Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Fiction – audiobook. Read by Donada Peters. Tantor Media, 2008. Originally published 1877. 5 hours, 19 minutes. Library copy.

According to Peters’ introduction to the text, the lace collared suit worn by young Lord Fauntleroy in this children’s novel was so well-described by Burnett and then drawn in Reginald Birch’s accompanying pen and ink illustrations that the “Fauntleroy suit” became the height of fashion for young boys in the era.

This probably had less to do with Burnett’s description of the suit, although it was very easy to imagine even without the illustrations, and more to do with the characteristics of the main character, Cedric Errol, because who wouldn’t want a son who embodies gratitude and humility, charms strangers and crotchety old men alike, and longs to share their wealth with everyone they meet?

Following the death of his remaining son and heir, the Earl of Dorincourt sends for his only grandson, Cedric, to come to England from New York City and assume the title of Lord Fauntleroy. Having disinherited Cedric’s father over his marriage to an American, the Earl demands that he shall raise his heir alone at Dorincourt Castle while the boy’s mother, whom Cedric calls “Dearest” and considers his best friend, lives in a separate house at the edge of the estate. He makes allowances for little Lord Fauntleroy to see his mother, but the Earl refuses to even meet the woman and is determined to raise the boy to emulate him in his dealings with both his tenants and society at large.

Except Cedric’s goodness is too hard to crack, too hard to not be charmed by. His assumption that his grandfather was merely uninformed about the plight of his tenants and his mother’s insistence that the young boy never know that his grandfather hates his mother slowly causes his grandfather to change his ways just in time for another young boy and his mother to arrive claiming he is, in fact, the rightful heir to earldom.

I, too, fell under the sway of Cedric’s charm despite how unbelievable his perfect nature is. The novel is, after all, a children’s book meant to encourage children to emulate Cedric’s characterization and to remind them that charity and goodness can and does overcome greed and deceit.

This novel does lack the magical elements infused in Burnett’s two most famous novels but, honestly, I did not miss that particular element. I suppose I’m far too much like Cedric’s New York friends, Mr. Hobbs the grocer and Dick the shoeshine, and thus suspicious of Cedric’s change in circumstances yet eager to learn more about Cedric’s new world. And there is no other way to describe this book other than to call it “sweet” and to remark on how such an adjective is perfectly captured by the adorable voice Peters provides for Cedric in her narration.

Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano

Fiction – print. Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Yale University Press, 2014. 213 pgs. Library copy.

Like many who read solely in English, the announcement that Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature left me a bit confounded. I have never heard of the author and never, to my recollection, seen a review for his work on one of the many book blogs I religiously read.

Journalists and bloggers alike blamed the lack of awareness for his work in English-speaking markets on the lack of translators employed by the publishing industry and the apathy on the part of American readers, in particular, towards translated works. (Assertions that could be addressed in a separate post with a lively discussion, I’m sure.)

Only twelve of Modiano’s works have been translated into English, and this collection of three short novellas is one of only three books written by him available at my public library in English. (The foreign language section has nineteen in French and twelve in Italian, surprisingly.) I am hoping more will follow now that he has won the Nobel given that I stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading this collection, which includes “Afterimages”, “Suspended Sentences”, and “Flowers of Ruin”.

In “Afterimages”, the narrator recounts his time in Paris working as a pseudo-archivist for a mysterious photographer who goes by the name of Jensen and has tasked himself with the job of photographing a city in flux. In “Suspended Sentences”, the narrator recalls his life as a young boy raised by a group of women – particularly a young nanny renamed Snow White – while his mother tours as an actress and the stigma attached to such a situation by his teachers and the principal of his private school. Finally, in “Flowers of Ruin”, the narrator returns to the site of a mysterious double suicide trigging memories from his childhood and igniting a desire, primarily on the part of the reader, to solve the crime.

As I read this collection, I kept flipping to spine of this book to view the call number attached by the library in order to assure myself that this collection is, in fact, fiction. Modiano, whose body of work includes both fiction and nonfiction titles, writes in such a manner that I was never entirely sure where this book lies on that particular divide.

Each story features an unnamed, male narrator possessing the same voice as the previous story; each story concerns itself with how uncertain our memories can be. And as I moved from story to story, I felt as though the narrator was shedding his skin or donning a costume and asking me to decide on which version of his life is true. Which is probably why I stayed up so late reading this and why I’m thankful these three previously published novellas were compiled into a single volume. (If I had to rank the novellas, I would say their order of publication matches my ranking in terms of enjoyment.)

The Nazi occupation of France is more of a central theme in “Afterimages”, but the event is mentioned at least in passing in all three novellas and clearly influences Modiano’s understanding of memory and recollection. These stories and the vision of Paris they present are haunted by this looming, dark ghost, and I was very pleased to find the writing style I saw heavily praised by the Nobel committee is sustained in translation.

Recent Acquisitions

It’s my birthday and I’ll buy books if I want to! And, lucky for me, the public library’s used book sale coincided nicely with my birthday so I was able to spend the morning of perusing the tables of books and seeing what I could find that caught my fancy. For fifteen dollars, I came away with eleven books — three hardbacks and eight paperbacks — including three books selected by my book club for the upcoming months.

I was most surprised to find A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin considering the popularity of the series. I’ve already read the book and, admittedly, did not love it, but Martin swears he will finish the next one in the series by 2016 and the television show is going to start diverting from the books in the next series so I’d like to have a copy on hand to help me brush up on what happened.

I was also thrilled to find a copy of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings given the wait list at my library still numbers in the hundreds for the book. My book club selected Kidd’s novel this past December for our meeting, and I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy before then. Other book club selections I was able to find at this sale include Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami.

The three books published by Persephone were birthday presents from my parents and all were written by Dorothy Whipple. I started Because of the Lockwoods on Saturday and am already entranced by Whipple’s writing once more.  (I’ve previously read her novel Someone at a Distance back in November.) I’m looking forward to tucking into The Priory and Whipple’s short story collection, The Closed Door and Other Stories, soon.

 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Fiction – audiobook. Read by Jim Dale. Random House Audio, 2001. 20 hours, 30 minutes. Library copy.

Beginning like the previous three novels towards the end of summer vacation, this novel finds Harry Potter in slightly better conditions than the previous three summers because the Dursleys are terrified he will report them to his godfather, an escaped mass murderer named Sirius Black. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia aren’t exactly hospitable to Harry forcing the skinny boy into abiding by his obese cousin’s diet and refusing to allow him to complete his homework in preparation for his fourth year at Hogwarts or contact with his friends from the wizarding school.

When an overly stamped letter arrives from Molly Weasley asking if Harry’s aunt and uncle will allow him to attend the Quidditch World Cup with Molly’s husband and sons, including Harry’s best friend Ron, Uncle Vernon begrudgingly agrees that Harry may go. And Harry’s summer begins to look up as he travels by portkey to the match, experiences how badly the Wizarding World blends in with the muggles Harry has spent most of his life living alongside, and sees the infamous seeker Viktor Krum playing for Bulgaria take on the Irish national team.

YEt the celebrations over Harry’s chosen team winning end abruptly when someone sends the Dark Mark – the symbol of Lord Voldemort, or He Who Must Not Be Named – into the sky. Those attending the match beat feet into the forest to hide as ministry officials, including Arthur Weasley, and aurors spring into action. In the pandemonium, Harry loses his wand forcing him, Ron, and Hermione Granger to return to the open field where the Weasleys were staying in order to find it. The wand is eventually located in the possession of Winky, a house elf belonging to Barty Crouch who works as the Head of International Magical Cooperation and Percy Weasley’s boss, and determined to be the source of the Dark Mark.

Winky and Harry both fall under suspicion with the former being sacked by Mr. Crouch and the latter being protected from punishment by Arthur Weasley, and both will eventually make their way to Hogwarts with a miserable Winky being employed by the school and Harry embarking on his fourth year at the school. Once there, Harry and his friends learn that Hogwarts will have the distinction of hosting the Triwizard Tournament – the first in three hundred years – with one student aged seventeen or older representing each of the three schools: Hogwarts, the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and the Durmstrang Institute.

Anyone wishing to represent their school in the tournament is invited to drop their name into the Goblet of Fire, which is surrounded by a magical charm to prevent underage students from applying and bewitched to select one student from each school during the Halloween feast. Yet after all three names have been read – Viktor Krum from Durmstrang, Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons, and Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts – the goblet unexpectedly selects a fourth name – Harry Potter of Hogwarts.

Many of Hogwarts students and those visiting from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons turn on Harry insisting he must have cheated in order to get his name into the competition, but those in charge of the competition insist the goblet’s indicts must be followed despite the fact that Harry is only fourteen at the time. As the fourth champion, Harry is charged with completing three tasks – the last of which will change the wizarding world forever.

When I decided to reread this series, I worried I would find the books did not hold up to the fond recollections I have of them. The first two books were exactly as I remembered them, and the third was, surprisingly, better than I remembered. Unfortunately, I had the opposite experience with this one.

There is so much that happens in this book that it is difficult to summarize and to point out exactly what I did not enjoy. Maybe because it feels like three separate stories? Maybe because there are so many new characters whose stories are barely skimmed? Maybe because Harry appears apathetic towards the competition and is, surprisingly, much more focused on girls? Maybe because the mystery surrounding Mr. Crouch and the resolution, particularly concerning the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, are murky and rushed? Maybe because the death in this book is less impactful now that I’ve read the final book in the series?

That said, there were some events and overarching themes that I think I missed out on reading this book for the first time when I was ten or eleven. The introduction of the students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons allow the reader to see how prejudices within the wizarding world extend beyond the pureblood versus muggle-born conflict. Students from Durmstrang and their headmaster are immediately suspected of being followers of Lord Voldemort simply because they are form the eastern European nation of Bulgaria while students from Hogwarts seem singularly focused on the beauty of the French Beauxbatons students.

I also liked the insight into the larger wizarding world the introduction of these two wizarding schools provides the readers. Even Percy’s ramblings on about regulating cauldron thickness point to how important international cooperation is and how evil does not end at the borders of an individual nation.

There are two things I know that would have occurred had I attended Hogwarts: one, I would have been in Ravenclaw and, two, I would have been an avid member of Hermione’s S.P.E.W. organization with the problematic “white savior complex” that entails. And, with that mind, it was very interesting to read Rowling’s critique on pushing your own beliefs on people through Hermione’s insistence on saving the house elves. I can remember loathing Ron during this book because of how much he bought the idea the house elves are happy being slaves, and while I still didn’t warm to him, I can appreciate how he is willing to listen to the house elves and see how misguided and hurtful Hermione’s crusade is.

Most importantly, though adults can be misguided and just like children can refuse to see the truth in front of them. It much easier to pretend evil does not exist, to try to appease it rather than confront it, and to ignore facts in favor of fiction. This is particularly true of adults in power who do not want to lose their positions as we see with the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge at the end of this novel (and a whole host of American politicians today).

Sunday Salon: Currently in April

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Celebrating | I spent much of yesterday celebrating my birthday with a trip to the library’s used book sale (more about that later), an exhibit at the art museum, a play, and dinner out with friends. With Friday being the start of Passover and today being Easter, only a two of my friends were available to celebrate with me, but we had a wonderful time together and I was reminded of how blessed I am to be surrounded by such wonderful, humorous people.

Visiting | One of my birthday gifts was a trip to see the (currently) members-only exhibit of Japanese landscapes by Hokusai, who is undoubtedly most famous for Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (Great Wave), at the Museum of Fine Arts. I find Hokusai’s works to be incredibly calming due to the blue and green color scheme he employs and his focus on the intricate beauty of nature, and I so enjoyed seeing his art up close and learning more about the process of wood press painting.

Reading | The better question is what book I’m not reading right now? I’ve been very fickle these past few weeks so I have four books in progress right now — Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr, Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple, Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon, and Vietnamerica by G.B. Tran. Unfortunately, I think I will have to go back to beginning with Berlin Noir as I find it difficult to set aside a crime novel for long periods of time and then pick it back up again. But the Whipple has already proved to be charming at only twenty-five pages in and I think Gibbon’s novel holds promise. I’m finding Vietnamerica, which is a graphic nonfiction book, a bit difficult to read due to the typography yet I’m learning a lot about Vietnamese history and immigrant experiences that I’m sticking with it.

Listening | I finished Outlander by Diana Galabdon and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling on audio on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.  I have dreams of reading a book from each of these series a month, but the length of both books on audio meant they spilled over from March. To give myself a break from the chunksters, I’m listening to the much short Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hogdson Burnett and will be starting The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman for book club next.

Watching | I’ve spent the last two and half weeks suffering from a terrible cough and cold. When I wasn’t sleeping eleven to thirteen hours a night, schlepping my exhausted self into work, and coughing my lungs out, I could be found lying on the couch watching the first season of “Elementary” featuring a British, heroin-addicted Sherlock Holmes, a female Watson working as his sober companion, and Natalie Dormer as — I won’t spoil it, but I’m anxiously waiting for my name to come up at the top of the hold list for season two at the library.

Participating | April marks the conclusion of the TBR Double Dare, and I shared my glass half-full success with the dare last week. The Classics Club announced their ninth spin with the selected number announced tomorrow and the “due date” scheduled for May 15. I shared my list of twenty possibilities on twitter last Tuesday, and I’m hoping either number three — Lady Susan by Jane Austen — or number nine — Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy — will be the winning number.

Anticipating | The second half of the television adaptation of Outlander started last night so you know what I’ll be watching after I finish this post! I’m also looking forward to family visiting later this month and starting on a new, exciting project at work. And, hopefully, the spring weather we were treated to yesterday will continue!

The Sunday Salon:

The Sunday Salon.com The Sunday Salon encourages bloggers to get together –at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones– every Sunday and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Salon participants are encouraged to blog about their time spent reading, pages read, information about current reading, discuss a reaction to a book, state what they plan to read the following week, or make suggestions for a group read.