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Sophia, married to famous German archaeologist, Heinrich Obermann, works together with him on a dig in Turkey believed to be the site of ancient Troy. As Sophie embraces his enthusiasm, she equally becomes suspicious of his past, heightened by the death of a visiting American archeologist. The site’s validity is questioned by a second visiting British archeologist but in spite these doubts, Obermann’s claims grow stronger. Sophia must choose between her husband’s fantasized history of Troy and scientific objectivity. Ackroyd vividly recreates the world of the nineteenth century archeologist working piece by piece to claim the past. For Obermann, it is a landscape inspired by his poetic vision of the great Homeric epic, but how far will a man of science go to change the facts to fit his fantasy?
From the moment she is struck by lightning as a child and survives the ordeal, it is clear that Mary Anning is destined for greatness. When Mary uncovers a ‘crocodile’ fossil on the beach near her home, she and her new friend and fellow fossil enthusiast, Elizabeth Philpot, set the academic world alight with their joint fossil finds. Both challenge ideas about the world’s creation and origins of species, an intellectual forum dominated almost exclusively by men. Wielding clever, subtle subversive prose, Ms Chevalier has composed a feminist odyssey into the heart of Victorian misogyny, poking quiet fun at the pomposity and vanity of male ‘expert’ collectors, while applauding the vigilance and diligence of the women ‘hunters’ who do the work. This novel is based on the real life of Mary Anning, an eminent scientist, whose findings influenced Darwin but faced prejudice in the male dominated society she worked in.
Life is an endless landscape of concrete and run-down tenements for Esperanza Cordero as she struggles to rise above the hopelessness surrounding her. Told in a series of six vignettes that range from heartbreaking to deeply joyous, this is an uplifting story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, who manages to invent who she is. Beneath Cisnero’s lyrical prose lies a rich network of themes including poverty, child abuse, spousal abuse, the importance of education and a chronicle of the triumph of will. This is a beautiful, timeless story about growing up that everyone can relate to and is a masterpiece of Latino literature.
Set in biblical times under the scorching Middle Eastern sun, four travellers enter the Judean desert in search of redemption. Amid the barren rocks and scattered caves, the travellers meet a dangerous merchant called Musa and his pregnant wife, Mira. Musa is a deeply troubled man who takes his anger out on women, particularly the good-hearted and intelligent Mira. Into their path enters Martha who hopes that quarantine in the desert will cure her childlessness with a miracle conception. In the shadows, however, lurks another figure, Jesus, who has entered the desert to purge himself of all his bodily needs with the aid of an extremely brutal fasting ritual. Crace brilliantly juxtapositions each character in an ingenious and beguiling retelling of the biblical Temptation of Jesus with the licentious Musa as the devil. The result is a modern and personal slant on the devil as well as insight into the plight of Jesus and the bodily dilemmas he embodies and hopes to resolve and redeem.
Henry Fleming is a farm boy who goes straight into the battlefields of the American Civil War as a foot soldier. He gives an account of his firsthand experiences of this war and through his eyes we see flashes of vivid and raw combat, which shatter the lofty platitudes of heroism and patriotism that are expounded by the Union Army. The reader follows Henry’s struggle to abandon his preconceptions of courage when he flees the battlefield and then witnesses the gruesome death of a friend. While war rages around him, Henry must separate what he once believed from his own experiences and, amidst rage and confusion, piece together a whole new role model of courage for himself. In doing so, he is forced into a true act of heroism.
‘The Collector’ is the dark and disturbing story of Frederick Clegg, a desperately lonely man, withdrawn from society and unable to form relationships. Instead, he collects things, mainly butterflies, and enjoys photography, thus observing life rather than taking part in it himself. Frederick becomes obsessed with a beautiful, young art student, Miranda, and unable to make normal social contact, he plans to collect her, as one of his butterflies. So one evening, he calmly abducts her with the unwavering belief that she will both understand and learn to love him. Telling the story from both Frederick’s and Miranda’s perspective, Fowles creates two entirely different voices and, therefore, we are given a chilling insight into the dark world that Frederick has created for himself and his captive. An archetypical tale of good and evil!
Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old teenager with terminal cancer, is reluctant to go to a support group, but changes her mind when she meets a boy named Augustus Waters. Augustus has had a rare form of bone cancer which has recently abated. Hazel and Augustus begin a romantic relationship while searching for the meaning of existence as well as for the reclusive author of their favourite book. Their love story is as real as it is doomed and the genuine humour of the novel makes its luminous final pages all the more moving. This affecting but unsentimental story provokes reflection on questions which any healthy teenagers might ask: Where do I find the courage to deal with physical and emotional pain? How can I create feelings of self-worth? How do I find value in my life and relationships?
This moving novel from award winning children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo, takes place during the Second World War. It tells the poignant story of the loyal relationship between a boy and his horse before and during their war experiences. Morpurgo relates the grueling hardship of a working horse in battle and the separation of the boy from his horse for the sake of the war effort, duty and country which adds to the emotional suspense. ‘War Horse,’ also sensitively portrays the fate of children and animals sacrificed by the atrocities of war.
Gorgeous, young and innocent, Dorian Gray is being painted by his friend, Basil Hallward, when he meets Lord Henry Wotton, a decadent, disillusioned hedonist. Lord Henry manages to influence Dorian, so totally changing his outlook that Dorian eventually wishes he could trade his soul to remain as young and beautiful as he appears in the portrait. When his selfish and ruthless life takes hold, the moral decline is alarmingly exhibited in his portrait which turns ugly. Wilde’s timeless classic explores fundamental moral questions, never more relevant in a society where beauty, youth and the pursuit of fun are increasingly over-valued.
Reviews by Evelyn, Jayne, Liz, Michaela, Ruth and Sophie.