Ramblings, Uncategorized

Henry Tilney – An Underrated Hero

So my Jane Austen journey is nearly over. As you may have guessed from the title, I have just completed Northanger Abbey which leaves only Mansfield Park left to read. As you may have also guessed from the title, I rather enjoyed this book’s male protagonist.

From what I can gather, Henry Tilney is not a favourite among Austen fans, or at least is considered no match for the likes of Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth. This is a notion that completely dumbfounds me as I found him to be utterly charming from his very first exchange with Catherine Morland.

The Mr Darcys and Captain Wentworths of the world are fine, noble men, but spend far too much time brooding and acting coldly towards their prospective love interests, whereas Mr Tilney shows warmth and humour from the very start. I understand that Northanger Abbey is Austen’s first novel, but it seems interesting to me that the characteristics she bestows upon her first ‘hero’ are the same ones that belong to the rogues in later novels such as Sense and Sensibility’s Mr Willoughby, Persuasion’s Mr Elliott and, not forgetting, the wretched Mr Wickham. In reading the novels out of order, I was pleasantly surprised when the charming, open gentleman that Catherine first takes a liking to doesn’t turn out to be a scoundrel.

I think it likely that Austen’s depictions of silent, brooding men have been partly responsible for their over-representation in romantic stories today when, although we all feel as though we’d love a handsome and reserved Mr Darcy, would probably, in reality, much prefer conversing and joking with someone as quick-witted and amiable as Mr Tilney. Perhaps Jane Austen thought that her own voice was expressed too strongly via Mr Tilney, particularly his commentaries on reading and his playful joking about the nature of women, but I find it difficult to understand how her other male protagonists are so different to this initial hero (except, of course, in their propriety).

I only hope that as Catherine matures she can grow to appreciate and enjoy her husband’s wit as I’m sure so many of Northanger Abbey’s readers do.

Favourite quotes:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

“It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of a man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire… Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.” 

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

“… her heart was affectionate, her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind – her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty – and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.”

The wit of Henry Tilney:

“Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.” Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. “I see what you think of me,” said he gravely — “I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.”

“My journal!”

“Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings — plain black shoes — appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense.”

“Indeed I shall say no such thing.”

“Shall I tell you what you ought to say?”

“If you please.”

“I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him — seems a most extraordinary genius — hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say.”

“And now, Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “that you have made us understand each other, you may as well make Miss Morland understand yourself—unless you mean to have her think you intolerably rude to your sister, and a great brute in your opinion of women in general. Miss Morland is not used to your odd ways.”

“I shall be most happy to make her better acquainted with them.”

“No doubt; but that is no explanation of the present.”

“What am I to do?”

“You know what you ought to do. Clear your character handsomely before her. Tell her that you think very highly of the understanding of women.”

“Miss Morland, I think very highly of the understanding of all the women in the world—especially of those—whoever they may be—with whom I happen to be in company.”

“That is not enough. Be more serious.”

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

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Ramblings, Uncategorized

Update: Eleanor Oliphant Is…American?

I have just found out that the film/TV rights to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine have been bought up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. Whilst I am a fan of Reese Witherspoon (I loved what she did with Big Little Lies and her Instagram is just lovely – plus, she’s Elle Woods!) it doesn’t prevent the fact that I am a little nervous about an adaptation of a book which so quickly found a special place in my heart.

My biggest fear is that they will change the setting of the book to somewhere in the US. Whilst the themes of Eleanor Oliphant are completely universal and I feel that people everywhere can connect to her, there are some quaint elements of the story that are so uniquely British that I fear we would lose them if Eleanor were to become an American. The Tesco shopping, bus rides around Glasgow, trips to the pub, Sammy’s Irn Bru (which isn’t even legally allowed into the US!) and the unglamorous British way of life are all aspects we may lose should Eleanor move stateside. This was one of the reasons I feel that the film of The Girl on the Train was so lacklustre in comparison to the novel, it wasn’t able to truly capture the miserable London commute and our often pessimistic (without being too tragic) outlook on life – I really don’t want this to happen to Eleanor, her story deserves better.

I know that Ms Witherspoon is an avid reader, and really enjoyed the faithful adaptation of Gone Girl on which she was a producer, so can only hope that she does the book justice and perhaps keeps Eleanor at home in Blighty.

Review, Uncategorized

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Rarely have I connected so quickly with or so desperately wanted happiness for someone as I did with Eleanor Oliphant. Despite her odd manner and the many funny (laugh out loud whilst reading on the bus funny) interactions she has with people around her, it was easy see through the odd quirks and behaviours to someone who just needs a little help and, as such, I found Eleanor to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve read about in a long time.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the debut novel of author Gail Honeyman and tells the story of a young woman who works in an office in Glasgow. Eleanor is set in her ways; she goes to work each day, gets the same meal deal for lunch, and buys a margherita pizza each Friday along with two bottles of vodka which she then drinks over the course of the weekend. Without really realising it, Eleanor is crying out for connection and friendship even though she thinks she is doing completely fine. Despite her strange manner and the funny and awkward interactions she has with the people around her, it  is easy from the very beginning see through the odd quirks and behaviours to someone who is a little lost and really just needs a little help and, as such, I found Eleanor to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve read about in a long time.

Throughout the book an unusual upbringing is hinted at, suggesting that Eleanor’s childhood experiences have had a huge impact on the woman she is today and the difficulties she faces in social situations, but more than anything the book is a fantastic commentary on the devastating effects of loneliness and how it can affect anyone at any age. When we talk about loneliness the conversation tends to revolve around the elderly,  however it seems like there are more and more young people that are suffering from loneliness and crippling social anxiety, despite there being more channels of communication than we have ever had before. I suspect I am not the only person who felt some striking similarities with Eleanor’s situation in the opening pages, and the book perfectly demonstrates how small gestures and displays of kindness by others can make such a difference.

One of the things I love about this book is that it’s just about the genuine human connections and friendships Eleanor realises she has. It’s not about grand romances or drama or being special, it is just about Eleanor finding people who accept her in a normal, everyday world.

I don’t want to say too much about the book, I went into it with very little knowledge of the plot, and think I enjoyed it all the more for that. What I will say is that this is a truly heartwarming (and at times heartbreaking) read that will stay with you for a very long time and every person I have spoken to about it or recommended it to has said the exact same thing.

Speaking of loneliness, I thought I would share one of my favourite performances of Robin Williams, a clip I watch often when I’m feeling lonely and one that is more poignant than ever given what has now passed:

Favourite Quotes:

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” 

“I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact.”

“You can’t have too much dog in a book.” 

“You’ve made me shiny, Laura,” I said. I tried to stop it, but a little tear ran down the side of my nose. I wiped it away with the back of my hand before it could dampen the ends of my new hair. “Thank you for making me shiny.”   – This quote broke my heart a little bit.

“I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.” 

Ramblings

A life in books…

We all have those books that create lasting impressions. Whether they inspired a love of a particular author or genre, or simply came at an important time in your life, there will always be some tomes that hold a special place in your heart. I thought I would list some of mine:

Alices’ Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Caroll
Plot: Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world filled with fascinating creatures.
Why it’s important to me: The first ‘big girl’ book I read when I was 7. At school you were allowed to read certain books when you reached a certain reading level and this was the first book I read when I reached the top reading level, I just remember being fully immersed in this foreign magical world.

A Candle in the Dark – Adele Geras
The plot: Two Jewish children are sent to the England by their parents to escape Nazi Germany and they wonder if they will ever see their parents again.
Why it’s important to me: One of the first fiction books I read about WWII at a young age and it really helped me understand just how terrible things were for Jewish people during the Nazi regime. I read this when I was about 8 or 9 years old and just remember feeling so scared for the children in the book.

Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
Plot (fairly obvious): On his 11th birthday Harry Potter discovers he is a wizard and starts a life filled with adventure after he is enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Why it’s important to me: No list is complete for any twenty-something book lover without the Harry Potter Series. People who didn’t read the books can easily dismiss it as hype, but like all Harry Potter lovers know, J.K. Rowling didn’t just create some fun adventure stories, but lessons in how important love is and creating a wonderful, rich world which, on each re-read, feels a little bit like home.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Plot: When the Orient Express gets stuck in a snowdrift and a passenger with a shady past is discovered murdered in his cabin, Poirot must discover which of his fellow travellers is responsible.
Why it’s important to me: My first Agatha Christie which spawned a life-long love of Poirot and his little grey cells. Easily one of my favourite (if not my favourite) authors, I have read every one of Christie’s books and I will always remember my first foray into her work.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Plot: A lawyer attempts to ensure his black client has a fair trial during the racial tensions of 1930s USA as seen through the eyes of his daughter.
Why it’s important to me: One of the first books to inspire strong emotions in me. I found myself feeling so frustrated and angry at the injustice faced by the black community in the book.

Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo
Plot: Two brothers fall in love with the same girl whilst also facing the horrors of the trenches during World War I.
Why it’s important to me: I read this book in one day whilst sitting on a beach in Spain. Having recently completed a school project on ‘Shot at Dawn’, it was the perfect accompaniment to highlight the hardships and injustice that these young men faced and the ‘crimes’ they were wrongly executed for, and I felt ashamed at how much of this part of history and the treatment of these men is brushed under the carpet.

Malvolio’s Revenge – Sophie Masson
Plot: A troupe of English actors travel around rural Louisiana performing a sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. When they meet the beautiful and mysterious heiress of Illyria, their lives become intertwined with the magic and mystery of 1900s New Orleans. 
Why it’s important to me:
I received a proof copy of this book from my cousin after she found it discarded in the bookshop she worked in, and it quickly became one of my favourite books. I have yet to find someone else who has read it, but I cannot help but recommend this charming and sometimes spooky tale which blends Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with a bright and colourful New Orleans; it inspired a life-long ambition to travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Plot: In 1950s Barcelona young Daniel picks up a copy of The Shadow of the Wind after a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The dark past of the book’s author and a mysterious figure burning copies of his books begins to affect Daniel’s own life.
Why it’s important to me: This was the first book I read of Zafon’s and I fell completely in love with his knack for storytelling. The mystical setting of Barcelona’s streets and the love of literature expressed in the book, quickly made this one of my favourite reads. It was a huge factor behind my decision to live and study in Barcelona, and the sequels continue to be just as captivating and magical. I also continue to be thoroughly impressed with Lucia Graves’ translations of his work which read just like original texts.

The Return – Victoria Hislop
Plot: On a visit to Spain, a young British woman discovers the story of an Andalucian family torn apart by the Spanish Civil War.
Why it’s important to me: I was always ashamed that I learned so little about the Spanish Civil War during my history education. I understand that growing up in the UK, most of our history lessons are focused on the British involvement in the World Wars, nevertheless, I always felt lacking in knowledge of my father’s country’s history. At Sixth Form and university I studied the war, but I have to say that The Return perfectly captures the way in which families were completely torn apart by the horrific conflict. I cried many times reading this book and I challenge anyone not to feel incredibly moved by the Ramirez family’s plight which was all too real for so many families and communities at the time.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Plot: Set in London in 2540 AD, reproduction is now carried out by artificial means and citizens are placed into predetermined classes. Advanced technology and entertainment feature heavily in people’s lives, however Bernard Marx feels like something isn’t quite right and his travels to the preserved ‘savage’ existence of the ancient world opens his eyes (it’s pretty hard to condense the plot into a couple of lines!)
Why it’s important to me: I love both A Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but as I see our growing reliance on technology and social media and need to seek validation through these means, I can’t help but feel that perhaps Huxley’s bleak view of the future is closer to reality. His ideas that that the way to control the masses isn’t through censorship and oppression, but via never-ending streams of information and propaganda aimed at confusing and overwhelming us, delivered by those material items we value most, seems all too familiar.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go – Dr Seuss
Plot: A poem on what awaits you when you embark on adulthood.
Why it’s important to me: I think everyone should read this book on becoming an adult. Whether it’s when graduating university or leaving school to start work, this poem perfectly sums up what to expect in life; the highs, the lows and the loneliness, and the consequences of your decisions.

I am disappointed by how many of these deal with depressing or difficult subjects, but I feel often these themes tend to leave deeper impressions.

Which books have greatly affected you?

Uncategorized

2018 – A proper go at it

Each year I make a list of attainable resolutions.

Waste less (money, food, materials), drink more water, read more, walk more, don’t eat out at work, text people back promptly…

I generally keep to these and manage to improve my habits year after year. However, I also set myself unrealistic goals like ‘write a book’ or ‘travel the world’ or ‘go to the gym’ . In order to help me achieve (some) of these goals over a longer time frame, I want to focus on learning and writing more in 2018. Aside from a few translations and the online articles and content I produce for work, I am still finding myself woefully lacking in time for writing, so it’s time I made a conscious effort to improve this and set aside some precious hours. Hopefully – and I have said this many (many) times in many diaries, journals, and blog entries -I will dedicate more time to posting on this blog. We’ll see.

I am also going to sign up for more free (and perhaps some paid) talks around London. I have lived in the city for 4.5 years and have definitely not taken enough advantage of all of the exhibitions, seminars and talks available to me, so here’s to learning more in 2018.

Reading goals:

  • Read more Russian authors.
  • Read more diversely (this was genuinely attempted last year and I ended up thoroughly enjoying Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Murakami’s Norwegian Wood)
  • Read more non-fiction

To read or reread this year (as usual, trying to clear my bookshelf/jenga pile of books):

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt (a book club pick)
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • El Laberinto de los Espíritus by Carloz Ruiz Zafón
  • Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  • Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  • This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar ben Jelloun
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Read in 2018 (as of 16/05/2018):

  • Kill the Next One by Federico Axat
  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience by Shaun Usher
  • The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
  • Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
  • Boy & Going Solo – Roald Dahl
  • Bedlam: London and its Mad – Catherine Arnold
  • Persuasion – Jane Austen
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  • House of Names – Colm Toibin
  • Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey
Review

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

November seems to have been the month of Shakespeare retellings in my reading list. Whilst reading Ian McEwan’s ‘Nutshell’ (a retelling of Hamlet from the POV of a foetus) I have also been listening to Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s imaginative retelling of the Tempest.

I decided to jump in with little-to-no knowledge of the story other than knowing it was a retelling of the Tempest. I have slowly been listening to more and more audiobooks, and for Hag-Seed I found this to be a particularly enjoyable way of experiencing the book as the voice actor (enter name) made each character’s voice so unique and entertaining there was never any risk of confusing the speaker.

It started off a little slowly, with Felix heading off to find solidarity after being unceremoniously dumped from his job as a theatre festival director and finding himself a new position (and excellent opportunities for revenge) as a theatre teacher in a correctional facility.

I loved the scenes with the prisoners the most. I have always been a big believer in prison as a source rehabilitation rather than merely punishment and am frequently drawn to articles and documentaries showing the positive effects arts, education and skills programmes have had on prisoners, so the moment the prison programme was introduced I found my interest in the book heighten. I particularly enjoyed Felix persuading the prisoners to only use curse words used in the plays they were studying (hence the book’s title) and their enthusiasm for interpreting the pieces. It is heartwarming to see his genuine affection for these men that seems to surprise Felix himself.

Whilst perhaps not my favourite, this was certainly one of the most fun of Atwood’s books I have read so far. There are elements of sadness in Felix’s history and the story of his daughter, however I found myself laughing and smiling much more. Her wicked sense of humour and accurate commentaries on human behaviour has always been one of my favourite things about Atwood’s writing and it work’s perfectly with Shakespeare’s musings here. The prisoners (and their hilariously unique voices in the audiobook version) provide most of the humour, but the melodrama of Felix and his ‘enemies’ contribute greatly.

Ramblings, Review, Uncategorized

Attempting Austen

I first tried reading Pride and Prejudice as a thoroughly unromantic teen, it did not go well. As an avid reader of mysteries (I’ve been Agatha Christie’s biggest fan since age 12), I was much more drawn to darker stories and therefore decided that Jane Austen was definitely not for me. Oh how time changes you.

*There will be spoilers ahead and, although these books have been around for 200 years, it’s always polite to give warning.*

I read Emma last year (at the age of 25) having picked up a cheap copy in a bookshop and, much to my surprise, was greatly amused at how witty Austen’s writing and social commentary is. This was greatly aided by the fact that, in coming from a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, I was familiar with many of the characters – particularly Miss Bates who reminded me of a certain family friend. After more research (I tend to obsessively look at reviews of books I have just finished to compare experiences) I saw that many Austen fans had placed Emma pretty low down on the list of the best Jane Austen books, so made a conscious effort to read more of her work.

I read Pride and Prejudice just before Easter, and subsequently watched the mini-series and film over the Easter break. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the book. I already knew the storyline (I mean, Bridget Jones is just the modern version – right?), but more than anything just enjoyed the author’s voice and way in which she continually ridicules her protagonists.

Then, in earlier this month, I picked up Sense & Sensibility at my local library and, again, throughly enjoyed it (yes, I have now also seen the 1995 film starring Emma Thompson and the 2008 BBC miniseries). As a child I was always more sensible than my years and looking after my more tear-away friends, I connected with Elinor, and enjoyed reading about her family’s ups-and-downs. I also felt from the very start that Colonel Brandon was clearly the best option amongst all of the gentlemen introduced and felt like he and Elinor ought to have ran off together, but alas I will have to settle for Edward Ferrars.

I shall continue on my Austen journey and expect that Persuasion may be the next one I connect with most, given that I too am currently a 27 year old ‘spinster’. Good night.