English Course Review Round Up: Part 2

This is part 2 of my round up series that will feature books I read in one of my English courses this semester!  For more details and previously reviewed books in this series, view Part 1.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Standalone to date
Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s Gothic parody. Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s heroine is Catherine Morland, an innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.”

I was kind of torn when I was thinking of what to rate this book.  On one hand, the writing consistently annoyed me but I couldn’t really blame that on the book because it was written a couple hundred years ago.  And it did amuse me a fair amount, so there’s that!  The book itself is basically a commentary on novels, gothic themes, and the shallowness of the upper class.  I found it increasingly funny as Jane Austen would cut into the narrative of the story to deliver a rant on why novels are just as good as any other literature.  The story itself is full of naivety and slights which also made reading this quite hilarious.  The ending in particular is lovely with it’s wrap-up and how Austen chose to pull back and end it like a fairytale.  If you haven’t read any Jane Austen yet, don’t be worried that you won’t understand it!  It does take some getting used to at the beginning, but all the concealed humor and the less than concealed maneuvering by upper class characters will keep you amused.

The Final Verdict:
While notoriously difficult to read because of it’s age, the built in humor and slights will keep even an impatient reader entertained.  This is as good a place to start as any if you’re looking to read up on some classics.
4 stars

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Standalone to date
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.”

This is one of those books that while I didn’t necessarily like the story itself, I can appreciate how the author wrote and structured it.  Personally, I am very annoyed by footnotes because they interrupt the flow of the story and lead me off on a tangent and then I have to find my way back and remember what was going on before this whole journey began.  This book is FULL of footnotes at the beginning and that just spoiled my attitude for the whole thing.  Once I passed the halfway mark, things were beginning to look up because the use of footnotes went down and the story started to bring itself together.  The characters themselves are very interesting and it’ll probably help you to know that it’s not narrated by the author or Oscar; most of the time, it’s narrated by another character, Yunior (think Great Gatsby).  I didn’t realize that until it was explicitly said around 1/3rd of the way through and that would have helped me understand what was happening so much better.  The last thing I want to mention is the history.  Some of this story takes place in the Dominican Republic and the author includes some history as well as some Spanglish.  I don’t really know a whole lot about the DR except for the fact that they’re on the same island as Haiti and they speak Spanish there (and I got to practice my Spanish by reading this book so that was cool!).  I found the whole history timeline to be really cool.  It’s definitely good if you have a basic background knowledge of the DR but Diaz fills you in on the more specific stuff.
The Final Verdict:
If you don’t like footnotes, it’s probably best to skip this (or just skip reading the footnotes themselves).  Beyond that, the plot and themes are wonderfully structured.
3.5 stars

Have you read either of these books?  What did you think of them?  Let me know in the comments!

0 thoughts on “English Course Review Round Up: Part 2”

  1. I haven't read enough of her books to judge quite yet but I'm thinking it'll be the same for me!That was exactly my dilemma! I feel like you should always read all the information but what if that information annoys you?? The struggle… Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie!


  2. For sure! I wrote the discussion questions for class and one of the questions was 'what is the plot?' because honestly, compared to modern books, it's a little boring. Of course, back in the day, it was great but I just couldn't wrap my head around that. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny!


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