Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"Nah then, Freddy: look wh' y' gowin, deah."
Miss. Eliza Doolittle's first line in this play did bring about a few bursts of chuckles from me and it did not dissipate as the story progressed. Eliza Doolittle is an impoverished women that sells flowers for a living; her low status in society is mainly brought upon her incapacity to speak the English language clearly, or in a matter that is becoming for a woman of her status. In the late hours, as the rain continues to pour upon the streets of London, her curious dialect is acutely being observed by a man in his mid-forties, a lone figure that puts her into an immediate state of alarm (and hysterics). It is later revealed that after a brief consequential discovery that this said gentleman is Professor Henry Higgins, and he has an acute interest in this young lady and her manner of speech. A day later they encounter each other once more, and after much badgering by the lady and another gentleman, Professor Higgins accepts a daring offer to transfer her speech in six months time to pass her off as a duchess or some other great lady in high society.
This plot-line will undoubtedly sound familiar to many. Most readers will find a striking resemblance to the film "My Fair Lady" starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. As for myself, I found it was more closely related to the black and white film "Pygmalion" (1938) with one of my favourite actors of that time period, Leslie Howard. While reading this play I was quite familiar with this plot-line, enjoying the striking resemblance to the films that I grew up with as a child. The play was simple, short and to the point. It did not lavish on anything, and I found I was able to read it within an hours time with a few breaks in between to simply let my mind wander. Eliza with all of her funny phrases and Professor Higgins' cursing made me laugh quite frequently. The warm-hearted Colonel Pickering amiable behaviour towards Eliza, where he was nothing short of a gentleman was a nice contrast to the boorish behaviour of Henry Higgins. In short, it was an enjoyable read on a cold winter's day. None the less, I found that the story lacked a certain quality that I cannot pin-point as of now. I expected the play to be longer, characters more flushed out, and to really feel the inward longings and thoughts of Eliza Doolittle. There was also this expectation of the two characters, Eliza and Professor Higgins to fall in love, so I was sorrowfully disappointed when I came to the epilogue of this dramatic play. I understand Shaw's reasoning for ending the play in such an ambiguous way and then explaining his reasoning for the epilogue, but surely Eliza can do better than marrying Freddy! I would have preferred the ambiguous ending alluding to Eliza staying and inevitably marrying her "Pygmalion" but I suppose that not every story can have their happy ending. Oh well. An enjoyable play all the same, although I will most likely not pick up this play for a second re-read in the foreseeable future.
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The Doctor's Estate by Heather Quinto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You can’t have the light without the dark."
Quinto's "The Doctor's Estate" was a thrilling read, a truly original story that will leave the reader pondering long after the final page. The main character, Ted, is devastated by his mother's dwindling illness of Alzheimer's disease. Unable to cope with her loss of memory and deteriorating health, he purchases a large estate in the hopes of building a perfect home for her. Despite of the incredibly lowered price and strange demeanour of the real estate agent, Ted purchases it and promptly renovates the house. Strange activities seemed to occur around him, especially when the sun sets and night floods over the entire household. What is causing the noises upstairs in the master bedroom? And why is Ted hearing sounds and strange visions when he tries to sleep? Is the house truly haunted, or is it all hallucinations? Ted believes it is all his imagination, but only time will tell whether he is able to come to grips with this horrifying reality.
I found this horror story to be an enjoyable read. The characters were all likeable, especially Ted's mother as she displayed common symptoms of Alzheimer's. My great-grandmother suffered with dementia, so it was difficult to read passages at some points, but I can say without a doubt Ted's reaction to his mother's fading health was perfectly normal. Given the fact that he is an atheist and does not believe in the supernatural gave this story a certain irony. I believe people in most cases would have left the house right away, but Ted was so adamant that it was stress and hallucinations from lack of sleep which amused me greatly. There were many times when I yelled at the book with "Get out of there!" or "What are you doing?!" only to find Ted stumbling along in the darkness to encounter more of the haunting necromancer's powers that still held a firm grip upon the household.
I enjoyed the deeply philosophical questions that this book brought about, especially in the final chapter. It does make you think about human suffering, and at what cost should we take to achieve our "life's mission." I believe the strange encounters in the house changed Ted, for better and for worse. "The Doctor's Estate" is recommended for readers that enjoyed horror novels with references to witchcraft or mystical powers that are beyond our realm. If you enjoy a good mystery, this might be a nice read in the late evenings as well. I look forward to reading more work by this author.
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The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Do not call up that which you cannot put down."
This story is a curious case involving a young man, Charles Dexter Ward. An inquisitive scholar and antiquarian, Charles is fascinated with the history of his small town especially when he stumbles upon a secret involving his great-grandfather and a man associated with witchcraft, Joseph Curwen. Curiosity gets the better of him, and soon enough Charles unearths horrifying secrets that should have been left in his ancestor's grave. As the mystery slowly unfolds, Charles begins to change, but to what extent can only be guessed by the citizens of the town. Over time the closest neighbours to Charles' experience a wave of suspicion and horror towards his ever changing character, and as his behaviours become more maddening it forces the people to accept that black magic has returned to Paxtuxet Village, and the spirit of the murdered Curwen has come to seek out his revenge.
This is the first novel I have ever read from the author, H.P. Lovecraft. I have often heard his name closely associated with Edgar Allan Poe. Although there are no references to Poe, you can feel something of his spirit in the novel, as if greatly disturbed minds of macabre-like characters intrigue both authors thoroughly.
I was not disappointed by this rather puzzling detective novel. It kept me on my toes the whole way through until I reached the final page. I had some suspicions as to the the mystery of Charles Dexter Ward, but I was not one hundred percent certain until the final reveal. It was a strange novel, to be sure. The allusions to vampire-like creatures, sacrificial animals (and humans), and the ever-growing forces of darkness certainly made this a memorable read. I enjoyed the amount of research Lovecraft used when detailing the historical past of Salem, and his creative thinking when describing spells and blasphemous depictions upon Curwen's personal belongings. The story was so dark at times that I had trouble sleeping, mostly because I continued to vividly imagine the horrifying things Curwen did to his subject's in order to gain further knowledge of "those other spheres." I confess, even now I am still scratching my head as I tried to come to grips with this story. There are so many layers to it, so much detail that I might have to read it again to fully appreciate this detective novel. I believe this is not a story for everyone, but if you enjoy anything that has to do with witchcraft or mystical ideologies then this might be the perfect read for you. Furthermore, if you enjoy detective novels with a touch of the paranormal and horror elements, I would suggest this mind-boggling case as well.
All in all, it was a highly enjoyable read. If you do pick it up, I suggest you don't read it before bed. I had such weird nightmares, and though much of it escapes me I can still remember that chilling feeling upon waking. The novel itself isn't exactly scary, but the topics Lovecraft discusses will leave you with an unnerving feeling. Although it is fiction, a part of me wonders if this could ever be possible. I shudder at the thought of it! I suppose those haunting words to Joseph Curwen really do make sense once you finish this book: "Do not call up that which you cannot put down."
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The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mesmerized. Spell-bound. Alas, I am at a loss for words. This book has captivated me wholly, and I am left in utter amazement until the last page. I commend the brilliancy of Lewis' work, it is without a doubt one of the best pieces of Gothic literature I have ever read!
Ambrosio is a well-esteemed Monk in Madrid, a man highly celebrated, honoured and believed to be a holy man among the masses. Relishing in the love of the people and his belief that in all his thirty years on earth there has been no man holier than thou art, it escapes Ambrosio that pride can be one of the many vices to a man. It is not until he meets a mild-mannered monk, Rosario, that his heart begins to change and things turn for the worst. This plot line is masterfully unpredictable, so many twists and turns that I had trouble anticipating the next course of action for Ambrosio. His lust is unfounded- his pride tickled by constant flattery, and once his stubborn determination sets him on a new course of action all hell breaks loose. I eagerly await to read this novel again in the coming years! It will forever be an inspiration to me, and an ideal piece of literature that is highly symbolic of Gothic horror. I will refrain from leaving any spoilers in this review, simply because it is too enjoyable to expose such mesmerizing plot-twists. In its stead, I will leave a short passage that really left a mark for me:
He had no resource to comfort his distress. Religion could not inspire him with fortitude: if he read the Book of mortality which were put into his hands, he saw nothing but the enormity of his offences; If he attempted to pray, he recalled that he deserved not heaven's protection, and believed his crimes so monstrous as to baffle even God's infinite goodness. For every other Sinner he thought there might be hope, but for him there could be none.
- Matthew Lewis, The Monk
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