Imagination needs inspiration to bloom.


The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

A great inspiration to authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gogols ”Overcoat” has survived 170 years and continues to mesmerize readers over the world. The short story centers around a titular councillor named Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin and his unfortunate experience with hierarchy and bureaucracy. When Akaky realizes he needs a new overcoat for work, his problems start.

There are certainly many different hidden meanings to interpret, if ignoring the practicalities and consider it from a more psychological perspective. The immense importance which is associated with materialism, not only when it comes to protection against the cold, but also regarding status in society, is worth considering. The way Akaky changes when wearing the new overcoat is interesting - perhaps the story is about an invisible man suddenly, with a piece of fabric, becoming the center of attention, just to be made invisible again? What happens, psychologically, if the feeling of communion and acceptance from others, is given and suddenly taken away? What is most prominent, however, is the bureaucracy that Akaky is facing - a down right obstacle, complicating everything, even preventing the purpose of the ministries. The message of the story is how this could affect someone of low hierarchy.


Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

This is not a book about a main character who meets difficulties in life and learns how to overcome them. It isn't about revenge, love, or injustice. It's about everything! But most of all, it's about miserable, unfortunate people struggling to maintain some dignity in life. Victor Hugo blamed the flawed society for the fall of men, the corruption, the wretchedness and greediness of men, which thrive in darkness and misery, and prevent insight and reconciliation.

There are loads of unfortunate people. There is Jean Valjean, who wants to be a good man, and repeatedly tries to be, but is constantly reminded of his past, by society. As soon as he has created a new life for himself, the past keeps catching up and destroys it. It's as if the rules of society imprison him and between the bars he can perceive freedom, but never reach it. All because he, as a former convict, has destiny written upon him. A few times he has been on his way back to darkness, but someone has showed him kindness and that's the only thing it takes to make him remain on the right path. The thing which makes this book political, is that Jean would be a saint, living a happy life, if it weren't for the rules, prejudices and judgements of society. That is the common denominator for several of the characters. The beautiful, modest character Fantine would be a happy mother if it weren't for the conventions of society. Her fatal destiny has to be one of the saddest stories ever written.

The book is heavy at times and some parts are very detailed and long. Victor Hugo introduces new characters throughout the book, which can be a little exhausting at times. In the middle of the book we meet Marius, an unfortunate young man who would have become a "cold-hearted" royalist (Hugo's political opinions can be interpreted) if it weren't for a letter from his Bonapartist father. Marius grows up and is woven into the story and his struggle for love and the void which suddenly has to be filled in his heart is extraordinary. Marius inner political struggles can in fact be based on Hugo himself, because the author had a similar adolescence.

Another thing which is heavy and worth mentioning is Hugo's digressions. You would think that the book would become easier when you're well into it, but Hugo kept leaving the story to write some forty pages about a topic he found interesting. There are hundreds of pages about things from political views and the battle of Waterloo, to the the sewers of Paris. It seems like he put whatever he fancied into the book and you can't really understand the relevance of it, until the end of the chapter, when it turns out to be very relevant. All digressions are a bit too long, but always turn out to be necessary to understand the situations of the characters. Therefore, it's important to read the unabridged version, to really comprehend the content and context, because it shows Hugo's purpose with the book. Victor Hugo was an exceptional author. He could really understand the psyche of man, he could portray a man's reflections and ethical dilemmas such as choices between saving a man's life or one's own, and struggles between saving a man's life or obeying someone's last wish, with so much emotion that it truly captures the reader.

The part where Jean meets Cosette is beautifully written. The father-daughter relationship between them is powerful and they complement each other perfectly. Without each other, they would have been at the bottom, but with each other, they become something extraordinary, able to provide a life for themselves in the shadows. The void in Jean's heart has been filled, and when Cosette is growing up into a beautiful young woman, he begins to worry about eventual suitors, partly because of her mother's destiny, and partly because of egotism. Jean Valjean is probably one of the most complex characters in the history of literature, due to his flaws, endeavoring and battle with himself. The most beautiful part of the book is doubtless the relationship between him and Cosette. Hugo had a very fine perception of paternal feelings. 
Few authors ever come close to so utterly revealing descriptions of the deep, unfathomable, incomprehensible, natural fatherly love. Probably may readers get a new perspective and understanding of the father perspective. Here are a few lines that reveals Jean's feelings for Cosette:

"This man who had passed through every distress, who was still all bleeding from the lacerations of his destiny, who had been almost evil, and who had become almost holy, who, after having dragged the chain of the galleys, now the invisible but heavy chain of indefinite infamy, this man whom the law had not released, and who might be at any instant retaken, and led back from the obscurity of his virtue to the broad light of public shame, this man accepted all, excused all, pardoned all, blessed all, wished well to all, and only asked of Providence, of men, of the laws, of society, of nature, of the world, this one thing, that Cosette should love him!"

Hugo wrote in this exceptional way, as if he had been inside the characters heads and fully understood them. He had a unique ability to, very insightful and comprehensible, portray people's inner nature, 

The unabridged version gives a thorough picture of a society during a critical time, about what deprives people of their freedom. Probably it would have been more difficult to understand the thoughts and motives of people such as the Thénardiers if it weren't for the really profound parts that the quantity of pages allow. The story benefits from it. It takes time and demands a lot, but then again, these parts give so much more in return! This book is one of a kind, and makes you succumb to reverie and want to be a better person.


The Eight by Katherine Neville

In 1972, Catherine Velis, a computer expert, is given an special assignment in Algeria, and when an antique dealer hears about it he approaches her with a request. Even before her departure, strange things starts to happen and she realizes that she is part of something she doesn't understand. Everything seems to be connected to an ancient quest.

People from different parts of the world search for an ancient, moorish chess service given to Charlemagne and hidden in Montglane Abbey. The Montglane service is more a than a chessboard with pieces of gold and jewellery. It contains an immense power that can explain the history of the world, and make the owner of it the most powerful man on earth. 

In a parallell story, the French Revolution is approaching. Dangers are coming to Monglane in France and the novice nuns Mireille and Valentine from the Montglane Abbey have to disperse some of the chess pieces and hide them. They can't trust anyone and have to choose wisely when forming the necessary alliances. The dangerous game involves people like Robespierre, Talleyrand, Newton, Napoleon, Voltaire and Catherine the Great.

In 1972, Catherine enters the game. Together with a mysterious friend, a daughter of a friend and a Russian chess master Catherine encounters many dangers in the search of the chess service. She realizes that of the people searching for it, many are professional chess players. They are all pieces in the game and a pawn is easy to get swept off the board.

The Eight is an adventure that is thrilling as well as intelligent. Neville plays with numbers and information in an extraordinary way, mixing true events with fiction. Even though some of the things seems a little far-fetched and too colorful – everyone seems to be a player in the game and the number eight figures everywhere - it's easy to overlook them. The mixture of chess, ancient secrets, fascinating places and interesting characters makes The eight an entertaining read.