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A Doll's House

A Classic’s Club Book Review

Author: Henrik Ibsen

Genre : Realistic Problem Play

Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin

Year of Publication: 21st December 1879

Number of Pages: 101

My Rating: 5 out of 5

I picked a Doll’s House as the next book to read for my Classics Club ’50 books in 5 years challenge’ because my son is reading it for school and I thought it would be cool to discuss it with him and share ideas on the themes.

This exceptional read is a three-act play written by Henrik Ibsen, who was a leading Norwegian playwright. It features Nora Helmer and her relationship with her husband, Torvald. The play takes place just before Christmas.

Nora is overjoyed because her husband has been appointed Manager of the local bank. He is to start at the beginning of the coming year. The family has been experiencing financial problems and Nora is looking forward to having more money than she can spend.

Torvald believes his wife wastes money, calling her extravagant and a spendthrift who cannot save, even as she says that she really does save all that she can. His opinion of her is also evident in the way that he addresses her, calling her ‘a little squirrel’, ‘a little lark’, ‘a little skylark’ and ‘a little featherhead’. Ugh! When he says something that seems to upset her, he gives her money to cheer her up.

Unknown to Torvald, Nora is not as helpless as he thinks, as she reveals to her old school friend, Mrs. Linde. She has had to work hard as well to support the family. Soon after their marriage, Torvald had overworked himself and fallen ill. The doctors had recommended that he travel south. The trip had to be taken, even though the couple did not have money to finance it.

As far as Torvald knew, Nora borrowed some money from her father to pay for the trip. But Nora’s father had also been ailing at the time and she did not want to bother him. So she did the unthinkable and borrowed money from an unsavory man known as Nils Krogstad, without telling anybody else about it.

Since then, Nora has saved what she can and worked long hours on whatever job she can get in order to repay the loan and the interest charged. When Mr. Krogstad realizes that Torvald is planning to fire him from his position at the bank because of a fraud that he committed, he attempts to blackmail Nora. He threatens to reveal that she borrowed money from him (and committed a fraud in the process) if she does not get her husband to retain him in his position. Nora is distressed by this as she knows Torvald detests loans and any impropriety.

This play is a very insightful look into the way that women were regarded in society at the time. Torvald thinks his wife is a feather head and constantly refers to her as ‘little’. It is clear that he has all the authority in the home and does not regard his wife as an equal.

Eventually, Nora realizes that her husband does not really love her, as he even refuses to do a favor for her. He implies that he would do anything for her, but when she faces condemnation, he turns on her and blames her for ruining him. All he cares about is himself.

As appearances mean a lot to him, he is happy to keep her in his house but proclaims that she must not have any contact with her children, lest she infects them with her immorality.

She also realizes that she does not love him anymore. She feels that she has been treated like a doll, first by her father, then by her husband. Her opinion does not matter. Torvald does not understand her and he has no respect for her. She decides to do the unthinkable and put herself first, for once, and look after her own interests.

I found this play very thought – provoking. The characters were so well developed that I felt like I knew them and what drove them, within such a short period. Their obsession with societal expectations was evident as they place this above all else. I thought it was fascinating how they believed that a parent’s immorality or indiscretions would inevitably lead to the ruin of the children. And how Nora was astonished by the realization that altruistic intentions could not forgive a crime!

The play shows us how damaging secrets can be. It also demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect that others will always be grateful for what you do for them, especially when you cut some corners in the process. I found it hilarious that Torvald was quick to forgive his wife after he realized that no harm was to come to him and how he attempted to make her forget what he had said before when he thought he was going to be ruined.

The only thing that puzzled me was how a mother can walk out on her children, especially when they had such a good relationship and the kids kept on insisting on spending more time with her. In as much as I understand the need to put herself first, this seems a bit extreme to me!

It therefore does not surprise me that Ibsen was made to write an alternate ending to this play (which he called ‘a barbaric act of violence’) for a staging in Germany where Nora eventually decides to stay, as audiences of the time could also not fathom such an ending.

All in all, A Doll’s House was an interesting take on life and marriage in particular in the 19th century and I give it 5 out of 5 stars! I also greatly enjoyed hearing my son’s take on the themes in the play, so that’s an added bonus.

Adaptations

This play was first performed at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21, 1879.

Since then, it has been performed numerous times and adapted for TV, radio and cinema. I didn’t really enjoy watching the adaptations. I think this is because an adaptation of a play follows the script very closely, so I just felt like I was re-reading the play again!


  1992: Part of the British “Performance” series, with Juliet Stevenson as Nora and Trevor Eve as Torvald. Directed by David Thacker.
1973 : Claire Bloom as Nora and Anthony Hopkins as Torvald. Directed by Patrick Garland.

If you love plays or classical literature, I recommend that you check this one out!

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The Tattooist of Auschwitzt

Book Review

Author : Heather Morris

Genre : Biographical Fiction

Publisher : Echo/ Bonnier Publishing Australia

Year of Publication : 11th January 2018

Number of Pages : 194

My Rating :4 out of 5

The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been on my ‘to-be-read‘ list for a while. To be honest, it has stayed so long on my TBR list because I really did not want to read a story about the horrors of the Holocaust, having never read one before. The movies and documentaries I watched on the subject gave me quite a chill! I still kept coming across it everywhere, so my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read it.

This is Heather Morris’ debut novel, originally written as a screenplay before being reworked as a novel. The book has received international acclaim with four million copies sold worldwide (according to Amazon). In the midst of all this success, there has also been some controversy surrounding the book.

This is the story of Lale Sokolov, originally known as Ludwig Eisenberg. It is April 1942 when Lale leaves his home in Slovakia. The German government has demanded that each Jewish family provide an adult child to work for them. Failure to do this will lead to the whole family being sent to a concentration camp. To save his family from this fate, Lale presents himself to the Germans for service, believing his family back home will be safe.

On the gate at Auschwitz are the words ‘Work will make you free’. Lale ponders the meaning of this phrase. A number is tattooed on his arm. He soon learns the true nature of life at Auschwitz where a simple misstep can lead to the loss of a life.

Fortunately for Lale, he gets appointed as a Tätowierer, whose job is to tattoo other prisoners. This puts him in a protected and advantaged position but also at risk of being considered a collaborator, since he now works for the political wing of the SS.

He meets Gita as he tattoos her arm and immediately feels a connection with her. They start a relationship that endures until they separately leave Auschwitz and find each other back home in Slovakia. Heather Morris wrote Lale’s and Gita’s story from Lale’s recollections, more than sixty years after the events had transpired. Lale told her the story after Gita had passed away.

Gita and Lale

I liked the author’s writing style. The story is well written and easy to follow. I was able to easily picture the events as they happened and follow Lale’s thoughts as he lived through the traumatic events. The horror of life at the concentration camp – fear, devastation and suffering – are laid bare in a manner that made me feel like I was watching the events unfold through the characters’ eyes.

Yet in the midst of all that is a powerful story of the resilience of human beings, their ability to survive brutal events and remain hopeful, even when surrounded by suffering and death. Their ability to fall in love and trust that they can build a relationship.

It would have been easy for the characters to just give up but throughout the book, the desire to overcome their circumstances was evident. It amazed me how Lale and Gita were able to find one another and develop such a close bond in such restrictive and devastating surroundings when their future was so uncertain.

Although I really doubted the authenticity of some of their encounters given my (admittedly limited) knowledge of concentration camps, I rooted for them and admired Lale’s determination to be with his beloved. Most of all, I marveled at his courage and ingenuity.

I rate this book 4 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who loves stories about overcoming adversity. It would have been a 5 but for some discussions I came across online, which resonated with me, given some of my misgivings about the book.

Controversy

Given the historical significance of the Holocaust, any story that is centered on it is bound to attract a lot of attention. Some researchers have questioned the accuracy of some of the details in the book and have stated that some of the events that have been described could not have happened.

Critics have been concerned that readers may take the story as a source of knowledge about life at Auschwitz – Birkenau. In as much as the author clearly states that she changed some facts to further the plot, the story is described as being ‘based on a true story’ and a lot of readers connected with the story because of this.

When questioned about this, the author stated that she wrote “a story of the Holocaust, not the story of the Holocaust.” She told the New York Times that ;-  “The book does not claim to be an academic historical piece of non-fiction, I’ll leave that to the academics and historians.”

My Take on this

This made me ponder on whether writers of historical fiction have an obligation to accurately depict historical events in their books. Is it not true that inaccuracies can mislead and leave readers with a wrong impression of events?

Is it enough for authors to state that their stories are fictional and expect readers not to assume all the historical events are as they happened? What is the line between the fictional and the historical bit? And what is biographical fiction anyway?

I think critics here were so concerned because this is described as a book about real people in a real place at a real time in history. A very sensitive time and place. This would therefore lead most readers to expect the story to be mostly true. And it should be.

How much artistic license do you think an author has when they claim that a novel is based on a true story? Shouldn’t they at the very least get the actual known historical events correct? Let me know!  

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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

  • Book Review

Author : Lola Shoneyin

Genre : Literary Fiction

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Date of Publication: 2010

Number of Pages: 245

My Rating : 5 out of 5

Yes, I somehow ended up with two copies of this book. I think I bought the first one and whilst it was still on my ‘to read’ list I came across it again and bought a second copy!

Lola Shoneyin is a Nigerian poet. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was her debut novel published in 2010.  Lola was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010 for this book. She won the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2011 Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives features the Alao family, made up of Ishola Alao (Baba Segi) and his four wives – Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi and Bolanle. Iya is the Nigerian term for ‘mother of’ so they are named after their respective first born children. Baba Segi is, of course, named for the oldest child of the first wife.

The book opens with Baba Segi contemplating a problem that he has had to deal with before. The latest addition to his family, his wife Bolanle, has not yet conceived a child. The last time he faced this problem, he found the solution at Teacher’s shack, where men gather and discuss different topics over whiskey.  

Teacher recommended a visit to a herbalist. Not long after taking the prescribed powder, his first wife got pregnant and Segi was born. Now with seven children from his three wives, he is again concerned because Bolanle has not yet conceived, after almost three years of marriage.

Bolanle is different from the other wives. She has gone to university and is educated, whereas they are not. She refuses to see a herbalist. Teacher advises Baba Segi to take her to a hospital.  

Bolanle married Baba Segi against the wishes of her family and friends, who do not understand why she would marry an uneducated polygamist. Baba Segi’s other wives resent her because she is educated. As a result, they refuse to let her in on the secret that they all share, hoping to get rid of her.

When Baba Segi decides to visit the hospital with Bolanle, he sets in motion a course of events  that will change their lives in unimaginable ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It gives us a good view of life in a polygamous family and the power dynamics that influence it. The role of the first wife and how it evolves as the husband gets more wives is explored. I enjoyed seeing the different personalities of the characters and how they affect their relationships.

Baba Segi believes he is fully in control of the family and tries as much as he can to be fair to all his wives. Iya Segi is cunning, wise and controlling. Iya Femi is spiteful and vengeful. Iya Tope is lazy and not so bright, yet she is also kind. Bolanle is lost and carries deep-seated pain.

Lola tells this story in an engaging way. She lets the main characters tell us their backstories and show us their feelings by using a first person narrative. In other places, she uses the third person to further the story. These characters are well developed and authentic. I empathised with them, even when I did not like their actions.

The book tackles themes such as polygamy, violence, infertility, prejudice and other social injustices. It is a beautiful narrative that both entertains, questions and challenges. It is a tale of how far people will go to get what they want and to maintain their livelihood.

It shows how easy it is to misjudge people and not appreciate their strengths. How our prejudices can make us blind to what should be obvious. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is – always be wary of karma!

I rate it 5 out of 5 and recommend it to lovers of African literature.

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Purple Hibiscus

Book Review

May contain spoilers…..

Author : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers

Date of Publication: 2004

Number of Pages: 307

My Rating : 5 out of 5

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (Best Debut Fiction Category) in 2004 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005 for Purple Hibiscus. Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda’s debut novel, published in 2004. I read it after reading Americanah which resonated with me because of all the stories I had heard about the lives of immigrants in the US.

Purple Hibiscus is a heartbreaking story about fifteen year old Kambili and her family. Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy Nigerian businessman. He is also a religious fanatic who does not allow any dissent in his family. Everything has to be done his way. He exercises tight control over their lives, planning and intricately scheduling every minute including family time, reading time, eating time and prayer time. There are prayers before and after meals, with a prayer before meals taking twenty minutes. Any dissent is met with horrific acts of violence.

Eugene is fastidious about rituals and prayers but fails in kindness and compassion, yet he is blind to his many faults. Typically, he blames others for his wrongdoing and makes them go for confession when they have done nothing wrong.

There are a lot of lessons to be glimpsed from the book. Chimamanda shows us how violence begets violence. Eugene was exposed to violence for behavior that was deemed ‘sinful’ by a priest he lived with while in school and metes out similar punishment to his family.

Whilst this is no excuse, it helps us get a better understanding of his character. His family lives in silence and fear. This has greatly affected Kambili who rarely talks. When she does it is in a voice that is barely audible. Their mother, Beatrice, tries to prevent the violence by deflecting Eugene’s attention when she sees his temper rising, though she rarely succeeds.

When Kambili and her brother, Jaja, visit their Aunt Ifeoma at the University campus in Nsukka where she works and lives with her family, they are surprised at how different life in her house is. Though Ifeoma’s family lacks the abundant resources that Kambili’s family has, they enjoy cheerful banter during meal times.

Ifeoma’s house is full of music and laughter, which is alien to Kambili and Jaja. To their surprise, their aunt tells them that there is no need to follow their father’s strict schedule while they are at her house.

At Nsukka, Kambili meets Father Amadi, a young catholic priest whose amiable behaviour is unlike anything her father would approve of. Father Amadi quickly notices that Kambili is different and pays her special attention. Kambili develops a crush on him. Though we do not see any inappropriate behaviour on Father Amadi’s part, he manages to draw Kambili out of her shell. She is able to open up and relax due to the way he treats her. Eventually she falls in love with him, even though she knows nothing can come out of this relationship (sigh………).

Another theme that is explored in this book is how the wealthy are allowed to get away with ghastly behavior. Eugene is extremely generous. He is the main benefactor of his church. This gives him the confidence to stand in judgment of other worshippers, regarding those who missed communion on two consecutive Sundays as ‘having committed mortal sin’.

Villagers flock to his rural home when he goes there and he gladly dishes out money. He is a highly regarded member of society, even though he permits his children only fifteen minutes to visit his own father whom he regards as a ‘heathen’.  

He refuses to have anything to do with his father. When they fail to report that they spent time with their grandfather at Aunt Ifeoma’s house, Kambili and Jaja are punished for knowingly being in the same house with a heathen. This in spite of the fact that their grandfather is only brought to Nsukka due to his deteriorating health.

Eugene is not even moved when his father dies, his only comment is that a priest should have been called to pray for him and convert him. This does not stop him from sending a lot of money for the funeral, though he doesn’t bother attending it.

Neither the villagers nor Father Benedict are shown as being at all concerned about the way he treats his family, though it must be clearly evident that something is off as others easily pick up on this. The only person who dares defy him is his sister, Ifeoma, who goes as far as to refuse his financial assistance because he tries to control her life in exchange for his support.

Another theme that Chimamanda brings out is how society tends to turn a blind eye to things that make us uncomfortable. Nobody asks Kambili how she got hurt when she lands in hospital after her father repeatedly kicks her, not even Father Eugene or the doctor. The only person who dares broach the subject is her cousin, Amaka, who mentions it in a way that makes it obvious that she is already aware of what happened.

How long can people really survive such treatment? Kambili’s mother, Beatrice, seems weak and helpless, as victims of domestic abuse often appear to be. She tries to protect her children but seems trapped by circumstances. She goes back to her abusive husband even after Ifeoma begs her not to go.

Ifeoma often tries to talk some sense into her brother, although ultimately, she concludes that he is broken, perhaps beyond redemption. Jaja is wracked with guilt because of his inability to protect his mother. He is eventually able to take a stance against his father, and we see his character begin to develop. Unfortunately, the cycle of violence is doomed to continue as victims of violence often retaliate.

All in all, this book was a poignant look at religious fanaticism and domestic violence. It is heartbreaking and distressing. It made me mad and frustrated. I wished I could enter into the book and shake some sense into some of the characters.

I found the story well-paced and superbly written. The characters are well developed and easy to understand, even those that I did not like – Eugene and Father Benedict. I felt sorry for Kambili, celebrated Jaja’s growth into manhood, and empathized with Beatrice. I understood Ifeoma’s anger and frustration with her brother and even Amaka’s attempt at rationalizing her uncle’s behaviour.

The story is told against the background of political instability and a military coup in Nigeria, which provides some useful information on what is going on in the characters’ lives.

I love how Chimamanda uses the blooming of the newly planted and rare purple hibiscus  to depict a new beginning for the family and how the characters are at last able to move on. The story is told from Kambili’s point of view and her emotional turmoil is brought out beautifully.

I appreciated the way Chimamanda contrasts religion as depicted by Ifeoma’s family and Father Amadi, as opposed to Eugene and Father Benedict. The same religion expressed very differently. We see how Kambili feels isolated from her religion because of her father’s fanaticism, whereas her cousins embrace their religion and have a friendly and casual relationship with their priest, free from judgment.

Even though a lot of violence is depicted, and I could clearly see how inhumane and traumatic this is for the characters, I did not find it at all graphic.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even when it made me sad, and rate it 5 out of 5. I recommend it to lovers of African literature.

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Sometimes I Lie

Book Review

Title : Sometimes I Lie

Genre : Psychological Thriller/ Mystery

Author: Alice Feeney

Publisher : HQ/HarperCollins

Date of Publication : March 13th 2017

Number of Pages : 279

My Rating : 4 out of 5

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

  1. I’m in a coma.
  2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
  3. Sometimes I lie.

This is the opening of Alice Feeney’s debut novel, Sometimes I Lie. Amber is in a coma, unable to move any part of her body. She was in an accident whose details she does not remember.

As she lies in a hospital bed, she hears everything that is happening around her and tries to tie together the fragments to figure out what happened to her.

I have always wanted to read this book but I’m only now getting round to doing so. I saw a lot of people discussing it online and the views presented made me want to read it.

This is a gripping thriller that I really loved. The author tells the story using Amber’s experience as she lies in hospital, flashbacks to the days leading up to her accident, and diary entries from her childhood.

At first, she appears to be a sympathetic character and I started off feeling sorry for her. But that is only because I had not paid enough attention to the “Sometimes I lie” bit at the beginning.

As the story progresses, it becomes quite clear that Amber is anything but a sympathetic character.

Ultimately, I started having many questions. What really happened before the coma? What of her childhood? Does her husband Paul really not love her anymore? What is the role of the sister/best friend Claire, in all this? And the mysterious Edward who appears in the story to leave a distressing and shocking footprint?

I liked Alice Feeney’s writing style. Amber is likeable and sincere, until she is not. I empathized with her as the victim of serious wrongdoing, then discovered that perhaps that may not be so. She is such an unreliable narrator.

I must say that I was very confused. As I went along, I had to undo all the impressions I had in my head about all these characters, most especially Amber.

In any case, since Amber is a self declared liar and no other point of view is presented to help us discern what is really happening, how do we know what part of the narrative is true and what part is not? This is the point of the story, I guess……..

By the end, I was still not sure what was going on. I felt a strong inclination to re-read the book and try and garner new facts from hints that I may have missed. Like the significance of the colour red and the events as set out in the diaries, use of the name Taylor, among others.

Amber is shown as clearly having an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). She has to check everything 3 times. We later see that she also suffers from anxiety and the OCD developed as a result of that.  This story is full of twists and turns and I kept wondering what would come next.

 I have seen many people speculate about a lot of aspects of the book, especially the final twist. For me, I was totally sure that this was a case of someone who had a Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID) and was heavily medicated in a mental institute!

It would make sense (to me anyway) if these characters (or at the very least Amber and Claire) are all the same person, especially as the lines are so blurred between Amber/ Claire/Taylor – and it’s not even clear who the villain in this story is! Or maybe I have just been reading too many books with DID characters recently!

I loved the suspense and mystery in this riveting psychological thriller and rate it 4 out of 5. It would have been a 5 if it didn’t confuse me so much! I recommend that you pick it up today, if you love psychological thrillers full of twists and turns.

You will enjoy trying to figure out what is going on. If you have read it, let me know whether you were as confused as I was!

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Emma

Classics Book Review

Title : Emma

Author: Jane Austen

Publisher: John Murray

Genre : Regency Romance/ Classic Literature

Year of Publication: December 1815

Number of Pages: 594

My Rating : 4 out of 5

I read Emma after reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. By the time I read it, I had already watched the 2009 BBC adaptation starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as George Knightley. I was therefore not a stranger to the story, although there are parts of the story that I understood better after reading the book, as usually happens.

Emma is the twenty-one-year old second born daughter of Mr. Woodhouse. She is handsome, clever and rich and has a happy disposition. Following her mother’s death in her childhood, she is brought up by a governess, Miss Taylor, whose mildness of temper hardly allowed her to impose any restraint.

As her father is also affectionate and indulgent, Emma is used to having her own way and doing whatever she pleases.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself………”

She declares herself uninterested in marriage and is happy to live out her life at Hartfield with her elderly father.

George Knightley, whose younger brother is married to Emma’s older sister, is described as a sensible man of thirty eight.  He is the only one who ever sees any fault in Emma, or who tells her anything about her faults.

After Miss Taylor gets married to Mr. Weston, Emma believes she is the one who made the match. She takes pride in her matchmaking skills. She sets her sights on Mr. Elton – the vicar of Highbury, in spite of Mr. Knightley’s and her father’s caution against doing so.

In need of a new companion following the marriage of Miss Taylor, she attaches herself to Harriet Smith, a pretty seventeen year old girl whose parentage is unknown. As rightfully suspected by Mr. Knightley, this friendship does not bode well for Harriet.

Emma looks upon those she deems beneath her in class with disdain. Regarding a well- to-do-family of low origin, she thinks –

“The Coles were very respectable in their own way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them.”

She only accepts an invite to their house because all of her friends have already accepted.

She considers Mr. Martin, a respectable farmer, as being someone whom she can have nothing to do with. She finds one of her father’s oldest friends, Miss Bates, tiresome; dislikes Jane Fairfax, not just because she finds her reserved, but also due to her superior talents and elegance.

Emma’s meddling makes a lot of people upset and she ends up presenting herself in very bad light. Mr. Knightley continually tries to steer her onto the right path, although it is only at the end that she reflects upon her behaviour and accepts that she has behaved badly.

I must admit that I was taken aback by Emma’s character, as I previously thought that  Jane Austen’s heroine’s were sensible and pleasant, even as they were surrounded by more disagreeable characters. No wonder then, that Jane Austen herself is reputed to have stated that she wrote a heroine that only she would like.

Although I really liked Mr. George Knightley, I found most of the other characters in the book quite disagreeable – the worst being Mr. and Mrs. Elton, Frank Churchill and his aunt. Emma does have some redeeming qualities in that she takes care of the less fortunate families and is devoted to her father.

I found the story line featuring Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill a bit tedious and did not understand Jane at all – reserved or not, I did not get how she put up with Frank’s horrendous behaviour.

Given the sixteen-year age gap between Emma and Mr. Knightley, the difference in their characters and the way he is constantly correcting her, it was at first hard for me to see these two together as a couple. I wondered what sort of marriage one would have with a man who is used to correcting one’s behaviour since childhood……..

What is clear though, is that Emma holds Mr. Knightley in very high esteem and even though she often seems to ignore his advice, she does not like displeasing him. This is most evident when she gets a tongue rashing from him following her dreadful behaviour at Box Hill.

“It was badly done indeed!”

To her credit Emma is eventually able to see how bad her behaviour is and how her actions hurt others.

“She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so.”

She sets out to apologise and make amends. I liked this aspect of the book as Emma undergoes a lot of growth. It was also interesting for me to see different manifestations of love. Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Taylor showed their love to Emma by indulging and spoiling her, whilst Mr. Knightley showed his love by endevouring to make her a better person.

This is a story of two people who are not fully aware of their feelings and need to be jolted by something to find their way to each other. Maybe because of this, it felt to me like romance was not the central theme of this story as it plays out very late in the book. I think the broader lesson is on the importance of friendship in a relationship.

In as much as class was still a central theme, in comparison to Pride and Prejudice, there wasn’t too much emphasis on women getting married solely to secure their future. It was refreshing to see an alternate life, other than marriage, being proposed for women in that era – like becoming a governess or remaining single.

This book was quite long at almost six hundred pages, especially since the characters do not really get up to much. At some point, I found that it dragged on a bit, especially with the side stories involving Jane and Frank.

For me, Emma is a 3 out of 5 as it was really hard for me to empathize with the main character.

Adaptations

There have been numerous adaptations of Emma, as with most Jane Austen novels. I found many listed with the oldest one being from 1948 and the most recent being the 2009 miniseries. The 1995 movie Clueless is a Beverly Hills American adaptation loosely based on Emma. A new adaptation is expected in 2020.

1972 BBC Miniseries.

The costumes were very different from later adaptations (less cleavage). Mr. Knightley looked much older. This version has the best Mr. Woodhouse!

The 1996 ITV production starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong.

They showed us this Emma’s thoughts through reveries and dreams. I loved Kate Beckinsale in this.

The Miramax 1996 movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.

I enjoyed this version but thought Mr. Knightley looked younger than he should be. I loved the costumes!

In 2009 BBC made this four part series starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller.

This is my best adaptation so far. I felt it brought out the story better.

Though I found Emma hard to like, I know many readers empathise with her in the end and say her behaviour was due to her naivete. After all, she did eventually reflect on her wrongful actions and change.

Did you like Emma? Did you feel the romance? Let me know!