Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Book 17 of 2013: Rasselas, Prince of Abyssina by Samuel Johnson

As I've mentioned a couple of times I've got a bunch of free 'classics' on my Kindle most of which I downloaded because they were listed in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book. They're proving useful for selecting books to read which will contribute towards the HTV Reading Challenge, particularly the seasonal challenges which call for you to read a book beginning with each letter of that word. Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia meant I could kill two birds with one stone - one from the 1001 Books and one letter from the Spring Challenge.

Rasselas tells the story of the titular Prince who lives in an idyllic valley with his brothers and sisters who have everything they want. The Happy Valley is opened once a year to allow tutors and other people to come in to provide entertainment to the inhabitants but once these people decide to leave they are never allowed to return. Rasselas becomes depressed because his every whim is met and so longs for the outside world, so makes a plan to leave with his sister and tutor.

I picked this through a very careful method of elimination. I was looking for something that would begin with a particular letter and which wouldn't take long to get through. I ended up looking up the final choices on Wikipedia and went with Rasselas purely because it was likened to Candide, one of the books I had to read for my course earlier this year. If it wasn't for the fact that I'd studied Candide I probably would never have chosen this myself.

It was a very similar sort of read to Candide, I'd certainly recommend it to anyone on my course who enjoyed that particular set text. It was a pretty quick read, only running to 97 pages which I probably could've sailed through even quicker than I did. I don't think it had quite the same sense of humour as Candide, it wasn't really as funny, but there were still plenty of bits that made me smile.

It was a bit heavy on the subject of philosophy. The book is an exploration of what makes us happy, so I suppose a bit of philosophy was to be expected. Normally that would put me off, but I quite enjoyed it in this book, perhaps because it felt a bit like reading a fairytale, so the philosophical stuff wasn't too difficult to follow.

The ending sort of tailed off and went in a different direction to what I was expecting. It felt a little bit abrupt with everyone deciding what they were going to do next (as they'd been doing all the way through) but didn't follow through as it had before. I also really wanted to know more about the Happy Valley, considering how much time at the start of the book was spent there, I'd have liked to have known more about what happened when Rasselas, his sister and tutor left.

On the whole I enjoyed this, probably not something I'm likely to read again unless I have to, but I'm pleased that studying A230 has opened my mind to other texts that I wouldn've ordinarily have chosen to read.

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