Sunday, February 10, 2008

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Title: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Author: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
ISBN: 0140441166
Publisher: Penguin Classics
No. of pages: 396
Other info: Translation and introduction by P W K Stone
Rating: 8/10

Synopsis (from
The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. The subject of major film and stage adaptations, the novel's prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game - a game which they must win. This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able a judge whether the novel is as 'diabolical' and 'infamous' as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about the kind of world we ourselves live in.

I loved that the book was written solely in the form of letters between the various characters. Each character had a very distinct “voice” and their interaction as plots were devised and completed was fascinating. In particular, I found Marquise de Merteuil to be completely Machiavellian in her approach to everything. Her attention to detail and every possibility was nothing short of genius. Vicomte de Valmont has to be one of the most charmingly seductive characters ever written, and his constant display of deviant cunning is marvellous. These two driving forces are a winning combination that cannot fail… or can they? It seems that vanity is the downfall of one, whilst a change of heart causes the utter ostrazisation of the other.

This novel is sensual and glamorises depravity, but imparts a moralistic lesson that willful deviance carries the seeds of its own destruction. Being written entirely in letter form, it lends itself to short bursts of reading, and so it is perfect for those who have very little time to sit and read for any length of time. The writing is beautiful and cleverly arranged to keep the reader hooked on every page.

Highly recommended!

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

Title: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
Publisher: Librivox
No. of pages: N/A
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
When Axel deciphers an old parchment that describes a secret passage through a volcano to the centre of the earth, nothing will stop his eccentric Uncle Lidenbrock from setting out at once. So, with silent Hans the guide, the two men embark on a perilous, astonishing, terrifying journey through the subterranean world.

Although completely unbelievable by today’s standards, this is a rip-roaring adventure, so jam-packed with action that one can’t help but get caught up in the escapades of the characters as they embark on their perilous journey into the Earth’s interior. Despite having large swathes of science included, Verne manages to grab hold of the reader’s interest and refuse to let go, explaining the reasoning behind the ideas in such a way that one is carried away by the theories and the story as it unfolds.

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth

Title: Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders
Author: Gyles Brandreth
ISBN: 9780719569302
Publisher: John Murray Publishers
No. of pages: 355
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from
This work is set in London, 1889. Oscar Wilde, celebrated poet, wit, playwright and raconteur is the literary sensation of his age. All Europe lies at his feet. Yet when he chances across the naked corpse of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, posed by candlelight in a dark stifling attic room, he cannot ignore the brutal murder. With the help of fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle he sets out to solve the crime - but it is Wilde's unparalleled access to all degrees of late Victorian life, from society drawing rooms and the bohemian demi-monde to the underclass, that will prove the decisive factor in their investigation of what turns out to be a series of brutal killings. The Oscar Wilde Murders is a gripping detective story of corruption and intrigue, of Wilde's growing success, of the breakdown of his marriage, and of his fatal friendship with Aidan Fraser, Inspector at Scotland Yard! Set against the exotic background of fin-de-siecle London, Paris, Oxford and Edinburgh, Gyles Brandreth recreates Oscar Wilde's trademark sardonic wit with huge flair, intertwining all the intrigue of the classic English murder mystery with a compelling portrait of one of the greatest characters of the Victorian age.

If Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle had ever teamed up in reality, then this would have been exactly how it happened! Brandreth has captured the essence of both these astounding authors and combined their characters to superb effect in a crime novel that is every bit as clever and witty as the protagonists of the story.

The story is exciting and so full of twists and turns that the reader is kept on the edge of their seat from start to finish, and it’s so well written that once could really believe one was listening to Oscar and Arthur first hand. Their interaction and escapades remains faithful to both and the historical context is superbly represented.

If you like historical crime fiction, then please, do not hesitate to pick up this novel, especially if one admires the works of Wilde and Doyle - you will be in for a treat!

500 Ways to Change the World by Global Ideas Bank

Title: 500 Ways to Change the World
Author: Global Ideas Bank
ISBN: 9780060851767
Publisher: Ixos Press
No. of pages: 400
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from
500 inspired ideas from around the world that cost nothing to implement but could enhance all our lives. 500 inspired ideas from around the world that cost nothing to implement but could enhance all our lives. They range from ideas that could benefit charitable organizations (donate airmiles to disaster relief fundraising schemes) to ideas that make people's working lives better (write the minutes of a meeting before it takes place) to ideas that help social relations as a whole (Boomerang Days when you return all the things you've borrowed over the course of the previous year. The book is bursting with brilliantly original initiatives. For anyone interested in doing something more than just grumbling and feeling generally fed up, this is probably worth about a whole year of press and TV.

This is one of those gorgeous little books that you can dip into every now and then and be sure of always coming away with something uplifting. No, it’s not one of those self-help books filled with soppy platitudes; instead, it’s a compact compendium of little things you can do to change things in a big way.

Set out in handy sections with headings such as Relationships, Crime and Law, Health, Environment and Ecology, Transport, and Spirituality, it gives handy little hints and tips that needn’t take much time, effort or money to put into practice, but which could make a huge difference to your life and that of others too. Some ideas are so simple that you’ll be left thinking, “Why did I never think of that myself?”, others are a little more complicated, but no less easy to slip into your everyday life. And if everyone took just a handful of these ideas to heart, then the world would be a much improved place!