Blast from the Past–Gigi by Colette

430658Gigi by Colette
6/12/2007–47 pages–short story
Borrowed from WCDPL
★★★★★

A very funny tale about a young teenage girl in Paris. She lives with her single mother, who has really given her up to her Grandmamma who also lives with them. Gigi is a scatter-brained girl who has matured just enough to attract the admiration of an old family friend, Gaston. But Gaston is a bit of a ladies’ man who get a lot of attention by society. Gigi is torn between her own fondness of Gaston or the unwanted attention she will amass by being with him (I forgot to mention he’s an heir of large assets). In the end she chooses to be miserable with him rather than miserable without him.

I liked Gigi’s character, and her foolishness mixed with a hidden desire to be mature and grow up to the lady Grandmamma and Aunt Alicia wish her to be.

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miscellaneous Edgar Allan Poe

For the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge in which I am participating, I read three of Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy short stories today. I figured that, combined with Poe’s poetry–some of which is creepy, as well–the works I read would all together count as one of the two “novels, short stories, works, etc.” required for my Peril the Second goal. I have three reviews, one for each of the short stories I read today. By the way, I read them all from PoeStories.com.

Just to note, the summaries have some spoilers in them as I had to write them myself and I’m bad at it 🙂

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Title: Ligeia (http://poestories.com/read/ligeia)
Publication Date:
1838

Summary: Ligeia was the first wife of the narrator, an unnamed man. He loved her deeply and described much of her character to the reader. However, she became ill and feverish and soon perished. A few months after Ligeia’s death, her husband purchased an English abbey in which to live and subsequently—as he was very lonely and had taken up the hobby of opium—married again, to a “fair-haired and blue-eyed” maiden, Lady Rowena. A couple of months after this marriage, Rowena became ill with a fever and her “hallucinations” never really ceased after she recovered—she always spoke of the slightest sound, shadow, or movement. One night, she had a “fit” while the narrator was under the opium veil—he thought he saw things, such as those Rowena would fear (like shadows), but blamed the opium. The narrator believes he sees Rowena poisoned while drinking her wine to stay from fainting and, days later, Rowena does indeed die. As he sits in mourning with her body, he keeps believing he hears her stir and finds her color returned. At the end of the story, the narrator sees the spirit/body of one of his wives (but I won’t ruin it for you) rise and live.

My Thoughts: A very interesting story! It wasn’t that interesting in the beginning, when Poe basically describes Ligeia’s physical character and how the narrator loves her. But when she dies and the second wife is “ill” and sees/hears things, it gets interesting. I (probably pretty obviously) think the spirit of Ligeia haunts Rowena and may even have been the cause of her death. But the narrator never forgot Ligeia, so I guess her spirit wasn’t that perceptive.

In a weird way, this story reminds me of Lisa See’s Peony in Love, where the man’s true love’s spirit haunts his wife. It would make it easier to point out the parallels, but I don’t want to ruin Peony in Love if you haven’t read it yet 🙂

Favorite Passage/Quote (long ones):

And now those eyes shone less and less frequently upon the pages over which I pored. Ligeia grew ill. The wild eyes blazed with a too –too glorious effulgence; the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave, and the blue veins upon the lofty forehead swelled and sank impetuously with the tides of the gentle emotion. I saw that she must die –and I struggled desperately in spirit with the grim Azrael. And the struggles of the passionate wife were, to my astonishment, even more energetic than my own. There had been much in her stern nature to impress me with the belief that, to her, death would have come without its terrors; –but not so. Words are impotent to convey any just idea of the fierceness of resistance with which she wrestled with the Shadow. I groaned in anguish at the pitiable spectacle. would have soothed –I would have reasoned; but, in the intensity of her wild desire for life, –for life –but for life –solace and reason were the uttermost folly. Yet not until the last instance, amid the most convulsive writhings of her fierce spirit, was shaken the external placidity of her demeanor.”

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Title: The Black Cat (http://poestories.com/read/blackcat)
Publication Date: 1845

Summary: An unnamed man is the narrator. From a young age, he loved animals and had many pets. When he married, his wife had the same feelings towards domestic pets as did he and they together had many pets, which included dogs, rabbits, birds, a small monkey, and a black cat. The black cat, Pluto was his name, was the narrator’s favorite—his wife, a little superstitious, was not as fond of the all black cat (saying goes they are witches in disguise). As he grew older, the narrator began to be more annoyed by the pets, the last one he got annoyed with being Pluto—he loved him more than the others. In a drunken rage, Pluto loses and eye as penitence for biting his master when he roughly handled him. This was the first in a line of treating Pluto badly—the narrator, one day, hangs him from a tree because it kept avoiding him ever since he had taken the eye. That night, the narrator’s entire house was destroyed by a fire. A stray cat arrives in the story, also missing an eye, but with a white patch on his breast—the narrator thinks nothing of it, until the he sees white patch resemble a gallows. In a rage, the narrator attempts to kill the new cat, but his wife stops him and he thus kills her instead. He places her corpse in the wall of the cellar and the police only find her when they hear a screeching noise coming from within the walls—it was the cat that made the noise.

My Thoughts: I rather enjoyed this particular story. I think that not only could this be considered a “horror story about a cat”, as the PoeStories.com website describes it, but as a slow descent into madness. The narrator would have to be going mad to be so hot-and-cold towards the animals, in particular the cats. Not to mention the fact that he murdered his wife because she stopped him from murdering the cat—what sane person would do such a thing? So this story was fairly spooky, if just because of the way we, as readers, can see the narrators thoughts and “justifications” for killing.

Favorite Passage/Quote (long ones):

“Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself — to offer violence to its own nature — to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only — that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; — hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; — hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; — hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin — a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it — if such a thing were possible — even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”

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Title: The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (http://poestories.com/read/systemoftarr)
Publication Date:
1856

Summary (a quote from the end of the story was the best description of the story): “Monsieur Maillard, it appeared, in giving me the account of the lunatic who had excited his fellows to rebellion, had been merely relating his own exploits. This gentleman had, indeed, some two or three years before, been the superintendent of the establishment, but grew crazy himself, and so became a patient. This fact was unknown to the travelling companion who introduced me. The keepers, ten in number, having been suddenly overpowered, were first well tarred, then — carefully feathered, and then shut up in underground cells. They had been so imprisoned for more than a month, during which period Monsieur Maillard had generously allowed them not only the tar and feathers (which constituted his “system”), but some bread and abundance of water. The latter was pumped on them daily. At length, one escaping through a sewer, gave freedom to all the rest.”

My Thoughts: This story was pretty entertaining and not really all that creepy/spooky/etc. I had suspected from the beginning of the narrator’s experience at the Maison de Sante two things might happen: 1) that Monsiuer Maillard was crazy (which was true) and 2) that the narrator might somehow be trapped at the Maison de Sante and be forced to “become” a lunatic patient whom no one believed when he said he wasn’t a real patient (which was wrong). But I especially liked the patients all describing themselves in the third person because they really sounded like they were sane people describing lunatics—and yet they found nothing wrong, in reality, with themselves.

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My RIP Challenge is now complete, but I might continue a little with the weird reading.

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

Title: The View from Castle Rock
Author: Alice Munro
Genre: fiction, short-story collection
ISBN: 9781400042821
Pages: 349
Year Published: 2006
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Reason for Reading: for RBC Discussion; Canadian Author Challenge

Book Description (from dust cover):

…In stories that are more personal than any that she’s written before, Alice Munro pieces her family’s history into gloriously imagined fiction. A young boy is taken to Edinburgh’s Castle Rock, where his father assures him that on a clear day he can see America, and he catches a glimpse of his father’s dream. In stories that follow, as the dream becomes a reality, two sisters-in-law experience very different kinds of passion on the long voyage to the New World; a baby is lost and magically reappears on a journey from an Illinois homestead to the Canadian border.

Other stories take place in more familiar Munro territory, the towns and countryside around Lake Huron, where the past shows through the present like the traces of the glacier on the landscape and strong emotions stir just beneath the surface of ordinary comings and goings. First love flowers under the apple tree, while a stronger emotion presents itself in the barn…

Evocative, gripping, sexy, unexpected–these stories reflect a depth and richness of experience. The View from Castle Rock is a brilliant achievement from one of the finest writers of our time.

My Thoughts: I rather enjoyed this collection of short stories, however much I usually dislike such collections. These stories did flow well together, even if each story barely referenced any previous one–they’re the sorts of stories one could read out of order, because no one story depended on any other story.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about these stories were the long time-span of which they covered. Munro starts with a story about her great-great-great-great-grandfather back in Scotland and progresses up until her present life. I like how the stories are collected further into two different collections–the fictional stories about her long lost ancestors who lived in Scotland and their journey to the New World and the further exploration of central-northern US/central-southern Canada. The second part concerns truer stories, stories of Munro’s own life and journeys. this split between fictional and more autobiographical was a good feature I felt Munro used.

Cover: This cover is pretty simple–an old photograph, which I am assuming comes from Munro’s family history. Since the novel is called “The View from Castle Rock”, I think the photo is meant to show the father and son pair, mentioned in the story of the same name, who look across the ocean and see the New World (America/Canada). The boys could either be turned around, and that piece of land in the background is the New World. OR, the photograph could have been “taken” from across the ocean, in a land that is already the New World. Does that make sense? 🙂

The following concerns only the second part of this short story collection, called “Fathers”, due to being a copy of my book discussion post on Rory’s Book Club.

In this second part, I especially liked the “Hired Girl” story. I could relate to Munro (narrator) because I, too, have had summer jobs. Munro worked as a maid in an affluent home for the summer. While I’ve never had this particular job, I have babysat/chauffeured for some rich kids (that’s the closest I’ve been to Munro’s job). Munro was happy with her job because it did show her something of the world outside her small town. I always thought it would have been cool to work on a cruise ship as a summer job. It would have allowed me to travel more and see a little more outside of my very small world. But, unfortunately, I did my summer job on top of my normal year-round job so I couldn’t just quit.

I also liked the “What Do You Want to Know For?” story. I liked how Munro would insert news about her possible breast cancer intermittently throughout the story. It was kind of like saying, “I’m old. I’ve lived my life. I’ll just go on with my everyday routines.” She even said this, in so many words:

“I am over sixty. My death would not be a disaster. Not in comparison with the death of a younger mother, a family wage-earner, a child. It would not be apparent as a disaster.” (p323)

And what sorts of things did Munro do when she was not thinking about her situation?

“I filled my time by answering letters and cleaning up my house and going through my files and having people to dinner. It was a surprise to me that I was busying myself in this way instead of thinking about any deeper matters.” (p317)

On second reading of this quote, I see how these sorts of things could sort of be seen as Munro is wrapping her life up, getting things together, and taking care of anything unfinished. But, I can also see these things as those of everyday daily life. They can be used as a distraction from really thinking. So, I wonder what Munro meant of these things. Was it my first or second impression?

trying something i don’t typically like

In an effort to get back into the Rory’s Book Club (RBC) a little (I’ve really been growing away from it lately), I am reading a sort of book I don’t typically like: short stories. As far as collections of short stories go, I don’t like them. The point is simply this: when one story is over, I have difficulty starting the next one.

I did, however, find a perfect use for short stories during my busiest semester of university: when I was too busy to read a whole book, but still wanted to read a little at a time for pleasure, short stories were perfect. Of course, I dumped this book (a collection of Evelyn Waugh) as soon as I had time for real books again.

But I digress…I am going to be reading The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. As far as I can tell, these are short stories that sort of flow together in an order to sort of create a longer story. Like some of Wodehouse’s Jeeves books (I do like Jeeves 😀 ). This will be discussed on the RBC forums. If anyone else has read or wants a reason to read this book, there is always more room for discussion. A forum will discuss it on the Book Discussions page of RBC. (If I remember, I’ll post the direct link to the forum once it becomes available…)