My Alphabet Reading Challenge - B

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jul 19th 2018, 11:46am

The second book in my new alphabet challenge is “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde. It is a long poem and I read it in a version illustrated by Peter Hay and as the illustrations are very much part of the reading experience I am reviewing them as well.

The author obviously had experience of the prison system having been jailed for sodomy following a disastrous attempt to sue the Marquis of Queensberry for libel. It is a difficult time in the author’s life and I advise you to read a good biography to unpick it and understand all the issues. We do know, however, that this poem is written from first-hand experience.

The poem is written in a simple rhyming style and metre but that hides the fact that it deals with an incredibly difficult subject matter. The poem is actually quite despairing, talking of murder, imprisonment and hanging, but it is beautifully put together and easy to read – there isn’t a lot of complicated imagery. The author is sympathetic to the prisoner and uses quite a lot of allusions to Christianity to make his point. I really think that this poem is worth reading even for those who are not great fans of poetry.

The illustrations in my edition published by Two Rivers Press are black and white. They are curiously unformed and very basic in structure. Pictures and drawings are not my speciality but I thought they were a bit like medieval woodcuts. At first I found them intrusive and ignored them; I am used to reading without illustrations. But they did grow on me and by the end of the book they were very much part of the reading experience. It reminded me of reading poetry by William Blake which he had illustrated himself. I would be interested in reading this poem again but illustrated by someone else to see if it changes how I think of it.

This was a more successful choice than my first book. It was a quicker read but it really spoke to me in a way that the novel didn’t. I always mean to read more poetry but I don’t get to it. If it was all presented in this way then maybe I would read more.

Having started with a novel by an American and a poem by an Irishman my third book is “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese which is set in Ethiopia.