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 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 that, similarly to Shakespeare’s treatment of Romeo and Juliet, you can see that she is gently ridiculing her protagonists.

Then, in earlier this month, I picked up Sense & Sensibility at my local library and enjoyed it even more-so than the previous two (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 like Colonel Brandon was clearly the best option amongst all of the gentlemen introduced and felt like he and Elinor should have gone 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.

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Review, Uncategorized

The Book Thief by Markuz Zusak

Why haven’t I read this earlier?!! A question that I am sure many others have asked themselves before. I’ve had this on my bookshelf for a good five years and have been meaning to pick up, I’m so glad I finally did!  To be honest, I remember being in a airport in France around 7 years ago and accidentally overhearing a girl talking in a very spoil-ery way about this book, so my justification is that I wanted to forget the spoilers she mentioned before picking it up – I am so glad I did.

Books don’t often make me cry (I can probably count on one hand the ones that have) but I can say that I cried at the The Book Thief. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me despair for humanity in general.

Like most children in the UK I had a heavy dose of World War 2 knowledge dropped on me throughout my school career and have read many books and articles, seen many films and documentaries, and visited many museum and art exhibitions about that period, yet never fail be surprised to learn at yet another way humans managed to make each other suffer in those miserable years. On the other hand, it is always so heartening to learn about just how many good people tried to help each other, and the book wonderfully shed light on both aspects of wartime.

Whilst the book was perhaps initially aimed at a much younger demographic, I feel that there is much within the writing that you don’t appreciate unless you read (or reread) it as an adult, particularly Death’s rumination on humanity. An older perspective and deeper understanding on what happened and why things happened, adds greatly to the enjoyment of reading this beautiful book.

I loved Liesel, and Rudy, and Max, and Hans, and even Rosa. Rosa who’s forceful manner, again benefitting from having read from an adult’s perspective, you can immediately see comes from a place of love.

If you haven’t yet read this, I fully recommend doing so. The story of a young girl’s experiences through this terrible time, both positive and absolutely heart-breaking will stick with you. As will the wonderful people she meets, the caring foster family, brave young men, and adults who keep their gentleness hidden, you cannot fail to feel connected with every character in some way, and only hope that their kindness and heroism will somehow be rewarded in some sort of a happy ending, unfortunately like so many people during that time, this is not always the case.

Favourite quote: ‘A Last Note From Your Narrator: I am haunted by humans.’

Review

When She Woke

When-She-Woke_305

When She Woke –  Hillary Jordan

(published Oct 2011)

Ok, so this one is not so recent, but I read it last October and it’s one of those books that just sticks with you. The story, the ideas behind it, and the way it so scarily mirrors the possible near future left a profound mark and I find myself coming back to it.

Plot

When She Woke tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed—their skin colour is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes—and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder – aborting her unborn child.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

The Good

Red: The design team behind the hardback edition of this book deserve huge applause! Red, red cover, red pages, red is the immediate impression on the bookshelf, and could not be more perfect given the context of this book.

Political commentary: Reading it a time when abortion was a hot-button issue in US politics, When She Woke really brought home the possibilities of a future should pro-life extremists succeed in banning abortion. The overwhelming sense and despair and injustice you feel for Hannah and her punishment, and the consequent humiliation she is subjected to over her decision should, one would think, cause anyone to rethink their position on the matter. The first half of the book, setting up this world where those who have committed crimes are highlighted for everyone to see, and how women who have undergone (illegal) abortions are treated makes for addictive reading. For anyone following the debates on women’s rights, treatment of criminals, and religious extremism from all sides, it is difficult not to be terrified by how closely Jordan’s future is to becoming a very possible reality. This idea of ‘melanchroming’ people for the duration of their sentences is an imaginative process, and for me, demonstrated the idea of how some people cannot look past someone’s crimes and focus on rehabilitation.

Bigger picture: So often in these dystopian novels do we focus on just one country, or one small community, that it’s difficult to imagine how these societies function in relation to the rest of the world. When She Woke puts forward the idea that these changes are unique to the US, and the suggestion that Chromes are seeking to escape to countries like Canada where these laws aren’t enforced, widens the world within the book.

Hannah’s story: As I previously mentioned, you truly feel for Hannah and what she’s been through, and cannot help but to feel the injustice of it all. Witnessing how people react to her, how she has to forge a new life in such a hostile world, and how her own views begin to transform.

The Not So Good

Second half: The narrative slows down a lot in the second half of the book. After the set-up of  this new future, we really delve into the narrative of Hannah’s journey. Although it is interesting to see how she deals with what happens to her, and the new people she encounters as a result of her circumstances, it doesn’t make for the same addictive reading as the first part of the book. At some points, it feels as though too many negative things are being thrown at our main character where the story takes on a kind of soap opera feel, however, Jordan’s writing  manages to remain sharp and keeps you interested enough in the character to overlook these elements.

Overall view

A great book which gets you thinking about current issues being debated in the US (and to some extent, globally). The creativity behind the set-up of this dystopian future is what works best for this book, and is more than motivation to read it.

You’ll like it if you liked: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)