Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: THE BLACK MOTH by Georgette Heyer

book cover Original Publication Date: 1921

Genre: Historical, adventure

Topics: Love, honor, betrayal, #eighteenthcenturyaristocratproblems

Review by heidenkind:

Several years ago, Jack Carstares took the blame when his brother, Richard, cheated at cards. Now Richard manages the family estates and Jack, exiled in shame from society, roams the roads of England as the most bespoke and gentlemanly highwayman in the land. What earthly force could possibly make Jack leave behind his life of adventure, admit his brother was the actual cheater, and return to the fold? Love of course!

The Black Moth was Georgette Heyer's first novel, and is the only one of her books in the public domain. It's also the first Heyer novel I've managed to read (I tried one or two, but I have to admit my heart wasn't in it and I returned them to the library unfinished), and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I was expecting it to be a rather dull romance novel, but it's not—it's an adventure that is SUPER DRAMATIC.

Heyer wrote The Black Moth to entertain her brother during a long illness, and if his taste in books was anything like mine is, she definitely succeeded. The Black Moth has EVERYTHING: kidnapping, highwaymen, cheating, a villain you love to hate because he's the only character with a sense of humor, secret earls, a shrieking harpy of a wife, heiresses, star-crossed lovers, duels, sword fights, fashion, a put-upon manservant/sidekick, love affairs... I could go on. Is it crazy over-the-top? YES. Does it go too far at times? YES. Do I think it's Heyer's best work? I certainly hope not. BUT—did I enjoy the hell out of it? YUP.

My favorite character by far was Tracy Belmanoir, the eponymous "black moth" and brother-in-law to Richard Carstares. It was Tracy who discovered Richard cheating at cards, and he's been using that knowledge to coerce Richard into all sorts of things ever since. It's also Tracy who drives the action through much of the book. He's a boss! He gets all the best lines and mopey Richard hates him so much it's hard not to be fond of the guy.

The way women are presented in The Black Moth is also pretty refreshing. You've got Lavinia, Richard's wife, who's a nitwit and constantly talks in exclamation marks. It's! Very! Annoying! But you also have several women characters who are powerful and smart and get things done, like Lady O'Hara, who's very sexually aggressive and awesome. Diana Beauleigh is the damsel in distress, but she's also willing to press the issue of Jack's affections. Her aunt, Elizabeth, is a super-smart older lady who could give Miss Marple a run for her money.

Is The Black Moth a perfect book? Hells no. But if you can enjoy it for what it is—a fun, silly historical romp—you'll get a kick out of it.

Download The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|University of Pennsylvania Library

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

Original Publication Date: 1886
 Genre: Nonfiction, Philosophy
 Topics: Philosophy, Religion, Morality
Review by : Becca Lostinbooks
Download Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

“To recognise untruth as a condition of life; that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.”

In this work, Nietzsche lays the foundation for thought that the Christian notion of good and evil is based on a simplified yet hidden slave morality.  Nietzsche, instead, claims that the philosophy of “will to power” (I got tired of this phrase by the end of 158 pages, let me tell you) is all the morality that an individual needs.

Nietzsche talks of good and evil not as opposites, but basically as on a spectrum that all people lay somewhere on and often drift along at different times in their lives because of various experiences.  He also argues that religion is not the basis for morality, an argument that is still being fought today.   The concept of “will to power” is a complex one, but can be simplified as the main driving force in humans, whatever that force may be, because “a living thing seeks above all to discharge its own strength – life itself is will to power.”
He argues who are we to suppose that there is an essential opposition of “true and false”, or good and evil?  “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena.”  I found myself at turns confused, disagreeing, and nodding along in agreement while reading this.  One thing Nietzsche does is make you think and consider and you will be a deeper person for having read him.

Nietzsche is not easy to read.  I had to take my time, read along with the Librivox recording, and then re-read it again.  I took notes as I read and after finishing the book, I took some time off before going back and re-reading my notes.  It has taken me a long time to even figure out how to write a review of Nietzsche’s philosophy.  The task is as daunting as you would expect.  I recommend just giving him a try because as daunting as Nietzsche is, I feel better for having taken up the challenge.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Barks and Purrs by Colette

barksandpurrsOriginal Publication Date: 1904

Genre: Dialogue

Topics: Pets, cats, dogs, home, France.





Review by : Chrisbookarama

Ever wonder what goes through your pets’ minds? What do they worry about? What makes them happy?

Colette’s Barks and Purrs (aka Dialogues des Bêtes) translated by Marie Kelly is a delightful series of dialogues that will charm any pet owner. I enjoyed it so much I listened to the audiobook twice, something I never do. I had to make sure I didn’t miss a thing.

Barks and Purrs covers the daily happenings of Toby-Dog (a French bull dog) and Kiki the Demure (a Maltese cat).  He and She (the owners) have small parts to play. Toby-Dog and Kiki must endure such travesties as a late dinner, a storm, a train ride, and the illness of She. These events upset their schedules and cause much devastation for the poor animals. There are times of comfort as well, like resting in front of a warm fire. 

Barks and Purrs could have been twee but this is Colette so it definitely isn’t. The animals aren’t too anthropomorphic. They don’t wear pants or help solve mysteries. They are just pets doing pet things. Colette doesn’t shy away from the realities of nature either. Kiki says:

One bound at exactly the right moment and my feeble prey is panting under me. Oh, the ridiculous effort of a weak animal—its tiny ineffectual claws and pointed wings beating against my face! My jaws will open to the splitting point and my perfect nose wrinkle ferociously, for the joy of holding a living, terrified body. 

The animals’ attitudes toward humans are about what you would expect. Toby-Dog wants to be loved all the time: I love—Her and Him devotedly, with a love that lifts me up to them. It suffices to occupy my time and heart. While Kiki only wants to be worshiped: A cat is a guest in the house, not a plaything.

The dialogues are full of rich descriptive prose.

How beautiful you are, Fire! Out from your ruddy center shoot tatters and shreds of gold, sudden spurts of blue, and smoke that twists upwards and draws queer shapes of beasts ... Oh, but I'm hot! Gently, gently, sovereign Fire, see how my truffle of a nose is drying up and cracking, and my ears—are they not ablaze? I adjure thee with suppliant paw. I groan ... ah ... I can endure it no longer! ... (He turns away.) Nothing is ever perfect. The east wind coming under the door nips my hind-legs. Well, it can't be helped! I'll freeze behind if I must, provided I can adore you face to face.

Who would imagine their dog thinking of fire in such a way? It’s gorgeous!

Now let me tell you about the audio! What an excellent production by Librivox volunteers. The narrator, Sandra, has a lovely accented voice. Bob Gonzalez is Kiki the Demure and his rich, smooth voice is perfectly suited for a spoiled cat. Toby-Dog is played by Troy Bond who has the best playful bark. The other players are excellent as well. I was very impressed. Bravo!

For fun, here is Henri the French Existentialist Cat, who is a lot like Kiki the Demure.

Download Barks and Purrs by Colette at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: The Grey Woman by Elizabeth Gaskell

Original Publication Date: 1861

Genre: Gothic short story

Topics: Marriage, murder, secrets, on the run, gender bending.

Review by : Chrisbookarama

The Grey Woman is an excellent Gothic story with a Bluebeard twist. There’s a castle, a damsel in distress, and a husband with a secret. However, the hero of this story isn’t a dude on a white horse but a bad ass older woman: Amante.

A traveller visits a mill/coffeehouse in Germany and notices a portrait of a pale lady.
“It was that of a young girl of extreme beauty; evidently of middle rank. There was a sensitive refinement in her face, as if she almost shrank from the gaze which, of necessity, the painter must have fixed upon her.”
The traveller asks to know her story. The owner replies, “Well, it just so happens that she was my great-aunt Anna and she wrote a manuscript explaining how she ended up so white. Here, read it.” As you do. The traveller sets down to read it, then the story is told in The Grey Woman’s own words.

When Anna was a young lass, her father remarried and the new lady of the house was anxious to get rid of her. Instead of marrying a local yokel, Anna accepts an invitation to her rich friend Sophie’s estate where she meets a handsome French stranger. Monsieur de la Tourelle appears to be a gentleman. He has his sights on Anna. She dances with him at parties when he asks. She’s too shy and overcome by his charms to say no.

Anna, you in danger girl!

One day Sophie’s mother tells Anna that she’s written to her father about her impending engagement. Anna is shocked! How could she be getting engaged and not even know it?! She’s informed that it’s too late for protests now. Anna received Monsieur de la Tourelle’s attentions without complaint and that means she’s given herself for life to a perfect stranger. Oh well, what can you do when it’s 1789 and women have no rights. *shrug*

So Anna marries her Frenchman and he ships her off to some castle in the middle of nowhere with no friends or family. He immediately exhibits signs of an abuser. He demands that she keep to only one area of their home where he can keep an eye on her. He’s jealous of even her love of her family and she is never allowed to visit them. Unsurprisingly, she becomes depressed.

In an uncharacteristic act of compassion, Monsieur hires a lady’s maid to keep her company. Amante “tall and handsome, though upwards of forty” instantly takes on the role of Anna’s bodyguard. She runs interference between Anna and the surly servants. Amante is especially helpful now that Anna is pregnant.

Amante discovers that Anna isn’t getting her mail and the two hatch a plan to break into Monsieur’s apartments to retrieve them. In the process, Anna learns her husband’s secret, a secret so terrible that it sends Anna and Amante into hiding!

Amante is The Boss! She’s quick thinking and always one step ahead of the bad guys. She protects her mistress with her life, even changing her identity to protect her. The pair have many hair raising close calls but Amante keeps her head. Talk about a Strong Female Character! Amante is it.

mrs s
Amante: Possible prototype for Mrs S of Orphan Black? 

As for Anna, I’m not sure why she inspires such devotion but the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess. Perhaps it was because of the baby. Amante did love that baby.

Part of why I love blogging for Project Gutenberg Project is discovering long lost gems like this The Grey Woman. Sure, it’s soapy and melodramatic with a Villainous Villain but it’s pure entertainment with some feminism thrown in. Anna and Amante, a disobedient wife and a maid, outwit and outrun ruffians. Courage and cleverness rule the day.

This was another Librivox recording I took in. Jane Greensmith narrates the short story.

Download The Grey Woman by Elizabeth Gaskell at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: THE DOCTOR'S WIFE by ME Braddon

book cover Original Publication Date: 1864

Genre: Sensation, kinda.

Topics: books, temptation, good vs. evil, society, love, marriage

Review by heidenkind:

Isabel Sleaford is an usual young girl who reads copious amounts of sentimental poetry and fiction, and rarely cares to venture into society. It is this very quality—and also the fact that she's really pretty—that attracts the attention of George Gilbert, a lower-middle-class country doctor who proposes marriage after he discovers Isabel's father is dead and she's been forced to take up employment as a governess. Isabel doesn't exactly say yes, more like, "Mmm, that doesn't sound too bad." But then she marries George AND IT IS THAT BAD, IT TOTALLY IS. Bored out of her mind, Isabel escapes even deeper into the world of books. Her favorite book of all the times is an obscure collection of (objectively bad) verses titled The Alien, which she thinks are just soooooooooooooooo romantic. I bet you can guess what happens when Isabel meets the author of The Alien, Roland Landsdell, who just happens to be young, brooding, dark, handsome, and exceedingly rich.

It's something like this.

I loved every trashy, soap opera-y minute of Lady Audley's Secret, so I thought The Doctor's Wife would probably offer the same entertainment value. Boy, was I wrong.

The Doctor's Wife is a much different novel from Lady Audley's Secret. It has all the elements of a sensation novel—adultery, criminals, curses, back-stabbing bitches—but they feel like a minor part. Overall, The Doctor's Wife is much more self-consciously literary than one would expect from a sensation novel. According to all the synopses I've read online, this is Mary Elizabeth Braddon's response to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Perhaps if I'd read Madame Bovary I would appreciate it more, but I haven't and have no intention of doing so in the foreseeable future.

Even aside from The Doctor's Wife literary inspiration, there's a lot of book talk going on in the novel. Isabel an insatiable reader, her and George's mutual friend, Sigismund Smith, writes penny dreadfuls; and Roland is of course a writer. The characters talk and think about books a lot, how books should be and what their ideal book is. Braddon takes pains to show us how the books Isabel reads affect her view of the world, what she expects from life and how she interprets people's actions—if she ever takes a moment from her reading to notice other people, that is.

I actually liked that part of The Doctor's Wife. The novel is also a lot more cynical than Lady Audley's Secret. There are no good guys or bad guys, love doesn't conquer all, and there's no such thing as happily ever after. This is not a romantic novel, either in the literary or genre sense.

I kind of liked that part of The Doctor's Wife, too. As for the characters, Isabel would probably annoy some people, but personally I found her likable and extremely sympathetic. Partly because Braddon spends a considerable amount of time and energy making her so, but also because I recognized a lot of Teenage Me in Isabel, too.

So with all these points in the book's favor, why did I not enjoy The Doctor's Wife that much? First of all, it is WAY too drawn-out for what it is. It is a long walk getting to anyfreakingthing in this novel. For example, we know pretty early on that there's a secret about Isabel's father that she's trying hide (that's the plot, basically), but Braddon kind of forgets all about it until the very very end, when it's employed as a deus-ex-machina to get Roland out of the picture. In the meantime, Braddon's concerned with explaining Isabel's woeful life to us, but here's the thing: I might like and sympathize with Isabel, but she's not terribly interesting. I don't need to spend THAT much time with her to get a good picture of her psychological makeup, you feel me? Even the death scenes were dragged out to the inth degree. Where's the homicidal Lady Audley when you need her??

buffy the vampire slayer death
Just die already, dude.

As for the whole adultery thing, MOST BORING LITERARY LOVE AFFAIR EVER. Like I get that love really isn't the point of this whole exercise, but I would think some sort of emotional resonance or stakes would only help make Braddon's point, not to mention keep me as a reader engaged. Instead, George was a saint and I hated the oblivious bastard, so I didn't care about Isabel betraying him at all. But I also didn't feel like Isabel loved Roland in any substantial way. She loved what he stood for and his lifestyle, but as far as wanting him sexually or even as a friend, no (and speaking of sex, I have my doubts George ever went there. He seems like the type of Victorian guy who would marry a girl and then neglect to mention the whole sex thing because he'd see it as indelicate). Likewise, Roland seemed to "love" Isabel only because she thought he was a literary genius and because she was pretty. Sigh and yawn.

I didn't hate The Doctor's Wife, but it was a bit of a haul with not much of a payoff. If you want to jump into the Victorian sensation genre, I'd recommend starting with Lady Audley's Secret or Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, instead.

Download The Doctor's Wife by ME Braddon at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|Girlebooks

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Le Petit Nord by Anne Grenfell and Katie Spalding

le petit nordOriginal Publication Date: 1920

Genre: ??? (See my review)

Topics: Newfoundland, travel, orphans, wily missionaries,






Review by : Chrisbookarama

Le Petit Nord is a collection of letters written by an unknown narrator to her British friend Joan during her year as missionary in St Anthony, Newfoundland.

Long before airplanes and the Trans-Canada Highway, travel to the northern parts of Newfoundland was a long and arduous journey. The narrator first sails into St John’s and from there takes a train to Run By Guess as a little diversion before her heading north. The trip does not go well, as soon as she steps outside she is attacked by mosquitos and “the roadbed was not constructed on the principles laid down by the Romans.” This is her first experience on “the Rock.”

After her short vacation, the lady heads to Come By Chance and her journey begins in earnest as she boards a steamer for St Anthony. The little ship avoids ice floes and storms (by the way it’s now the end of June). Though she finds the scenery beautiful, she can’t get used to “the language of the people.” They do not say “How are you?” but “How’s da fish by’?”

When she finally lands in St Anthony, one of her first duties is to feed thirty-six orphaned children with one herring, a feat to put Jesus to shame. By this time, she’s learned not only is the pantry empty but she’s lost her luggage during the trip. She has nothing but it’s still more than what these children have. Many were found in isolated homes where the parents had died or disappeared, often long before the children were discovered; they were dirty, starving, and frightened. Unsurprisingly, the children are difficult and have developmental issues. She loves them all in her own way. She is firm with them but kind. She has lots stories of their shenanigans for Joan!

Speaking of Joan, she must have insulted Newfoundland in a letter, because  the lady takes her to task: “I want to violently controvert your disparaging remarks about this "insignificant little island."” She, in a short time, has come to love St Anthony and its people. They have no school, and the closest hospital is in St John’s. The poverty is extreme but:

When I look about me and see this poverty, the ignorance born of lack of opportunity, the suffering, the dirt, and degradation which are in so large a measure no fault of these poor folk, I am overwhelmed at the wealth of opportunities. Here at least every talent one has to offer counts for double what it would at home.

She greatly admires the women. When a road was needed to be built and the men were away fishing,  they chopped a path through the wilderness for it. In her letters, she speaks of characters like the kitchen maids Senath and Tryphena, a crewman of the ship The Northern Light she calls The Prophet (Prophet of Doom), and a Feminist named Elmira, who “had the courage of her convictions, and did not marry.” Her letters contain the tales and beliefs of the people, including stories of sled dogs, polar bears, and a creature called Yoho.

As for the lady herself, she has many adventures. She witnesses the Aurora Borealis and hears the sounds they make. She weathers a variety of storms, and takes a ‘cruise’ by dog sled. During her final days as missionary, she travels around the other ports of Le Petit Nord onboard The Northern Light and sees puffins, icebergs, whales, and dolphins. Everything you’d expect to find in a Newfoundland and Labrador Travel brochure!

When I first read Le Petit Nord, I was under the impression that these were actual letters written by Anne Grenfell.* However, upon going over the story again for my review, I started to get the feeling something else was going on. First of all, who is Katie Spalding? What does she have to do with this? Anne Grenfell was the American wife of Dr Wilfred Grenfell, the founder of the St Anthony Mission. The narrator never mentions her own name nor does she mention the year. The narrator is English not American, so she can’t be Anne who was born in Chicago. I did some internet digging and found this thesis in Collections Canada that points out that Katie Spalding was the secretary for the Grenfell Association. Both she and Anne created "a collection of pseudo-letters” that was Le Petit Nord. They were writing propaganda to get money out of people in England for the Mission. Ruh-roh! I had fallen for it hook, line and sinker. I am scandalized! I just thought Anne was a really great letter writer.

Of course, even if it is propaganda, it’s entertaining propaganda. The foreword claims that all these events happened, only the names have been changed. Maybe these things did happen, or maybe they didn’t, but even of they did probably not to one person. I found the whole book delightful nonetheless, even if the narrator is Lady Von Fakerson. It’s funny and full of adventure. Any damage it did was well before my reading of it. Wily missionaries.

So, what is the genre? Fictionalized memoir? A epistolary novel?

This was a Librivox recording narrated by a real Newfoundlander, Sean Michael Hogan. Please listen to it, it’s great!

Download Le Petit Nord by Anne Grenfell and Katie Spalding at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

*I had used the name Anne in this review before my discovery, I then changed it to ‘the narrator” or “the lady.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Harlot High and Low by Honore de Balzac

book cover Original Publication Date: 1847 French: Splendeurs et miseres de Courtisanes
Genre: suspence. romance, sociological analysis
Topics: mores, price of success, love, prostitution, crime, money and power, Paris
Review by :Bridget/Anachronist @portable pieces of thoughts 


The book is a sequel of “ Illusions perdues” (‘Lost Illusions’) and the last part of ‘ La Comédie Humaine’, a series which forms a cohesive overview of French Parisian and Provincial society during the Restoration and July Monarchy. Like the previous part it features the same main characters: Lucien Chardon /de Rubempré and Vautrin. In order to make it more lucid let me summarize the first part very shortly before progressing to the second.

 Lucien starts off as a young, handsome, talented man from good but impoverished family. He hopes to make his mark as a poet and, in order to do so, he moves from his provincial home to Paris. After being spurned by an aristocratic lover, he is forced to prostitute his talent in different newspapers in order to survive. Things go from bad to worse and Lucien, who had made a lot of foolish mistakes and doesn’t possess a strong character to somehow make up for them, is about to commit suicide. In the last moment he is approached by a sham Jesuit priest (read: devil incarnated), the Abbé Carlos Herrera a.k.a Vautrin, an escaped convict and criminal mastermind. They make a pact in which Lucien agrees to follow Vautrin’s instructions on how to conquer Paris promising to share his future riches and glory.

 Vautrin manages to arrange a very profitable marriage between Lucien and a rich aristocratic heiress named Clotilde de Grandlieu. It revives Lucien’s ambitions and hopes. Clotilde is intelligent but ugly; she fancies Lucien but he prefers his secret lover, a prostitute called Esther Van Gobseck, known as the Torpedo. Esther and Lucien fall truly in love with each other. This fact might have thrown a wrench into Vautrin’s best-laid plans; instead of forcing Lucien to abandon Esther the clever man allows him to continue the affair, secretly making a good use of it.

 Pretending to be a clergyman again, Herrera/Vautrin convinces Esther that, in order to deserve Lucien, she must become a completely different person. He sends her to a convent for a period of time to be taught how to become a proper Catholic girl (Esther is Jewish but it doesn’t matter) and a true lady. She tries her best but she’s a whore at heart; she does what she has to do out of love, though. Once Esther has been turned into an acceptable mistress Herrera allows her and Lucien to continue their affair secretly. For four years Esther remains locked away in a house in Paris, totally secluded, taking walks only at night in a carriage, pretty much breaking any connection to her old Torpedo days. One night, however, the Baron de Nucingen, a rich banker, spots her in a park and falls deeply in love with her.

When Vautrin realizes that Esther became Nucingen’s obsession he decides to use it and advance Lucien’s prospects. The plan is the following: Vautrin and Lucien are 60,000 francs in debt. The luxurious lifestyle that Lucien has had to maintain in order to impress the family and friends of his future wife costs a lot and their creditors are getting impatient. They also need one million francs to buy the old Rubempré land back, so that Lucien can marry Clotilde and settle down like a real aristocrat. Esther out of love for Lucien agrees to become a courtesan again and milk as much money as possible out of the impossibly rich Nucingen.

Things don’t work out as smoothly as Vautrin would have liked – and the ending is very bitter. Still the show goes on for those rich and priviledged.

 What I liked: 

 Balzac explores the artistic life of Paris in 1821-22 and furthermore the nature of the artistic life generally. He does it in a great way. He starts a simple story of a weak young man being helped by an older, more experienced and cunning tutor and then it explodes into a multi-novel epic. The narrative is powerful enough to carry readers past any of the flaws – I wasn’t bored for one single second. The deception, corruption, and trickery, at every level of society are brilliantly displayed, often almost off-hand, in casual conversation because everyone expects nothing different.

There’s a great cast of secondary characters, too, from the maids Herrera uses in his carefully orchestrated plans to various members of high society. I liked this book especially because, although Balzac doesn’t do badly with the romance he builds his novel around, he doesn’t really have much patience for it. He, like me, is not a romantic person at heart, believing in more primal instincts – survival, cunning, logic. Love doesn’t conquer all: no one is ever allowed to forget that Esther is a whore and likes her job, that it’s practically in her blood and that she can be little else, no matter how hard she tries and no matter how much she adores her poor, infatuated, ambitious Lucien.

Criminals are perceived similarly – the author even admires them for being true to themselves and their instincts. Small wonder Vautrin steals the show in every part of his series. Balzac’s writing, even at its messiest, it’s never less than forceful. The best thing about him is that he never offers a didactic or ‘social’ novel (mind you we are dealing here with an 19th century writer - compare that to any Dickens book!), and ultimately it’s for the best that he lets himself get carried away by the nasty criminals so readily. A novel meant to be about prostitution, with a courtesan (or harlot) in the title, manages to dispense with her services for its entire final part: that’s a bit odd but entirely deliberate. Balzac knows where his strengths lie and when Esther (or, especially, Lucien, the weakest link in the chain) no longer serves his narrative purposes the author is quick to brush them aside (by killing them, no mercy) and concentrate on the anti-hero he can have the most fun with.

 What I didn’t like: 

 A Harlot High and Low is part of Balzac’s grand ‘Human Comedy’ series, and like many of his novels it’s one that seems to get out of hand. It seems too long; what’s more the author simply doesn’t have any patience to describe good moments in full – the happy four-year period Lucien and Esther were granted by Herrera occupies…one paragraph.

 And speaking of that period…I do wonder how Esther managed such a long seclusion. During that time she led a life of a vampire and should have succumbed to serious depression – think about vitamin D deficiency among other things. Also the obsession of the rich old banker with a prostitute he just glimpsed once or twice was a bit over the top.Well- different times, different criteria. At last, Balzac’s inability to make Esther and Lucien more forceful heroes, in my opinion prevented A Harlot High and Low from being a great novel; in fact I would love nothing more but them turning the tables on that devilish Vautrin.

 Final verdict: 

 It’s summer so treat yourself with this one, especially as it can be read as a stand-alone. It might not be flawless but still the writing style is superb. If you know French I highly recommend reading it in original version.

 Download A Harlot High and Low Honore de Balzac at Goodreads