Thursday, January 3, 2013

So close and yet so far....

How long has it been since I pulled my copy of Villette from the shelf?  Surely it has been longer than a month but sadly it feels even longer than that.  Rachel and I have been reading along together with what is the loosest of contracts, just the way we prefer it.  An email here and there to check in with each other is as rigid as things get.  A few years ago we synced our reading with Wilkie Collins's No Name and if memory serves me correctly we summed up our thoughts in two weeks, thoroughly enjoying the book.  This time around I have struggled.

The first sign that this work of Charlotte's was not going to be smooth sailing was when I found myself longing for Jane Eyre after only a couple of chapters.  How can this be?  So many reviews of Villette said this book was far superior to Jane Eyre.  While Jane was collapsing with exhaustion on the moors, her basket containing meagre supplies left behind on the carriage, I needed a box of tissue.  There is no such sympathy for Villette's Lucy Snowe.  Knowing how tragic Charlotte Bronte's life had been leading up to the writing of this novel I found myself only mildly sympathetic for its author.  The coincidence of characters turning up in other countries at convenient moments bothered me.  Perhaps one chance meeting in a story where the lead up would make the whole event a climatic event would have been warranted but this was not the case in Villette.  It gets worse - a convenient swooning episode that lands Lucy at the doorstep of recognizable surroundings left me scowling.   And one character is referred to at the beginning of the book as Graham, then the reader discovers he is the one and only, Dr John...or Dr Bretton depending on which chapter you're reading.  An unreliable narrator is one thing but the reader is asked to believe in far too much subterfuge here.

Do make sure your copy of Villette has a glossary before diving in as there is a good amount of French to decipher.  My basic French lessons in school meant I only had to peek during the longer passages but the Greek references and Bible quotes were a total mystery to me despite referring to the the glossary for those as well.

'Speak of it! you might almost as well stand up in an European market-place, and propound dark sayings in that language and mood wherein Nebuchadnezzar, the imperial hypochondriac, communed with his baffled Chaldeans.'

What?!  While I enjoy challenging myself every now and then passages such as the above felt too much like work.  Give me a piece of prose by Elizabeth Bowen to mull over any day.

There were some really wonderful chapters in the book and I wrote to Rachel that at times it seemed as though two people were at the writing desk.  The dialogue was engaging, the lines witty, the characterization vivid.  Just when my enthusiasm for Villette began to rise there would be pages of what amounted to rambling for this ignorant reader.  Which leads me to acknowledge that the problem must be mine.  While I tried and tried to challenge myself with this endeavour I found myself avoiding reading time and daydreaming mid-page.  Desperate to keep company with a book that makes me want to rush home from work or sneak upstairs to bed early I found myself beginning to skim pages and that is simply letting the book, and myself, down.  So at page 356 I removed the bookmark and closed Villette, perhaps not for good but for right now.  The thought crossed my mind that left stranded on a desert island with this book I would relish the challenge.  Then another thought came to me...Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd, now that would be more like it!  So that is exactly what I am reading now and quite happy about it.

The other thing that I am leaving behind is this blog.  What began as something to do with a day off over four years ago has taught me so much and the wonderful posts by stellar bloggers and friends make my day....each and every day.  Now, I am closing up shop here but do have plans to begin again with more of a book journal to record what I read and simply feel the need for a fresh start.  Once I am ready to open the door to my new place, so to speak, I will be sure to let you know my new address.  In the meantime expect me to keep dropping by your place!