comments 18

Compare Romeo and Juliet to the following:

This is the afternoon that I forget to pick up the Lovely Daughters from school.

Having been so busy at the weekend, I realise I am running short on food. On the way home, I wander round the Co-op and pick up some cut price chilled foods for tomorrow’s lunch boxes.  Then I pass the village shop, and nonchalantly pick up some chicken thighs, so we won’t have to eat eggs and noodles yet again, and a discounted bag of compressed sawdust pellets for the fire, sales of which are struggling reedily in the muscular face of the HUGE MANLY LOGS that are available by the dumper truck load from the local muscular log man.

Get home to unpack my chicken thighs and tell the Lovely Daughters about the prized chilled goods and find… No Lovely Daughters in the house!  I remember that Lovely Daughter #2 is doing rugby club and Lovely Daughter #1 is at Astronomy.  Hare out again.  Both Lovely Daughters in a tolerant mood, although I am half an hour late.  I feed them Co-op cereal bars.

Further on the food front, when we get home, Lovely Daughter #2 remembers that it is Chicken Pie in DT Food tomorrow.  Usually DT Food is full of weird and wonderful ingredients that I have to go shopping for at the weekend, but guess what?  Blow me down if there aren’t four chicken thighs in the fridge.  And since (as you may remember from my previous pie posts) I am an enthusiastic pastry maker, this poses no problem.

It does mean that we are reduced to eggs and noodles, again.  But they are good noodles.  Now for the Chinese among you, I am sure you will agree that Lion Brand noodles are the best.  Luckily for those of us who don’t live near a Chinese supermarket, Waitrose fine cut noodles are an almost identical Lion substitute.

On the drink front, as I am cooking the Waitrose/Lion substitute noodles, Lovely Daughter #2 asks me “Why are you doing that?” with my rum and coca cola mix.  I say, would you like to try some?  She does and says Yuck.  I don’t offer alcohol often, mainly because I know they don’t like it much.  Lovely Daughter #1 says that the rum and coke is OK, which means she likes it and then hands me a reading list.

Her reading list consists of the following:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Tea Rose/The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

West Side Story by Is This a Book??  This isn’t a Book?  What’s going on?

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

The idea is that they have choose one to compare with Romeo and Juliet, which they are studying in class.  (Every single secondary school I have had associations with seems to do Romeo and Juliet in Year 10.)

So discounting West Side Story, my immediate recommendation to Lovely Daughter is Wuthering Heights, because I read it when I was her age and it blew me away.   I articulately describe it to her thus: “You know how old books are kind of a certain way?  Well, Wuthering Heights is old, but it’s completely different from normal old books.  It’s just like, Wow.  And it should be pretty easy to compare with Romeo and Juliet.”

Also, “Brick Lane is good too.  I just don’t know how you’d compare it to Romeo and Juliet. But I’ll buy it for you anyway.”   I also tell LD the same thing about The Woman in Black, which is that it’s good but not exactly easy to compare to Romeo and Juliet.  I don’t offer to buy it for her, because I remember reading it at her age, and not being that taken by it.  It didn’t scare me at all.  I’ve always found Susan Hill’s writing admirable, but a little too restrained for my taste. I like it, but I don’t love it.  My favourite Susan Hill read was In The Springtime of the Year when I was sixteen, a beautiful novel about a young widowed woman in the countryside.  Weird to think that just ten years later I would be in the same situation.  Although I have to say that my widowhood was much more fraught and less decorous than that depicted in Springtime.

Maybe unfair of me, but I couldn’t recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns at all, on the basis that I had been expecting great things from Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and was so disappointed when I read it.  I found it sentimental and didn’t sympathise at all with the poor boy Hassan’s devotion to the rich, spoilt Amir.  I also thought that the plot “twist” towards the end was so clearly telegraphed all the way through the book that it was inevitable rather than a surprise.

I do decide though that it’s about time I read Anna Karenina.

If you’ve read any of the above, which would you recommend?



  1. I would say you are on the right track for comparison. Wuthering Heights has always been a favorite of mine, and would most likely be the easiest read and comparison to Romeo and Juliet (another favorite). Anna Karenina is a fantastic story! And would be phenomenal to compare to Romeo and Juliet, but it is (in my humble opinion) a much denser read than Wuthering Heights.

    • It was the perfect book list for teenagers – a wide spectrum of tastes for them. They have a good English department at their school, who are really into getting them to enjoy words and books. I think AK was for the really gifted ones who want a challenge

      Or for their mums who have shamefully never read such a classic!

  2. I certainly admit to forgetting to pick my children up from time to time. It gets confusing as they get older and have all these commitments…well, that was always my excuse and I’m sticking to it!
    I would definitely say Wuthering Heights, it is my absolutely favourite book. Reading here, I would now like to read The Springtime of the Year as I like Susan Hill. I haven’t read Woman in Black but did see it at the West End. It was awsome. As for West Side Story, like you, I had no idea that it was a book!

    • Maybe my reservations about Susan Hill are also to do with sometimes the books are a little uncomfortable to read. Like I’m the King of the Castle. That was very intense, about bullying. Springtime was more enjoyable for a 16 year old, quite beautiful and romantic.

  3. I love your honesty. I’m liking Hosseini’s books, sort of, but I do think he’s over-rate. Yes, he opened our eyes to Afghanistan and that was important, but if he hadn’t had his subject, I don’t believe anyone would have noticed him–he’d have just been one of a thousand authors who can write a pretty good story.

    • I’m impatient with that style of book too – it’s similar to the way I feel about Coelho. Men (I can’t think of an equivalent female writer) going all mystical and “deep” when… are they really going all deep? Or is it merely in the style?

      Whatever it is, it clearly does it for lots of people! And yes it’s an important subject matter.

      • Oh, don’t get me started on the lament about “why is it STILL so much easier for men authors to get published, get promoted by the reviewers, and find a large readership?”

  4. Ashamedly, out of the list I’ve only read Brick Lane and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I guess you could ignore a lot of what else is going on and concentrate purely on the forbidden love aspect of the plot to then compare with Romeo & Juliet?

    I get such a thrill too when I come across cut price groceries, most folk think I’m crazy 🙂

    • I was thinking actually if she doesn’t get on with Wuthering Heights then Brick Lane is an alternative and we might have to go with forbidden love.

      My favourite is cut price cream cakes. Such a treat!

  5. I support two different Year 10/11 sets for literature. We are studying Frankenstein (To be compared with A Winter’s Tale) and Wuthering Heights/Macbeth. Because the national curriculum requires our kids to be analytical rather than have an appreciation of literature, we are not encouraging good reading practise. Back in the dark ages when I studied Shakespeare, we were taught first to love it, then to understand it and finally to analyse the language. It provided me with a life long love of words and Shakespeare is the lever, I think, for understanding other, more modern texts.
    In the Springtime of the Year is a fabulous read, so much more satisfying than The Woman in Black (also on the curriculum).
    I have to say that I enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns but only saw the film of the Kite Runner, so can’t compare the two. I do think the national curriculum should start to include more contemporary writers, so I was encouraged to see that Brick Lane is on your daughter’s list: sadly, it’s not on ours.

    • Nice choice of books for the students. I read an essay on The Winter’s Tale once. And the writer ended up by saying – this is supposed to be a happy ending. But Hermione lost years and years of her life and nothing is ever said about this. She is just supposed to be happy that she has any life at all.

      Wish I could remember where I saw that article.

      The language thing – all analysis rather than love of or feeling for – is getting worse and worse under Gove. 😦 and double 😦

  6. I’m right with you on Wuthering Heights. Definitely the best comparison with Romeo and Juliet (although West Side Story is good in other ways – NOT a book though, surely? I only know it as a stage production). I laughed so when you had to hand your newly acquired chicken thighs over to your daughter for cookery class. That is so like the way things happen in my house! My son has just gone to university, so I have this weird feeling of having forgotten to pick him up ALL the time. 🙂

    • 🙂

      How’s it going with Uni?

      I’ve only got 4 years left until that moment and I’m beginning to feel pangs every time I look ahead to the future. Children tend not to come back to live around here after they’ve gone away – it’s beautiful but just too far away from any useful jobs.

      • So far so good, thank you for asking. I remember taking quite a while to settle down, but he’s doing better than I did. Still finds it strange to be in London, and intimidated by the course at the moment, but given how weird and new it all is, he’s doing fine. At least if where you live is beautiful, your kids will always be coming back for their holidays. And they’ll always want to see you, of that you can be quite assured. 🙂

      • I think going away to Uni is really hard. Part of what made it hard for me was feeling that I was expected to settle in and have a great time almost immediately and not feeling that at all.

        Did your experience as a student have an influence on your later moving into the area of student support?

        I hope he’s enjoying London. Some of my friends loved it and some hated it… it depends on the luck of the draw as to where you end up living. (Debden, anyone??)

      • I think that expectations are more significant than we realise – they make or break an experience for us. I did warn my son it would take a while, but then again, who knows whether he listens to a word I say! I had a difficult first year – I made friends quickly (which I wasn’t expecting) but the work was incredibly hard and it completely threw me. Later, I lectured in French for a decade or so, and then when I had to give it up, moved into study support because I felt I knew what it was to struggle. I hadn’t been a strong student from the start – it had taken me a while to figure out what I needed to do, and I really wanted to help students in similar situations. Cambridge is really harsh. We throw students in the deep end and just leave them to it – I remembered that well! So yes, it did influence me a lot! But in a way I worry more about my son because I’ve seen so many sad or troubled students and I know how many things can go wrong…. You can’t win, can you?

      • I went to Oxford – it’s similar. I have the impression looking at NSS results that it might still be as it was when I went 15 years ago. As if part of the rite of passage is that you have to work out how to cope on your own.

        I found the work hard AND I found making friends hard! I think you have to be really precocious in some way – socially, politically or academically – to get the most out of it.

        But a lot of me wishes I could go back and do it again, knowing what I know now.

        I think you must have done really well to work out what it was that you had to do.

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