Beau Geste, P.C. Wren

I am so glad right now that I invented my Sparkly Snuggle Hearts category. Because I have a weakness a mile wide for early twentieth century adventure novels, and I know that they are not objectively books of value. My parents gave me Beau Geste and its two sequels for Christmas a couple of years ago, and you know I brought them all with me to New York. I love these books so damn much. If you read them, you will probably think that I am a terrible person for managing to like books so blatantly classist, racist, and sexist. You will read the bits where John is all, When one has been at Eton one doesn’t wish to associate with Italians and lying thieves from the East End of London, or whatever, and you will probably never trust anything I say about any book ever again because you will think I am an imperialist asshole with bad taste in books.

But Beau Geste is just so exciting and thrilling! It starts with a French officer telling the story of coming upon an abandoned fort in the middle of the desert of French North Africa. The ramparts are manned by dead soldiers, the fort completely empty except for a dead British soldier and a bayoneted adjutant. In the British soldier’s hand is a signed confession stating that he, Michael Geste, stole the legendary Blue Water sapphire from his aunt, Lady Brandon. It is all very mysterious, particularly as there had been no indication that the legendary sapphire in question had been taken at all.

We then jump backwards in time. John Geste, our narrator, is the youngest of three orphaned brothers who live with their aunt, Lady Brandon. The eldest brother, Michael, is known as Beau Geste because he’s such a radiant example of British honour and manhood; twin Digby, while hardly less upright and honourable, is a bit of jokester. Also living at Brandon Abbas are cousins Claudia and Isobel, as well as priggish Augustus. One day as they are all viewing Aunt Patricia’s priceless sapphire, the lights go out. When they come back on, the jewel is gone. Cue dramatic music.

Next thing you know, Michael has taken off for parts unknown, leaving behind a note in which he claims that he was the one who stole the Blue Water. Digby and John don’t believe this, of course, knowing as they do his sterling character; they are sure that he has made the confession in order to shield the true thief. So off goes Digby the next day, claiming that in fact he was the thief; and John, feeling honour-bound to do no less than his brothers, follow suit, even though he has just recently discovered in himself a mad passion for Isobel, who reciprocates just as madly. But honour dictates that he must go. The Geste boys all join the French Foreign Legion, where they meet American cowboys Hank and Buddy who, like–

There are tears in my eyes right now because this book generally, and Hank and Buddy in particular, fill my heart with such sparkly joy. Hank and Buddy say things like “We’re sure for it, pard. Our name’s mud. That section-boss makes me feel like when I butted into a grizzly-b’ar. On’y I liked the b’ar better.” Oh my God, I simply couldn’t possibly love this book any more than I do. Some of the men in the Legion determine that they will rebel against their wicked, vicious adjutant, and Michael and John call them fatheads and strive to remind them of their duty as men and soldiers. IT IS SO GREAT. (Great in the sense that it is complete imperialist trash. I know it is, I know, I know.) Look, they all leave home and they join the French Foreign Legion to shield the rest of their family members from suspicion of theft. It is so self-righteous-mazing I don’t even know what to say about it.

This is my guilty pleasure: early twentieth century imperialist adventure novels. Please don’t be my enemy now.

Edit to add: I just have to say, since I’m already gushing, y’all are the BEST. The BEST. I mean it. Every time I think the book blogging community has maxed out on being amazing, y’all do something else that just resets the scale. I mentioned on Alita’s blog the other day that her epistolary chick lit book sounded like just the thing I’d like to read with a cup of  hot chocolate under a nice thick blanket in my cold New York apartment. So she sent me the book, with a packet of hot chocolate mix. It came in the mail yesterday evening. How nice is that? Thank you, Alita, you made my day. And — I just can’t say this enough — thank you, book blogosphere, for being so relentlessly amazing.

Review: The War that Killed Achilles, Caroline Alexander

What was I reading recentlyish that talked about the Dark Ages being defined by the lack of Homer and Ovid? Was it The Secret History? Or The Fall of Rome maybe? Probably it was Tom Stoppard, Arcadia or The Invention of Love. It sounds like the kind of thing Tom Stoppard would say. Anyway, whatever character it was, they said something about how the Dark Ages were Dark because we didn’t have the classics around, in all their universal brilliance, to explain us to ourselves. When the West got them back again (thanks, Arabia!), it was like being reborn, a Renaissance.

Caroline Alexander, author of The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War, seems to be of this mind. As I understand it, the book began as a series of lectures on the Iliad, which she eventually expanded and wrote down in bookish form, and lo, they are now a book. I kind of like it that a book about one of the world’s most utterly magnificent oral traditions, the Iliad, started out as lectures. That seems fitting.

The book is mainly an explication of what’s going on throughout the Iliad, from start to finish, with many admiring asides and fun trivia facts. Alexander goes through the poem and explores why people are doing the things they are doing, and what it says about them, and what crafty tricks of the trade Homer is using to make his poem the enduring masterpiece of genius that it is. She writes about the boring bits and why Homer would have included them and what audiences of the time would have thought;and she talks about the various strands of mythic and poetic tradition and when scholars think they got added into the Iliad. It was so great. I kept stopping reading it and reading other books instead, just to make it last longer.

It has occurred to me that I need to add a new category to my categories of talking about books. Sometimes I read a book, and I have a response of overwhelming joy, but the joy is coming from a place in my heart that is unrelated to my critical faculties. Every time this happens, I think that if you read the book I’m talking about, and you hate it, you won’t know that I know that my response has been colored by, for instance, my passionate love of the classics and desire to snuddle Homer and Ovid and Virgil. And then you’ll go away and think, That Jenny, she thinks books are fantastic that we know are only sort of okay. What an idiot. Accordingly I have added a new category and I have called it “Sparkly Snuggle Hearts”. Hereafter, if you see that I have put a post in this category, you will know that my ability to be critical of a certain book has been overthrown by desperate, protective love for some aspect of it. Then you won’t think I have bad taste ever again.

Glad I’ve solved that problem.

You know the one problem with this book, which is otherwise really cool? Caroline Alexander is using Lattimore’s translation. What? Why would you? When Fagles is around, being obviously better and only using enjambment when it’s called for and not every single damn line. FAGLES. FAGLES. FAGLES. I have never actually read Fagles’s Iliad but I’ve read his Odyssey, and I know the man translates Greek like a champion. Lattimore? I think not.

By the way, here is another bit of Old School that I liked a lot and sort of pertains to this because it’s about classical poetry:

Augustus Caesar had sent our Latin master’s beloved Ovid into exile…Yet the effect of all these stories was to make me feel not Caesar’s power, but his fear of Ovid. And why would Caesar fear Ovid, except for knowing that neither his divinity nor all his legions could protect him from a good line of poetry.

CLASSICS. I LOVE THEM SO HARD.