A Look at April’s Reading List

April is National Poetry month and the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club team has chosen to focus on poetry for our book club’s reading selections. They have curated a selection of poems for our main selection and paired that with 5 different poetry collection books as flight picks. In addition, they have two poetry classes on the schedule and I am really looking forward to them! Poetry has not been something I have always enjoyed. I have a handful of poets I enjoy reading: Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, some of Robert Frost, and a couple of others. But by and large, it is not something I pick up to read on a regular basis simply for enjoyment.

Honestly, some poetry intimidates me I think. I have especially struggled with epic poetry. Things like The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, Paradise Lost – these have all been works I have had on my list of things to read because I feel they are good for me to read but not because I necessarily just would love to read them. πŸ™‚ I can now say I have read The Iliad and Beowulf both in their entirety. The Iliad….well…..yeah, no….didn’t enjoy it. But the translation of Beowulf I read this past year I found I actually did enjoy! I still need to tackle The Odyssey and Paradise Lost though.

Anyhoo….

Setting aside epic poetry, there is so much more to look at in the form of writing called poetry. I think that maybe I just don’t know how to read poetry well if it doesn’t rhyme. A little embarrassing to admit, I think, but there it is. Thanks to the nudge from the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club team, I’m going to take the opportunity this month to really dive into the art of poetry and try to learn how to better read various different types and styles of poetry; and maybe, hopefully then, enjoy it even more.

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With that in mind, I am planning to pair up our book club reading(s) with a couple of books I have on my shelf:

  • How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

I am fairly certain I won’t be able to get both of these read by the end of the month. But that’s okay. The goal is not to get them completely read in a certain time frame. The goal is to begin reading them and let them teach me. Let them help me learn more about poetry and maybe even fall in love with it. (Here’s hoping! πŸ™‚ )

Along with these two books, I will of course read the specially curated collection of poems from the MMD team, as well as try to read some of the flight picks (I’ve already read one and it was phenomenal!) as well as any other poetry collections I may like to give a try. And as I already mentioned, I plan to join in for both poetry classes offered this month in the book club.

Aside from the deep dive into the realm of poetry, I have two other books I plan to read. First, I have been feeling in the mood to re-read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This book was my first time reading a Steinbeck novel and honestly, I didn’t care for it a whole lot. But after reading East of Eden last year and finding it to be a phenomenal book, I decided I wanted to give The Grapes of Wrath another try. And so I think I am going to begin that this week.

And second, my IRL book club has chosen A Moveable Feast by Hemingway for our read this month. I am so excited to read this! It’s on my classics TBR and I’ve heard very high praises of it. I will probably try to start that about mid-month. If I can wait that long! LOL I may just spread it out over the whole month. We’ll see!

Being the mood reader that I am, there could of course be adjustments to these plans. I’ve got the month pretty scheduled with very little room for reading on a whim. But I will try to listen in to my reading mood throughout the month and adjust if I feel the need to. πŸ™‚

What do you have in your plans for reading this month?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Length: 182 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Classics
My Rating: 5 Stars

From the Goodreads description:

Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing, and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby—young, handsome, and fabulously rich—always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.

The Great Gatsby has been on my classics TBR for quite some time. And when my IRL book club began discussing what we might want to read next, I was excited that this book was picked! One of the members talked about Fitzgerald’s wonderful writing and I couldn’t wait to dive into the book. Well, it did not disappoint! I annotated the heck out of this book! πŸ™‚


See what I mean? LOL I noted illusions to direction, dust, the overseeing “eyes”, things that stood out to me, and more. The last part of this edition I have is actually the short story Winter Dreams that Fitzgerald wrote. I read that it was the inspiration behind The Great Gatsby. And I definitely saw whispers of the novel in the short story.

Fitzgerald’s writing in this classic is beautiful, skillful, deep, smart. Truly phenomenal! There is so much that can be discussed. So many layers. Themes, motifs, connections to other literature. So. Much. There. In. These. Pages. In fact, our book club discussion went really long!

Fitzgerald wrote some very complex main characters. Gatsby, Daisy, and Nick all were so much more than they seemed on the surface. He also managed to really capture the spirit of the Roaring Twenties with all the grit and glamour. And his descriptive writing? Amazing! Here’s just a sneak peak at some of the beautiful descriptive language:

β€œAnd so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees – just as things grow in fast movies – I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” (p. 3)

β€œWe walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling – and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.” (p. 6)

This novel is a glittering, stunning achievement in my opinion and one I will be reading again (and maybe again and again….)

The Classics Club Spin #29

It’s time for the Classics Club Spin! This is my first time participating in it and I’m quite looking forward to seeing which classic will get chosen from my list. I have listed a variety of titles from shorter to longer works…from fantasy to nonfiction to regency romance…from books I am itching to read to books that I’ve wanted to read again.

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For The Classics Club Spin, you are to write a post listing 20 titles from your Classics Club list by March 20th. So here’s my list:

1 – The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

2 – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

3 – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

4 – Far from the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy

5 – Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

6 – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown

7 – At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

8 – The Giver by Lois Lowry

9 – The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

10 – My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

11 – Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

12 – Middlemarch by George Eliot

13 – Frederica by Georgette Heyer

14 – Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

15 – Greenmantle by John Buchan

16 – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

17 – Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

18 – The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

19 – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

20 – The Road from Home by David Kherdian

And there ya have it! I can’t wait to see what book will be picked!

Classics Club for February 2022

The Classics Club has issued a Club Dare 2.0 for February. From the Classics Club Blog:

During FEBRUARY we DARE you to tap into your inner romantic! Simply read a CLASSIC book from your #CClist that you classify as romantic, glamorous, sexy or alluring. It could even be a book or author that you are predisposed to LOVE (because of its topic, its reputation etc).

I already have three reads lined up for February that will likely take most of my time. But I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity to join in for The Classics Club fun! So I looked through my list…I scanned Goodreads list of romantic classics….and I’ve landed on quite a few on my Classics Club list that fit. I narrowed it down to the following:

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontΓ«

All of these are so tempting! But since I already have some bigger reads in February (specifically 11/22/63), I probably need to opt for books that are shorter rather than longer. So I’ve further narrowed it down to:

  • A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

I am torn between the two so I ended up just making a decision to go with whichever one is shortest. And that would be The Importance of Being Earnest. Plus, it’s a play which is great because I like to read different styles from novels to short stories to essays to plays. So that will be perfect as my first play to read for 2022!

From the Goodreads Description for the Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Edition:

Oscar Wilde’s madcap farce about mistaken identities, secret engagements, and lovers entanglements still delights readers more than a century after its 1895 publication and premiere performance. The rapid-fire wit and eccentric characters of The Importance of Being Earnest have made it a mainstay of the high school curriculum for decades.

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gwendolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest’s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

I watched a film adaptation of this several years back but I honestly just don’t remember much about it! I think this sounds like some rollicking fun! Probably just what I’ll need in a month where I’m reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63! πŸ™‚

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Length: 1237 pgs.
Genre: Classics
My Rating: 5 Stars

Edmond DantΓ©s is a kind-hearted, loving person who one day finds himself imprisoned. He has no idea why and is completely innocent. What unfolds is a complex, nuanced, intricate plot that is certainly a tale of revenge; but it is so much more than that. Dumas masterfully developed a story that raises questions and makes the reader think.

Dumas’ writing and all the details that composed the intricate plot of revenge utterly astounded me! As with Les MisΓ©rables, the little details aren’t simply filler. They matter. They all work together and connect. By the end, you see how it all ties together.

Dumas managed to create a narrative that the reader can get lost in. It is very atmospheric with descriptions that pull you into its world – from the dismal, grim Chateau d’If to the Island of Monte Cristo to the Count’s Paris. It is an epic journey that is both character-driven and plot-driven. And the ending! It was sheer perfection! It left me wanting to cry because it was such a beautiful ending.

The Count of Monte Cristo joined the ranks of Les MisΓ©rables in my list of favorite books of all-time. It is a solid 5 star read!

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Length: 474 pgs.
Genre: Classics
My Rating: 5 Stars

This book. Wow! I never would have thought a book about rabbits could be so engrossing! It put me in mind so much of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. How? First, the tone and feel of it. Second, it’s the story of a journey which is an epic adventure. And third, it is world-building.

*Tone and feel to the story and the epic journey*
These two kind of go hand in hand. This is a story about a group of rabbits that leave their warren because of the potential threat of danger. They feel danger is imminent and they must leave and find somewhere else to live; even though the thought of it terrifies them. So they embark on this daunting journey. It takes great courage and much resourcefulness. They face threats, danger, and sometimes what seems like insurmountable odds. And the ending very much made me feel like I felt when reading the part in The Hobbit when Bilbo comes back to the Shire after his big adventure.

*World-building*
Yes…worldbuilding…but in a different sense. It is a real world of rabbits and nature but to a different level. It is somewhat anthropomorphic. The animals can talk and share feelings and thoughts. They have a history. Their warren has a history. They have stories they pass down. It is a whole distinctive world.

In this novel, Richard Adams managed to represent the nature of life in this story of rabbits. There are themes of friendship, respect, honor, duty, loyalty, perseverance, fear, and courage. There are wars, fighting, and a great deal of drama. It is a story of survival, triumphs, and growth. The characters have depth and the story is full of beauty and richness. I can’t recommend this book enough!

Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing by Nella Larsen
Length: 176 pgs.
Genre: Classics
My Rating: 4 Stars

From the Goodreads Description:

“Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past–even hiding the truth from her racist husband.

Clare finds herself drawn to Irene’s sense of ease and security with her Black identity and longs for the community (and, increasingly, the woman) she lost. Irene is both riveted and repulsed by Clare and her dangerous secret, as Clare begins to insert herself–and her deception–into every part of Irene’s stable existence. First published in 1929, Larsen’s brilliant examination of the various ways in which we all seek to “pass,” is as timely as ever.”

I am still taking in this powerful novella as I type this. It’s a moving story of two women navigating life as light-skinned African American women in Jim Crow America – and how these two women see and navigate their own worlds. It is a story of belonging. It explores themes of race, class, gender, and identity. But it also focuses in on the complex relationship between these two main female characters, Irene and Clare.

Passing is a thought-provoking, eye-opening, gripping story. Larsen writes in such a way that it keeps the narrative moving on towards a very climatic point right towards the end. She executed the story in such a powerful and brilliant way.

I really feel like there is so much to this short work that it really needs multiple readings. The first time around you are reading for the story, to find out what happens. In a second reading you can really dig more into the complex layers of this novella. This first time reading it, I checked it out from my local library in ebook form. I definitely want to buy this in print to have on my shelf as I know I want to read it again.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Length: 1358 pgs.
Genre: Classics
My Rating: 4 Stars

I find it hard to write a review of these longer epic works of classic literature. They involve so much and it’s hard to narrow it down to talk about it. The first time I read War and Peace I was, let’s just say, not that impressed. I found it to be simply okay. But I also knew that at some point I needed to read it again. And so I did. This second time around I loved it so much more! This book is truly phenomenal. I do feel it has its own flaws; but in my opinion those flaws don’t detract from the book overall.

Tolstoy includes a lot of details in the war sections but also in the other parts of the story, including a lengthy philosophical digression in the second part of the epilogue. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, as far as the war and battlefield portions go, while I think we may not necessarily need all the details he gives, I can see how this attention to detail really does contribute to the epic scope of this novel. Because this book truly is a masterpiece of epic proportions.

Regarding the philosophical detours, when you understand that Tolstoy wrote this novel with the intent to include reflections of his beliefs on a number of issues, then you can see why he included so much of the various sections with all the details of war and the parts that were treatises on different topics such as history, free will, and such. Understanding that, it makes sense that he would devote a portion of the epilogue to delve into his beliefs more and in turn, bring them to a close. But I didn’t feel like he brought them to a close. It felt like he just went on and on talking about the issues and left off in the middle of the conversation. So the last part of the epilogue left a bit to be desired unfortunately. In my opinion, I think that the whole second part of the epilogue (as well as some of the details in the various war sections) could have been left out. And that really is what ultimately led me to give this book 4 stars instead of 5 stars. If I had not been bent on finishing every single word, I would have been tempted to simply skip that last philosophical part of the epilogue. Had it left off at the end of part I of the epilogue, I really think I would have walked away from the book feeling like I would want to keep reading about the lives of the characters that we have gotten to know so well throughout the book. Instead, I found myself just plowing my way through that second and last part of the epilogue to get it finished. Sadly, by the last sentence of the book, I was glad it was done. So for me, I think the story would have had a better finish if it had ended after part one of the epilogue. But that’s just my humble opinion. πŸ˜‰

I also think it’s these philosophical detours coupled with its immense length that makes it feel intimidating. I was certainly intimidated by the thought of reading it for the first time! But truly, despite the length and philosophy parts, this book is so incredibly readable and highly entertaining. Tolstoy’s writing truly is magnificent in this work.

And speaking of Tolstoy’s amazing writing, let’s take just a brief minute to look at how he wrote his characters. Tolstoy managed to write very complex, layered characters. So much so that I really can not pick a favorite character. He managed to capture human nature so well. The characters portray their own struggles with life, how to live life best, and what is important in life. Because of the length of this novel, we get to watch the characters grow and develop and change over many years. We see their good sides and their not so good sides. Even the ones that overall seem like not so good characters, Tolstoy succeeds in leading the reader to feel pity and sadness for them at some point. For example, Anatole. If I had to pick just one or two characters I consistently did not like, it would be him and his sister Helene. However, towards the end of the book, Tolstoy brings us to a scene on the battlefield with Anatole and Andrey when they are both injured and you can’t help but feel sorry for Anatole. In fact, this particular scene in the book is one of the most moving scenes in Andrey’s life in my opinion. Andrey himself is moved to not just pity for Anatole but also forgiveness and love. When you know what has happened between these two characters, then you understand how monumental this is for Andrey. It is a powerful scene!

Despite the the flaws in this novel that I mentioned, multiple times throughout the book I found myself remarking that Tolstoy’s writing in this novel was genius. It truly is a phenomenal work. Even though it is a long book, it really is extremely readable. It’s immersive, absorbing, and gripping.

If you want to give it a try, I wrote a post on Tips for Reading Classic Russian Literature. Be sure to check it out. Hopefully it will be helpful!

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Links to All of My Reflection Posts on War and Peace

Volume 1, Part 1

Volume 1, Part 2

Volume 1, Part 3

Volume 2, Parts 1-3

Volume 2, Parts 4-5

Volume 3

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Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Length: 128 pgs.
Genre: Classics
My Rating: 4 Stars

This is only the second title I’ve read by Edith Wharton. The other one I’ve read is The House of Mirth which I read with the lovely Cleo at Classical Carousel who hosted a wonderful read-along for it back in 2019. (You can see her first post for the read-along HERE.) I have read that Ethan Frome is different in both theme and tone than Wharton’s other works. But I have to disagree to some extent. I think this novella definitely has a similar feel to it as The House of Mirth in that both are definitely sad. Although, from what I remember, The House of Mirth felt like it had more upbeat parts to it than this novella. This short work is pretty melancholic and quite gloomy.

The main character of the book is indeed the title name – Ethan Frome. As the novella begins, Ethan is giving a person a ride in his sleigh. We immediately get the impression that Ethan is not one for a lot of talking. He seems like a quiet individual. And we don’t know if it’s a quietness due to nature or due to life experiences or both.

Ethan Frome drove in silence, the reins loosely held in his left hand, his brown seamed profile, under the helmet-like peak of the cap, relieved against the banks of snow like the bronze image of a hero. He never turned his face to mine, or answered, except in monosyllables, the questions I put, or such slight pleasantries as I ventured. He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.

The individual riding in Frome’s sleigh ends up taking us back in time and recounts Ethan’s story. We learn what has happened in his life and why he is where he is. It is a story of unfilled dreams; the struggle to eke out an existence when wrestling with loveless duty and forbidden emotions.

Despite the melancholic, gloomy tone, I felt this story was well-written and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened. Truly, Wharton’s prose in Ethan Frome is magnificent. Here’s just a sample of the beautiful descriptive writing Wharton pens in this novella:

Day by day, after the December snows were over, a blazing blue sky poured down torrents of light and air on the white landscape, which gave them back in an intenser glitter.

The village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires. The moon had set, but the night was so transparent that the white house-fronts between the elms looked gray against the snow, clumps of bushes made black stains on it, and the basement windows of the church sent shafts of yellow light far across the endless undulations.

This story is somber, bleak, and heartbreaking. However, when I finished the last page I didn’t feel that sense of wishing I hadn’t read it. Quite the opposite actually. I knew I wanted to read it again. I read the last words and marveled at Wharton’s skillful writing. How well Wharton captured Frome’s life and his struggles. How brilliantly and effectively she wrote about the characters and the wintry New England landscape.

I think there’s more to glean from this novella that only can be derived from multiple readings. I felt the same with The House of Mirth. So I definitely have plans to read both of these again at some point. I also think this fits well as a seasonal read for the darker, colder days of the winter season.

War and Peace by Tolstoy – Volume 1, Part 3

*Potential Spoilers In This Post*

As I entered Part III, I was cautiously optimistic that maybe soon I might see Prince Andrey grow and change. So I was on the lookout for that. It was a bumpy ride, filled with doubts all the way until the very end of this section. Like this part for example:

Prince Andrey was always invigorated by guiding a young man and helping him on in the world. This propensity for helping other people – the kind of help he would have been too proud ever to accept for himself – kept him in close touch with the circle which had success in its gift, and which he found attractive. Only too pleased to take up Boris’s cause, he took him to see Prince Dolgorukov.” (p. 265-266)

To me, this reveals more of his propensity for wanting to be in circles where he will gain prestige. He wasn’t really that interested in helping Boris for the sake of helping Boris. It was more about him helping himself by helping Boris. Then there is this part where Andrey is thinking to himself:

I know many people are dear and precious to me, my father, my sister, my wife – my nearest and dearest, yet, however terrible and unnatural it may seem, I would give them all up for one moment of glory, triumph over men, to be loved by men I don’t even know, and never shall know, to be loved by these people there….” (p. 281)

But then, right before the section ended, there it was. That glimmer of hope that his character would begin to become different. It said:

He was just glad that someone had stopped and was standing over him, and his only desire was for these people to help him and bring him back to life, because life was good and he saw it all differently now.
(p. 311, emphasis mine)

I continue to watch Prince Andrey’s character with great interest.

In regards to Pierre, something I noticed about him in this section is that he appears to be pretty naive. How will this play out? He also seems to second guess his intuition. It is clear he knows deep down that marrying Helene is a mistake. “Neither did he know whether or not it would turn out to be a good thing – he had an inkling that it wouldn’t – but he did know it was going to happen.” (p. 219) He senses this is not a good decision…that it may not turn out well. And he continues to question it more and more. Why did he seem to think he had no choice but to marry her despite his nagging suspicion it was a wrong decision? I am puzzled by that.

“‘All this had to be and couldn’t have been otherwise,’ thought Pierre, ‘so it’s no use wondering whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It has to be a good thing because it’s something definite, and there’s no more of that agonizing suspense.’” (p. 227)

Now let’s talk about Marya. Oh my goodness! I felt so sorry for her. She desperately just wants to be loved….to be married, to have children.

In her thoughts about marriage, Princess Marya dreamt of family happiness, a home with children, but her first, her strongest, her most secret desire was for earthly love. This feeling was at its strongest when she was trying hardest to conceal it from others, and even from herself.” (p. 234)

I was so livid with her father for the way he spoke to her one time in front of company. It was horrifying! But then he turns around later and tells her that whether she marries Anatole or not is her choice. He said, “‘Remember this, Princess: I stick to the rule that a girl has every right to choose. And I give you complete freedom. Remember this: your happiness in life depends on your decision. No need to worry about me.’” (p. 244)

One of the things that I think Tolstoy does so well is that he portrays characters as very complex and multi-faceted. He allows a character to err, to have flaws, to have greatness, to do good….all wrapped up in one. His characters aren’t fairy-tale characters. They are real in all the messiness of life.

Tolstoy’s writing is phenomenal. Here are just a few of the passages I marked that I thought were so well written:

all of them felt they were doing something profound, solemn and serious. Every general and every soldier was aware of his own insignificance, like a tiny grain of sand in an ocean of humanity, yet as a part of that vast whole they sensed a huge collective strength.” (p. 260)

The intense activity that had begun that morning in the Emperors’ headquarters and then stimulated all the ensuing activity was like the first turn of the centre wheel in a great tower clock. One wheel began its slow rotation, another one turned, then another, and round they went faster and faster, wheels and cogs all revolving, chimes playing, figures popping in and out, and the hands measuring time, all because of that first movement.” (p. 273-274)

When the sun had completely emerged from the fog, and the fields and the mist were ablaze with its brilliance…” (p. 291)

There’s so much more I could talk about for this section. It is such an amazing novel already!