Review: North and South

Rating: 5 / 5

I'm almost ashamed to say that I have not come across Elizabeth Gaskell before. The only reason I stumbled across her work was because of that wonderful entity-the BBC mini-series. What I watched convinced me I would appreciate the written work.

North and South, the novel, was written by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1855. The title refers to the two regions in England. The North was undergoing an industrial and manufacturing revolution at the time, while the South retained it's agricultural roots, resulting in the vast difference in the two regions - in terms of people, culture, work ethic, dress, even poverty.

It is against this backdrop that we meet Ms. Gaskell's protagonist Margaret Hale, who belongs to the rural South. Margaret has lived most of her life in London with her aunt, sharing in her cousin's lessons and at the age of 18 is to return to live with her parents at Helstone, the sleepy little town where her father is a clergyman. To Margaret, Helstone is idyllic with memories of forests covered with fern carpets, long walks and picturesque cottages and gardens.

After Margaret returns home, she perceives the little things that on her visits before she never really took notice of - her parents' married life is less than perfect, her mother continually expressing dissatisfaction with the small income from the current living and the grief they feel over her brother Frederick. Frederick had been part of a mutiny at sea and cannot return to England for fear of his life.

Mr. Hale soon informs his family that he is giving up his position as a clergyman to be a tutor in a cotton manufacturing town to the north of England- Milton. Mr. Hale's decision is based on principle since he has lost his faith and finds he cannot honestly continue any more, but even his wife as well as friends and family cannot commiserate since he's given up a guaranteed income for poverty.

In Milton, Mr. Hale starts off as tutor to Mr. Thornton, the owner of a prosperous cotton mill. Thornton is the epitome of the self-made man. Left poor after his father's death, he and his mother have scraped, saved and worked hard until he is a well-known name in the manufacturing industry. Thornton is inclined to admire Margaret, but she with the particular class prejudice of the time, despises tradesmen and doesn't think much of him even though her father finds him a most apt and interesting pupil, well read and well spoken.

Margaret's prejudices are peculiar since very soon she meets with Nicholas Higgins and his daughter Bessy, laborers who work at one of the cotton factories and becomes great friends with them. But, I guess this was not so outside the norm, the "ladies" were often kind to people who they perceived of a lower class than them carrying them food and medicine when sick. Their disgust was reserved for the people who profited through trade. In Margaret's view the manufacturers with their buying for cheap and selling for profit and manipulation of the market to create demand were dishonest by virtue of doing so.

Due to fluctuations in the cotton market, the workers in Milton go on a strike demanding more money which the masters refuse to (and cannot) pay and this strike forms one of the cornerstones of the novel. With the aftermath of the strike, the lives of the protagonists and their relationship undergo massive upheavals, Margaret going through one of the most harrowing periods of her life.

But, it is from this period of time that Margaret starts to face up to her prejudices and when Higgins defeated from being out of work and unable to support his family comes up with the notion of moving to the South, since he has heard her praise it so often, she is able to give him a more rational picture than what her initial nostalgia had painted. And it is from this point of time that her pride allows her to face up to the growing respect and love she feels towards Thornton, but whose regard she might have lost forever by an act of secretiveness on her part.

Ms. Gaskell's prose is wonderfully dense, containing passages which ought to be ruminated at leisure. Unfortunately I'm not one of those readers who mark stuff as they read, else I would have added some here. She peppers her novel with realistic characters, even the secondary characters like the proud Mrs. Thornton and Higgins, and the mild Mr. Hale making their impact on the reader.

Margaret is a wonderful character, in the beginning full of youthful idealism and high principles which over the course of the novel are tempered to a better understanding of people. Thornton's character is more straight-forward, an honorable man known for plain speaking, in the beginning he considers himself unaccountable to his workers but Margaret's sympathy towards the workers helps him realize the value of opening a dialogue with them. And over the course of the book we get to know to know his thoughts concerning Margaret. A dialogue of his after he has proposed to Margaret and been rejected will probably stay with me a long time, it's so poignant.

"No one loves me,--no one cares for me, but you, mother."

I guess the only thing I dont like is that the author apparently believes in the school of hard knocks for her characters. Margaret undergoes one such trial by fire. At least I can vouch for North and South having a happy ending, expect some prolonged doom and gloom but it's not unalleviated.

Some of the questions and ideas Ms. Gaskell puts forward as to the relationships between management and laborers, the harsh nature of workers unions, religious faith and atheism were quite progressive for her time, as revealed through the prejudices of some of the characters. In fact, I would say that the novel has a certain symmetry to Pride and Prejudice, but with a lot more social and political commentary.

Fans of Austen and Classic literature will find this novel well worth the read.

As for the mini-series the good folks at BBC do know how to put them together dont they. It doesn't follow the book, but all these anal considerations (I should probably link to my rant over Knightley's P&P to better illustrate the craziness .... but I wont) slunk out the window once I set eyes on John Thornton. I believe I'm finally, finally over Colin Firth's Darcy. It's all about Richard Armitage now.


Review: Drop Dead Gorgeous

Rating: 4 / 5

I've been on a historical fiction jag and just finished Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy. British history especially Henry the 8th and his 6 wives fascinate me and I've read (and watched) many versions of Tudor history. And no one can deny that the political and moral shenanigans of Henry's court make for some intense reading. Tired of all the beheading I wanted a very, very light read and picked Drop Dead Gorgeous by Linda Howard.

All Blair Mallory, survivor of multiple murder attempts, wants is to plan a perfect wedding with cop Wyatt Bloodsworth. Not a big, white wedding because she's already had that version, just a small one with friends and family on the perfect day and date, with the perfect dress, perfect shoes and the perfect cake. Wyatt, tired of her waffling, issues an ultimatum. Organize the wedding in a month or it's off to Vegas to get married. Which in Blair's world is just plain tacky. As she gets into high gear running around to get her shopping done, a near hit and run in a mall alongwith some good old-fashioned stalking cue Blair that she might conceivably have pissed someone else off and things are about to get ugly- dead ugly. And this time Wyatt's not buying it.

First things first, it took me all this time to get around to this book, because I knew it was written in first person and I'm not big on that whole POV. But, what can I say. Ms. Howard's (I should say Blair's) voice had me giggling within minutes of cracking the cover.

Blair is pretty high-maintenace, extremely manipulative and comes across as very shallow. But, she has a great relationship with friends and family and is smart as a businesswoman. And she does need to be a relatively strong personality to deal with Wyatt, an ex-pro-football-player- turned-cop who puts the alpha in alpha male. Her ongoing power struggle in her relationship with Wyatt had me in splits, both fight dirty and fight to win.

If you're lost with the alphaness, here's a scene. Blair is fighting with Wyatt to keep her last name. Obviously he's not backing down. But, a topic that would generally have me spitting mad is defused by Ms. Howard's fabulous brand of crazy; all I did was laugh and keep on laughing.

Not to be towered over, I got to my feet, too, scowling right back at him. Okay, so there's still the ten-inch difference in our heights, but I went on tiptoe and pushed my chin up so we were nose to nose. "Expecting me to change my name while you keep yours is archaic-"

His eyes were narrow, his jaw set, his lips a thin hard line that barely moved as he spit out words as if they were bullets. "In the animal kingdom, the male marks his territory by pissing on it. All I'm asking you to do is change your last name to mine. Take.Your.Pick."

The thing about Ms. Howard's romances are that I've yet to meet one of her cop heroes I didn't like, she writes them all as control freaks, extremely observant, slightly obnoxious, with oodles of sex appeal. Mould meet Wyatt. Cant say much about the good old brain cells though, since it should have been fairly obvious to the highly trained cop that Blair couldn't be lying. Ah well, who cares, I need my share of yumminess in my light reading and Wyatt hit all the required notes.

After the hit and run, the book goes through a slightly dull patch (a couple of pages) where we get to hear every single detail of Blair's day, I wouldnt have been surprised to see her pull out nail clippers at a certain point. But, once the stalker-type is completely established the action picks up pace and remains entertaining ... especially a scene with Blair, a patrol car, overbearing men and handful of notes.

So, finally, the perfect light read and all I can say is that when Ms. Howard is at the top of her game, she's great.

However, the biggest gripe I have is when publishers fail to advertise on their covers that the book is a sequel. I don't think I lost much but to an OC reader like myself, all my enjoyment for this book went out of the window because of the twitch I developed over reading Book 2 first. I overcame it (with difficulty) and do think it's a delightful book but if you are anything like me just get To Die For first.

Updated: Well, I read To Die For and it isnt as good as the sequel. I think Ms. Howard was able to more completely develop Blair's voice and character the second time around making for a funnier, better paced read. It might be a personal preferance too since I like reading about what happens to the characters after much more than I like reading about the courtship leading to the HEA. I'd give TDF 3 points, and I'm pretty sure if I had picked it up first I would never have read DDG.

Black 'n blue frozen yogurt sandwiches .....

... are what happens after a night spent dreaming of ooey, gooey, cookies!

Them cravings! Some days you just gotta give in ....

Summer, strawberries ..... and yogurt yarns!

We, i.e. the PapayaFamily with the exception of Mom is a little weird when confronted with milk and milk products of a particular texture and consistency. To be specific, we hate them. To be even more specific, we have been known to suffer from
a) involuntary shudders
b) crawling skin
c) hair-standing-on-back-of-neck-itis, or
d) all of the above
when given milk, dahi(yogurt), malai(cream), basundi, kheer, lassi, <insert any other milk derivative/product here>....

I'm the best of the lot since I can tolerate yogurt in raita form, love cheese (mmmm...paneer) and positively worship ice cream.

I know you're going rrrright, who hates icecream?

Well, the SiblingPapaya cried hysterically, with mouth open, when first introduced to ice cream until mom scraped the offending stuff off his tongue. He still eats ONLY vanilla icecream. Yup, he crazy, but I love his particular craziness. More for me when mom made it at home, you see. Before you get all jealous, can I add that he hates chocolates too. Actually make that EVERYthing sweet. Now, if only B would do the same .....

When I moved abroad and found myself facing row upon row of imaginatively flavoured (pomegranate?? tiramisu??? strawberry cheesecake???) yogurt the only thing I could do was avert my eyes and scuttle past the dairy section as quickly as possible.

But then, the first month at university we had a cross-culture day which was exactly what the name indicates. Some ladies asked me if it was true that Indians ate rice with yogurt. As I replied in the affirmative and noticed the disbelief (and some disgust) in the crowd, I tried to explain to women who had only ever eaten the sweet kind that we didnt bastardize the yogurt with flavours, ie. no strawberry yogurt with rice.

They didnt believe me, in fact the idea of salted yogurt seemed to be more of a turn off and I expect my ill-concealed shudders didnt help?!! I'm really NOT the best person to help people get over their yogurt phobias.

Actually, now that I think of it, besides Marmite, I believe yogurt is one of those food items that delineate people. There's the sweet yogurt lovers and the salted yogurt fans .... and ne'er the twain shall meet (unless you're Indian and have grown up rolling in the stuff).

Even Anthony Bourdain, has a 'not digging it' reaction to the salted kind (chaach, taak, buttermilk, or whatever you may call it) ....

.. forward to around the 8:22 mark.

Anyway, so this Papaya and flavored yogurt remained at cross purposes, until the day my metabolism turned traitor and I had to face the prospect of low-fat icecreams or doing without. And that's when frozen yogurt entered my orbit. Now, the saving grace of frozen yogurt (froyo) is that it looks like ice-cream and most importantly tastes like ice cream so the part of my brain that yells BLECHDOUBLEBLECH is actually silenced.

So, froyo and me have made our peace with each other, I cannot vouch for the other types. As proof-positive the picture below, if you ignore my scooping skills, is of the absolutely fabulous fresh strawberry & blueberry froyo (David Leibovitz's recipe) I made last week!! I'm proud of myself ... a life enhancing experience made all the more profound now that I can have my ice cream and eat it too - without any of the sharper guilt pangs!!

Now, the thing to do is to convert the rest of the nay-sayers. In my excitement, I called up Dad and explained about froyo and that I would make it for him. In the moment of silence that followed, I could hear his Bata slippers squeaking on the floor with his shudders and his brain grinding away as he started thinking up excuses why he couldnt travel anytime soon ..... :(

I know Smita shares the milk-hate .... what about the rest of you? Do you have any food aversions? Do tell ... I promise not to judge!!!

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