Category Archives: Books & Language

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

I thought this book was absolutely brilliant. There were several themes I found really interesting, but for me the book was primarily about freedom (and how suffering/pain is a part of freedom) vs locked rooms and building walls. Trump’s literal wall makes a great metaphor if you need to explain to somebody why this book is still relevant over 40 years after its debut.
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Reader, I didn’t marry him.

I had a very weird moment recently which completely threw me for a loop. My extremely left-wing liberal family asked me why I didn’t want to get married, and just weren’t able to understand or accept that for me marriage seems pointless and ridiculous and that I feel like the term ‘wife’ has negative connotations. I did make it clear that I wasn’t imposing my views on them and I understood that for most people ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ were perfectly neutral terms. Continue reading

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer

This is one of the most highly rated Heyer books on Goodreads, but I just don’t understand why.

The heroine is an ingenue with a little bit of spirit to her, and generally quite a nice and intelligent character. She is sexually molested (kissed and held down) by the hero on their first encounter, in something that feels very much like it could easily have turned into a rape scene. She’s outraged, but seems to go straight to being friends with the hero without thinking much about what he did. There’s quite a lot of moralising about how it’s in men’s natures to cheat and they can’t help themselves and boohoo poor men they are always so misused and noble, whereas the woman who cheats is such a pathetic slut.

Everything he had done since he had seen himself as a laughing-stock (and she neither knew nor cared to what depths he might have sunk) she perceived to be part of a pattern made inevitable by a wanton’s betrayal.

And all for a little, plump, black-eyed slut, older than himself, whose marriage-ring and noble degree hid the soul of a courtesan!

That passage is from the point of view of the heroine as she thinks about the hero. This is the second time I’ve tried to read Venetia, and the first time I couldn’t stand it and had to put it away because of that very passage as far as I remember. I suppose it must be an historically accurate representation of that society’s prevalent opinions, but I just don’t like it.

“Do you imagine he would be faithful to you?”
“I don’t know,” said Venetia. “I think he will always love me. You see, we are such dear friends.”

I feel like the book tries to be a bit more realistic and nuanced than your standard Heyer, with Venetia having to come to terms with the hero’s nature and having to accept it. I think it’s the fact that it takes itself a bit more seriously which really puts me off and makes it harder to dismiss the slut shaming and constant soothing of men’s egos which occurs throughout the book. It’s infuriating.

I like Georgette Heyer’s heroines because generally they are sparky, don’t take any bullshit (especially the Grand Sophy!), are strong-willed and generally fun to spend book-time with. Venetia wasn’t, and the situation in the book was horrible.

Terry Pratchett

You know, I can’t believe both Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones are gone now. Two people whose books I would look forward to and read on a regular basis. I hope we see their like again, but I just haven’t found any authors who I enjoy in the same way.

A lot of people I know, most people actually, didn’t really like Pratchett’s writing. And I can sort of understand, the books are a bit jarringly zany, but if you’re the kind of person who can quite happily be carried off on a madcap adventure then you will enjoy them.

He certainly wasn’t the most subtle writer in the world, but I loved his force and his vitriol and his complete disdain for the crap people can come up with. It’s purer and raw-er than most of the other authors I like, but I don’t enjoy it any less at all.

And really the books were very clever, they skewered everything that was wrong with the world and stuck it on a cork board for everyone to laugh at. And he had so much colour and diversity in his books, and so many different kinds of people and different ways of making fun (and I mean that in the literal sense, as in, he manufactured fun and happiness and wonderfulness) of them.

Well I feel quite sad now.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

In the wake of the stress and flurry of handing in the second draft of my thesis, I have treated myself to finishing A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I really enjoyed the novel, and I don’t really think it was overly long despite everyone complaining about it. Am I the only person who quite likes long novels? I could happily have sunk into that world for another thousand pages or so! The writing style reminded me a little of RK Narayan, maybe in my head I just associate the two because of their nationality though.

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Dorothy L Sayers on feminism

Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said, or did had to be justified by reference to female approval; if he were compelled to regard himself, day in day out, not as a member of society, but merely (salva reverentia) as a virile member of society. If the centre of his dress-consciousness were his cod-piece, his education directed to making him a spirited lover and meek paterfamilias; his interests held to be natural only in so far as they were sexual. If from school and lecture-room, Press and pulpit, he heard the persistent outpouring of a shrill and scolding voice, bidding him remember his biological function. If he were vexed by continual advice how to add a rough male touch to his typing, how to be learned without losing his masculine appeal, how to combine chemical research with seduction, how to play bridge without incurring the suspicion of impotence. If, instead of allowing with a smile that “women prefer cavemen,” he felt the unrelenting pressure of a while social structure forcing him to order all his goings in conformity with that pronouncement.

He would hear (and would he like hearing?) the female counterpart of Dr. P*** informing him: “I am no supporter of the Horseback Hall doctrine of ‘gun-tail, plough-tail and stud’ as the only spheres for masculine action; but we do need a more definite conception of the nature and scope of man’s life.” In any book on sociology he would find, after the main portion dealing with human needs and rights, a supplementary chapter devoted to “The Position of the Male in the Perfect State.” His newspaper would assist him with a “Men’s Corner,” telling him how, by the expenditure of a good deal of money and a couple of hours a day, he could attract the girls and retain his wife’s affection; and when he had succeeded in capturing a mate, his name would be taken from him, and society would present him with a special title to proclaim his achievement. People would write books called, “History of the Male,” or “Males of the Bible,” or “The Psychology of the Male,” and he would be regaled daily with headlines, such as “Gentleman-Doctor’s Discovery,” “Male-Secretary Wins Calcutta Sweep,” “Men-Artists at the Academy.” If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: “Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man. He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache.” […]

He would be edified by solemn discussions about “Should Men Serve in Drapery Establishments?” and acrimonious ones about “Tea-Drinking Men”; by cross-shots of public affairs “from the masculine angle,” and by irritable correspondence about men who expose their anatomy on beaches (so masculine of them), conceal it in dressing-gowns (too feminine of them), think about nothing but women, pretend an unnatural indifference to women, exploit their sex to get jobs, lower the tone of the office by their sexless appearance, and generally fail to please a public opinion which demands the incompatible. And at dinner-parties he would hear the wheedling, unctuous, predatory female voice demand: “And why should you trouble your handsome little head about politics?”

If, after a few centuries of this kind of treatment, the male was a little self-conscious, a little on the defensive, and a little bewildered about what was required of him, I should not blame him. If he presented the world with a major social problem, I should scarcely be surprised. It would be more surprising if he retained any rag of sanity and self-respect.

From here:

It makes me think about how for roughly every 10 published papers that I’m reading now in my research there is on average only 1 or 2 female authors. In my course I’ve been taught by one woman so far, and 9 men. This makes me feel rather sad 🙁


(Why yes, I should be writing my 20 page essay due in 2 days time which I’ve not started yet, why do you ask?)

Howards End – E. M. Forster

“Yes, I think the apostle spoons could have gone as rent,” said Margaret.  Seeing that her aunt did not understand, she added: “You remember ‘rent.’ It was one of father’s words–Rent to the ideal, to his own faith in human nature.  You remember how he would trust strangers, and if they fooled him he would say, ‘It’s better to be fooled than to be suspicious’–that the confidence trick is the work of man, but the want-of-confidence-trick is the work of the devil.”

Not too sure about the ending of this one… I seem to have read a few books recently where characters drop dead for no discernible reason at the end of the book. At least it is not as silly as The Black Tulip I suppose.

A passage to India

She felt increasingly (vision or nightmare?) that, though people are important, the relations between them are not, and that in particular too much fuss has been made over marriage; centuries of carnal embracement, yet man is no nearer to understanding man.

Why all this marriage, marriage? . . . The human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage was any use. And all this rubbish about love, love in a church, love in a cave, as if there is the least difference, and I held up from my business over such trifles!


My love for this book knows no bounds! It’s sensitively and beautifully written with fantastic characters and is everything, well, everything it should be. The quote above is sadly the only one I saved but there were a fair few that really resonated with me.

The surreal recurring echo which plagues Adela Quested and seems to recur in Mrs Moore’s madness and throughout the book to other characters reminds me a lot of the echoing horse hoofbeats that gave me goosebumps recently when I was watching John Hurt play Caligua in I, Claudius. It’s a dreamy book, and some scenes are written so perfectly that it’s possible for them to become as tangible a memory for the reader as one’s first day at school, or travelling in a new country, or whatever. I’m thinking in particular of the description of the wasp on the clothes hook, of the amazing festival of Krishna described in the last part of the book and of Mrs Moore’s meeting with Aziz in the Mosque. I can tell you exactly how warm and velvety dark and peaceful the air was in the Mosque that night, how it smelled faintly of flowers and of water and of the street outside and how all of the sounds were hushed and echoing at the same time. Anyway I don’t believe that there is a soul alive who wouldn’t get something out of this book, and seeing as I am living in a post colonial country myself at the moment it’s particularly poignant.

I am so addicted to E M Forster’s writing now that I instantly started reading A Room with a View, which is very sweet and romantic but not as profoundly affecting as A Passage to India – in fact it reminded me of Vanity Fair and a few Georgette Heyer novels, maybe also a bit of Northanger Abbey. I’m going to read Howards End next. It’s so cool, such a wonderful surprise at this stage in my life to find an author I’d always vaguely dismissed as dull (I’m really not sure why, I think I thought he had a dull name) to actually turn out to write in such an engaging and accessible way.

The Tennis Party – Madeleine Wickham

The Tennis Party is a very well written book which would make a great play. The characters were vividly drawn and viciously skewer rich middle class British society, both at the time and today. It’s all set over one weekend and in one house (which is partly why I think it would translate well onto the stage, it sort of reminds me of the Cluedo film and also An Inspector Calls). It’s about a tennis party and the couples (and their children) and the dynamics and relationships between them. There’s even a mystery guest – Ella, Charles’  ex-wife turns up, invited mischievously by one of the children.

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Emma – Jane Austen

I’ve just reread Emma by Jane Austen, and I can completely understand why it didn’t particularly engage the younger Rukaya, who had even less patience than I do with idiots.

To be fair, I don’t really know enough about the period to understand how important class was in those days, and whether the opinions and prejudices which lie so openly in Emma were the norm. I suppose they must have been, but I know Lord Byron and his fashionable set were around at that sort of time and quite contrary to the stuffiness we see in Emma I think it would be fair to say there was a veritable hurricane of excitement whirling around that dear little island. Anyway I have no problem with Emma being a snotty, arrogant, stuck up, self righteous and self important bitch as long as her character develops and grows. Now perhaps I’m revealing my own bigotry here, but at the end of the book I really wanted to see, besides the inevitable acquittal of her evils by her lover, some kind of shame and some kind of change in her opinions of the importance of class. Continue reading