Nathaniel Hawthorne / Secret Sharer / Hunted Down

The Secret Sharer
by Joseph Conrad
Overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars. 

What would you do if you found out your roommate is a wanted criminal?  This is the narrator’s dilemma after he rescues a man, Leggatt, from the ocean and brings him aboard his ship.  The narrator finds that they share not only a similarity in rank, but a similarity in appearance; and this strange coincidence helps influence the narrator’s tough decision.

I really enjoyed this short story–the writing style was amazing, as always, and the story itself was more figurative than literal.  Good read.

Hunted Down
by Charles Dickens
Overall rating:  4 out of 5 stars.  

…my first impression of those people, founded on face and manner alone, was invariably true.  My mistake was in suffering them to come nearer to me and explain themselves away.

So states Mr Sampson, ‘Chief Manager of a Life Assurance Office’, who believes in the truth of first impressions.  And one day, he has a particularly bad first-impression–that of Mr Julius Slinkton, a handsome, middle-aged gentleman with his hair “parted straight up the middle”.  Even after they strike up an acquaintance, Mr Sampson has ominous premonitions about this man, and fears for the victims of a crime which has or will inevitably occur.

This was a very good mystery short story, written in a style similar to, but somewhat unlike, Dickens’s novels.  The style is concise and fast-paced, and the atmosphere is wonderfully eerie.  I only wish that the plot had been a little less predictable and the story a bit longer, more detailed.

Recommended.

Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne
by Horatio Bridge
Overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars.  

Just what the title says…a biographical book about Nathaniel Hawthorne, by his college friend, Horatio Bridge.  It focuses on Hawthorne’s college years, careers, family life, and personality; and it’s written in a respectful, accessible style.  I highly recommend it for anyone who’d like to learn more about him, especially if you’re looking for an “eye-witness” type of biography.  It’s also an encouraging read for young authors who struggle with self-doubt, like Hawthorne initially did.

Sylvie and Bruno, volume 1

{Note:  I only just found out that Sylvie & Bruno is a two-volume book–I read vol. 1 and thought it was the entire story.  In any case, I’ll be reviewing this in two parts, and treat vol. 2 as a sequel.}

Outland: a crazy, fantastical world, where the government is about to be taken over by a conniving official, his wife, and his ferociously unruly son.  It seems the wrong place for Sylvie and her brother, Bruno–two fairy-children whose loyal love keeps them together no matter what.  Meanwhile, real-world character Dr Arthur Forester has fallen in love with Lady Muriel Orme, a lady of sense and cheerful character.  Arthur is hesitant about expressing his feelings; and when the handsome, charismatic Captain Lindon comes to visit, Arthur fears he’s lost all chances. 

Lisi Jar
By Leafnode (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno is much like the Alice books, highlighting nonsense and riddles, and featuring children as the main characters.  A unique difference, though, is that Sylvie & Bruno is 1/3 fairy story, 1/3 magic realism, and 1/3 romance.  The setting changes abruptly; and while at first this is confusing, its whimsicality becomes intriguing, pulling you along through quirky plot twists.

The title characters are very extraordinary children.  Sweet and patient Sylvie, who never gets truly angry; and Bruno, whose rambunctiousness is happily equaled by his affection and good-intentions.  Granted, I’ve never met siblings who were always this sugary sweet, either individually or together; but they are fairies, after all.  😉 

The narrator (i.e. Carroll) is quite a major character–an elderly gentleman with a tendency towards matchmaking, befriending fairies, and falling asleep at awkward moments.  The romantic subplot, if a bit fast-paced, fit in surprisingly well; and with it, there are some Christian themes mentioned, including a relevant mention of the importance of reverent, non-stagey worship services. 

Now, according to Carroll’s preface to vol. 2 and Wikipedia, there is also supposed to be a “Theosophical” basis for the book.  I couldn’t say for sure how important it is in the story…I tend to read heavily between-the-lines and if it was there, it was not evident unless you were looking for it.  He seemed to only use it (if ever) in connection with his book’s hypothetical idea, “What if fairies were real?”  Of course, I haven’t read vol. 2 yet; but vol. 1 seemed suitable reading to me.  And I was pleasantly surprised at the intelligence of the romantic subplot–the characters talked about real issues, not just everyday fluff. 

As serious as these subplots sound, they only form the smaller part of the story–the fairies and nonsense/logic are the book’s focus.  One of my favorite parts was the “Outlandish” watch, a time-travelling device.  With this watch, and a neat piece of logic, Carroll solves the Grandfather Paradox…perhaps a bit too logically (à la Mr Spock).  😉  That chapter also includes the scene with the hunted hare–and yes, I cried.  If you never read this book, I’d recommend the second half of Chapter 21 alone; it’s bittersweet, depressing, simple, and profound, all at once. 

I really did think the ending was the end.  But I’m going to read vol. 2 (Sylvie and Bruno Concluded), and would certainly recommend vol. 1 to anybody who values childhood imagination and innocence. 

5 out of 5 stars.