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Didier (Ghent, Belgium)

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Nightmare Abbey & Crotchet Castle (Penguin Classics)
Nightmare Abbey & Crotchet Castle (Penguin Classics)
by Thomas Love Peacock
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious satire, 29 Dec. 2013
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Thomas Love Peacock is (or was) one of the few better-known authors from this period whom I hadn't read anything of, so two books in one volume ('Nightmare Abbey' and 'Crotchet Castle') seemed like the perfect start. And I must say, they are both unlike anything I've ever read! To call them novels would be stretching a point, since there is just the flimsiest of plots, though they do center around a number of fictitious (albeit based in some cases on actual people). Neither could one say that they are essays, though they do present a number of critical thoughts on different topics: 'dark' romanticism in the case of 'Nightmare Abbey', and political economy and scientific progress ('rationalism' one might say) in 'Crotchet Castle'.

In both cases the set-up is similar: the bulk of both books consists of the animated and lively discussions of a number of people on the topics mentioned above. I realize this may sound awfully boring, but rest assured it is anything but that. First of all, the characters are most often more like stereotypes, embodying certain beliefs and principles, and the fact that they do so to an extreme degree and are unable/unwilling to consider a different point of view makes their conversations absolutely delightful and often hilariously funny. True enough, some of the characters are based on actual people Peacock knew (such as Shelley) but, though it may increase the pleasure if you're familiar with Shelley's biography, this is by no means necessary to enjoy the books. On top of the delicious dialogue and conversations, Thomas Love Peacock has a knack of introducing elements of situational comedy which makes for laugh-out-loud moments.

All in all, I terribly enjoyed reading both 'Nightmare Abbey' and 'Crotchet Castle', and I would urge anyone to give both books a try and discover the sheer fun of making the acquaintance of, amongst others, Scythrop Glowry (was ever man or woman blessed/cursed with a more eccentric first name?), Mr. Flosky, Mr. Larynx, Mr. Chainmail and Mr. Toobad.


The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
by Stephen Grosz
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, 27 Dec. 2013
I ordered this book based upon the very good reviews it received here and elsewhere but once it had arrived it sat on my bookshelves for quite a while before I started reading it, and now, having finished it, I wonder if I shouldn't have left it there a little while longer. Maybe I wasn't ready for it? Maybe I should have read it when I was in a different mood (my mood being at the time one of near exhaustion) and less stressed myself? Assuredly, it is written in an easy-to-read and lucid style, and the stories related here of diverse patients of Stephen Grosz are in themselves very gripping: stories about the loss and sadness that life (inevitably?) entails, and not for all of these anonymous people that once lay on Grosz's couch unburdening their weary souls was there 'closure'. If only for this, the book is definitely worthwhile the read, as it is at the least a sobering and in some cases even a shocking experience to read how much pain life at times doles out.

At the same time (and therefore only 4 stars), the further I got into the book the more I began to realize that one has to 'believe' (so to speak) in the validity and healing powers of psychoanalysis. If, for instance, you're not convinced that every dream you have is brimming with messages from your sub-conscious (of which I personally am not), well, then some of the stories related here might seem sheer nonsense I presume. Be that as it may, I'm sure that there are far worse couches to lie on than the one in Grosz's rooms, as he seems a truly empathic and good person and - perhaps the key issue - a good listener.


Miss Marjoribanks (Penguin Classics)
Miss Marjoribanks (Penguin Classics)
by Margaret Oliphant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The incomparable Miss Marjoribanks, 1 Nov. 2013
At the age of eighteen, Lucilla Marjoribanks returns home to Carlingford from her boarding school Mount Pleasant, avowedly 'to be a comfort to dear Papa' (her father, the good doctor Marjoribanks, having been widowed a couple of years earlier). That, however, is not her only purpose! In returning to Carlingford Lucilla is also, as she says to herself, 'entering the domain in which she intended her will to be law'. And true enough, Lucilla sets to work with an energy and intelligence which rapidly leaves all members of Carlingford society baffled. In a short time, they all find themselves competing to be invited to one of her Thursday evenings (not parties mind you, 'just an Evening'), and generally complying with her view of how things should be.

The doctor's own experience is telling: the very first morning after Lucilla's arrival when he comes down to breakfast, he finds her seated at the foot of the table, where he usually sits and has always sat as head of the family. With 'ingenuous sweetness', Lucilla in a matter of minutes convinces him it's all for the better this way, and the doctor 'became aware all the same that he had abdicated, without knowing it, and that the reins of state had been smilingly withdrawn from his unconscious hands'.

Does this make Lucilla Marjoribanks some kind of arch-manipulator? Well, that would be taking matters too far perhaps, because there is never any malice involved in anything Lucilla does, she is quite simply absolutely convinced (in a naive and 'likeable' sort of way) that her opinion is the right and proper opinion. And neither does it imply that Lucilla doesn't have her moments of doubt concerning her own life: how about marriage for instance? At first sight none of the male members of Carlingford society seem to Lucilla to be even remotely eligible candidates to become her husband. Will she become an old spinster? Before that question is answered you are in for close to 500 pages of absolutely delightful fiction, filled to the brim with captivating characters (not just Lucilla, all inhabitants of Carlingford are vividly and memorably drawn) and often as not hilariously funny.

Another reviewer already remarked that Margaret Oliphant gives Anthony Trollope a good run for his money. I tend to agree, albeit that they are completely different, so it just depends on what you're looking for I guess. Trollope is perhaps in traditional terms a 'better' author in that, in general, he treats with more 'serious' subject matter in his novels (certainly in the Palliser-novels) but although he has a knack for humour as well (think of Mrs. Proudie) I've never read a Trollope-novel that had me constantly with a smirk on my face as 'Miss Marjoribanks' did. To that I should immediately add that I am in no way implying here that Oliphant is not a 'serious' author, on the contrary: 'Miss Marjoribanks' is not only heartwarmingly funny, it is also a profound reflection on the role of women (and men) in Victorian society.

All in all, I found this an absolutely riveting read. To my mind it's hard to understand and very sad that Margaret Oliphant is so little known today, and that very little of her prodigious output is still in print. What I can get my hands on, however, I will definitely read, starting with Hester (Oxford World's Classics)!


Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Penguin Press History)
Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Penguin Press History)
by Keith Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 30 Oct. 2013
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Having previously read and immensely enjoyed both The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England and Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History), I was overjoyed to discover that there was a third book published by this superb historian of the social and cultural history of early modern England. So I eagerly began reading 'Man and the natural world' as soon as the postman had delivered it on my doorstep: would it be as good as the other two?

Yes it is. It's incredible, unputdownable, brilliant, informative, learned, funny and then some. In barely 289 pages Thomas condenses what must have been a vast amount of research (there's almost a 100 pages of notes referring to all primary and secondary sources) into an easily readable and hugely informative story about how (and why) the relationship between Englishmen and the natural world changed radically between 1500 and 1800. So as I sat down to write this review I pondered: was is it then that makes these history books by Keith Thomas so special to me, and makes them in my opinion superior to many, if not most, of other history books I have read? Well, I could think of several reasons.

First of all, and this is entirely a matter of personal opinion of course, there's the subject matter. Even before I opened the book I was very curious about this relationship between man and the natural world, but that may be different with you (and needless to say there's no harm in that, just as I may be forgiven, I assume, for not having much of an interest in e.g. the history of China, or the Soviet Republic, and lots of other topics).

Secondly, given an interest in the subject, Keith Thomas is obviously an expert on it. This is not only obvious from the (seemingly) effortless and logical way in which he describes every aspect of it, but also (as said before) from the huge amount of research done. To coin a phrase: what Thomas doesn't know about this particular topic isn't worth knowing.

Thirdly, I personally very much enjoy his writing style: it's actually 'easy-to-read', often funny in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, always informative but never needlessly dense, and scattered throughout the texts are telling excerpts and quotes from contemporary sources (like the advertisement of an 18th century London goldsmith for 'silver padlocks for blacks or dogs').

In a word, even if you're only remotely interested to discover why we put flowers on graves, why the English are such keen gardeners, or why the countryside was once associated with boorishness and later became associated with nothing but positive qualities, buy this book, sit down and enjoy.


Roxana The Fortunate Mistress n/e (Oxford World's Classics)
Roxana The Fortunate Mistress n/e (Oxford World's Classics)
by Daniel Defoe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the read, 30 Oct. 2013
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A couple of years ago I began concentrating in my reading matter on 'classic' English novels, written anywhere between (roughly) 1700 and 1900, and though I had read both Robinson Crusoe (Oxford World's Classics) and Moll Flanders (English Library), somehow I had not read 'Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress' at the time. And though my memories of 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Moll Flanders' are perhaps a bit vague by now, I found this novel to be both very alike and yet also very different.

'Roxana', just as 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Moll Flanders' is a fictitious autobiography by an 'exceptional' character: we all know what befell Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders has, to say the least, an eventful life with lots of ups and as many downs, and so too Roxana. However, this is pretty much where the similarities end. Whereas for instance Robinson Crusoe could be described as 'rational man' overcoming, against all odds, whatever life (or perhaps that should be 'Nature') can throw at him and striving to better himself (both materially and morally), Roxana is quite the opposite: if anything, in countless instances the story of her life confirms over and over again how much she is led by her emotions (pride, vanity, greed, fear, etc.), knows that she does wrong but is unable to stop herself from doing so ('I sinn'd with Open Eyes'), and - looking back upon it at the (open) end of the book - there's not really a sense that Roxana has 'learned' all that much from her vast experience.

And a vast experience it is! From page one the story sweeps you away and drags you along, eager to find out what will happen next. In the course of her life Roxana will go from riches to rags and back to riches, live in England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, have several husbands and children with most of those husbands, and so on and so forth. There's plenty to tell, and Roxana (we never learn her true name) tells her story at a breath-taking pace: there's no chapters, barely paragraphs, the whole story gushes forth from Roxana's pen as if she is working against some deadline, telling what she wants to tell roughly chronologically but often as not stopping mid-point by saying 'But of that hereafter' or words to that effect. There's little or no grand plan here, Roxana is an immaculate opportunist and siezes opportunity by the forelock whenever she can.

Aptly enough, as this is in a way almost a sort of Morality Play about human frailty in the face of temptation, none of characters (with the exception of Roxana's constant companion, her maid Amy, and her banker Sir Robert Clayton) have names, even Roxana's husbands we only get to know as 'The Brewer', 'The Merchant from Paris', etc.

Perhaps I should add - because it takes a bit of getting used to - that this edition is to such an extent true to the original first edition that all Nouns are spelled with Capitals, and that some (though not many) words are spelled as they were spelled then: people wear 'Cloaths' instead of clothes, and when Roxana reflects upon her own behaviour she does so not with horror but 'Horrour'. Lastly, as I have come to expect from the Oxford World's Classics, here too there is an excellent introduction (in this case by John Mullan) and ample explanatory notes.

All in all, though Defoe will probably always be associated first and foremost with 'Robinson Crusoe', 'Roxana' is well worth the read as well!


Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris
by Graham Robb
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Not my favorite cup of tea, 19 Oct. 2013
I bought this book quite soon after having read the marvellous The Discovery of France, but then it took me quite a while before I actually began reading it. Was my timing perhaps not ideal? Was I more in the mood for 'The Discovery of France' at the time? I'm not sure, but sad to say I liked 'Parisians' not as much.

Whereas 'The Discovery of France' was a collection of stories about unfamiliar, often quirky individuals with often quite an impact on the future (in whatever field they happened to be working in) but somehow forgotten and/or largely ignored, in 'Parisians' several chapters are devoted to well-known people (Giscard d'Estaing, Sartre, Proust, ...), and although Robb describes little known things about these people, this somehow didn't fascinate me as much as the 'thoroughbred' nobodies of 'The Discovery of France'. Truth to say, the first chapters of 'Parisians' I found quite captivating, written in Robb's easy-going and slightly tongue-in-cheek style I had come to like so much. But about halfway through the book I found it harder and harder to keep an interest, partly perhaps because of Robb's experiments in style as well (there's a whole chapter written as a film scenario).

So all in all, not a 'bad' book or a complete waste of time by any means, but I thought 'The Discovery of France' a lot better.


Le Creuset Toughened Non-Stick Shallow Frying Pan, 30 cm
Le Creuset Toughened Non-Stick Shallow Frying Pan, 30 cm
Price: £105.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my kitchen favorites, 14 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This was the first Le Creuset non-stick frying pan I bought and, having used it now intensively for a year, I'm still impressed every single time by how well it performs frying a huge variety of food: meat (of any kind), fish, potatoes, eggs.. You name it, this pan will fry it to perfection, and thanks to the solid iron handle you can sear meat on the hob and then let it roast to perfection in the oven as well. Washing up is a doddle, all it takes is warm water, a bit of dishwasher product and a gentle scrub. My kids start salivating as soon as they see me take this pan out of the cupboard, need I say more?


Le Creuset Stoneware Salt Pig, 0.3 L - Volcanic
Le Creuset Stoneware Salt Pig, 0.3 L - Volcanic

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The usual Le Creuset (top) quality, 14 Sept. 2013
Which comes at a price, I agree. But then again, so far I've never been disappointed by a Le Creuset product and this salt pig is no exception to the rule: big enough to reach in and grab a pinch of salt without any problem, solid, and - which is perhaps a matter of personal opinion but to me definitely a bonus, and to many perhaps the single most important reason to dish out that little bit extra - it's in the inimitable Le Creuset style and looks just great surrounded by a couple of Le Creuset utensil jars for instance. I actually own a dark grey one instead of this proverbial Le Creuset 'volcanic' colour, but nonetheless it looks (and functions) great surrounded by 3 utensil jars in different colours.


Limit Boys Round Black Plastic Digital Watch 5391.56 With Black Bezel And Red/White Markers
Limit Boys Round Black Plastic Digital Watch 5391.56 With Black Bezel And Red/White Markers
Price: £16.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality & the perfect boys' design, 12 Sept. 2013
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I bought this watch recently for my son and in doing so made both of us very happy: he's happy showing off his new watch and checks the time every two minutes, and I don't have to worry anymore that he's not learning to use a digital watch. It's not a top quality watch (I wouldn't buy one either for a 9 year old) but good enough, and has just the right look & feel to charm boys of that age.

Both father and son very contented!


Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon n/e: WITH Lady Susan (Oxford World's Classics)
Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon n/e: WITH Lady Susan (Oxford World's Classics)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Austen goes gothic, 11 Sept. 2013
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Or does she? Well, I found 'Northanger Abbey' to be a strange but fascinating novel, because in fact it's not so much Austen herself who 'goes gothic', but Catherine Morland, the young and innocent heroine of the book. She's an avid reader of gothic novels, Ann Radcliffe being her favorite author, which has so to speak skewed her vision of the real world: surely every chest must contain a skeleton, and why should doors in dark passageways be locked but to hide some awful family secret?

When Catherine travels to Bath with her parents' friends Mr and Mrs Allen, she meets the charming Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor and is enchanted by both of them. Before long she is invited for a stay at Northanger Abbey, the Tilney residence, where she meets Henry's father, General Tilney, who despite his impeccable manners, turns out to be a rather daunting figure. And how did his wife come to die? Catherine is determined to find out...

As I said, this is a fascinating book, in which Austen explores the contrast between fiction (tyrannical fathers murdering their wives) and the real world (the settled, uneventful life of a gentry family), and there is definitely much more to this story than at first meets the eye (much of which, I must confess, I would have missed but for the excellent introduction). And apart from that, it is of course written in the typical, delightful Austen-style, with engaging characters and lots of wit, irony and humour (at times even 'laugh-out-loud').

This edition also contains 3 shorter pieces of which I read only 'Lady Susan', a delightful epistolary novel about an a-moral, scheming woman. 'The Watsons' and 'Sanditon' I did not read because they are unfinished and were - in Austen's view - not ready for publication. I'm sure both are a real gold mine for Austen-scholars as evidence of 'Austen at work', but personally I preferred to read only what Austen herself felt ready to be published (and I'm not an Austen-scholar either, just an enthusiastic amateur).

All in all, I cannot recommend this book warmly enough, just as every other of Austen's novels!


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