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The Epitome of Cottagecore- a RE-view of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When I was around twelve, this was one of the few books that actually got me hooked and reading for hours at a time. I distinctly remember reading a digital version of this book in our lounge and rolling around on the floor as I read it, feeling as wholesome as a cinnamon roll.

So how did it compare ten years later from a matured perspective?

Bratty Mary returns to England, after being brought up in India, to live with her uncle after her parents’ death. Her maid, Martha, sets to get the attitude out of her by letting her explore the gardens outside the estate in which she lives. Mary soon becomes involved in an investigation when she hears that one of the gardens has been locked away for ten years. She wants to take a look inside.

This was one of the few classical literature books that had me hooked. I read this novel for hours at a time (granted I was a much slower reader as a kid). This novel was filled with so much whimsy and magic – even though it wasn’t a fantasy. This book captured a near identical essence to what magic is in real life. That being discovery, the wonders of nature and the beautiful defiance of expectations.

It still held up very strong today as I aged. At times middle grade or children’s books become very obviously childlike to the point of it being annoying, but I barely felt like that while reading The Secret Garden. It’s a book that feels both youthful and mature, as it is about children maturing in ways that adults could still resonate with. I found it particularly retable over the knowledge of how bratty I could be as a kid, much like the main character Mary, and seeing how she became kind and assertive. Not quite in similar ways that I did, but it was still great to see and relate to a character like Mary in spite of being twelve years her senior at the minimum.

The part where this novel really shines is in the mood and the aesthetic. Yes, it was a novel about restoring an abandoned garden, but that’s not what you remember it for. You remember the cottagecore! It’s a novel about wonder and finding purities in life, learning to appreciate what’s around you, to become nurturing. And nothing better symbolises that than the garden itself – something to be taken care of. Even in its abandoned state it was full of so much beauty, whimsy and was never treated as ugly. Nothing was. Hodgson Burnett really knows how to bring out beauty in everything. And of course I couldn’t forget the character arcs. While simple, they are the most effective I have read in a long time. This is because of an equally simple plot that became very character driven.

If you’re stuck on finding a classic lit book to get into, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a purely perfect gateway that I can’t imagine anyone hating or getting angry at.

The Secret Garden gets a score of 5/5. Everybody loves cottagecore, this is the book that embodies those vibes.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Wrongly Named – a review of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Two weeks to read a book a year ago used to mean that I was totally engaged with a book. But nowadays if I read a book in two weeks it means the total opposite.

So yeah, guess how long it took for me to read The Old Curiosity Shop?

Nell faces poverty at the hands of her grandfather’s gambling addiction, though he means well. He seeks the wealth she deserves in massive earnings through card games. However, learning of this Mr Quilp seeks out lawyers and forms of manipulation to take over the old man’s shop and home. As a result Nell decides to run away with her grandfather, their absence turning their former compatriots’ lives upside down and Nell’s adventures changing the lives of many strangers on the road.

First off, most characters felt like copies of each other. The women were largely passive wives or maid who would never dare to utter anything impolite, and the men were inquisitive lawyers and businessmen doing their working journeys. Or if there were differences between characters, they were so vague that I couldn’t notice them. It didn’t help that in their dialogue the characters were barely distinguishable and that points of view changed so much and for such long periods of time that I don’t remember the goals or arcs of a good 80% of the characters.

Speaking of, these characters has such a disjointed plot. Sure, it was all connected at the beginning, but as the narrative went on so too did their stories split to bizarre levels. And they way their plotlines were revealed were downright bizarre, either disrupting flow or going off in unnecessary directions. Those that did matter had such small impacts to the overall narrative. Why wasn’t it just about Nell and her Granddad, maybe with some chapters from Quill’s perspective?

That plotline was good. I was always looking forward to Nell’s endeavor’s and seeing the addictions her grandfather had to get through – the best part of it all. But it’d be luck if it took up half of the book. It was the easiest to follow and had the most beautiful story – which didn’t need to be connected to literally anything else. Like the villain Quilp – he set the story in motion and was never part of their lives ever again.

But I think what maddens me the most about this novel is how little the titular “old curiosity shop” was a part of the story. Like a tenth of it. That maddens me the most as it robbed me off all my expectations for this novel.

The Old Curiosity Shop gets a score of 1.5/5. Why name a novel after the shop when they’re barely a part of it?

Yours in writing

Amy

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Easy A made me do it- a review of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My first inclination that this novel existed was back in Year 10 of high school in which our class watched the acclaimed teen comedy Easy A. It was an enjoyable movie, and when I found this piece of classic literature again on my Nintendo DS game I suddenly became interested in the material this film was inspired off of.

In the Puritan New England, Hester Prynne has been marked with the letter “A” for adultery after giving birth to a daughter of unknown parentage, facing public humiliation in her town for what she has done. She can only be freed from this humiliation is she reveals the child’s father, but her husband refuses to let her speak of it for he will also be punished. What follows is a life of ostracization for Hester and her daughter Pearl, as they both embrace and resent the reputation the Scarlet Letter brings to them. However, they may not be the only ones facing such burden…

I liked this novel for how it told of the roles played by man, women and child – just to name a handful – in such a society. Each was subject to alienation – by self, by society and by birth respectively. Just to see how each of these characters reacted to such things was intriguing. Father Dimmesdale going mad, Hester taking her’s in stride, and young Pearl oblivious to it.

The narrative was viewed through one valuable and terrifying lens – manipulation. Blackmail. Something so universally terrifying from even so long ago. The balance between righteousness and security. Though I experience it from a very modern perspective, I related to this theme a fair amount. I feel guilty for doing things that offer me security but ultimately feel wrong. And the symbolism of the novel really showcased this, powerful imagery that left me spooked.

However, there were times where I was unsure what was happening. This may have largely been to the writing style and how Hawthorne would add detail to certain routines, occasional backstory and heavy internal monologue. This can be a big turn off for me at times, often what makes me finish a book or rate it under average. Luckily I was able to work out the plot of the novel towards its end and connect the various dots. The fact that I could still understand the story as a result proved to be a very valuable part of finishing this novel in the end, especially during a year where there were novels that didn’t make sense at any time. I very much merit the Scarlet Letter for that.

I look forward to connecting the dots and seeing the greater value of the story when I reread it. Maybe then I may rate the novel higher, but we shall see.

The Scarlet Letter gets a score of 3/5. I’m willing to give this book a second try in a couple of years time, but for now I am satisfied.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Slice of Life – a review of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Amy Rosenfeldt’s reading the classics now? Indeed I am! After find I had Nintendo’s version of a Kindle stored in my wardrobe (a DS game cartridge filled with nothing but classical literature) I’ve decided it was time I read more that the four-or-so books that I wound up finishing when I was 14.

Starting off with Little Women. Over the course of a year waiting for their father to return home from the Civil War, sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March devout the year to self improvement. Meg pledges to lose her fancifulness, Jo to keep control of her temper and sharp mouth, Beth to remove her envy and Amy to be more selfless. In the year of their quest shouldering these burdens, they are finally acquainted with their neighbour Laurie. Together, their kinship develops as they together come of age.

This is a very modern perspective, obviously, on classical literature. This will be a learning curve to discover the tropes and such within the classics.

The characters were very much a strength in this novel. Each of the March sisters and their friends felt very well rounded, and at times mature for their age and the way that they thought. They were self aware of flaws they had, which were developed along with flaws invisible to them. It was fascinating to see the different paths each sister wanted to take during that time, maybe a reflection of the possibilities of what women were capable of then. I’d imagine Alcott to be a feminist of her time, as I feel modern authors struggle to display females in such a light today. Yes, I’m willing to throw that shade.

I have no idea if this is a trope within classical literature, but a lot more story was told through dialogue than anything else. That’s a little bit on the nose when major writing advice I have heard is “show don’t tell” and dialogue is the primary way to do so in this novel. Instead of seeing certain events through the perspective of the characters in real time, those events were at times melo-dramatised in dialogue. It really made me gloss over such retellings. Lengthy dialogue is very off putting for me, and it made me gloss over what may have been very important details.

The chapters felt very episodic, and I’m very neutral about this. The great thing was that each chapter had a mini narrative with each chapter having a development and purpose – the ideal way for chapters to be written. It definitely felt like things were happening. At the same time, many of the chapters up until the final five or so chapters felt more like short stories taking place in the same world. So I couldn’t tell when a chapter felt particularly necessary. That’s not to say they weren’t bad. Each was wholesomely enjoyable. I just wish I knew how they led up to the grand scheme of things.

My main verdict for this novel would be that I can see what makes it appealing and how it stood the test of time to still be a very loved piece of fiction. But of course I have my biases being less acquainted with classical literature. A score in the middle range means I could keep it or not, and I think I will keep this story. It was very pleasant indeed.

Little Women gets a score of 3/5. A very pleasant first dive into classic literature.

Yours in writing

Amy