On catching up and feeling guilty about George Martin

I love going on holiday, I really do. I am sure most people will agree with me on this one, especially if you jet-setting off to an unknown place, full of places to explore and people to meet. The thrill and adrenaline you get from just not working, lounging around all day doing nothing. Visiting places of wonder and snapping them all so they can be shared on facebook the moment your hand touches your laptop once you arrive home.

The only problem I have is that there is an awful lot of catching up to do when you get back; especially if you completely switched off from the outer world on your holiday. All those episodes of the white queen I missed had to be watched straight away so I had enough time to catch the most recent one later that day.

I am also a big believer in reading before watching, but sometimes life just doesn’t work like that. You run out of time, work piles up, you have other things that have a higher priority, or you simply just can’t get hold of the text quick enough. Now I have to admit, I hadn’t read George R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones before I started watching the show last year. Yes I was even a late comer to the show too. I do feel bad that I put so much emphasis on the importance of appreciating the literature before the video, but that is just the way my preferences work. Book before look.

The book.

The book.

However this holiday gave me the leisure I needed to do some very serious catching up and the ability to remove some of the serious guilt that has been weighing me down for the last few months. Luckily my dad was a proud of owner of the set to date so I didn’t even have to splash the cash (something that also made me feel incredibly guilty about not having read them yet) before the trip abroad. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I knew the book would be, there can only be so much elaboration and dramatic enhancement to the original text to make it appealing to a wider audience. In my opinion the original is always the better version. I was proved correct once again.

The depth of character development, description and imagination involved throughout the whole of the first of the series of A Song of Fire and Ice was amazing. Although I already knew the story line and so I guess reading the books condensed my understanding of the story. I think that in fact, I am going to eat my own words right now, but perhaps watching the HBO show before reading the books was a good way to do it. There are so many characters and relationships, not to mention the characters that are never alive in the text and are mentioned to help us understand the history of the people; that watching them on a screen makes them more prevalent in our minds.

Aside from the potential to confuse, which I think is a necessary element of all fantasy writing because the history needs to be well-developed and believable; but the 800 plus pages disappeared like a flash. I have always loved a fantasy novel, trilogy, saga and have never really struggled with any of them, but A Game of Thrones was entirely different. The characters jumped off the page to me, I warmed to even some of the most venomous characters that in the tv show I could have easily burnt at the stake for their crimes. I even found myself disliking characters that I had originally admired and honoured (yes, I am talking about you Eddard Stark).

The show.

The show.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I am well and truly dumbfounded. I still stick to my opinion that you should read the original before you watch the adaptations, but this one has been different. The guilt will be carried with me for life, until i catch up and read book four that has yet to be adapted. But even so, the book and the HBO series evoked different emotions and pulled at different heart stings, even though the events were the same in each more or less. Unfortunately this seems a bit inconclusive, but I guess you will have to find out for yourselves and let me know if you have ever been a similar predicament.

On pushing North and South up to first place

I apologise for my absence recently on here but I have been away from my laptop and more detrimentally, without any means of the nets so I haven’t been able to publish my reviews. However because I have been sunning on the beaches for the last couple of weeks I really managed to crack down on my reading list, which means – hooray! Review material galore!!!

One of the books was Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and this was part of my second year reading list, rather unheard of before I bought it. But I can honestly say that I think I have potentially found a front runner for top prize. This was fantastic. If you were born in the wrong century like I was, then I really believe you will enjoy this. It possessed everything that my love Pride and Prejudice didn’t – I know I am slighting Austen and by effect Mr Darcy himself by saying this, but North and South seemed to be completely soaked in British history that it seemed far more believable.

Mr Thornton or Mr Darcy?

Mr Thornton or Mr Darcy?

To summarise as briefly as I possibly can (which I have to admit, is a challenge within itself!) the novel follows the life of Margaret and her family as they relocate to the manufacturing town of Milton in the North, and it deals with the prejudices of their lives. Now what Gaskell provided for me that I found lacking in Austen was substance, I mean that in the broadest sense, but the industrial revolution is at the very crux of this novel: the changing economies, people, families, neighbourhoods; everything is new and different.

Yes I am a lover of history and in particular all things British, but these are not the only strong points. The characters themselves are remarkable, they adapt to the incidents that befall them, sometimes tragic ones, but they grow and change. The greatest stories are the ones that you already know the ending too and so they don’t have to keep you guessing, and to an extent this novel is the same. The conclusion is a given from at least a third of the way through, and sometimes I did find it entirely frustrating that I almost threw the book to the floor out of the sheer amount of pride Margaret had. But I loved it nonetheless. The story drew me in, kept me there, not guessing, but waiting and biding my time until Gaskell graced us with the information and knowledge that we had wanted from the very beginning – in fact she even made us wait till the last page!

For those of you that are remotely interested in the classics, or love stories or historical novels or anything Victorian I have found your new baby. This is it.

 

Birdsong – an epic?

I apologise for my lack of posts recently, but I was working at the Wimbledon Championships which was an amazing experience, especially with Murray winning! I feel unbelievably proud to have been part of such an historic event and so I hope you can forgive me for not keeping up to date with my blog. The good news is however that I was able to do a large amount of reading across the fortnight – there was rather a lot of travel involved as well as waiting around in queues for various things.

I managed to tackle a rather voluminous work: Birdsong. This is one of those everyone-must-read-before-they-die books or everyone-must-read-in-order-to-know-our-past-better books. Truly amazing. The first world war is often a very difficult subject to talk about, with the vast amount of lives lost, and the destruction it caused not to just to humanity but to the countries involved, the world economy and international relations. Sebastian Faulks has very cleverly built up characters that we not only sympathise with and back to survive through the war, but we are also able to see them change.

The non-linear narrative enables Faulks to jump around with the plot, revealing sections about Wraysford’s life before the war, then during, then skipping ahead to his granddaughter’s path of historical discovery – which moments before we had been living through his eyes. This style effectively reveals subtle layers of the characters’ personalities and histories without being blunt and direct. It gives depth. They become real characters, with lineages with future possibilities. It also allows the reader to subconsciously compare the decisions of Isabelle and Elizabeth, who live extremely different lifestyles, France 1910 and then England 1978 both find themselves unmarried and pregnant.

Men at war.

Men at war.

This really is not just a love story. It is an epic love story. It is in itself and epic. The novel covers such a vast period of time and lives and people that it isn’t really a novel. It has the important historical element to it too, the war is the crux of the plot, it holds the story all together. The opening in 1910 is foreshadowed by the readers knowledge that the war will follow four years later and then all the characters are directly affected by it. As I have said it is an epic, but sometimes it does go on and drag a little. The descriptions of the war scenes and the life of the men in the trenches is often times repetitive and full of similarities – but I guess trench life was mundane and repetitive.

I cannot recommend this more highly, for those who dislike historical fiction, this is also a romance and for those of you who don’t like romance, there is so much death, destruction and loss that it counterbalances any love affairs early on. And for those of you who like the sound of it but don’t like the length, I really recommend the BBC adaptation that came out last year with Eddie Redmayne. Amazing.

Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I read this novella a few years ago now, but for some unidentifiable reason I keep recollecting it. Especially recently. It was read for examination purposes and so perhaps the brightly coloured-coded pages throughout the text are still imprinted on my brain, and being around other people doing exams has brought it back. Perhaps it is because I have been watching French dramas on TV and I have made links to the Creole society. Either way, it is on my mind.

The story follows the awakening of Edna Pontellier who realises that she is able to be independent and does not have to live the rest of her life in the traditional and restrictive Victorian society. During this transformation Edna has both a sexual and emotional change, she begins to love another man, leaves her husband and her children and moves into her own cottage where she can paint, draw and swim at her own leisure. Swimming presents itself throughout the novel, and at some of the most crucial moments; Edna is swimming when she first realises that she has the power and strength necessary to create a happy life for herself. Women were to raise children, look after their husband and perform all kinds of domestic duties; which often left little time or ability for the mother and wife (she was labelled as both those terms, not an independent woman, but as either a possession of the man or of the children) to care for her own well-being.

What I found most interesting in this book, was the ending. So I apologise for those of you who haven’t read it, but then why are you reading a review of it if you haven’t read it!? SPOILER ALERT. The book ends with Edna swimming out to sea as far as she can, but the text ends before we learn if she dies or not. She is forever swimming. Her suicide attempt reveals more about the Creole society the text is set in than the rest of the book.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, all you've got to do is swim, swim, swim.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, all you’ve got to do is swim, swim, swim.

Edna has been driven to this. She was oppressed, she was liberated and then she did not belong. The people she loved and had valued were no longer able to communicate with her, they do not grow and develop at the same rate that she does/ or alternatively Edna does not allow them to do so. Her awakening is a rebirth, she is reborn as a new and enlightened person. In a childlike state Edna is able to view society differently and both realises that she has found a better position for herself but that society is unwilling to get there yet.

Often seen as an early feminist novel The Awakening exposes the oppressive Victorian society and also blames it for the death of Edna. Edna as a woman discovers a better life, a more equal life but is unable to make other people see her opinion. Her swim out to sea happens because it is the only way Edna can conclude her awakening, but also save her family. She has become a different person, one that society is not ready to accept and so she does not belong anywhere. Her husband and children still have a place in Creole New Orleans and so by leaving them she also saves them from the knowledge that she has learnt. Although her potential suicide can be seen as undermining to the feminist cause, there were limited other possibilities on Edna’s horizon.

Review: Animal Farm: Politics and Fantasy

Now that I am finished reading for exams it is quite nice to read for fun again. The pressure is off, there are little to no time constraints, I can just sit back, relax and enjoy turning the pages as slowly as I like. However if I a to finish Ulysses and then Anna Karenina any time soon I should probably get a move on.

Not like Animal Farm, I whizzed through that little novella like a boy racer down the motorway (not the M25 of course, nobody really whizzes down there…). Aside from the political aspect of the text which I will come to later, George Orwell has written a relatable story that can easily be transferred and understood by various audiences. Both adults and children can appreciate the songs, poems and the slogans that are used to create the revolution, regardless of the propaganda agenda they possess. But the story is simply about animals that decide to run their own farm. To a child that can be nothing but comical. How can a pig that likes to roll around in mud and walk on four legs possibly run a farm that would normally require a farmer and the rest of the family to do it well? To me, I can’t help but see Napoleon and Snowball as the character from one of my favourite childhood books The Pig in the Pond. Yes they are malicious and easily corruptable and seem to represent everything that is bad and tragic about the human condition, but at the bottom of it, they are pigs.

How Napoleon should be through our eyes, regardless of the transcendental nature of politics.

How Napoleon should be through our eyes, regardless of the transcendental nature of politics.

What I remember liking most about this book was Boxer. Boxer is the loveable character that tries to be his best, he is the ultimate hero and has the characteristics many people would like to possess. He is dedicated and loyal, perhaps to the point of his own detriment and ultimately his hard work goes unappreciated. But like most things in life, this remains pessimistically universal. He is the figure that holds the farm together, although nothing more than the epitome of the working class exploited labourer he is crucial to its’ success and development. While Boxer is present to work on the farm, rebuild the windmill and plough the field when the other animals are just too tired, Animal Farm effectively experiences the roaring 20’s.

Why I think this novella is most successful is because it transmits its’ message through animals. The story of the Russian Revolution  is not a nice one, in fact most of it is pretty grim. Trotsky threatening men to sign up to the Red Army whilst he has their wives and children under threat, not an easy thing to narrate. Telling a story through images or animals somehow lightens the load, dulls down the harsh quality of it. Art Spiegleman’s Maus is a graphic novel that tells the story of a family who survive the Holocaust and does so by depicting the Nazi’s as cats and the Jews as mice. Some may consider this derogatory, or demeaning but I disagree. By representing troubling but important issues through animals it takes away the direct human quality and makes them relatable. They are less likely to be judges; but as with the case of cat and mouse, animal instincts are implied intuitively.

Rows and rows of mice from Maus.

Rows and rows of mice from Maus.

Although the novel resembles the Russian Revolution and the changes that were implemented under Stalin and Trotsky’s rule of terror, the main characters can be seen as general symbols for authorial figures. Napoleon could represent his namesake, a political tyrant who at first used his power for the good of the public but then once he had declared himself Emperor and had supreme power, those ideals altered somewhat. Mao, Tito and Stalin are just a few more examples of despots who can be represented through Napoleon the pig. At the heart of Animal Farm is a socialist agenda, the novel critiques the corruption of the Soviet State and the impact that it had on the people. Similarly the novel contains a striking class division between the animals in power and those that work. The intellectuals and the physical labourers; which is a symbolic reflection of the Bourgeois/Proletariat relationship. The working class are naive and believe the animals in charge, with Boxer being a tragic example. The novel is a literary example of Marx and the Russian Revolution in action.

Unless you were aware of the history of Russia, then this becomes apparent. It is more than possible to read the novella without having any knowledge on that part, and it is more than possible to enjoy it as such. I read the text a few years ago before I had studied Russia in depth and loved it just for the characters that are lovable and the hope that they represent despite the gloomy circumstances. Plus the story is only 100 pages long and so can be read over a couple of lunch hours. Easy peasy.

On Gatsby and the loss of its’ greatness

I finally have seen it. After all this time waiting in anticipation, and also a lot of angst that I wasn’t going to like this film, or even enjoy it. I watched Gatsby. Yes, I was right I didn’t like it.

I enjoyed the film, I really did, but I didn’t like it. I decided before I went into the screening that I would try to appreciate it as a film and not compare it to the novel. This was a good decision but it was so hard; having the day before sat an exam on the book. The film was a good film, there were stunning visuals and the props and wardrobe clearly had a never-ending budget because the glamour and the wealth was extravagantly done. The houses were big and the champagne glasses were fuller and I think it really created the atmosphere well. The cars were fast and shiny, freshly made to help belong in the new fast and free world that the new American culture was supposed to offer.

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

There was also some really impressive acting I thought on behalf of the minor role, particularly George and Myrtle Wilson. George captured that hope of a social climber at the beginning and then the despair and rage that accompanied the death of his wife. Myrtle, although I have to say I really cannot stand her as a character, nor Daisy for that fact, but I thought she was acted well. She was a wannabe wag. Social climber who tried to act the leisure class lifestyle that she wanted. I really did like the juxtaposition of the introductions of both Daisy and Myrtle. They happened one after the other, Daisy elegantly lounging amongst blowing white drapes and Myrtle walking down the stairs with big red hair and lipstick, kissing her sister on the cheek with as much effort as could be. She was as far from the leisure class life as could be, which I liked. Not in a sadistic way, but purely because it was in-keeping with the book.

But some characters really felt so fake and unbelievable that I couldn’t warm to them. Gatsby. I don’t even know where I can begin. The overuse of his catchphrase “Old Sport” in the first few moments he was on-screen bugged me. Yes he says it a lot in the novel. But that was just ridiculous. His accent was also very confusing, it seemed like a mixture of English and American, was he trying for the sophisticated education that he supposedly had in Oxford, whilst also showing his Americanism? I don’t know. I really don’t know how they could possibly think that he would sound good talking like that. What annoyed me most was the Gatsby/DiCaprio hero-worship. There were times when it was difficult to differentiate between the actor and the man he was acting. The moment we are first introduced to Gatsby, he spins around, smile painted across his face, cocktail in hand and fireworks exploding in the background. This would have been a great unveiling of the elusive Mr Gatsby, the man who was possibly second cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm, a Prince, a murderer if it had been done right. Swift and brief and it wouldn’t have been too cheesy. It would have probably even told the audience that this is a great man. But instead we had to wait for the music to crescendo and the fireworks to fade, Nick to get a grip of his grin and DiCaprio to lower his class. It felt like an eternity.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Nick. Nick Carraway. A failed author who tried to make in the stock business. A man who throughout the novel is not only the narrator to the story, but is also perhaps the one and only decent and real character among the lot: and they send him to a mental institution. This not only horrified but truly saddened me. He was the one figure that I just about liked in the book, and he was turned into a depressive alcoholic, who in order to make himself better, writes down his story; which, you’ve guessed it, becomes The Great Gatsby. The writing out of your story is overused in film in my opinion too, generic and easy way to have a narrator voice-over events as they unfold. I know that in the novel Nick is effectively the author of the events, but he does so from the comfort of his own home, in order to preserve Gatsby’s memory and set the truth straight. Not in the selfish way the film does it.

Sex sells. I know that. I understand that this film has been made for a modern audience and with a modern twist on it, but it felt a bit out of place. The party lifestyle was overdone I felt. The scene at the beginning when Nick is drugged by Myrtle’s sister and then ends in the destruction of pillows, the removal of clothes and the music getting louder just felt unnatural and entirely staged. There is a lack of sex in the book, which has often been criticised by academics as down to Nick’s romantic narrative voice and his aesthetic censorship of the gender politics and the social differences. That doesn’t mean that sex wouldn’t have happened between the characters, I just felt that it was made too prevalent in the film. Too much attention was focused on it. I was a huge fan of the soundtrack as can be seen in my previous post I wrote in the run up to Gatsby’s release and I did like its’ use in the film. But sometimes it just felt too modern.

Sex sells.

Sex sells, perhaps I am just a prude. 

Perhaps The Great Gatsby is just one of those novels that cannot be transferred to screen well. The novel has so many layers to it that it is both dark and light simultaneously, this film focussed mainly on the dark aspects I felt, which is perhaps why it was unlike the novel and why I found it hard to like it. I really wanted to like it and I really tried, but there were just so many things that I couldn’t see through that made it hard for me to do so.

Feminism and The Yellow Wallpaper

Women. Females. Men. Males. What really is the difference between them. Gender and sex, another two words that seem to be pretty interchangeable in our society, and yet they both mean completely different things. But that one word, that word that has so much negativity attached to it, needs to be corrected.

Feminism.

A status was posted onto facebook about Angelina Jolie’s recent operation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad Pitt today after the news about Angelina Jolie”. I like to hope that this was just an inconsiderate and poorly worded post and that the painfully obvious sexist undertone was a mistake. Sadly, I doubt it. The double mastectomy was to decrease her risk in getting breast cancer. If anyone was able to prevent a potentially painful, horrific, upsetting and stressful event, they would. This post also follows on from the lecture by Jackson Katz I wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is the problem is that sexism is embedded so deeply within our society, due to years of patriarchy that it almost acts incognito. Often going unrecognised and with an invisibility cloak.

Feminism is not bad. It is not a movement of bra-burning, hairy misandristic’s who would do anything to see men pay for what they have made women suffer over the years. No. Simply no. Ok, that is a fairly exaggerated statement, and I am sure that most men understand that feminists just want equality. But what also seems apparent is that there are a lot of women who are unaware of what feminists want. That is the problem. A woman who is not a feminist is like saying they are happy to be second best. When in fact there is no best, because there is no competition. Or at least there should not be.

In Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, narrator (possibly called Jane, although it is not explicitly stated, so for all intents and purposes she is not given a name), is locked in the attic of her house as a treatment for her hysteria, which turns out to be nothing more than post-natal depression. She is prevented from writing because it tires her out too much, and so her only pleasure is taken away in order to help her recover. Her husband John is also her physician. He has prevented her from using her imagination as he fears that it will only cause her condition to deteriorate, but it does so because she is not allowed to use it, and so does it in secrecy. The story is written in the form of her diary entries and so skips around a bit, is rushed in places when she can hear her husband approaching.

To the kitchen.

To the kitchen.

To me, this novella is a criticism of the patriarchal society and the way it is organised. Jane, or the narrator, or just another Victorian woman notices a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper that covers her room. It isn’t until she makes the connection between herself and the wallpaper woman that she realises that all women are trapped within their marriages and the societal conventions. That women have to creep around, avoid breaking the social rules, lurk in the corner. In order for the narrator to realise this, she has sadly lost herself. She no longer is just imagining these dark things, but is actually experiencing them, in some form of breakdown. She cannot return to the life she had before with her husband, she has noticed the cracks, the invisibility cloak has been removed.

Charlotte Gilman Perkins was a utopian feminist. Writing over 100 years ago she had her sights set high for the work that women could achieve. Granted there have been many improvements in most cultures around the world. But in no society has sexism been abolished, nowhere has sexual equality. Cultures have adapted to the reforms that feminists have pursued and forced into the public eye, but they are still very much controlled by men, for men.

Like the narrator in the novel, she was blind to the truth and then once it was discovered it completely altered the way she saw life. This is what we need. We all need the cloak to be revealed for us. Men and women together. Then we can deal with the changes together.