Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

A Room with a View

A Room With A View - E.M. Forster

‘Bless us! Bless us and save us! We’ve lost the way.’

Certainly they had seemed a long time in reaching Santa Croce, the tower of which had been plainly visible from the landing window. But Miss Lavish had said so much about knowing her Florence by heart, that Lucy had followed her with no misgivings.

‘Lost! Lost! My dear Miss Lucy, during our political diatribes we have taken a wrong turning. How those horrid Conservatives would jeer at us! What are we to do? Two lone females in an unknown town. Now, this is what I call an adventure.’

Lucy, who wanted to see Santa Croce, suggested, as a possible solution, that they should ask the way there.

‘Oh, but that is the word of a craven! And no, you are not, not, not to look at your Baedeker. Give it to me; I shan’t let you carry it. We will simply drift.’

Drifting is a huge theme in this book. At least, from where I'm reading, or rather re-reading it.  


Our main character, Lucy Honeychurch, is a young woman on the cusp of emancipation, who travels with her older cousin as a chaperone. 


It is in opening chapter in Italy, that the ladies are offered a room with a view by a father and son duo. As it turns out, the father and son, the Emersons, will offer up a number of views to Lucy and her circle throughout the novel, few of which are met with enthusiasm by the Edwardian mores. 


Nevertheless, my take on Forster's aim here is to portray that break in generations and that break in thinking from the old and established to the progressive. He does this with great subtlety in the form of Lucy, who first looses her guide book and has to find her way through a foreign city, and later has to make a choice to either pick a path that has been set out for her by her family and the unbearable Cecil, who is best described in these lines:

 ‘Come this way immediately,’ commanded Cecil, who always felt that he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what.

Or to make her own path with the young George Emerson, who has his own ideas but has no illusions about life being uncertain.


I really like Forster's writing in this book but it is still a far cry from the excellent - and much more forthright - Howards End, which followed two years after this one. 

The subtlety in his writing is delightful in parts, but I find it hard in this book to sustain the same enthusiasm as I have for the much more twisted Howards End

Of course it is unfair of me to judge this book by comparison, but there are parts of A Room with a View that are, while lovely, quite boring.


And yet, I loved the re-read of this for being able to notice again how progressive Forster was. This book was written in 1908 and Forster dares to ask questions, not just about class, and national identity, but there is also a discussion of feminism. Of course, the suffrage movements (both suffragists and suffragettes) had been in full swing at the time of writing, but I am rather impressed at how clearly Forster illustrated some of the salient questions that are still causing debate today:

It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

And I am still more impressed that Forster made a choice to support the emerging demand for women (and other groups as we'll see in his subsequent books) to be heard: 

Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for you to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. 

Reading progress update: I've read 43%.

A Room With A View - E.M. Forster

‘I have no profession,’ said Cecil. ‘It is another example of my decadence. My attitude – quite an indefensible one – is that so long as I am no trouble to anyone I have a right to do as I like. I know I ought to be getting money out of people, or devoting myself to things I don’t care a straw about, but somehow I’ve not been able to begin.’

‘You are very fortunate,’ said Mr Beebe. ‘It is a wonderful opportunity, the possession of leisure.’

His voice was rather parochial, but he did not quite see his way to answering naturally. He felt, as all who have regular occupation must feel, that others should have it also.

Awww, .... Cecil. Poor dear.


Summer with a Side of Spies

Inspired by Wanda's original list of Summer of Spies and Moonlight Reader's equally inspiring authorised copy of Wanda's list, I'm also tempted to read some spy fiction - but only on the side. 

I have no illusions of finishing all of the titles on this list but wanted to have a pool of titles that I know I already own or can get from the library.


I have listed my selection of books here.


What can I say, I love a good spy story.


Reading progress update: I've read 149 out of 432 pages.

Radiance: A Novel - Catherynne M. Valente

What happened to this story? Or rather, where has the story disappeared to????


Right now I feel very lost in a sea of gobbledygook writing. I really can't stand when writers use a lot of descriptive words that just make no sense...and least of all help to picture the scene. 


Stop that creative-writing-for-beginners kind of nonsense and get back to telling the story!!!




Bunnicula - a rabbit tale of mystery - James Howe

“He’s a vampire!” Chester snarled. “Today, vegetables. Tomorrow … the world!”


I loved this. 


I loved Bunnicula, and I loved the relationship between Harold, the dog, and Chester, the cat, which is obviously based on Watson and Holmes.

Chester is such a cat ... and a bit of an asshat.


This cracked me up just as much as made me worried for poor little Bunnicula:


“No dice,” Chester said. “Just read this to me so I’ll be sure I’m doing it right.” And he handed me a book.
That book, again.

“Start at the top of the page,” Chester said as he picked up the steak.

“Why don’t you read, and I’ll hold the steak?”

“Mmphph,” Chester replied. I took it to mean that I was to start reading.

“‘To destroy the vampire and end his reign of terror, it is necessary to pound a sharp stake …’”

Chester interrupted. “A sharp steak?” he asked. “What does that mean?”

“I’ll taste it and tell you if it’s sharp,” I offered.

“Oh, never mind. This will do. It’s sirloin. Keep reading.”

“‘… to pound a sharp stake into the vampire’s heart. This must be done during the daylight hours, when the vampire has no powers.’”

“Okay,” he said, “this is it. I’m sorry I had to go this far, but if they’d listened, this wouldn’t have been necessary.” He dragged the steak across the floor and laid it across the inert bunny. Then with his paws, he began to hit the steak.

“Are you sure this is what they mean, Chester?”

“Am I anywhere near his heart?” he asked.

“It’s hard to tell,” I said. “All I can really see are his nose and his ears. You know, he’s really sort of cute.”

Chester was getting that glint in his eyes again. He was pounding away at the steak, harder and harder.

“Be careful,” I cried, “you’ll hurt him.”

Chester increased his attack.


So, yeah, I'll take in the vampire bunny any day, but that cat is a psycho ...

Overdrive / Libby find!

Bunnicula - a rabbit tale of mystery - James Howe



I found this last night on my library's Overdive/Libby catalogue - it is about a vampire bunny!

A vampire bunny!!!


It's an audiobook read by Victor Garber and I really wish I had a print or ebook version so I could share quotes. 

I'm only a few minutes in, but so far the bunny has been found by a family watching a Dracula movie at the cinema. It had been abandoned on a seat, wrapped in a blanket and placed in a box with some earth covering the bottom. ... This alone cracked me up for its obvious faithful re-imagination of the Stoker story.


Needless to say, all other current reading has been suspended because ... vampire bunny!

Reading progress update: I've read 10%.

A Room With A View - E.M. Forster

Tears of indignation came to Lucy’s eyes – partly because Miss Lavish had jilted her, partly because she had taken her Baedeker. How could she find her way home? How could she find her way about in Santa Croce? Her first morning was ruined, and she might never be in Florence again. A few minutes ago she had been all high spirits, talking as a woman of culture, and half-persuading herself that she was full of originality. Now she entered the church depressed and humiliated, not even able to remember whether it was built by the Franciscans or the Dominicans.

Of course, it must be a wonderful building. But how like a barn! And how very cold! Of course, it contained frescoes by Giotto, in the presence of whose tactile values she was capable of feeling what was proper. But who was to tell her which they were? She walked about disdainfully, unwilling to be enthusiastic over monuments of uncertain authorship or date. There was no one even to tell her which, of all the sepulchral slabs that paved the nave and transepts, was the one that was really beautiful, the one that had been most praised by Mr Ruskin.

Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy. She puzzled out the Italian notices – the notice that forbade people to introduce dogs into the church – the notice that prayed people, in the interests of health and out of respect to the sacred edifice in which they found themselves, not to spit. She watched the tourists: their noses were as red as their Baedekers, so cold was Santa Croce. She beheld the horrible fate that overtook three Papists – two he-babies and a she-baby – who began their career by sousing each other with the Holy Water, and then proceeded to the Machiavelli memorial, dripping, but hallowed. Advancing towards it very slowly and from immense distances, they touched the stone with their fingers, with their handkerchiefs, with their heads, and then retreated. What could this mean? They did it again and again. Then Lucy realized that they had mistaken Machiavelli for some saint, and by continual contact with his shrine were hoping to acquire virtue. 


Idolatry in quite different forms. I guess, Forster wasn't a fan.

I read this with a huge grin on my face.


Reading progress update: I've read 109 out of 432 pages.

Radiance: A Novel - Catherynne M. Valente

A simple rule, enforced simply:

Movies don't talk.

But whose rule is this? What Moses came down from the mount with such a thing engraved upon his personal stone?

Surely, our current state could not have been the shining future meant by those early masters of light and sound.

It is Edison's rule, enforced not by the Burning Bush but by Lawyers Burning for Their Fees. The name of Edison has become synonymous with the dastardliest of business practices, the most crushing arrogance. It stains the whole family, from Thomas Alva, who collected patents like baseball cards, to Our Present Edison, who continues such draconian strategies that he has, single-handedly, retarded the progress of motion picture technology by fifty years.

Your humble host has taken out editorials of this sort before. My readers must forbear. Given the upcoming Worlds' Fair in the glorious metropolis of Guan Yu, overlooking the glittering shores of Yellowknife Bay on our dear sister planet of Mars, the very first to be hosted off-world, what better time can there be for Mr Franklin R. Edison (Freddy to his friends) to release his parents' vice grip on reel, recording, and exhibition equipment and allow talking pictures to run wild and free? That is, after all, the natural state of technology. And so it was, once upon a time. Before the right to speak, the privilege of the voice, became the property of one man, to give and take away as he pleases. 

What a fabulous premise, that the advancement of media, and thus the advancement of other aspects of modern life have been hindered by the enforcement of patents. In turn, I guess, this may have provided the people in this story to invest time in other parts of life - like space travel.


As with Space Opera, I'm finding it hard to put this book down. I really don't like sci-fi in general, but apart from the story being set in various locations on the planets closest to Earth, there is little science involved. It is more of an alternative history and a story about the creation of reality through the lens of the media than a story about space travel, and I am really enjoying this.


Besides, the 1930s Hollywood feel to the story is brilliant. 


Valente really has become an author I need to read more of.

Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

Bond On Bond: Reflections on 50 years of James Bond Movies - Roger Moore

I started Bond on Bond last night.

This is going to be the least interesting one of the Moore books for me. I think it's the subject matter. Turns out, I'm not all that interested in the behind the scenes of the films.

Forster Book Haul

I mentioned already that I celebrated my recent hankering for a bit of Forster by acquiring matching editions of his novels. Well, they arrived earlier this week. :D



I am not sure I should add them to Mt. TBR, because I evidently mean to keep them and some of them are going to be re-reads. 


They're all pre-owned, but sadly not pre-loved (or lucky for me, I guess). I doubt they have ever even been opened. Poor dears.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear To Tread - E.M. Forster

For the dead, who seem to take away so much, really take with them nothing that is ours. The passion they have aroused lives after them, easy to transmute or to transfer, but well-nigh impossible to destroy.

I love Forster's writing. So, much so that to celebrate it I got myself a whole new set of lovely, matching editions of his novels recently.


Where Angels Fear to Tread was his first novel (published in 1905), and re-reading it this time I can see how this is very much a first novel, and why it has never impressed me on previous reads. You see, I came to Forster by way of Howards End, his fourth novel (published in 1910), and that reading experience set the bar vary, VERY high for any other book that was to follow, especially any other book by Forster.


This time, I read the book from a much altered perspective on life, but I still found the plot rather stilted and the characters simply unbearable - apart from Miss Abbott. Forster's message - which is quite daring for its time! - gets a little lost in the characters' bickering. Sure, there are some signs of great character study and an underlying satire of English and Italian society, but the characters are also really annoying. A satire is something I want to enjoy reading, the people in this story I just wanted to shove off the train. 


There was one scene, however that I absolutely adore:

“You are wonderful!” he said gravely.

“Oh, you appreciate me!” she burst out again. “I wish you didn’t. You appreciate us all—see good in all of us. And all the time you are dead—dead—dead. Look, why aren’t you angry?” She came up to him, and then her mood suddenly changed, and she took hold of both his hands. “You are so splendid, Mr Herriton, that I can’t bear to see you wasted. I can’t bear—she has not been good to you—your mother.”

“Miss Abbott, don’t worry over me. Some people are born not to do things. I’m one of them; I never did anything at school or at the Bar. I came out to stop Lilia’s marriage, and it was too late. I came out intending to get the baby, and I shall return an ‘honourable failure’. I never expect anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed. You would be surprised to know what my great events are. Going to the theatre yesterday, talking to you now—I don’t suppose I shall ever meet anything greater. I seem fated to pass through the world without colliding with it or moving it—and I’m sure I can’t tell you whether the fate’s good or evil. I don’t die—I don’t fall in love. And if other people die or fall in love they always do it when I’m not there. You are quite right: life to me is just a spectacle, which—thank God, and thank Italy, and thank you—is now more beautiful and heartening than it has ever been before.”

She said solemnly, “I wish something would happen to you, my dear friend; I wish something would happen to you.”

“But why?” he asked, smiling. “Prove to me why I don’t do as I am.”

She also smiled, very gravely. She could not prove it. No argument existed. Their discourse, splendid as it had been, resulted in nothing, and their respective opinions and policies were exactly the same when they left the church as when they had entered it.

There is an understatement in that scene that makes it lovely, sad, and very critical at the same time. And the fact that it is Miss Abbott, the woman who is expected to fall in line with expectations of her more qualified peers, who is - without having to shout it from the rooftops - the wiser and more worldly of the characters, just puts Forster way ahead of his time. Those aspects I really love about the book, but they just do not come to the fore in Where Angels Fear to Tread


Instead, we get to meet a lot of fools.

For the barrier of language is sometimes a blessed barrier, which only lets pass what is good. Or—to put the thing less cynically—we may be better in new clean words, which have never been tainted by our pettiness or vice.

Murder of a Lady

Murder of a Lady - Anthony Wynne

Great start, interesting finish, fabulous characters, but oh my didn't this drag on forever...


Also, the Scottish nostalgia theme was a wee bitty much.

Reading progress update: I've read 80%.

Murder of a Lady - Anthony Wynne

“He’s dead, McDonald.”


“Since you were with us in the study his death disproves his theory.”


Ha! Yes! Such an odious man.


LoL, also the bodycount is racking up here ... of the unlikeliest of victims.

Reading progress update: I've read 65%.

Murder of a Lady - Anthony Wynne

This is dragging on a bit now.

Today's Google Doodle

Has anyone else spotted today's Google Doodle, yet?


It celebrates Tamara de Lempicka's 120th birthday.



I love her artwork and thought Google have done a rather nice impression of it.


Anyway, back to work ... or maybe get a second coffee first.

Reading progress update: I've read 82%.

Where Angels Fear To Tread - E.M. Forster

Do you want the child to stop with his father, who loves him and will bring him up badly, or do you want him to come to Sawston, where no one loves him, but where he will be brought up well? There is the question put dispassionately enough even for you. Settle it. Settle which side you’ll fight on. But don’t go talking about an ‘honourable failure’, which means simply not thinking and not acting at all.


Philip is an ass.

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