class (all girls’ school, I am not being deliberately sexist!) I am sure they will have lots of differing opinions and interpretations.

Operation Mincemeat

For someone with an MA in History of War, Culture and Society I have a shockingly limited knowledge of World War Two, choosing instead to focus on men and masculinity in WWI. My MA brought a new focus to my life and made me realise that it is literature and fiction that I love, thus leading me on the path to becoming an English Teacher. Although I enjoyed the challenge of my MA (and it was bloody hard work), military history is an area of non-fiction I seldom dive in to, perhaps because I wrongly view it as being the type of literature that only appeals to ex-military men or history fanatics. And I love fiction written during or about those specific areas of British/World history, so I don’t know why I avoid history books.

I would never have picked up Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat if I hadn’t watched a documentary, presented by the author, on telly. The intricacies and complications of the story just fascinated me and I knew that the book would be so much better than the programme, so I added it to the ‘to read’ pile and carried on. When the documentary made an impromptu appearance on telly a few weeks ago, I decided to head to my local library and hunt this book out. Luckily for me there were a few copies on the shelf.

In 1943 the Second World War showed very little sign of coming to an easy conclusion; Germany were still a dominant force in Europe and were keen to expand and retain their control. Constant bombings in Britain and mainland Europe were demoralising the country and neither side showed any sign of backing down. Britain needed a good plan, and they needed one fast.

Enter Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley.

British Intelligence, using inspiration from a memo written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, who got the idea from a Basil Thomson novel, devised a plan so clever, so complicated and so unbelievable, that if it worked they would gain a foothold in to Hitler’s Europe, and a major boost in their war campaign. What if the body of a military officer were to wash up on a Spanish beach, carrying personal, confidential letters that hinted at an attack that would never be? What if these letters ‘found’ their way into German hands, and fooled those in command, so that defences were moved away from the real attack point, and placed elsewhere? This is essentially the backbone of Operation Mincemeat, a spy story so incredible it is hard to believe it is true…but it is.

Macintyre delivers a detailed, fascinating and lively account of the deception, right from Fleming’s inital memo to the successful outcome of the deception. The book reads like a fictional thriller; it is fast paced, thorough and easy to read. I have struggled in the past with history books that read like text books, covered in footnotes and subject specific language that requires too much effort for a non-specialist. This was not the case in Operation Mincemeat. It is an enjoyable read for someone who knows little about the whole operation, and certainly offers a comprehensive account, that it is not patronizing or too inclusive. It amazes me how well planned the deception was; it seems obvious that it would need to be in order to succeed, but even creating plausible ‘wallet litter’ to ensure William Martin was a convincing ‘real’ person is fascinating. It makes me think what my purse or handbag tells people about me!

I read the paperback edition of Operation Mincemeat and I particularly enjoyed how Macintyre has returned to his work after the publication of the hardback edition and responded to reader queries and questions about specific facts or people involved in the operation. I like that Macintyre has taken the time to listen to his readers and clearly appreciated their input. I also enjoyed reading about the lives of those involved after the success of Operation Mincemeat; their lives did not stop the second the deception was completed, so it is only fitting that we have an insight into their lives after the war, and their involvement in Mincemeat affected them.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book, even if you know little about WWII, military history or deception plots. It is a great read and very accessible. As with all books I enjoy it has inspired me to read more about this point in history, not only do I want to read more of Ben Macintyre’s books, but I feel the need to read about the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, and the mere mention of Ian Fleming has me craving for a James Bond novel, so the ‘to-read’ list just keeps getting longer.

Weekly Wrap-Up

The Olympics have taken over my life…well that and my quest to find the perfect vintage-esque bookcase, the latter of which I have thankfully fulfilled this evening, got to love ebay! In between all the flag waving and cheering on the various athletes from Great Britain, and the weekend away for a friend’s hen-do, I have been able to do some reading, but not as much as I would like.

I finished Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, with somewhat mixed feelings towards the novel as a whole, most of which are detailed in the review.

I am currently reading Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat, a true spy story from World War Two. This is not a book I would normally choose to read, but having seen a fantastic programme on telly about it, I just knew it had to be added to my ‘te-read’ list. So far, I am thoroughly enjoying it, and am tempted to read some more true life war stories.

I have a funny feeling I won’t be getting much reading done this weeek either; not only do I have another week of the Olympics to distract me, but I need to start planning for school and I am moving on Saturday, so I suppose I should do some packing at some point this week. Busy, Busy!

Anna Karenina

There are some novels whose titles you know long before you know their characters, narrative or ending. They fill you with intrigue, but also a sense of dread and a teeny, tiny bit of fear of the unknown; titles such as Crime and Punishment, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Yes I am aware I have named all Russian novels, perhaps it is something to do with studying and teaching English Literature, or BBC adaptations, who knows! Having conquered two of these massive Russian tomes (I read Crime and Punishment last year) it is safe to say they still fill me with a little bit of fear, mainly because I don’t think I understand or appreciate them as much as I should do.

Anna Karenina follows our eponymous heroine’s fall from grace after her not-so-secret affair with a cavalry officer, Alexei Vronsky. Anna, consumed by her all encompassing passion, abandons her husband, who is a senior statesman, her young son and her prestigious position in Russian society. Shockingly enough, adultery was frowned upon in late nineteenth century Russia, so Anna becomes our tragic fallen woman, overcome with jealousy and fear that Vronsky will eventually leave her for another woman. In her desperation she turns to opium abuse, and needless to say does not fulfil her ‘happily ever after.’

One of my best friends read Russian Studies at University and as soon as I saw the trailer for the upcoming film version of Anna Karenina I just knew I needed to read it before we ventured to the cinema, so I borrowed her copy of the novel, and spent a good fortnight lazing in our brief British summer sunshine wrapped up in 1870s Russia. Having finished it last night, and being keen to write my blog before I become enthralled in my next read, I sit here now with mixed feelings towards the novel, unsure quite how to sum up my own thoughts and feelings, so I am going to ask and answer a few questions to help this all make sense.

Did I enjoy Anna Karenina?

Overall I did enjoy this novel, however my enjoyment came in waves. When I first began reading I quickly became engrossed in the narrative and the characters; I enjoy a romantic style saga in the ‘ X loves Y, who in turn loves Z’ variety, and this what I got in the love triangle of Kitty, Levin and Vronsky, which led the way for the Vronsky/Anna love affair. I enjoyed Tolstoy’s use of foreshadowing in the love affair, and how he leaves little clues as to the fate of the two lovers. Anna evoked my sympathy as she slowly became eaten up with jealousy and regret at having to abandon her son. Yes, you can argue she deserved this because she was the one who committed adultery, but the double standards of affairs are explored in the form of Anna’s brother, and as is clear with most literature of the period, it is always the women who suffer the most for giving in to their passions.

So why do I have mixed feelings for Anna Karenina?

And this is the crucial question. I admit that I enjoyed the novel, I loved reading about Anna’s fate and the narrative that focused on her brother, Stiva, however I constantly felt myself drifting away in the sections involving Levin, and unfortunately for me, this was a large portion of the novel. I don’t care if this next statement makes me seem like a philistine, or that I need a trashy plot to cope with novel, but i do NOT care for farming or politics in rural 1870s Russia. I understand that Levin is essentially a narrative device for Tolstoy to promote his own political views, but for me the novel would have been far more enjoyable if it had solely focused on Anna, and did not go off on these farming tangents. Luckily this has not put me off seeing the film, I just hope the tragedy of Anna and her passionate love affair gets the majority of the screen time, I think I will be falling asleep in the cinema if I have to watch any of Levin’s farming dilemmas.