The Long Count

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1,243, count them, 1,243 pages!  Mwahaha!

It’s Sunday again, and we almost forgot to blog. S has been working on a rather important project for work that we won’t discuss here. I’ve been working a little on some reference works for the Myrciaverse. Also, we made a pot roast for supper, and it was delicious.

Over the weekend we finished The Count of Monte Cristo for S’s book club. It’s the second time I’ve read it, and it’s easy to forget just how incredibly long it is. How long is it? Well, it’s so long that the book club is doing War and Peace this summer, and thanks to The Count of Monte Cristo, War and Peace will only be the second-longest book we’re reading this year. That’s how long it is. S may post her thoughts on it sometime, but here’s my super-quick review.

It’s very good, and if you’ve got a few months free, I would highly recommend it. However, we had a few issues with it. For one thing, Dumas really drags the story out. There are long books that feel shorter than they are, like War and Peace. And for the most part, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those. It reads pretty quickly. But there are times, like the chapters where Luigi Vampa, the Roman bandit, is introduced, that take up far, far more space than they really need to.

Then there are problems with the story itself. The count’s relationship with Haydée, his Greek slave girl, seems awfully forced. The count ends up with her because reasons, basically. One gets the sense that Dumas planned it that way, and forgot to show their relationship developing believably over the course of the story. As I remarked to S right after we reached the end, Haydée is the Ginny Weasley of the book.

As for the count himself, the fact that he decides that revenge is bad at the end comes out of pretty much nowhere. And the way he treats Maximilien Morrel at the end—refusing to come right out and say that Maximilien’s sweetheart, Valentine de Villefort, is still alive—is just cruel. When Maximilien and Valentine are reunited, they both act absurdly grateful to the count, when any normal person in their place would smack the guy in the face.

But even so, it was a good book. Good enough to read twice, in fact.

J

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The Persuasion Project: Chapters 4 and 5

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CE Brock illustration from mollands.net.

The Persuasion Live Read finally continues! When last we saw Anne and her family in Chapter 3, the Elliots were retrenching, letting their home to people connected to the mysterious Captain Wentworth from Anne’s past. What could possibly happen next?! Well, let us read.

Chapter 4
He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling. Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest: she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.

How lovely is that? Granted, the reader is immediately inclined to swoon over these two given how our sympathetic heroine feels about him, but Austen in just a few sentences wonderfully describes the blossoming of true love. Bless her. This, of course, makes it even more painful as the reader learns how Lady Russell, not entirely in the wrong, convinced Anne to break her engagement to the unpromising Captain Wentworth.

But we soon learn that Captain Wentworth was actually as promising as he claimed he would be—rising in rank in the navy and making his fortune. Anne, I think showing a wonderful maturity and realism, doesn’t blame Lady Russell or herself for acting as she did when she broke her engagement to him, and yet, she would not advise a young woman in the same position to act in the same manner. It’s a fantastic, Austen-y realization, followed by that equally lovely self-delusion Austen excels at, as Anne thinks she will be able to meet Captain Wentworth’s sister and brother-in-law when they take the house with no awkwardness. Poor girl.

Chapter 5
So, Admiral Cross (that is Captain Wentworth’s brother-in-law) comes to terms with Sir Walter to move into Kellynch Hall. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Anne are all to move to Bath within the month, but Anne’s other sister, Mary, is ill and wants Anne to stay with her and her family just a few miles from Kellynch Hall. I think this exchange sums up how Anne is truly the only decent member of the family:

“I cannot possibly do without Anne,” was Mary’s reasoning; and Elizabeth’s reply was, “Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath.”

So, Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, depart. Anne stays with Lady Russell for a time before venturing to Uppercross Cottage to stay with Mary, one of Austen’s great “invalids.” In addition to Mary, the reader is introduced to her in-laws, the Musgroves, the table being set incrementally for the story about to unfold in earnest.

Hopefully I’ll be more regular in my live read, especially when I finish up The Count of Monte Cristo. In the meantime, think of Rupert Penry Jones.

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Original from PBS.

~S

 

It’s Not a Retcon Until You Hit “Publish”

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Don’t zoom in unless you want spoilers!

Here at Unicorn HQ, we have a three-day weekend, which means plenty of time for writing projects.  At the moment, of course, we’re just sitting around drinking coffee, but we’ll get back to work later on.  Maybe after we go grocery shopping.  But rest assured, we’ll be hard at work sometime soon.

Last night, we worked on the outline for S’s latest fanfic saga.  Maybe at some point she’ll post some more about it, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a sort of romance story with a love triangle.  As originally conceived, it was all about the romance, though with just enough plot to explain how, at various points of the story, two of the three members of the triangle get into rather serious trouble.  (I can’t say how they get in trouble, because that would be a spoiler.)

So a few weeks ago, S started posting chapters of this fanfic at her favorite fanfic-publishing site.  And an odd thing happened.  It turned out that her readers were actually quite interested in the plot.  They liked her original characters and said they were looking forward to seeing what happened later.

You can see her problem now, can’t you?  The plot was never intended to be important.  It was just window dressing—an excuse to get the members of the love triangle in position (as it were) for their romance to blossom.  Now S suddenly realized that she really needed to flesh out the plot.  And that meant going back and outlining again.

We got out the butcher paper, rolled it out on the floor, and she wrote out a quick summary of each chapter.  Then we went through, figured out where the plotting and political intrigue could be expanded, and wrote it in with a pencil.  After that, we did some quick character profiles for some of her original characters.  In the story as originally written, these people barely showed up.  But if they’re going to become a bit more important, S needs to know what they look like, where they’re from, and what their motivations are.

This kind of re-outlining is always a bit tricky.  When you write a scene, it hopefully has a certain flow or rhythm to it.  So it’s not always easy to find places to add new information.  Let’s say you have a scene where Susan and Bob are talking about their friend Frank.  And in your new outline, you’ve decided (for some reason) that it’s really important to find some way to mention that Susan and Frank went to college together.  Maybe that could be entirely straightforward—rather than telling a story about something stupid Frank did at last year’s office Christmas party, you can just change that so it’s a story about something Frank did at a frat party in college.  Bingo—you’ve got that information into the scene for the reader to see, and almost nothing had to change.

Sometimes, though, you’re left pulling your hair and banging your head against the keyboard, thinking, “There’s no where to put it!  There’s no reason why Susan’s college years would ever come up in this conversation!”  Now you’re faced with either rewriting the conversation from scratch, or writing a new scene.  Which means more outlining, of course.

But that’s what you have to do, and that’s what we’re up to this weekend.  Also, I’m still working my way through the reference guide that I’m writing about the main city in the Myrciaverse.  Last night I invented a number of markets and shopping districts.  It’s good fun.  Just the thing for a cold winter afternoon.

J

Line. By. Line.

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Alexandre Dumas, owner of the biggest yacht in France?

For about a month now, J and I have been making our way slowly through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas for my book club. In general, the prose is excellent and occasionally quite funny, and the characters are compelling, and I think it’s fair to say we’re both enjoying it more than not. And yet, we’re 684 pages into this 1620 page novel and fully understanding for the first time why readers might be tempted to read an abridged version of a book.

For instance, there is a section where the titular Count meets some young men in Rome who become very important to the story. There’s some colorful and exciting incidents in this section, which also serves as a bit of travelogue, but we both felt exhausted every time we reached the end of a chapter in this section. It could easily have been cut in half. But, hey, Dumas was paid by the line, and clearly when he wrote this section he had a boat payment to make.

It’s actually rather annoying. I don’t dislike any particular part of the novel, because the writing is excellent and it is exceptionally readable, but I can’t help feeling as though I would like it more without the bloat. (Example. “But let me tell you in detail about this thing the reader just finished reading!”) Perhaps an abridgment is in order, because I now have under a month to get through 1,000 more pages.

So, that’s why I need to keep this short. So much reading, so little time. But we didn’t want anyone to think we’d forgotten about the blog over the holidays. We should be back to regular posting now, and for the sake of my reading sanity, I hope to return to the Persuasion live read soon. I need something a bit more concise in my life at the moment.

~S