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Sunday Snapshot: Plays

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
I have rather a mixed bag of comments here. The prose of the narrators is absolutely gorgeous. The descriptions throughout drip with opulent words, and Thomas creates imagery so deftly. The language which they use is so rich. I love the way in which the scene is set. The use of the narrators and how they hand over the speech to one another is rather clever, and I feel that this would be stunning on the stage. You can tell throughout that words are Thomas’ forte. I love the poetic detail which creeps in. The use of long and short sentences was balanced perfectly, and I liked the way in which the little vignettes and asides were sewn together, and the separate stories which were woven through. I also loved the way in which the audience was addressed personally, as though we were a character. I liked the narration far more than the conversations between characters. They often felt dull and flat in comparison. This is the main issue I had with the play. It seemed imbalanced in consequence, and inconsistent too.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
I’m over halfway through my 2013 Shakespeare challenge, a fact which at once makes me both sad and jubilant. One of my favourite elements of his plays is the notion of disguise and mistaken identities. Much Ado About Nothing, happily, has both. It is not my favourite Shakespearean work, and the characters will not stay with me in the same way as Titania and Titus Andronicus, for example, but I must admit that I cheered inwardly when I realised that some of the prose here has been used in Mumford & Sons’ lyrics. Much Ado About Nothing is definitely a great play on the whole, and I imagine that it would transfer well to the stage.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
There are such fun elements to this story. It’s not one which I was overly familiar with before, but I’m so glad I’ve read it! I must say that my Italian isn’t quite good enough to be able to translate a lot of the phrases, but I got the definite jist of it as the play progressed. Some of the prose was incredibly amusing, and other parts were just beautiful. It’s a play which I’d love to see performed.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
I love the way in which all of Shakespeare’s plays have such a wealth of settings. This takes place in the late Roman Empire, and the settings and characters are crafted beautifully. This play shocked audiences right up to the Second World War for its grotesque storylines, but it is so good! I loved the story, prose and rhythm, and this definitely ranks as one of my favourite Shakespeare plays to date.

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Sunday Snapshot: Short Story Collections

The Other Woman by Colette
These short stories are like tiny bites of beauty. They are like the most delicious of chocolates in fact – a smooth and polished outer shell with rich and rather surprising fillings. The longest story in the collection is forty pages long, and the majority are around the five page mark, but they are all, without a doubt, flawless. Colette weaves words wonderfully to create truly sublime vignettes, and she uses a fantastic and far-reaching range of material, characters and scenes. Utterly perfect.

Runaway by Alice Munro
I’ve read two of Munro’s short story collections before – The Beggar Maid and The Moons of Jupiter. Rather than reading her work in order, I’m dipping into her collections rather haphazardly. As a form, I love short stories. There is so much precision in Munro’s tales, and so much beauty. Nothing is overdone, but little nuances still fill the text, and the stories themselves are all perfectly crafted vignettes which show us the deepest thoughts and feelings of a whole cast of very different characters. I loved the way in which Munro had crafted these tales, and how she had used some of the same protagonists in multiple stories – a clever way in which to span their entire lives without making each separate story too long or overloaded with detail. Munro is not quite a Mansfield to me yet, but she does sparkle, and this collection is marvellous.

Children on Their Birthdays by Truman Capote
As with the delightful Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I got straight into these stories from the outset. I love the stunning sense of place which Capote never fails to create, and his characters are both marvellously and deftly constructed. His writing is just perfect. The tales in Children on Their Birthdays are short, but boy, are they powerful and thought provoking.

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
If there’s one author I can read the work of over and over again, it’s Katherine Mansfield. Her writing is absolutely beautiful and she captures the everyday and mundane in the most marvellous of ways. She can make the dull sparkle. Her descriptions are gorgeous, absolutely sublime, and she creates such vivid imagery. Her stories appeal to all the senses – she makes use of sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures. She beautifully sets every scene. She is a masterful writer – she can say in just a few pages that which other authors struggle to get across in lengthy novels. She is so perceptive of her characters too, however minor they may seem in the great scheme of things. A great example of this is the baby in ‘At the Bay’. She captures every character perfectly, from the young to the old, and clearly has a lot of understanding of her subjects. Her interactions between the young and old are so touching – for example, the scene with Kezia and her grandmother, when Kezia is begging her never to die. She shows the best and worst of people, often amalgamating the two. I find little Lottie and Kezia very endearing. I can’t pick a favourite story in this collection, I’m afraid. I simply adore them all. They are perfect stories to read when the sun is shining or when the rain is falling. I love the different subjects and settings which Mansfield makes use of. The stories do not feel remotely similar to one another, aside from their shrewd perceptions and exquisite language.

Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf
All of Virginia Woolf’s short stories are like tiny masterpieces. Her vignettes contain so much emotion and such vivid characters and scenes. Her balance of plot and characters are perfect, as is the clarity and beauty of her writing. A lovely collection – I just wish it had been longer!

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Sunday Snapshot: Five Marvellous Novellas

The following novellas have been wonderful, in terms of their plots, writing and characterisation. If you are a newcomer to the wonder and atmosphere which novellas pack into very few pages, you are sure to find something to delight you here.

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Adorable, funny and filled with a marvellous protagonist, Holly Golightly.

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Deliciously creepy, and just as wonderful for adults to read as it is for children.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (novella)

3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Wharton describes the bleakness of Massachusetts in the most stunning manner, and her plot is rather chilling.

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A magical and lovely tale, which is sure to fill your head with a wealth of thoughts.

5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck has created one of the most memorable stories and two of the most memorable characters I have ever come across here.

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Sunday Snapshot: Five Poets

Edna St Vincent Millay

1. Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This now is yours. I seek another place.
(From ‘Bluebeard’)

2. Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.
(From ‘Poetry of Departures’)

3. Christina Rossetti (1830-1892)
Once in a dream (for once I dreamed of you)
We stood together in an open field;
Above our heads two swift-winged pigeons wheeled,
Sporting at ease and courting full in view.
When loftier still a broadening darkness flew,
Down-swooping, and a ravenous hawk revealed;
Too weak to fight, too fond to fly, they yield;
So farewell life and love and pleasures new.
Then as their plumes fell fluttering to the ground,
Their snow-white plumage flecked with crimson drops,
I wept, and thought I turned towards you to weep:
But you were gone; while rustling hedgerow tops
Bent in a wind which bore to me a sound
Of far-off piteous bleat of lambs and sheep.
(‘A Dream’)

4. H.D. (1886-1961)

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first tasted under Apollo’s lips,
love and love sweetness,
I, Evadne;
my hair is made of crisp violets
or hyacinth which the wind combs back
across some rock shelf;
I, Evadne,
was made of the god of light.
(From ‘Evadne’)

5. Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Don’t discount our powers;
We have made a pass
At the infinite.
(From ‘Kitty Hawk’)

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Sunday Snapshot: Five Books Set in Paris

A new feature for The Literary Sisters is entitled the ‘Sunday Snapshot’.  Each Sunday (if we remember!) we will be posting a list of five books on a common theme or genre.  The first of our Sunday Snapshots takes the beautiful city of Paris as its theme.

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
I’ve not seen many recommended reading lists for Paris which do not include Barbery’s wonderful novel.  It tells the intertwined stories of a quirky young girl named Paloma and the concierge of the building in which her family lives, Renee.  Whilst the protagonists on the surface of it seem to have little in common, they form rather a heartwarming friendship.  7 Rue de Grenelle provides the foundation for the relationship they build.  The social and political aspects of the story do not cloud its plot – rather, they add to it and make it a believable and fully rounded tale.  Barbery adds to this her lightness of touch, lovely writing style and deftness at crafting a memorable tale.

2. The Cat – Colette
I waxed lyrical about The Cat in an earlier review posted on The Literary Sisters.  Colette’s stunning writing and the way in which she makes Paris a character in itself makes the novella worth reading alone, whether you are a feline fan or not.

3. Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay
This is not a happy novel by any means, but I believe that it is an important one.  It tells the stories of two separate protagonists from different time periods – a young girl named Sarah living in Paris during the Second World War, and a journalist of sorts who is investigating the Vel d’Hiv roundup of 1942, in which Sarah and her family were taken away.  I shan’t give any more of the plot away, but suffice to say that it is a startling and heartbreaking story about a little known event of the Second World War.

4. Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell
As with Sarah’s Key, Down and Out in Paris and London is not a happy book.  Far from it, in fact.  It tells, in Orwell’s marvellous style, of his struggles as a burgeoning author in the city.  It is filled with poverty and sadness at every turn, but it somehow still manages to be a fascinating piece of non-fiction of a world which is both lost and still present.

5. The Wine of Solitude – Irene Nemirovsky
It would be an obvious choice to put Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise on this list, but I have opted for one of her lesser known works. The Wine of Solitude opens with the character of eight-year-old Hélène Karol, an only child who lives with her parents, grandmother and governess in a tiny town in the Ukraine. The Wine of Solitude is extremely evocative of the places and period in which it is set, from St Petersburg to Paris, and from Finland to rural France. The different sections of the novel all encompass one or two of these settings, the descriptions of which are perfectly balanced and really build up a picture of each city or tiny town in the mind of the reader. The human psyche has been portrayed incredibly well and so poignantly by both author and translator, and we follow Hélène’s formative years to several different countries as she falls in and out of love and loses her innocence.