The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Things I knew about this book going in:
1) I should have read it a long time ago.
2) Time travel.
3) Something about a morlock.

Strangely, there’s not actually much more to the story than that! There is, obviously, a time machine, and a Time Traveller, as he is called. And it’s a frame story, so there’s a narrator who has dinner with the Time Traveller and hears his stories and then recounts them to us, which is always a good time. And so through our narrator we learn about how time travel theoretically works (just moving really really fast through time, basically) and then later how the Time Traveller is now called Late for Dinner and also managed to travel to the year 802701. That is a big number, dudes.

In the future there are some perfect-ish people who are also totes lazy and boring, and also some terrifying people-ish creatures, the aforementioned Morlocks, who are industrious enough to steal Mr. for Dinner’s time machine. Social commentary ensues, Mr. for Dinner gets his time machine back, he goes home, no one believes him, and then he and his machine disappear. The end!

I’m sure that when this book came out in 1895, people were like, holy moly this Herbert fellow is a genius and also possibly insane! But unfortunately here in 2011, I’ve read one or two books that involve time travel and so I already had that part down and the rest of the book had to carry itself, which it didn’t do terribly well. So, as a novella experience, not so great.

But I totally enjoyed the book on its historical merits of introducing time travel (I mean, travelling really fast through time is a genius idea) and the intriguing future that Wells devises. It’s not exactly a dystopian future, since there’s no real sense of utopia, but it’s obviously not the future to which Victorian gentlemen aspired and those Morlocks are pretty creepy. I also like the Time Traveller’s nods toward literary convention — he mentions once that in a novel the author could tell you all the intricacies of society, but he was a little too busy experiencing the world, thanks, and while sometimes that can be really annoying, Wells does it just fine.

My only problem with the story is that I’m pretty sure that the Time Traveller should have gotten his time machine stuck somewhere along his travels, considering his explanation of how it works, but I suppose I can forgive Mr. Wells, just this once.

Recommendation: For people who like to know where their contemporary literature came from, also future time travellers (or past time travellers?).

Rating: 7/10

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

I have never been a Henry James fan. I quickly learned to Cliffs-notes the heck out of any James I ever had to read for school rather than read any more page-long sentences than absolutely necessary. The man loves his commas. But for whatever reason (shortness, probably!), I decided to actually read this novella when it was on my freshman comp syllabus, and I remember quite enjoying it! So I figured, when I found it on audio, that it would be a delightfully spooky start to this year’s RIP Challenge.

Well. Eh. I mean, yes, compared to all other Henry James I’ve “read,” this was fantastic. But I think that memory of awesomeness set the bar a liiiiiittle high on this listen!

The story is structurally excellent. It starts with a group of people sitting around some old inn or other chatting about spooky things, and this mysterious guy is like, “Dudes, I have the spookiest story.” And everyone else is like, “Do tell.” And MG is like, “Well, I mean, I don’t want to paraphrase, so let me send away for someone to mail me the well-worn manuscript I keep locked away in my house, it’ll be here in a couple days.” And everyone else is like, “‘Kay.”

And so the manuscript gets there, and then we’re in the story proper, which is of a governess who goes off to the country to take care of a couple kids, one of whom has recently been expelled from school for some unknown reason. While she’s there, she sees a creepy dude and then later a creepy lady, and she quickly ascertains/decides that these are the ghosts of some dead former employees of the estate. She also ascertains/decides that the kiddos can see these ghosts, too, and that a) the kids are keeping the ghosts a secret and b) the ghosts are influencing the kids in some creepy way. There’s a lot of skulking about and people appearing and disappearing and, spoiler?, that line between ascertaining and deciding becomes important in the end.

It’s a creepy little story on paper, but this audio version suffers from the same problem I had with The Eyre Affair — namely that the narrator seems to be more “reading words off a page” than “telling a ghost story.” I wanted and expected hushed voices and proper ghost story pacing, and I did not get those things.

And those things would have helped a lot with the things I had forgotten about the novella, which is that it is slow as all get out at the beginning, and then ends very abruptly, and the motivations of the characters are confusing or nonexistent. As a ghost story of indeterminate origin and unreliable narrator, I can forgive these problems, but if I have to listen to it as a strict retelling of some old manuscript, I’m gonna get a little antsy about them.

I think next time I find myself remembering this story fondly, I’ll grab a print copy and read it at two in the morning during a thunderstorm. Can’t get better ambiance than that!

Recommendation: I can’t recommend the audiobook, but I think the story is good for someone who wants a bit of a literary ghost story.

Rating: 7/10
(RIP Challenge)

The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (? — 30 December)

I’m finished! Woohoo! I started reading this book shortly after I bought it in 2007, and then left off for two years, and then finally picked it up again… sometime earlier this year, and then ignored it again… goodness. But I have been making my way through the bulk of it over the last two weeks, and I can now say that I sort of know what this Sherlock Holmes fellow is about. Sweet.

I had read A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four in my mysteries course senior year, and The Hound of the Baskervilles a few months back, and found them delightful, but I wasn’t really prepared for these short stories. In both the novels and the stories, Holmes gets called on a case, checks out the scene, makes some deductions, and solves the matter in a rather quick fashion, but in the stories, that’s it. There’s not a narrative to go along with the detecting; Holmes just does his thing and Watson reports it.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the stories. I just had to get used to them. 🙂 And… I don’t have much else to say about them! If you want a quick little reminder of how incredibly stupid you are, I recommend finding a Holmes story or two online and enjoying.

Rating: 7/10
(Baker Street Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (6 May — 6 November)

Wow… I spent six months reading this book! That’s gotta be a record. I mean, I’m not like Slowpants McGee over here; see, the book was written as a series of dated letters, so some crazy blogger put up the entries as though they were just posted this year. It was a pretty neat concept, and it was kind of fun to read it in “real time”, as it were, but unfortunately I couldn’t tell you much about how the book goes because, well, see the first sentence up there. And the fact that I read it in my Google Reader, so the shorter entries didn’t stay in my brain much longer than my Dinosaur Comics, which I love and adore but could not repeat to you except in general terms. Sigh.

So. Um. I think I’m going to skip out on reviewing the book proper; but I’ll say that I enjoyed reading it and you should, you know, check it out. It’s a classic for a reason.

Rating: 7/10

See also:

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

La Bête Humaine, by Émile Zola (17 April — 26 April)

So, after what seems like forever to me, I have finally finished La Bête Humaine. Hooray!

This book is all about the human beast, which is either the man who murders or the intangible thing which drives him to murder, or both, I’m not sure. But I agree with the quote in the introduction, from The Athenaeum, which says that the book should have been titled Murder. Because oh my goodness.

At first there is no murder to speak of; the book seems like a dry cataloguing of the events in the life of M. and Mme. Roubaud, he an assistant train station-master, she his young and pretty wife. But then a secret of her past is revealed and he decides that murder is the best way to make himself feel better about the whole thing. As one does, I guess. Meanwhile, we meet a young man called Jacques whose aunt is possibly being poisoned by her husband and who himself has a gnawing urge to kill women, though he has not yet. He just wants to, like, any time he sees a woman looking all sexy. Oh dear.

So the first murder happens, and we follow along as the authorities sort of try to figure out what has happened and the killer tries to hide his deed. And it works! Sort of. Except that other things happen and lives start falling apart and then suddenly everyone and his sister wants to kill someone else. Because everyone has a bit of the murderer in himself, whether by cold calculation or a fit of passion.

Although I nearly gave up the book within the first hundred pages, I’m glad I stuck around, as all of the plotting and planning of people all trying to kill each other left me very curious as to who would end up dead in the end. And I kept being surprised! Definitely a good book, but not for light reading at all.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: France)

Audiobook Round-up

I got back last night from a week-long camping trip in Alabama, which was awesome. Less awesome is all the internet catching-up I have to do!

Because of the twelve-hour drive, I decided to collect a bunch of audiobooks from the library’s fancy-pants online trove of such things. Scott loves them, but I’d never given them a real try. Now I have, and… well. I was right — I can’t focus on an audiobook to save my life. So. No ratings (or even decent reviews) for these until I read them proper, but here’s the list of things I listened to in the car last week.

Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits, by Dave Barry (22 March)
This is a 1988 collection of Barry’s columns, which shows in all his talk about Reagan as president! I like Barry, so I enjoyed listening to this hour-long book while I tried to stay awake (we left home at 6am!). Bonus points for having John Ritter as a narrator.

More of Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits, by Dave Barry (22 March)
I can’t seem to find this listed anywhere but fancy-pants online troves of audiobooks, so this is possibly audiobook-only. Unsure. Anyway, this is the 1996 collection of awesome columns. Still entertaining. Still narrated by John Ritter. Still capable of keeping me awake, if not listening properly.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (28 March — 29 March)
I knew the general idea going in, of course — Dorian Gray has a painting that ages while he stays young. That turns out to be a gross over-simplification of this novel, which deals with heavy themes of morality and ethics and deception. Gray likes his painting at the beginning, but as it ages and the bad things he’s done show up in it he comes to loathe it. And his loathing of it has him doing even more bad things that show up in it. And all the while he has an angel-friend telling him how good he is, and a devil-friend spouting off ridiculous (even to him) notions of how the world works. I definitely enjoyed this book, but I will have to go back and read it to pick up on the hour or two I missed of it!

(Support Your Local Library Challenge)