Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

Sylvie and Bruno illustration scan 40
“But oh, Sylvie, what makes the sky such a darling blue?”

Last night I finished Sylvie and Bruno‘s sequel, which I had long been meaning to read (since two years ago!).  The two parts together make a truly lovely book, one I can easily call a favorite.

While the Alice books feel more linear in plot, as well as claustrophobic (and thereby cosy), Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893) continues the story’s broad setting – a combination of the real world and the two mythical siblings’ world.  It is both fun and surprising the way the plot jumps back and forth, and sometimes combines, the characters in the real world and those in Sylvie and Bruno’s world.  On the one hand, you have young Dr. Forester, whose broken heart regains hope when he learns his relationship with Lady Muriel is not altogether over.  At the same time, there are Sylvie and Bruno who must hold onto the love, symbolized by a locket, their father entrusted to them, and do what they can to help the people around them, whether they are visible or not.  The narrator, meanwhile, is the bridge that finds the commonality between the two (and also a good deal of nonsense and contradiction nobody else seems to notice).

Interspersed with all of this is a lot of religious and social commentary by Lewis Carroll.  He would often have the various characters debating with one another, and while it left the reader to guess what Carroll was thinking, it was nice to read a relatively realistic commentary.  In some cases his opinion was very clear (e.g. what he wrote in the preface about some “stagey” church services was fascinating and quite relevant for today).  I found I often agreed with him – of course, not always – in any case, reading what actual Victorians thought is always interesting.

It’s a difficult book to describe otherwise.  Because of the topics, I wouldn’t recommend it for children; teens and older could get a lot out of it, though.  Honestly, it was moving at times; it’s a book that really drives home what true love is, and such a pure, spiritual, unselfish love transcends the mercenary way our culture likes to divide and label it.  If you liked the Alice books, and you wish there were more brotherly/sisterly love in the world, then you really should read Sylvie and Bruno and its sequel.  

5 out of 5 stars.


4 short reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

I feel almost guilty for rating this classic of classics so poorly, but I think it’s a book you either love, loathe, or feel lukewarm about.

Pros:  The historic setting, historic dialogue, underwater/cave battle, and Christian perspective.  Added 1/2 star for Beowulf‘s influence on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Cons:  Beowulf (the character) is much too flawless a fighter. He hardly seems human.  A more interesting character is Wiglaf, the underling whose courage outweighs his inexperience.

The Queen of Spades
Alexander Pushkin
2 out of 5 stars

A very weird, Edgar Allan Poe-esque story about gambling and ghosts.  It’s also super fast-paced, which doesn’t help.  Interesting concept, however.

A Tangled Tale
Lewis Carroll
5 out of 5 stars

One of the best books I’ve read in the last year.  This is a collection of math/logic puzzles, with continuing characters and storylines.  The dialogue is wonderfully witty and hilarious at times (“Equilateral! And rectangular!”).

As far as the puzzles themselves go, this is serious stuff.  Mathematically, pretty much all you need is algebra.  The logic is the tough part.  I tried solving several of them, but was only able to solve one on my own: “Petty Cash”.  Even this involved Victorian British currency and some convoluted systems of equations.

Needless to say, you will be staying up very late at night trying to solve these.  They look horribly simple, even on your second or third attempt.

A Personal Record
Joseph Conrad
5 out of 5 stars

Another memoir by Joseph Conrad, this book gives fascinating insights on what his early life was like, how he became a seaman, and how–comparatively late in life–he became a writer.  Highly recommended for Conrad fans and people interested in the lives of great authors.