Oh, Alberta.

the Alberta Trilogy by Cora Sandel
(Alberta and Jacob 1926, Alberta and Freedom 1931 and Alberta Alone 1939)
 
“The truth was Alberta only knew what she did not want. She had no idea what she did want. And not knowing brought unrest and a giddy sensation under her heart. She existed like a negative of herself, and this flaw was added to all the others. To get away, out into the world! Beyond this all details were blurred. She imagined somewhere open, free, bathed in sunshine. And a throng of people, none of them her relatives, none of whom could criticize her appearance and character, and to whom she was not responsible for being other than herself.” 
 Alberta is a young woman living in Northern Norway with her brother, Jacob, and their parents. Alberta is unable to continue her education, and spends her days at home helping out, while her friends have either moved south or are busy getting hitched. She is constantly cold, both physically and emotionally.

In the second book, we find Alberte a few years later in Paris, where she sometimes works as a model for painters. She lives in the cheapest hotels and is constantly broke. She hangs with a crowd of international artists and their muses. She has changed a lot from the one she used to be in Norway, and she is independent and hates running into fellow countrymen, as she is worried about what they’d say behind her back. I’m not going to say anything about the third book, because then I’ll spoil the essentials of the second book. But it is set a few years later, just after World War I. 

Alberta definitely found a special place in my heart. She reminded me a lot of my younger self, especially in her insecurity and constant coldness. And the whole part about finding yourself. Cora Sandel also writes well, and I was surprised that there weren’t more quotes on Goodreads. I’d definitely have written some there myself if I had read it in English. I have a feeling that this book was controversial when it was published, and especially the second book where there are sex and even an abortion. I know that during World War II, the German regime in Norway banned the third book because they believed it to be anti-German.

I liked the second book best of all, and I believe that it should be on the 1001 books you should read list instead of Alberta and Jacob. And I would have loved to be in Paris in the that time period myself. Alberta and Jacob was April’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle, and although I read it then, I wanted to read the whole trilogy before writing about it.

And oh, does anyone know why the names have been changed from the Norwegian version (Alberte, Jakob) to the English one (Alberta, Jacob)? I have only seen that in children’s books before. 

“What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school?

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928)
 “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.” 
Paul Bäumer is a young German soldier on the Western Front. He conscripted with many of his fellow class mates and some of them are in the same troop. As the years go by, he watches them die one by one, and ponders about the meaning of it all.

We follow Paul in the trenches, in the hospital and home on leave. And what do we learn? That war is awful and meaningless. The intensity in the book mixed with sudden prose hit me straight in the face and it was impossible to lay down.

While reading, I kept wondering if this book would have been so powerful if it had been written from the perspective of the winning side. Because once we know that Paul is German, we know he is doomed to lose. It is definitely a really important book, and as it is a century since the Great War began, you should read it.

This was May’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise (at this time in life anyway), so I’m grateful.

thirty-one.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)

 The Ramsays are spending the summer at their Scottish summer house with a few friends. From their house they have the view of a lighthouse and the children, and especially James, want to visit it. But Mr Ramsay says that the weather won’t be suitable, which brings tension to the house.
The novel suddenly shifts, both in style and theme. The Ramsays have abandoned their summer house and the house is in decay. The most interesting thing is the deaths of some of the children, which is just mentioned in brackets, while the decay of the house is the main focus. And then there’s another shift, 10 years on and the remaining family members and friends return. But will they get to the lighthouse this time?
Virginia Woolf is a master of the streams-of-consciousness style. I have a hard time following the narrator’s train of thought. Last year I read Mrs Dalloway which I found really hard and I feared that To the Lighthouse would be just as hard. Luckily, it was easier to read, but there were parts, and especially in the beginning where I had no idea what I just read. But other parts were really well-written and I really enjoyed those sentences. 
This was June’s read in Line’s 1001 books challenge



nine.

the Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
“That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love. That was it all right.”
Jake Barnes is an American journalist living in Paris. He spends his days working and his nights drinking with his crowd, including Lady Brett Ashley, a stunning English woman who falls in love easily, but is engaged to a Scot, Mike Campbell. And men fall as easily for her. One of them is Robert Cohn, a writer who has a steady and jealous girlfriend, Frances.

Jake has known Brett since the first World War, and they have had their moments, but Jake is one of the persons Brett can trust the most. Jake is planning to go to Spain to do some fishing and then do the bullfighting festival of Pamplona with his friend coming over from America, Bill, and Robert. But Brett and Mike also come along and the wine and festival bring out the worst in everyone.

Paris in the roaring 20s must have been magical and Hemingway portrays the lost generation perfectly. The tension between the characters are present, but you also feel that you don’t know the whole picture. Some things are revealed as the story goes on, but a lot of things are left to the imagination.

I had a hell of a time reading this novel. It might be because I was under the influence of some excellent Italian red wine while reading most of it. But how can you read a novel soaked in wine without actually drinking some?

“It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people”.

forty-nine.

the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1906-1921)
(the Man of Property, Indian Summer of a Forsyte, In Chancery, Awakening, To Let)
“The Forsytes were resentful of something, not individually, but as a family; this resentment expressed itself in an added perfection of raiment, an exuberance of family cordiality, an exaggeration of family importance, and – the sniff.”
The Forsyte Saga spans from 1886 to 1920 and deals with the ups and downs of many of the family members. But mainly Soames. Soames is a man of property and he isn’t happy when he discovers that his wife, Irene, is in love with an other man. And the other man is even engaged to another Forsyte! 
I remember reading the first chapter and not understanding much, too many names and details and I worried that the rest of the book would be the same. Fortunately it isn’t, and the chance of scandals really increased my interest. And also that there is a lot of comedy hidden within, like the names of all the companies.
Soames is my least favourite character and I grinned every time he didn’t get things his way. He did one good thing towards the end, but it doesn’t make up for the horrible things he did. I had a couple of potential favourite characters but they all ended up dead and the all the female characters ended up being dull after their moments of rebellion. The last book, To Let, was disappointing. It didn’t have the same intensity as the others and I might be biased on the fact that I had hopes for Fleur and Jon.
What I really liked about this saga were the historical aspects and the focus on change. The old Forsytes never got used to the idea of cars and loathed the modern youths. Soames invested in arts and the fact that he didn’t like his Gauguin picture, made me even dislike him more. 

All in all, it’s entertaining and a brilliant picture of upper class life in London around the end of the Victorian era. I promise you won’t be disappointed if you like family sagas and enjoy scandals.

John Galsworthy also wrote more books about the Forsytes, and they are collected in the works named A Modern Comedy and End of the Chapter, which means that the whole Forsyte story is about 3000 pages long. I doubt I will read the rest as I have far too many other books to read, but who knows, maybe some time in the distant future.

This was October’s read in Line’s 1001 challenge.

forty-four.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
“He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink…” 
Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for tonight’s party while her thoughts wander. She has the perfect life on the outside, her husband is a famous politician, the Prime Minister is even coming to the party, her daughter is beautiful and they are well-off. But she has a lot of regrets and they become evident when her long-time friend, Peter Walsh, suddenly turns up.
My first Woolf! And it has been rather a struggle. I’m not very fond of these streams of consciousness novels as I usually end up lost in thought and have no idea what I just read. I must also admit that it took about 20 pages before I realized that Mrs Dalloway and Clarissa were the same person!
 But then when I started focusing on what I read (even stopped and summarised), it became a lot easier and then towards the end I really enjoyed it.  I especially liked the part with Rezia and Septimus and although I really wondered how they fitted in, it all made sense in the end.

Still I have a feeling that I have missed a lot, and I definitely need to reread it later on in life. It’s one of those books which need maturing. 

fifty-nine.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)
  “‘That’s all,’ said the Doctor. ‘I have certified you as capable of undergoing the usual descriptions of punishment as specified below, to wit, restraint of handcuffs, leg-chains, cross-irons, body-belt, canvas dress, close confinement, No 1. diet, No 2. diet, birch-rod and cat-o’-nine-tails. Any complaint?’
‘But must I have all these at once?’ asked Paul, rather dismayed.
‘You will if you ask impertinent questions. Look after that man, officer; he’s obviously a troublesome character.”
Paul Pennyfeather is kicked out of Oxford after an incident which left him being seen without his trousers. He then gets a job as a schoolmaster at a private school in Wales where he’ll meet the people who will mean most to him throughout his life. 
The story of Paul starts with a fall and then throughout life he ends up in one difficult spot after the other, but never complaining. The characters he meets are hilarious, and they are the real reason this is a great book. Evelyn Waugh is an author that I will definitely read more from.

forty-nine, forty-one, forty: poirot

the Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

Hastings is visiting an old friend, John Cavendish, at Styles. While he’s there, the old lady of the house is murdered; poisoned behind locked doors. Everyone in the household believes it is her husband who killed her, but he has an alibi. So who in the family killed her? Luckily, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and famous detective, is in the village and he takes the case.

Murder on the Links (1923)


(read in 2010, so copy and paste)
Hercule Poirot receives a telegraph from France asking for urgent help as a man believes he is in grave danger. But Poirot and Hastings arrive too late, the man is already murdered, a grave has been dug but the body is laying outside of it, and his wife was found tied and gagged in bed. A letter indicating blackmail is found, there is a mistress, and clues suggest that South Americans are involved. There is also a famous French detective on the case and the two famous detectives are not very fond of each other. And then a stranger is found murdered in a shed on the property.

the Big Four (1927)

Hercule Poirot is convinced that an international gang of four members is behind all evil in the world. He is on the right track, but the gang is too smart for him and he and Hastings often find themselves in great peril. And then the gang manages the impossible; to kill Hercule Poirot.

Peril at End House (1932)


Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are on a holiday when they meet a young woman who has had a few near-death accidents in the past few days. Poirot is convinced that the woman is in immediate danger, but despite their close watch over the girl, her cousin is murdered by mistake at a party. What will the murderer do when he realises his mistake?

It’s been wonderful reading about Hercule Poirot from Captain Hastings’ narrative. Captain Hastings is not half as clever as Poirot, but his narrative is a delight to read. The Big Four is so different from any other Poirot story, more like James Bond really.

All four stories are found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume One omnibus.

thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-five, thirty-four: poirot

“‘Do you know, Poirot, I almost wish sometimes that you would commit a murder.’
‘Mon cher!’
‘Yes, I’d like to see just how you’d set about it.’
‘My dear Japp, if I committed a murder you would ot have the least chance of seeing – how I set about it! You would not even be aware, probably, that a murder had been committed.’
Japp laughed good-humouredly and affectionately.
‘Cocky little devil, aren’t you?’ he said indulgently.

the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)


Roger Ackroyd, the wealthy owner of Fernly Park is found murdered in his study. His niece asks Poirot, a retired detective to take the case and he agrees. And with the help of the small village’s doctor’s narrative, he solves it.

the Murder on the Orient Express (1934)

Hercule Poirot is travelling on the Orient Express when he is awoken from sleep by some strange noises in the compartment next to him. The man in the compartment is found murdered, stabbed 12 times, the next morning. As the train is stuck in a snow storm, no police can get aboard and the murderer must still be on the train.

the Murder in the Mews (1937)

A woman is found dead in her bedroom, and while it looks like a suicide, Inspector Japp is not so sure, so he asks Poirot for help. Did Barbara Allen kill herself or was it murder?

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1939)

Mr Lee gathers his family in his house for Christmas, he hasn’t seen some of his sons for years as they have fallen out. And also, his only grandchild, Pilar, will come from Spain. Once the whole family is together, tension sparks and Mr Lee announces that he needs to change his will. But shortly after dinner, Mr Lee is murdered in his locked room and the murderer has vanished. And then it is time to call in Mr Poirot.

It has been almost a year since I last read any Agatha Christie and it is such a pleasure to do nothing all day but read wonderful stories with my favourite Belgian detective (or the only Belgian detective I know). Murder on the Orient Express became an instant favourite, but then I read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and I think I liked that one even better. And as always, I never guess the murderer.

These three novels and one short story was found in the Perfect Murders omnibus. Now I only have seven wonderful unread Hercule Poirot stories left.

eighty-two.

the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1926)

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had'”

Nick’s neighbour is the infamous Jay Gatsby. Every weekend his house on Long Island fills up with people and they party all day and all night. There are plenty of rumours about Mr Gatsby. Is he an illegal bootlegger smuggling booze from Canada? And where did he get all his money and rubies from? Nick admires his neighbour and they turn into great friends, but Mr Gatsby has an agenda for befriending Nick. Gatsby wants to reconnect with his great love, Daisy, who is a relative of Nick’s.

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

This is considered one of the great American novels. And it really is. Read it, weep and smile.