Taylor Caldwell’s The Romance of Atlantis

Caldwell, T. (1975). The Romance of Atlantis. New York: Morrow. 0688003346

A detail from Card’s Pastwatch was Kemel’s discovery of Atlantis. He discovered this highly advanced land was lost in the BIG FLOOD. After reading this book, my mom remarked that had also been Taylor Caldwell’s take on this land of legend. Soon after, I requested The Romance of Atlantis via Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

These days, folks refer to The Romance of Atlantis as a work of Fantasy or Science Fiction. As the preface states, Ms. Caldwell wrote this novel when she was twelve years of age.  Her granddad ran a publishing company but he wouldn’t take this novel. Instead, he accused the young Taylor of plagiarism, incredulous that a girl could write a book chock full of adult situations.  The novel wasn’t published until 1975 with the help of Caldwell’s friend Jess Stearn. Caldwell based the novel of a dream she had nightly for two years. Ultimately, Caldwell believed this was what happened to her in a previous life. (Don’t give up on me, readers! This work was published as fiction.)

Young, beautiful, intelligent Salustra takes the scepter of the advanced civilization of Atlantis from her dying father. This is a very advanced land roughly the size of North America. People there enjoy air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and know about atom splitting. People can visit rejuvenation chambers and come out vitalized.

Yet, Salustra also inherited a decadent people whom she holds in contempt. Lately, the a/c isn’t working and people are getting cranky. Additionally, the practically barberous Althrustri kingdom to the North of Atlantis wants Salustra’s hand in marriage. Bad omens pop up everywhere. How will Salustra meet her fate and the fate of the people?

This is an impressive work for a twelve year old to have written. This is my first reading of anything by the late, prolific Caldwell. Salustra and her Atlantis are well conceived. However, I really didn’t like the characters much. Once I overcame marvelling at the wonder of the ancient land of advancement, I found the characters lackluster. I wasn’t even sure I cared for them. Did I even want to see these folks make it beyond the back cover?

Places: Atlantis, Althrustri

Word Bank:

  • Atom
  • Rejuvenation Chamber

Two Out of Five Pearls

John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles* 1001 Books Book

Fowles, J. (1969). The French lieutenant’s woman. Boston: Little, Brown.

A coworker recommended this book to me. Then, another coworker suggested I read it. At long last, I embarked on reading the nearly 500 page book. Before I realized, I had actually read the whole book.

Twentieth century writer John Fowles looks upon his Victorian characters and times in The French lieutenant’s woman. Fowles and the reader see these late Nineteenth century events from a Twentieth century point of view. The novel is interspersed with poetry of the day and discussions of politics, Darwinism, and Existentialism.

In the small Southwestern English village of Lyme Regis in 1867, the pretty young heiress Ernestina Freeman resides with her widowed aunt until her planned march down the aisle. She is engaged to a gentleman and amateur paleontologist Charles Smithson. Charles stays at a local inn, awaiting his marriage. One day, Charles and Ernestina walk along the coast. Inadvertently, they stumble upon the town’s own Hester Prynne, Sarah Woodruff (a.k.a. Tragedy, the French Lieutenant’s Whore/Woman, etc). Ernestina manages not to rubberneck but Charles is intrigued by the enigmatic, sad woman who was jilted by a French soldier not so long before the novel begins.

Later, Charles learns Sarah’s real name and that she now works as a companion to the legalistic and cruel Mrs. Poulteney, the richest woman in town. With each page, Charles becomes more and more fascinated by Sarah and her story. She makes him second guess and question not only his engagement but everything in his life. The biggest question of all is this; will Charles give up everything else to pursue something good and true or will he continue his life of pretense.

I can say that I had never read a novel like this. While I may have read poor imitations of Fowles’ interjectory style, this book is one of a kind. I easily saw that Charles supported Darwin’s arguments but I also saw him as a dying breed – a gentleman who did not have to work. His kind found itself dependent on wealthy heiresses seeking titles. Yet, his gentleman’s gentleman, Sam, has the survival instinct of a cockroach.

One big question the book raises is Sarah’s motives. Surely, she represents truth and honor while Ernestina stands for the gilt beloved by Victorians. Yet, Charles’ feelings for either one of these women is debatable. When all is said and done, I think it was less about which corner of the love triangle prevailed and more about Charles doing what is right.

I hope I’m not breaking my own rule about spoilers but Fowles offers us three different endings. The first one is debunked by Fowles himself. This reminded me of “Choose your own adventure” books but I did find it authentic and worth pondering which way it would have truly gone. Nonetheless, thank you, Mr. Fowles, for giving your characters, and readers, some free will. Perhaps it’s enough rope to hang ourselves, characters and all, but it makes for a worthy read.

The only complaint I have will make me sound like a complete plebeian; all the foreign language. I did not take French and I had not the foggiest notion what the characters were saying at times and this frustrated me.

I must say, however, this is a Five out of Five Pearls book.

Places: Lyme Regis, UK; London, UK; Exeter, UK; Europe; US

For more on The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

All Time 100 Novels

Imminent Victorians

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (Collector’s Library) by Charlotte Bronte | LibraryThing

* 1001 Books Book

Brontë, C. (1993). Jane Eyre. New York: Modern Library.

I remember having listened to the audio book when I was in junior high. Yet, I did not feel as though I could say I had actually read Brontë’s Jane Eyre. So, I picked up the book a second time.

Jane is an orphaned girl stuck with her mean, widowed, and wealthy aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her wretched cousins. Jane suffers at their hands to the point of being thrilled to go to boarding school just to escape their heavy-handed cruelty.

At the Lowood School, however, Jane finds more of the same abuses and deprivations. Under the direction of the antagonistic and puritanical Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane and her peers go more days without what they need. When Mr. Brocklehurst loses his position, though, and a new committee takes over Lowood, life for the students dramatically improves.

As an adult, Jane becomes a governess. She takes on employment at Thornfield manor under Byronic hero Mr. Rochester. Jane develops romantic feelings for Mr. Rochester, an enigmatic man with a past of his own.

I found Jane Eyre quite powerful in the creation and phrasing of the eponymous character. Simultaneously compassionate and willful, Jane can stand on her own. Mr. Rochester seems to love this quality, too. Jane is unsinkable and can look out for herself. In the ways that counts for Brontë, her orphaned heroine and Byronic hero are a perfect match.

It’s difficult for me to see if this is where the clichés of gothic romance originate or if it was already old hat. A similar question I had was whether all of the orphan misery was original to Brontë or if it was borrowed with Dickens. It definitely met my melodrama quota for the year.

Three out of Five Pearls

For more on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, please check out the following links:

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin

Cover of the novel

Cover of the novel

*1001 Books Book (2006)

Atwood, M. (2000). The blind assassin. New York: N.A. Talese.

With as much as I have read about Margaret Atwood, it has taken a surprisingly long time for me to read any of her works. This and the intriguing book cover encouraged me to read The Blind Assassin.

Many reviews describe The Blind Assassin as being like a Russian nesting doll; a story within a story that is within yet another story. It is definitely like peeling an onion, reading The Blind Assassin. The novel weaves between various plot lines. However, I do promise that it is rather like a fractal and that are worthwhile. After all, it takes all the pieces to form the picture of The Blind Assassin. Atwood managed to integrate elements of Southern Ontario Gothic, Historical Fiction (1900s, 1930s, 1940s, etc), Mystery, Character Study, and Science Fiction into one slow burn of a novel.

The story begins with young wife Iris Chase Griffen saying, “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge” (Atwood, 1). With sparse detail about this event, the reader is next taken to a report of Laura Chase’s death. Beyond this point, there are more news reports on deaths, including that of Iris’ powerful industrialist husband’s body being found a boat in 1947. This is where the reader discovers a book by Laura Chase was posthumously published. After the articles, the reader is taken headlong into to Laura’s work “The Blind Assassin.” “The Blind Assassin” tells the story of a pulp fiction writer and his girlfriend, a young unhappy wife. The pulp fiction writer makes up a story for his lover, also called “The Blind Assassin.” Beyond this point is yet another narrative, it is that of the aged, chilly Iris of eighty-two years of age in 1999.

Iris’ somewhat embittered voice dominates the novel. Through her scope, I found Iris to be a survivor. The unusual and delicate well-being of Laura brings much responsibility to Iris. On the one hand, it seems Iris is cold and careless with her fragile little sister. Otherwise, I find it unfair how Iris was made to take care of Laura simply because no one else did. Whether it is Iris’ nature or it is her upbringing is obviously debatable. Nonetheless, her biting wit and edge make her easily identifiable and sympathetic to me.

I am proud to say that I read this book. The coldness and cruelty of several characters within gave me chills and some weird dreams. Imagining this wicked glint of some characters that shall remain nameless made me sad. Atwood is definitely a master of her craft and I could see her characters and situations all too well. The Blind Assassin is well written but not exactly what I call an enjoyable read.

Three out of Five Pearls

PS (September 02, 2008) When I found out this had been removed from the 1001 Books List, I could have kicked Boxall and myself in one fell swoop. Ugh!

Places: Port Ticonderoga, Canada; Toronto, Canada; Europe; New York, NewYork

Apologize and Atonement by Ian McEwan

* 1001 Books Book

Cover shows the old, dreary Tallis house.

Cover shows the old, dreary Tallis house.

McEwan, I., & Tanner, J. (2002). Atonement. Prince Fredrick, MD: Recorded Books.

Seeing the blurbs for the movie based on this book and hearing OneRepublic’s “Apologize” immediately influenced me to request Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Having heard much about the author, I was curious to how well McEwan could deliver. Soon, the audiobook was telling me the story in my car.

It’s a hot summer day in 1935 England. The upper class Tallis household abounds with activity, especially the young, thirteen year old Briony. Briony is an aspiring writer with a great imagination. She has just penned a play for her grown brother Leon’s homecoming. She desperately wants her cousins, the stunning Lola, and twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, to perform her play, The Trials of Arabella. Feeling her thunder stolen by Lola, Briony just happens to see something going on at the fountain between her older sister Cecilia and the charlady’s son, Robbie Turner. Only viewing and not hearing the exchange between the two Cambridge students, Briony holds sinister suspicions. Ditching her play and her cousins, Briony’s imagination runs away with her.

Meanwhile, the focus of the novel shifts to and from various points of view, including the seeming dilettante Cecilia, the intelligent and scholarly Robbie, and the wise, migraine plagued matriarch, Emily Tallis. These views elucidate for the reader what has actually happened. The evening arrives, bringing on the entrance of playboy Leon and social equal Paul Marshall. When there is a nasty turn of events that night, Briony jumps to conclusions, changing the lives of all present at the Tallis household that summer evening in 1935. From this point onward, Briony longs for atonement.

Like many a psyche, Atonement is a very complex. Divided into four parts, the novel delves into the thoughts and motives behind numerous characters. Also, the book deals with numerous issues; social implications, morality, guilt, and responsibility. The dimension brought to Briony Tallis simply amazed me. In Atonement, the reader meets Briony as a child, a young adult, and a septuagenarian. In each phase, Briony is different and yet the same. Latter parts of the book illustrate World War II scenes of Dunkirk and a hospital in London with sharp clarity.

Another part of Atonement I admired was how Briony’s actions in 1935 resonate throughout the rest of the book. Responsibility as a human and as a writer becomes piercingly acute. Whether or not she gains much desired atonement is open for interpretation.

Nonetheless, I was not crazy about the choppy transitions from Part I to Parts II and III. Part I gave readers such as myself insight on the thoughts of many. After Part I, several of the characters react almost implausibly or evaporate by Part II. While I appreciated the introduction to Cecilia’s great intellect, Robbie’s tenderness, and even Briony’s shame, I missed other characters such as Emily Tallis and the cousins in other parts of the book.

Atonement is a book I will not soon forget. The plot twists, the conception of characters, the peppering of other works of literature throughout Atonement, etc, etc make for a moving read. This book has definitely raised the bar for many others.

Despite the ending, I give the book 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Places: Cambridge University, Dunkirk, London, UK

Music Brought to Mind: “Apologize” by OneRepublic