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.”

Advertisements
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.” 

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
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.

Ramblings, Uncategorized

Rediscovering my love of the library

I have always depended on libraries. The  library in my home town is an impressive sandstone building which stands proudly at the crux of our town’s main roads and from the moment I was old enough to own my own library card I remember going there  on fortnightly visits to the with my mum, always excited to find a new book, cd or film to rent.

As we weren’t terribly well off, the library was my main source for reading materials and, on entering my late teens with little to no internet access at home, it became my weekly stop for internet use (even as late as 2008 I made the weekly trip to the library to do my weekend studying and university applications).  I loved the fact that after my studies, I could go for a wander along the bookshelves and pick up something new.

At university, like many, the library became one of the few quiet places where I could get essays and work done, I am sure I am not alone in pulling all-nighters sequestered among the bookshelves.

Then I started full time work in London and somehow just stopped visiting the library. I still read, but mainly picked up my books in second-hand book markets, or charity shops or (when feeling particularly wealthy in gifted book vouchers) treated myself to a brand new tome from a bookshop. In London I am spoiled, Foyles, Daunt Books, Hachetts and Waterstones offer fantastic selections in numerous languages, and the second-hand bookshops offer a wide variety of recent releases and classics (my favourites include the Oxfam bookshop in Hampstead and Bookmongers in Brixton). However, I noticed that I was buying books that I didn’t necessarily want to read, and then disappointed in having spent the money on them.

So, earlier this year, I decided to check out my local library and have been reminded of what I have been missing. Firstly, since my days of frequenting the library, eBooks and Audiobooks have improved enormously. Whilst I steadfastly refuse to use eBooks (I look at screens all day at work and am terrible at charging my devices) I have found joy in listening to audiobooks on my walks to and from work, and my library allows 15 free audiobook downloads. I have also recently joined a book club, so the library is a fantastic way of accessing the books I need to read, without risking spending the full amount on a book I may not enjoy. I also forgot how great it is just to wander and pick up any book in genres I don’t typically read, or on subjects I know little about, to see whether I might discover a new interest.

Therefore it saddens me to see libraries being used less and less. I came across a Guardian article (published in 2016) on a report regarding the significant decline library usage in the UK over the past decade, and it was interesting to note that poorer areas, like the town I grew up in, have been least affected. I know it is easier with eBooks and online shopping to pick up books with a click of a button, but I still feel like in wandering through libraries (and even bookshops) you always come across interesting books that catch your eye that you may never have heard of or searched for.

It is with this reacquired enjoyment for libraries that I hope to be using mine much more frequently in the next few years.

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.’