Review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

"Charles Ryder, a lonely student at Oxford, is captivated by the outrageous and decadent Sebastian Flyte. Invited to Brideshead, Sebastian's magnificent family home, Charles welcomes the attentions of its eccentric, aristocratic inhabitants, gradually becoming infatuated with them and the life of privilege they inhabit in particular, with Sebastian's remote sister, Julia. But he gradually comes to recognize his spiritual and social distance from them, eventually discovering a world where duty and desire, faith and happiness are in conflict."

I would like to be able to give a better review of Brideshead Revisited than I am able too, but as it turns out, I can't.

I wanted to like this book. I really enjoyed the movie and so I thought that the book would be bound to be better. Unfortunately, I didn't find it so.

I think the first problem I had was that I was unknowingly pregnant while I read this. I felt sick all the time, my concentration levels were unaccountably low and I just found reading anything hard slog. Perhaps, if I read this book while I wasn't under the influence of pregnancy hormones and morning sickness I might have enjoyed it more.

But then again, perhaps not.

I couldn't identify with any of the characters. I couldn't identify with their lifestyle. I couldn't identify with the class and religious differences and the conflicts that arose because of it. I didn't care whether Sebastian and Charles were gay or not. All the characters were definitely on the irritating side. Everyone whinged too much. Not enough happened in the plot to otherwise distract me from the 'irritating-ness' of the characters and their general whingyness. Waugh's writing was great, but again, it still wasn't enough to help me engage with the story or the characters.

There you have it, not much of a review but because of the state of mind I was in when I read the book it's all I can manage.

If anyone else has a proper review of this book they would like to share, please leave a link in the comments. I would love to know what you thought of the novel if you have read it. What did I miss? 

#2 Weekly Blogging Tip: Obsession with Followers


Obsession with Followers

Last week, my tip was to put your follower gadget close to or at the top of your blog.

I ended my post last week with a warning that having a follower gadget on your blog, which displays how many followers you have, can have a bad effect on your psyche.

This leads me to this week's tip:

Don't become too obsessed the number of followers you have.

Although we all blog for ourselves and in order to share our love of reading, it is very easy to become obsessed with the number of followers you have. You begin to wonder why more people aren't following your blog, and then you start comparing yourself to blogs with more followers than you. Then it's all downhill from there.

I admit that I go through periods of time where I pay more attention to the number of my followers than I would like to. It was actually part of the reason I was inspired to write my recent post "A changing blogging community and some self evaluation".

Why having followers is a good thing

I hope that I made it clear in last week's post that there is nothing wrong with wanting a following and hoping that you will attract one.

It's normal to want followers and it's normal to do things that might attract followers. It's also normal to worry about how many you have sometimes.

We spend so much time and effort on our blogs, it only makes sense that we hope that other people will see our websites and enjoy the work we have put in.

Making attracting followers your priority

The danger though, is that you can then fall into the trap of doing anything you can to attract followers, instead of concentrating on the quality of your content and participating in the blogging community.

These are example of what I mean:

Competitions that are only open to followers: One half of me understands the argument people might make for this practice. The blogger only wants their prize to go to someone who follows their blog and not a random person in it for the prize.

The cynical half of me though thinks that this is often just a way of covering the fact that people are hoping that by having a competition only open to followers, they will gain new followers because people will sign up just to enter the competition. Those new followers might up your count, but they are still in it just for the prize, and not because of any original admiration for your blog (I am a very cynical person, I should warn you).

The follow back syndrome: This is where bloggers advertise that if you follow their blog they will in turn follow yours back.

On the one hand, this could be seen as polite and a valid form of participating in the blogging community, if you then actively participate in all of those blogs that you have signed up to follow in return for their following.

But that's the thing. Does everyone then actively participate in everyone else's blog? What I think is more likely is happening is Blogger #1 in an attempt to grow their following, advertises that they will 'follow-back' anyone that follows them. Blogger #2 therefore becomes a follower knowing that they will gain a follower in return.The your feed becomes cluttered with blogs you aren't necessarily entirely interested in. Everyone has different interests, and so it makes sometimes that someone might follow your blog and yet the content of theirs doesn't 'float your boat' so to speak. That's ok. It's variety.

Why could becoming obsessed with followers be bad?

I think it probably comes down to what you want from blogging and what you want for your blog specifically.

Do you want it to look like a lot of people follow you, or do you want genuine participants?

I would suggest considering quality of your following, not your quantity. Do you have 600 followers but your post gets 3 comments each? Or do you have 200 followers but you get many more comments on your posts from people keen to offer their views and experiences about what you have written about?

By becoming too follower focussed I think that there is a significant risk that people might lose what it really means to be part of a community. Don't we want to meaningfully participate in discussion with other bloggers and have other people do the same with us?

Good quality content and a genuine interest in participating in the blogging community are great ways of attracting followers.

Please know that I am not telling you that I don't think you should have follower only contests or follow-back policies or whatever else you do to attract followers. A lot of these types of things so doubt work to attract genuine followers, especially when used well.

This tip is simply a warning against becoming so preoccupied with attracting followers that you forget to enjoy yourself, produce good content and participate meaningfully in the blogging community.

Since I talked a lot here about building a following and participating in the broader book blogging community, I thought next week might be a good week to talk about comments. So tune in next week for:


Just a quick reminder that these are tip based on personal taste and experience and may not be suited to everyone. Quality of content and enthusiasm are what counts most.

An Introduction
#1: The Follower Gadger

Review: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, a timeless novel that provides insight into modern society

"Watch thou for the Mutant;
Keep pure the stock of The Lord"

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is one of my new favourite books of all time.

I was completely hooked from the beginning to the end by the story, the characters, the setting and the nail biting tension that made me grip the book so hard that my knuckles turned white.

The Chrysalids, written in 1955, is a dystopian books set in a post apocalyptic future where vast tracks of the earth have become inhabitable because of what we assume has been a nuclear disaster. The protagonist, David Strom, live in an isolated agricultural society where no one really knows that happened to wipe out the 'Old People' who built cities and machines but who were unable to save themselves from disaster. There is one religion in this future, a fundamentalist Christian religion where people consider anything outside of the norm to be a 'Deviation', an un-God-like perversion of what is considered normal and therefore acceptable. Anything, be it animal, plant or person that is considered a Deviation is destroyed. Children who are considered Deviations are killed at birth, and those whose abnormalities are not apparent until later in life are sterilised and sent to love on 'The Fringes'. It is a dark and somewhat depressing view of the future, and yet there are clear similarities between this future and our present.

David Strom is a Deviant – born with telepathic powers he uses to communicate with other people within his community who have a similar abnormality. They understand that their abnormality places them at great risk and they are able to hide it until the birth of David's younger sister Petra, born with the same abnormality, puts them all at risk.

David, Petra and the other's with telepathic abilities find themselves racing across the country to avoid capture and are only able to do so when they are discovered by a far away community of people from Sealand (New Zealand?) who travel across the globe in order to rescue them.

There is so much to say about The Chrysalids that I barely know where to begin. In relation to the story itself, Wyndham has portrayed an entirely plausible possible future for mankind, based on the weakness of mankind in the present. In addition, the plot itself is entirely captivating. Putting the book down was like ripping myself out of one world only to find myself back here where I belong. The characters were fully realised and unique, the landscape was vividly described and the tension Wyndham created was palpable.

It's when you get underneath these wonderful qualities to consider what the book is really trying to say about society that you really realise just how timeless The Chrysalids really is. In it, Wyndham really goes deep into subjects such as religious fundamentalism, prejudice, intolerance, self-identity and fear and condemnation of the 'other'.

In The Chrysalids, Wyndham asks those questions most ask at some stage; who am I, who decides what the norm is and how do they decide and where do I belong?

In the end, it was this theme of intolerance and bigotry that I found the most fascinating and the most applicable to today. Wyndham effectively reminds us that behaviours such as intolerance, prejudice and racism are rarely as black and white as they seem. Although to the reader the people of David's town are religious fundamentalists, creating 'others' and destroying them as they see fit, the reader cannot help but ask themself how different the Sealanders are for all of their noble ideals. Everyone has a different perspective and view point on life and what being a 'good' person entails – how do we decide what perspective is right and which is wrong?

8 / 8
One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.

Have you ever been bowled over by a book whose message is just applicable as it was 50 or 100 or even 200 years ago. How does it make you feel when an author seems able to really get inside what makes society work and how that might affect the future? If you have read this book, how did it resonate with you?

Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Christie's first novel)

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Agatha Christie's first published novel and therefore the world's first introduction to the wonderfulness that is Hercule Poirot.

This has always been one of my favourite Christie novels, even before I realised it was her first published work. I read it over and over again as I was growing up, but always with enough time between readings to forget who the criminal was. Now sadly, I have read it so much that I can't forget 'who did it' but I still enjoy it nevertheless.

The narrator, like most (all?) of her Poirot novels is Hastings. He is resting after an injury in the war and is invited to stay at a country property, Styles, with an old friend. While there, he finds himself embroiled in family drama as the matriarch of the family, Emily Cavendish, is poisoned, and it is clear that someone in the house must be responsible for it.

By luck, Hastings runs into his old friend Poirot, who on the request of hastings and the family, sets to work using his little grey cells to solve the murder.

I really loved that the Poirot introduced in this book is the Poirot we see in all the books. Christie just got his character so spot on right from the very beginning that he is thoroughly consistent throughout all the books in which he appears. He finds himself in England as a refugee from the war, a fact that had escaped my notice until this reading of the book.

In this book we also have the varied cast of characters upon whom suspicion is thrown. There is Alfred Inglethorpe, Emily's new and much younger husband upon whim suspicion in naturally initially thrown. There are her sons, Lawrence and John Cavendish, both of whom have their own motives for doing away with their mother. Also in the house is Mary Cavendish, John's beautiful but unsatisfied wife who may or may not be having an affair with the dark and handsome toxicologist (yes, a very suspicious profession when someone has been poisoned) Dr Bauerstein. There is Cynthia Murdoch, an orphan who has been taken into the family and of course the eccentric Evelyn Howard, Emily longest friend and paid companion.

Then of course there are the marvellous clues that Christie scatters throughout the book. Who left the footprints outside the window? Why is there a green fabric caught in the latch of the murdered woman's bedroom door? Can Cynthia really be that sound a sleeper? Who was arguing with Emily on the day of her death and what was that argument about? Why is there a crushed coffee cup on the floor of the bedroom, next to a puddle of candle wax?

Despite it being her first work, this is a book that is bound to keeping you guessing until the end.

6 / 8
Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend it. 

Did you realise that this was Christie's first novel when you read it (if you have read it)? If you didn't, does it change the way you think about the book?