Letters from my Windmill by Alphonse Daudet — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

According to the back of my copy of Letters from My Windmill, Alphonse Daudet was ‘the most successful writer in France by the end of the nineteenth century’, and yet, before coming across this edition in a second-hand book shop, I’d never heard of him. The introduction promised an author who prioritised story over character development which ought to be, if nothing else, an interesting change of pace from the books I usually review.

Yet it is said that at Christmas every year a supernatural light hovers among these ruins, and that peasants, going to Mass and the midnight supper in the church since built below, see this ghost of a chapel lit with invisible candles which burn in the open air even in wind and snow.

The Three Low Masses, Letters from My Windmill, Alphonse Daudet

Looking down the list of chapters, Letters from My Windmill presents a real mix of different types of stories which are effective in different ways. The Three Low Masses has a really evocative ending, which can be so difficult to pull off in short fiction, while The Fable of the Man with the Golden Brain is almost disturbing once the implications of the metaphor sink in. In contrast, The Lighthouse of Les Sanguinaires didn’t really go anywhere, and was one of the least successful stories in the collection.

And how good it was, after one of these lyrical escapades, to come back to the windmill, to lie full-length on the grass of the platform, and dream of the book I would write one day, telling about it all, a book into which I would put all those songs, still singing in my head, all that bright laughter, all those enchanting legends; and in it I would reflect the light of that vibrant sun and the scent of those sun-parched hills, and I would write it as if it had been written in my ruin with its dead sails.

Letters from My Windmill, Alphonse Daudet

Despite the introduction, what really stood out were Daudet’s descriptions, whether they were of Provence or the Balearic Islands. Monsier Senguin’s Goat and The Oranges really showcased Daudet’s ability to paint a picture of the natural world, while The Agony of La Sémillante demonstrated that he could turn the same skill toward stories of human interest. Though Letters from My Windmill deals with both triumph and tragedy, the overall feeling is one of whimsical satisfaction.

It’s worth mentioning that one story, At Milianah, contained some really ugly antisemitism which detracted from the otherwise pleasant mood of the entire collection. Despite that, I’m definitely curious to check out what Daudet does with a longer narrative, especially since the introduction made it seem like the themes would be ones that particularly resonate with me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle — Reread Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: The Sign of Four.

After getting angry at period-typical misogyny and racism in the first two Sherlock Holmes novels, Nickie suggested that I might find the short stories to be more palatable, so I was curious to find out whether that would be true for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Though I’ve read (or listened to) all twelve stories before, it’s been a long time, so my tastes might definitely have matured out of them.

There was only one instance, in A Case of Identity, in which I felt that Arthur Conan Doyle really mistreated one of his female characters: Holmes works out exactly how his client, Miss Sutherland, was manipulated and deceived but declares that she won’t believe him if he tells her, so just leaves her to get on with her unhappy life! Clearly, it’s the solving of the puzzle that matters to Sherlock (and Dr Watson), and not the actual result of his actions. That would be okay, except that I increasingly feel as though the same is true of Arthur Conan Doyle, and what’s forgivable in a flawed character is less so in a real person.

Outside the wind still screamed and the rain splashed and pattered against the windows. This strange, wild story seemed to have come to us from amid the mad elements — blown in upon us like a sheet of sea-weed in a gale — and now to have been reabsorbed by them once more.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

For the most part, the beginnings of the stories were a little tediously repetitive: Watson notes that Sherlock solves cases for the nobility, but says that these are sometimes less interesting and shows off Sherlock’s skills less well than whichever case he’s introducing. There’s nothing wrong with a formula that works, I suppose, but I might recommend not reading these stories back to back to back.

For many years [Sherlock] had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or person on which he could not at once furnish information.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

The problems and their solutions are clever, and anyone reading these for the first time would likely be carried along by that alone. (Except in the case of The Five Orange Pips, which is sadly incredibly obvious to a modern reader. I can only assume that the Klu Klux Klan was less familiar to British readers in 1892 than it would be today.) Remembering the endings of ten out of twelve stories definitely put me in a position to notice more of the flaws!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Scottish Traditional Tales edited by A.J. Bruford and D.A. MacDonald — New Review

Scottish Traditional Tales was a gift from my Auntie Carol, who I mentioned in my Rob Roy review. Three of my grandparents were Scottish, so although I’ve never lived there, I have an interest in the songs and stories. I dove into Scottish Traditional Tales without a very clear idea of what I would find. And what a wild ride it turned out to be!

‘That cannot be,’ said the king, and he went to bed, and he ate not a bite, and he drank not a drop: and if the day came early, the king rose earlier than that, and went to the hill to hunt.

Lasair Gheug, the King of Ireland’s Daughter, Mrs MacMillan

Relatively few of the stories were familiar to me, and even the ones that were tended to come with unexpected twists. I recognised selkies and brownies, but it took a little longer for me to realise that Lasair Gheug was a version of Snow White where the seven dwarves have been replaced by twelve cats and a trout in a well takes the place of the magic mirror. I liked that in Ceanne Suic — a take on Rumplestiltskin — the woman who has to guess Ceann Suic’s name had already been threatened with the loss of her firstborn. It made her seem a lot more level-headed than the woman who promises her first child to escape a lie that had got out of hand.

An when he went oot the door, this auld woman started stamping her feet an cursin, ‘who told him aboot the witch’s knots in her hair? Who told him about that black cat? An who told them aboot the raven’s feathers? And who told them that I’d turned her feet tae the door?’ she says.

The Broonie, Betsy Whyte

Even if the stories themselves weren’t familiar to me: there were bits of them that were. The Broonie, for example, it a much more working class version of a story I’m familiar with in folksong.

Says ‘who was it who undid the nine witch knots
Braided in amongst this lady’s locks?
And who was it who the leather shoe untied
From the left foot of his wedded bride?
And who was it split the silken thread
The spider stretched all beneath this lady’s bed?
The spider stretched all beneath her bed.’

Willie’s Lady, Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer

It was fun to see little bits and pieces of things that I do know sprinkled in amongst the unfamiliar. This is definitely a collection I’d like to come back to. I think a lot of the stories would only improve with increasing familiarity!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill — New Review

Fierce Fairytales was a birthday present from Ally. I assumed it would be short stories, retellings of famous fairy tales with a twist, along the lines of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. I didn’t realise there’d be poetry, too, or that the reinterpretations of the classic tales would be more nuanced.

And the more she saw the kindness that was in Cinderella, the more she wanted to take it from her, so Cinderella would understand ho awful life can be.

Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul, Nikita Gill

Fierce Fairytales opens with several pages of the poetry, which was fine, but which I didn’t enjoy as much as the short stories, so I’m glad I didn’t give up before I’d got to the bit I really loved. More than anything, the stories reminded me of things I’ve read on tumblr, which explore motivations of secondary characters in interesting ways. Indeed, Nikita Gill is on tumblr, where you can find some samples of her poems.

A hand is a small price to pay for a magical ship that will take him to Neverland, a place that lives on a star.

Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul, Nikita Gill

The standout works from Fierce Fairytales, for me, were Boy Lost and Badrulbadour, both of which managed to pack a lot of story into a very short space. I enjoyed the longer stories, too, especially the ones about Wendy, Belle and Cinderella. I’d recommend reading this if you’re a fan of these kinds of stories posted on tumblr.

Next, I’ll be reading Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley.

Rating: 3 out of 5.