The Beguiled

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

I was initially interested in reading this book, however my tastes have shifted and I do not think I will be able to get to it now. Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a digital copy!
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I wasn't entirely sure what to expect with this novel, but goodness! As far as classic reads go, this is a pearler. It's a modern classic, given it was published in 1966, but a classic nonetheless. It absolutely ripples with atmosphere, set in Virginia (the South) during the American Civil War. The sense of time and place is vividly recreated; the old Southern customs standing strong against the incoming Yankee tide while also fraying them at the edges. The Beguiled has a gothic feel to it: the isolation of the school, the thick vein of foreboding running right through the narrative, the powerlessness of the women and girls, stuck in the middle of nowhere with war raging around them, isolated from trustworthy assistance, and the sense of impropriety simmering below the surface.

‘I didn’t have any notion then how much evil we got in us, all of us. Seems like none of us ever stop to think how evil can collect in us…how one little mean thought can pile on another ‘til finally we got a mighty load of badness stacked up inside us…and then all it takes is maybe one nasty word to set off the trigger in us…and maybe that’s some little triflin thing that wouldn’t even have raised our tempers in a calmer time…and then we rush ahead and do things we coulda sworn to the Lord Almighty in the beginning we never had in us to do.’

The Beguiled is told in the first person, alternating between each of the women and girls that live at the school. We only ever experience John McBurney through their impressions. The style of story telling was very intimate, and consequently, extremely absorbing. It is a rather long novel but it reels you in, the suspense securing your attention, along with the beautiful writing and strong character development. Thomas Cullinan has a brilliant sense of humour and his characters, with their introspective musings and entitled cutting remarks were incredibly entertaining, particularly little Marie and Emily. I enjoyed discovering the backstories of each, teasing out the relationship dynamics, and getting a sense of the pecking order within the house. There were moments of such ridiculousness when it came to John McBurney’s outrageous conduct coupled with the most extraordinarily obvious lies he repeatedly told; yet it all worked so well within the context in which it was presented. The way he charmed his way into the household, systematically taking each woman's measure and then setting about pressing the right buttons on each to serve whatever purpose he deigned necessary at the time. He was indeed a first class charlatan, a priceless creation on the part of Thomas Cullinan.

I really enjoyed this novel. I feel that The Beguiled is an excellent example of fiction written by an author who knew exactly what they were doing at every step of their story. I have been told that the film doesn't do this novel justice. I'm yet to see the film so I can't confirm or deny this claim, but if you have doubts about this novel based on the film, I do urge you to set them aside and give it a go. This is one classic that is well worth picking up and getting lost in.


Thanks is extended to Penguin Books UK via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Beguiled for review.
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Didn't finish this one. Found the plot and its prose to be a little over-done and the characters to be a little one-dimensional. Pity. Was really looking forward to this one.
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I didn't finish this it was very confusing there was too many characters and because of this it never was able to capture my attention.
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A dark, lustrously written American Civil War novel. I enjoyed the writing style and the inclusion of such strong women, even if they did become sinisterly silly towards the end.
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This book takes the reader on a remarkably unpredictable journey. It is the gradual unravelling of the events that unfolded when a wounded soldier finds himself escorted from the woods, by a young lady, to the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary For Young Ladies. 

There, at the Seminary, we meet several young girls and their guardians, the two Farnsworth sisters - all of whom, with the exception of the sisters, vie for the attention of the young soldier. This brings with it many unexpected twists and turns and, all the while, the reader is agitated by the sinister possibility that the young ladies may be in harm's way.

This was a pleasant read and the fact that the story really could have gone in any direction certainly made it all the more compelling. The storytelling, and the clever structure meant all the character perspectives were in such synchronicity. It was as though you were in a room with them all at once, with the extraordinarily magical ability to hear their thoughts. I was reminded of J. B Priestley's An Inspector Calls. Similarly, the reader is granted such intimate knowledge regarding the young women- their personalities and temperaments- their innocence, sisterhood, solidarity - as well as their quirks and often malicious intentions. This enabled the reader to have an understanding with them. The same was not true for the soldier whose thoughts remain deeply guarded and unknown. This kept things interesting: in a sense, the reader, too, was manipulated and deceived.

For instance, when the soldier claims "A great many of the women of the world, you know, are deceivers by nature. They can’t help it. They say one thing and mean another and they’ll lead a fella up the garden path for their own sport and think nothing of it...”

This is a book worth reading- it couldn't have been better! I will be watching its film counterpart, it would be interesting to see how a book with such structural depth translate to the big screen. I also love the sound of the cast, they'll do it justice. Hopefully.

I received this book through NetGalley.
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Beautifully written and thoroughly engrossing. I'm afraid now to see the movie in case it mucks the whole thing up...but how could I not after reading this gem?
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This was a surprising read, unique in a way. I usually am not one for dual points of view so I wasn't too sure how I would cope with multiple characters. But I found Cullinan was great at creating different voices. 

I found it especially good how different characters have different takes on one event.

I did feel it was dragging on a little bit towards the end but I believe it is one of these books that will stay with me. And the end was definitely worth a bit of a drag!
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I loved this book! I really can't imagine anyone not enjoying this story and the girls in it, the writer created some amazing characters. Anyone who did read it will find my sentiment strange, but I feel so happy that I am a girl and this twisted tale is a girl-power statement for me. The beguiled can be considered a classic, from its structure to complexity of the story and symbolic meaning. All throughout the book the tension was building and I felt excited and frustrated almost all the time, which is something I really enjoy while reading. 

Yankee soldier is found in the woods and soon a girl finds him and takes him to all-girls nearby school. School is run by two sisters and there are total of five students and a house-slave. You can imagine the dynamic between girls and one very special, charming and cunning man. I especially loved Johnny and he made me angry so many times, but I felt that his character was so well-built that I had a lot of understanding for his actions. Girls, on the other hand, were not so charming, but very feisty, independent and different. All characters, except Johnny, have their own chapters, so we have to rely on their side of the story, which is very interesting, considering their flaws. There is a huge twist at the end and very satisfying ending for me, so I really feel at peace now.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone!
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Yes, I've committed the greatest goodreads sin of all: I read a book after watching the movie adaptation (the one in question being Sofia Coppola's aesthetically pleasing version of 2017).  Let me try to justify it with the following facts: a) I received a free review copy only after the film's release, and b) I could not wait any longer than the release date to go see my most-anticipated movie of the year. Therefore I'd like to apologize in advance for the many comparisons between the two media mentioned in the following review.

The premise is of course the same: What happens during the American Civil War when a wounded soldier of the opposite side turns up in a Southern girls' school and starts playing the inhabitants off against eachother? The answer is, of course, tragedy.

Copolla's work felt a little too short for my taste, and I was curious to see just how much more content the book had to offer. Sure enough, Cullinan tells the story exclusively from the females' points of view, giving each player a distinct background and motif that simply couldn't be included in 90 minutes of film reel. The greatest strength of his writing is perhaps his talent for adding depth to every fictional character, and with it also some sense to their actions, which seemed to be missing from the cinematic adaptation.

Still, I was surprised by the many changes the plot apparently underwent for the film script, such as name swaps or even merging of characters.  A few of the traits attributed to the literary students felt contradicting, such as the vast expertise and vocabulary of the youngest girl. That 10-year old delivered some of the baddest burns I have ever witnessed, and although funny, I doubt that's relatistic. The diverse cast of women itself was a delight nevertheless!

The Beguiled is mostly rich in stilted dialogues and hence reads like a classic much older than its 50 years of age. Maybe it's also because I already knew what kind of finale the plot would lead to, but the many inconsequential conversations made the book drag on at times. I must admit, though, that despite my own better knowledge and the many forebodings, the first half of the book managed to sound almost cheerful and even had its humorous passages.

That is, until events turn increasingly disturbing. Johnny's manipulations as the only man in the house were so obvious to the reader, but could convincingly deceive the members of the household, and that slow course of beguilement was absolutely fascinating to read about. All in all, I'm sure I would have enjoyed this novel more had I not already known the dramatic outcome of the story, but it simply does resemble an almost anticlimatic historical piece of fiction.

Here's another confession of a goodreads sin I'd like to close the review with: The edition I read has the respective movie poster as its cover. Please don't judge, it's gorgeous.
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Thoroughly enjoyed this novel, set in the time of the American Civil War. I had not heard of this until the film came out, but never got to see it. The story has a feel of Gone with the Wind with a touch of the War of the Roses (film with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) and was told from several different points of view. It took a while to get the characters straight but after that, I couldn't put it down! Slightly wordy in places, but a really good read for historical fiction lovers.
An ARC of this book was provided by Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
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Wow, what a story!

The way it is written, every chapter by a different female in the house, gives a wonderful sense of diversities that were forced to be together in one hose be course of war. It is pretty awful what humans are capable of doing when they are left in interregnum.

But the movie is not even 10th of the story, and so many things are lost that where important and the characters are changed. Shame, it could have been much better movie.
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"How deep do the layers of deception go, I wondered one day."

I wasn't aware of this novel,until I saw an advert for Sofia Coppola's recent film version,starring Colin Farrell. I didn't know there was a 1971 version either (and I wouldn't watch a Clint Eastwood film if my life depended on it). So, being a Colin fangirl, I thought "well, I'll read the book and then I'll watch the film and find all kinds of fault  with it,because I am an unashamed purist.And the only thing I'll admire is Colin's brown eyes." The problem is that after reading the book, I have no special desire to watch the story being unfold as it proved to be a rather problematic, irritating read, in my opinion.It's unfortunate since the start was very promising.

Southern Gothic and Americana have a distinctive aura that I've always found fascinating. The claustrophobic feeling born of the Southern sun,the strict morality (in appearance only), the lush and mysterious residences, the haunting plantations, the bloody history of the region, the turmoil and conflict are characteristics of the genre and present in The Beguiled. A young man, a wounded soldier of the Northern army, is found near the premises of the school run by Martha.A school for young girls who have remained in the region despite the ongoing war.It goes without saying that the presence of the young man there brings all sorts of conflicts and repressed feelings to surface and a game of secrets,sexuality and authority begins.

The setting of the story helps in creating an atmosphere that can be experienced by the reader.The hot air and the stiffness of the characters made me feel the claustrophobia of the place.It was so exciting,let me tell you.The action takes place in a few of the closed rooms of the estate and is told through the eyes of Martha, her sister, her servant and the adolescent students.It is interesting that McBurney isn't given a POV.It adds to the mystery of his character and provides a better perspective to the influence he exerts on the women of the house.Much of the action takes place during the night and I could "see" the candle lit corridors and the women with their white nightgowns tiptoeing,moving like ghosts,trying to make sense of the changes inside and around them.

Cullinan's descriptions are excellent.They managed to keep my interest, even when the action of the book didn't.The language is raw and sensual where needed.The problems came from the dialogue and,majorly, from the characters.Each POV read the same,as if we had the same person speaking throughout the course of the action.In my opinion,Martha,Mettie,Edwina and the others wouldn't sound exactly the same.They wouldn't describe their feelings and thoughts in the same way.And this is what happens,with the slight exception of Mattie who uses a few colloquialisms here and there,just because.As it was, I felt the characters lacked originality, there was no personality in the vast majority of them.

This brings me to the issue of characterization.I've never had a problem with unlikable characters,I've said it before.I love them, I think they make every novel more interesting and challenging.BUT with the supposition that they are well-written.In this case, they aren't only unlikable, they're just plain stupid,devoid of any focal point.I'm aware of the hypocrisy of the past,naturally, and the young age of the girls, but this isn't an alibi for badly crafted heroines.I work with adolescents and I can verify to you that there is an incredible amount of "character" in them (in a positive or negative way,it doesn't matter),many times more than in any adult.This issue ended up making the narration too repetitive,especially during the 2nd half of the novel.There are endless lines of exhaustive, cringe-worthy dialogue on whether Johnny should leave or stay,chapter after chapter.In my opinion,the book would have been better if 70-80 pages had been cut and the dialogue dealt with.

Martha and Emily were the only interesting characters.Edwina had a few moments but she was too wishy-washy wishy for my liking.Harriett was useless,with the interest of a worn-out doormat,Amelia had some potential that was lost in the process,Alice was a Nickelodeon teenager in the worst sense of the word and McBurney was such an awful person,badly and unconvincingly written.Nevertheless,he deserved every bit of misery that came his way.The author presented every female character,apart from Martha and Emily,as sex-crazed harpies, as sexually starving fools who swoon over a handsome stranger who knows how to sweet-talk them into everything.This was irritating,at first.Then, it became troubling and bothersome.Naturally,the book is quite dated in this matter and probably influenced by misogynistic notions of the past decades.I don't know what Cullinan was trying to show.Perhaps that we lose our minds and good senses when we're sexually attracted to someone?Well,this may happen in real life but it doesn't help in creating interesting literature.I'm glad that this view is buried in literary history.I find it difficult to imagine that a contemporary writer would do that and call the attempt "serious" unless we're talking about a cheap romance.Reading McBurney's ridiculous attempts to beguile the women,feeding them his stories and watching them fall like flies to his call was beyond frustrating.

So, 3 stars for the haunting atmosphere and Martha's strength,although my heart wanted to hand 2.It was an interesting experience,I must admit.A Southern Gothic novel whose setting was excellent but the characters and the way the story became more than predictable broke the deal for me.Try it and see for yourselves.If nothing else, you'll come across some of the most stupid people in recent Literature.To quote Sherlock "It makes for too much stupid in the room...."

Many thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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*Copy received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

It was no longer a question- if it ever was -of who will be victorious, but only how much longer we can continue to bleed.

WELL, that was a wild suspenseful ride. I genuinely had to keep dragging out reading this because I didn't want to finish it too quickly, and it ended up being probably the best book I've read all year so far. It kept the tension without being boring in places and I'm so excited to finally see the film tomorrow and find out if it's done as well as it was here. I also really want to read the original edition (even through i've read it's very hard to get hold of) and see how the movie tie-in changes things since i've got a feeling they're quite different.

I'll definitely be grabbing myself a proper copy of this, I can see myself rereading this bad boy quite a bit. Thank you, Penguin Classics!!
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I am keen to see this film soon and so when I came across the book listed on NetGalley, I requested a review copy straightaway. I wasn't disappointed. This is a--dare I say it--beguiling tale that creeps up on you. I love the multiple (and unreliable) narrations that constantly make you question who is telling the truth and what is really going on in that house. The first person narratives also contribute to the sense of claustrophobia that pervades the story. We really get deep into each character's head without ever knowing for certain if their slant on events is accurate, or innocent. The Gothic overtones blend seamlessly with the drama, and by the end you really don't know what to think, unable to tell whether the good triumphed or if it was all a facade. I am interested to see how this will work in the film version, especially with Johnny cast a lot older than he is portrayed in the book. I guess I'll find out soon.
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Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel is once again being talked about as it has now been filmed for a second time, the first being back in 1971.  The story with its at times dark wit and elements of Southern Gothic is told in a multiple narrative format, with all the female characters, the girls and women telling us what happen.

Interestingly the only main male character here that causes all the following tensions and incidents in the book never has a say of his own, rather like Dracula in the novel of the same name.  Here that actually works to the advantage of the story, as we get everything from the mouths of those who are affected.

Set in the South in the midst of the American Civil War, so a young lady finds a Union soldier, obviously injured and in need of help, in the forest near the school she attends.  Doing as she thinks the only sensible thing, so she helps him to the school.  And thus young Corporal John McBurney, originally from Ireland but having immigrated to New York finds himself at the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies.  Run by two sisters in the family home at the present time apart from them and their house slave are five girls, ranging in age from ten to about seventeen.  Of course to a certain degree we can predict what will happen to a certain extent; a young man amongst a house full of women, with some of those at an age where hormones are raging.

Because we are told this story strictly by the women we see how the dynamics of the group are altered, and that John is certainly someone who has kissed the Blarney Stone.  But with a certain rivalry amongst the girls already this only increases, along with secrets and follies revealed to others.

This does make for an interesting, and it must be admitted a quite fun read.  After all it is amusing how some of the characters relate and think about others. As well as that this does make you think of slavery, the disgust that was felt towards those with black and white parentage, and the injuries that were suffered by soldiers that could only be treated by basic means.

I know that not everyone enjoys a tale told from so many different characters, but it does add a something extra to this, and is an interesting read, as well as being quite deliciously dark.

I was kindly provided with a review copy of this by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes.
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Ok, this is a crazy-mad piece of fiction which takes the Southern Gothic genre and ramps it up so far that it teeters on the brink of bonkers black comedy - yet I enjoyed it hugely. 

Set against the American Civil War, a group of girls and women are holed up in a schoolhouse while the fighting goes on around them. The introduction of a wounded soldier into this hothouse atmosphere releases high emotions of sexuality, jealousy, passion and lies... and not a little violence. Only this 'cat amongst the pigeons' tale soon starts to veer away and we're rapidly beginning to wonder whether it's actually a case of a pigeon amongst cats...

The story is told via the voices of the women who pass the narrative baton to and fro, and they're not so much characters as functions of the story. It's hard, sometimes, to keep them separate in the mind precisely because they're just names and actions, and there are places where I had to just go with the flow. Cullinan writes a restrained, elegant prose which is gloriously, wildly at odds with the things that happen and it's this refusal to allow the overblown events to be duplicated in an overheated writing style which makes this work. 

A surprising and surprisingly enjoyable read - but definitely mad!
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