I just finished reading this brilliant and under-appreciated masterpiece and have plenty of thoughts and a lot say about it. Too much, in fact, for one blog post, especially since I’m swamped with work and a tight deadline. I can’t say much more than a few paragraphs about it at the moment, so I thought I’d start with with a simple, spoiler-free review and some initial thoughts. Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of posts on this book. 🙂
This statement, by Arthur Koestler, that precedes the novel, pretty much sums up everything you need to know going into Darkness at Noon.
The “so-called Moscow Trials” were a series of three show trials, held in the Soviet Union between 1936-1938, in which Stalin had several leading Bolsheviks from the Russian Revolution and top officials (anyone who could who could possibly threaten his power) arrested, tried for treason and found guilty. Most of those convicted were given the death sentence and shot. One of the most bewildering things about these trials were the seemingly voluntary and willing confessions of guilt obtained from the accused. The trials were a sham, the accused were hardened men, heroes from the revolution who had not committed the crimes they were accused of, so why did they confess (especially when confessing would almost certainly lead to their death)?
Darkness at Noon is Arthur Koestler’s 200 page attempt to answer that question and he does so with an insight and brilliance that is pretty amazing. Set during the time of the Moscow Trials, in the Soviet Union, we follow the story of Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, an Old Bolshevik leader, as he is arrested, imprisoned, interrogated and tried for treason against the very government he helped bring to power and devoted his entire life to. While in prison, Rubashov deliberates on the question of whether or not to confess to crimes he has not committed and if so: why? and if not: why not?
Rubashov is a fictional person, but the people and events that the book is based on were real. Koestler, himself, was once enamored by the idea of a Communist utopia and an eager and fanatical member of the Communist Party.
“I went to Communism as one goes to a spring of fresh water, and I left Communism as one clambers out of a poisoned river strewn with the wreckage of flooded cities and corpses of the drowned.”
Arthur Koestler The Invisible Writing
Drawing on his seven years as a member of the Communist Party, Koestler gets to the heart of the ideology behind the thoughts and struggles and actions of those committed to the Revolution. He creates an extremely well-rounded and lifelike portrait of someone who has rejected his conscience, made the Party his god, and spent his life sacrificing others for the Cause on “the principle that the end justifies the means–all means, without exception”–only to find that the Cause now demands that he be sacrificed (and there are no exceptions).
Something I thought about a lot as I was reading, that has continued to baffle me since I finished, is the question of why this book is not more well known. I imagine the answer may have something to do with the fall of Communist Russia, perhaps people think that it’s no longer that relevant. This is probably a subject to expound on in another post, but I’ll just say here that I think this book is as relevant today as it was when it was written because it deals with human nature and our tendency, as humans, to justify our means to get our ends, our tendency to see others as means to an end instead of an end in themselves, our tendency to paint the world in black and white and form tribes and groups that value the collective over the individual and it clearly shows the terrible place all that leads to.
Another thing about this book, that took me by surprise, from the get-go, was the undeniable connection and similarity I kept seeing between Darkness at Noon and Nineteen Eighty-Four. I even stopped to confirm that Nineteen Eighty-Four was written after Darkness at Noon and that it wasn’t the other way around. This is definitely subject I want to explore further in another post, because there’s stuff in Darkness at Noon that I’m sure George Orwell drew on in writing Nineteen Eighty-Four (and possibly Animal Farm, as well) and I think he was influenced by Koestler in a significant way.
That said, comparing Darkness at Noon to Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bit like comparing two of your favourite kinds of oranges against each other. Both have their merits, but Darkness at Noon is in no ways inferior; it can easily hold it’s own and is even superior in ways.
Like I said, I think this book is completely under-appreciated, so I’m determined to do my part to make sure this book does not fall into complete obscurity. 🙂 If you’re interested in politics or philosophy or psychology or literature; if you’re a fan of George Orwell or Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Dostoevsky, it’s highly probable that you’d like this book and I’d highly recommend it!
And if you do read it or if you’ve already read it, let me know what you think! I love to hear your thoughts about it. 😀
Here’s a look at what I’ve read, so far, in 2017.
- The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
- The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear
, Larissa Volokhonsky
- Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (four out of six of the St. Petersburg Tales), Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
- Oddkins by Dean R. Koontz
- The Martian by Andy Weir (Not pictured because I borrowed it from a friend)
- Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons (Not pictured; I listened to the audiobook)
I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding Nikolai Gogol’s works; I’m not exactly sure how to count or list them, as his tales are collected/listed differently depending on the publisher. I think I’ll just wait until I’ve finished reading the other two St. Petersburg Tales and then count all of them as one book. In that case, so far, I’ve finished reading ten books this year (1/3 of the way through my reading goal for the year, yay! 🙂 ). All of them were great reads, though I’ve only managed to blog about one. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get around to blogging about a few more of them.
These are the books I’m currently reading.
How to be Decadent by George Mikes
I and Thou by Martin Buber, Ronald Gregor Smith (Translator)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition / 1st Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor)
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol , Larissa Volokhonsky , Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright
For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I’ll be meeting up with a friend this Sunday to discuss it, so I’ve been using that as impetus to really dig in and finish all the critical essays and background information included in my Norton Critical Edition. In addition to that, I’ve also been re-reading Notes from Underground for the second and third time simultaneously. (As you can see I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂 ) I’m actually not exactly sure how you would count it, as I’m reading two different translations simultaneously (i.e. I finish a chapter in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and then I read Michael R. Katz’s translation of the same chapter). I don’t think I could manage to pull off this kind of simultaneous reading with any other book, but Notes from Underground is short enough and such brilliant piece of work, I’m finding it’s actually a really interesting way to read it. 🙂
I’ve been slowly making my way through George Mikes’ How to be Decadent and Martin Buber’s I and Thou for about a year now. I actually started reading Buber’s I and Thou last May, but it was a tough read and hard to follow. I only got about 20 pages in before I put it down. I figured maybe it was problem with Ronald Smith’s translation and decided to wait till I could get my hands on a Walter Kaufmann translation instead. But, recently, I came across a few paragraphs from I and Thou that I really liked that turned out to be a section from the Ronald Smith translation just a few pages down from where I left off. So I figured maybe I’d just stopped before the good stuff, and decided to have another go at it. I’ll still likely still buy the Kaufmann translation, eventually, but I’m gonna give Ronald Smith another go and we’ll see how that turns out.
N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is a tome I’ve been meaning to read for nearly a decade now. I finally bought a copy as a sort of Christmas present to myself last year and figured I’d make it my Lent reading project this year. Unfortunately, that plan got hijacked, by my Notes from Underground reading project. Still, I’ve been slowly chugging along at it. I’m only 50 pages in, so there’s no way I’m gonna finish it by Easter, but I’m determined to slowly make my way through it this year.
I haven’t started reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler or the last two of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, but they’re up next, after I’m finished with Notes from Underground.
Aside from those books, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hoping to dig into some of the poetry of my two favourite poets T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
I especially want to focus on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and possibly “Ash Wedsnesday”. But definitely Four Quartets, which I think is the best of T. S. Eliot’s best. I’ve been wanting to really dig into to it ever since I read it for the first time in November, 2015.
It’s such a deep and profound and beautiful and perfect collection of poetry, I think I could explore and meditate on it for a lifetime and still have more to discover and explore. I feel like it will take me years to even begin to scratch the surface of it’s depth, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards that this next month. 🙂
It’s very rare that I come across something I truly wish I’d read when I was a kid or an adolescent, but that was one of the strongest feelings I had when I finished reading this beautiful little gem of a story last week.
It was almost a feeling of regret and frustration at the injustice that I was not even aware of this book’s existence, at that age, because I know that my adolescent self would have truly appreciated and found a kindred spirit and guide in it. I even share the same name as the protagonist 🙂 (a first for me; although, we don’t share the same derivative) and I could see a lot of myself, especially, a much younger me in this Meg. I think this book could have given me wisdom and helped to fortify and guide me through a lot of the issues I faced growing up.
But I don’t really mind, that it took me this long to finally read it, because I found it surprisingly relevant to my life right now. It still seemed like the perfect timing to read it. 🙂
I may do a more in depth review on the book at some point, but to try to sum it up in one paragraph: A Wrinkle in Time is a story that explores deep truths about what it means to be truly human. It’s a book that looks at darkness and evil and uncertainty with the eyes of faith, hope and love. It’s a book that gives the imagination worlds to explore and wings to fly, without bogging it down with too many details. It’s a story that explores difficult ideas and concepts–such as: equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome; conformity vs. individuality; confronting and resisting ideologies and the herd mentality; how freedom and true joy requires responsibility and the risk of pain, mistakes and unhappiness; how life isn’t simple and often there are no easy solutions or quick fixes and we can only respond to life by being responsible; how we don’t have to be afraid of being afraid, or of life or of who we are (imperfections, vulnerabilities and weaknesses included); how weaknesses can also be our strengths (and vice versa); how often times, the only way out is through facing our fears (taking an honest look at who we are and the things we are most afraid of or least want to do), but if we are brave we’ll find we are strong enough to and that good can come of it–all in a relatively simple and uplifting way, that even a child could understand and synthesise.
Simply put, A Wrinkle in Time is a gift and a story for all ages. I love it and I would recommend it to just about anyone.
That said, I can imagine that there may be people this book may not appeal to. There’s this little gem of a quote I came across, for the first time, yesterday, at the end of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. It pretty much sums up how I feel about recommending this book:
“You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that.”
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
There’s so much of that secret thread–that binds books that I really love (and ideas that capture me) together–running through this book; it’s brimming with it. I’d say if you’ve read and loved, at least, two or three of the following titles: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series (as well as his Space Trilogy), Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, or George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin books (or his other fairy tales and stories), and maybe even Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows or Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, or even, Edwin A. Abbot’s Flatland and the Bible then you may be someone who as an inkling of that secret thread and you may enjoy this book too. 🙂
Actually, I’d still say to just about anyone: give this book a read. It isn’t a long book (a little over 200 pages) and a very easy read (I read it in a day). And, if you do read it, let me know what you think. 🙂
This was my first time to read anything by Madeleine L’Engle and it definitely won’t be my last. I’m sure this is a book I will revisit too. It’s on my list of favorites and I’m already looking forward to reading it again. 🙂
If you, dear reader, have already read this book, do you have any thoughts (positive or negative) on it? If so, I’d love to know what you think. 🙂
It’s been over six months since I posted anything here; mostly because, well, life. But I have been busy reading.
This is pretty much what my last year in books looked like. 🙂
As a side note, taking this photo was, by far, the most frustrating experience I’ve had photographing books for my blog.
It took me three tries to get all the books in the stack right. Each time, it was only after I’d actually stacked the books, taken the picture, and nearly finished putting all the books away on my shelves, that I would suddenly realise I’d forgotten to include a book and back out all the books would have to come. 😦 In addition to that, there was always the matter of getting the balance right. See that wise old owl at the top of the stack? He’s only there so I could balance the darn thing. I can’t even count the amount of times the entire stack fell over. Fortunately, my stack was heavily cushioned and no books were damaged or hurt in the making of this photo. 🙂
In my last “official” What I’m Reading post, I mentioned I was going to be taking on the Goodreads’ Reading Challenge again. In 2015, I’d made it my goal to complete 36 books, but I found myself struggling at the end of the year. So I decided to be more realistic with my reading goals in 2016 and made it a goal to finish reading 30 books. I’m happy to say I reached my goal and even surpassed it! I read 33 books, which turns out to be the exactly same amount I read in 2015.
Here’s a complete list of the books I managed to complete, in the order they were read (generally speaking), with the latest reads appearing first.
- What We Talk about When We Talk about God by Rob Bell
- Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #3) by Dan Simmons
- The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #2) by Dan Simmons
- Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #1) by Dan Simmons
- Prayer: Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis
- Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford
- The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials #3) by Philip Pullman
- The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philip Pullman
- The Northern Lights (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman
- The Brothers Karamazov: A Norton Critical Edition / Edition 1 by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ralph E. Matlaw (Editor/Translator, Constance Garnett (Translator)
- The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
- Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Constance Garnett (Translator)
- Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- God Will Make a Way: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Henry Cloud, John Townsend
- Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert
- Growing up and Other Vices by Sara Midda
- Twelve Step Fandango by Chris Haslam
- The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts With Epilogue by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
- Eggs, Beans And Crumpets (Ukridge #1.3) by P.G. Wodehouse
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- The Inner Life by Thomas à Kempis
- John for Everyone: Part One by N.T. Wright
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Death Cure (The Maze Runner #3) by James Dashner
- The Scorch Trials (The Maze Runner #2) by James Dashner
- The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner #1) by James Dashner
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- The Wise Woman and Other Stories by George MacDonald
Here are a few more statistics. 🙂It’s interesting to compare 2016’s with 2015’s. They’re both surprisingly similar.
Again, these stats aren’t entirely accurate.
For example, I’m sure Notes from the Underground is far more popular than the statistics here show. I chose this edition because it was the closest I could find to a stand-alone Constance Garnett translation, which is the version I completed (I’m still in the middle of reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation). The least popular book I read is actually Sarah Midda’s Growing up and Other Vices followed closely by Chris Haslam’s Twelve Step Fandango (which I only read because my friend wanted to know my opinion of it and promised me he’d read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World if I read Twelve Step Fandango. I kept my end of the bargain, he didn’t. Heh.).
In addition, I didn’t completely read both translations of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I read the entire Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation and read about 1/5 of the Norton Critical edition (translated by Constance Garnett and revised by Ralph E. Matlaw). The Norton Critical edition, includes about 140 pages of background and sources and critical essays, all of which I read, so I felt it was fine to count it as an additional book. The only drawback to including it in the list is that it added an extra 600-700 pages to my final page count for the year.
I also read both versions of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the 1890 Lippincott version and the 1891 revised and expanded version. So, technically, that would be two books, instead of one. But they were both included in the Norton Critical Edition and since I’d read a few other books that were terribly short, I figured I should just count it as one book to help even things out on the whole. 🙂
I’d say, overall, 2016 was a great year in reading. It included some of the best books I’ve ever read, as well as, some of the worst (*cough, James Dashner*); it also included the weirdest and most disturbing book I’ve ever read. Nearly every book was thought provoking in some way, which, to me, is the hallmark of a book worth reading.
I’d like to say, as I usually do, that I’ll be writing reviews for most or some of these books in the future, but, so far, that hasn’t seemed to have panned out. 😦 So I’ll refrain from saying anything this time, and que sera, sera. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂
I’ve signed up again for the 2017 Goodreads’ Reading Challenge. My goal is, again, to complete 30 books. I’m hoping to read a lot of tomes and magnum opuses, several large and weighty books, this year, so I’m not sure I’ll complete my goal. But I still think 30 books is a good and realistic-enough goal to shoot for.
How about you? Do you have any reading goals for 2017? If so, I’d love to hear about them. 🙂
About two months ago, a friend was going to have a month off. So he told me to give him a big reading project, which we could then discuss the next time we met. Fyodor Dostoevky’s The Brothers Karamazov had been sitting on my shelf and at the top of my priority reading list for years, but I’d been waiting till I could cut out a chunk of time to tackle it. This looked like the perfect opportunity. So I suggested The Brothers Karamazov (along with a disclaimer that, realistically, I probably wouldn’t be able to finish it in a month, but it was worth a start).
Two months later and, I haven’t finished, I’m about 2/5 into the book. But I’m not worried about taking my time. This isn’t a book I want to rush through.
One of the last books I read was Kurt Vonnegut’s SlaughterHouse-Five. In it, one of the characters says…
“Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn’t science fiction. He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. ‘But that isn’t enough any more,’ said Rosewater.”
Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five
Is everything there is to know about life really in this book? Maybe. Is it really not enough any more? I don’t know. 🙂
What I do know is, Dostoevsky was a master at understanding, expressing and exploring human nature and the human experience. And this–his last book–is him at his finest. Every chapter is in some way an exploration of, or insight into, some form of psychology, philosophy, or theology. And many chapters are brimming with food for thought.
In light of that, and because The Brothers Karamazov is such a long book, I thought it would be interesting to try something different. So I’m going to try to blog about my reading experience, as I read, instead of waiting until I’ve finished reading all 800 pages. After all, “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” I’m hoping this will be a good way to note and journal my thoughts, so that I won’t forget them. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll go about it, but I have a few ideas. 🙂
Last year, I decided to take on the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge. My goal was to complete thirty-six books (three books a month). Here are the books I managed to complete.
- Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
- The Bad Beginning (An Unfortunate Series of Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket
- Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Yoshida Kenkō
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
- A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
- Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
- The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
- Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Mocking Jay (The Hunger Games, #3) by Suzanne Collins
- Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins
- The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins
- Calamity (Reckoners, #3) by Brandon Sanderson
- Firefight (Reckoners, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
- Mitosis (Reckoners, #1.5) by Brandon Sanderson
- Steelheart (Reckoners, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
- The Hope of Elantris (Elantris, #1.5) by Brandon Sanderson
- Elantris (Elantris, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
- The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4) by Brandon Sanderson
- The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3) by Brandon Sanderson
- The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
- The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
- Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)by Brandon Sanderson
- The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)by Brandon Sanderson
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- On Love by Alain de Botton
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
I’m hoping to get around to reviewing many of the books listed here and as I do I will add hyperlinks to each review. In the meantime, here are a few more statistics. 🙂
As you can see, there are thirty-three books listed, but I wouldn’t really count Brandon Sanderson’s The Hope of Elantris (Elantris, #1.5) or Mitosis (Reckoners, #1.5) as a book each, because they’re both just short stories. I could probably get away with counting them both as one book. So I’ll do that and say I completed thirty-two books last year.
While I’m on the subject of these two short stories, as a very brief review, I would not really recommend either of them to anyone, even a Brandon Sanderson fan. Actually, if you’re an obsessive fan, and like the Reckoners series, I’d say go ahead and read Mitosis, just don’t expect anything. But take my word for it and don’t read The Hope of Elantris. Just don’t. There are very few things that I actually wish I could unread and this short story is one of them. 😦 More on it later perhaps.
Going back to the Reading Challenge, towards the end of 2015, I found myself torn between reading the books I wanted or needed to read (i.e. denser or longer books) and trying to reach my goal of thirty-six books. In the end, I decided that reaching my goal of reading thirty-six books wasn’t as important as reading books that I needed or wanted to read, but coming to that conclusion was difficult. So this year, I’ve decided to make things a bit easier for myself and make it my goal to read thirty books (2.5 books a month) instead. Hopefully, this will allow for a happy balance between both the amount and quality of books I read this year.
What are your reading goals for 2016? If you have any, I’d love to hear about it. 🙂