Monday, September 27, 2010

For Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun ~ Haruki Murakami

Murakami's women are the kind of women that I'd love to be; gorgeous, mysterious, deep and intellectual. Shinamoto is one such woman. When Hajime moves town aged 12, he regrets leaving his best friend behind. But, as is a habit with time, the two grow further apart until they are no longer part of each other's lives.

Hajime becomes rich, successful and married with two daughters - everything that can be wanted in life. But something's still missing. When, one rainy night in a jazz bar, Shinamoto reappears Hajime knows exactly what is missing. But Shinamoto remains elusive - Hajime never gets any real glimpse into her past. She refuses to detail anything.

Hajime really struggles in his relationship with Shinamoto, always thinking of the 'what-ifs' or 'could-haves'. But though he knows it's Shinamoto he wants, he's not entirely sure what he wants with her. Murakami has a knack for getting into a character's complexities in such a short space of time. South of the Border, West of the Sun is only 187 pages but is incredibly intimate. Again, it's Murakami's ability to choose and colour the minute details that makes this seem so easy. Mmm...he's perfect for a cosy autumn read. Good thing I've got three more of his books waiting on my shelves!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Alphabet Thursday: Y

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it.
 But who really is Yorick? What brings Hamlet to soliloquise about his former friend?

He's both a jester, and he's dead. In beholding and holding Yorick's skull, Hamlet is contemplating and ridiculing life in the face of death. No matter what a person might be in life, death is inevitable and reduces everyone to skull and bones - only the comments of a gravedigger arouse Hamlet's attention. It's an incredible scene in Shakespeare's play; the philosophical considersations of a 'mad' man.

Pianist Andre Tchaikowsky died in 1982 and wished that his skull be used in a performance of the Yorick scene. His wishes fulfilled, Tchaikowsky stared alongside David Tennant in the gravedigger act. His skull played part is some incredible performances, and I'm sure those empty sockets couldn't  be happier.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For Review: The Hours ~ Michael Cunningham

Pulitzer prize winner, with an incredible film adaptation, I was very excited about picking up The Hours. I've read very little Woolf (something I need to change!) but her brain must have been a beautifully complex place to be. In The Hours, Virgina Woolf is writing Mrs Dalloway, Laura Brown is reading the novel in 1940s America, and Clarissa is arranging a party for her writer friend in the 90s. The stories of these women are told in turn through the novel and Cunningham presents the very ordinary lives of each.

But their lives are far from ordinary in many senses - each woman has relationships to deal with and her own mind to contend with. What really struck me about The Hours was how the idea of the ordinary regulated everything. Coats and tea can elevate Woolf into a happy appreciation of life, while a baked cake is part of a spiral of despair for Mrs Brown. Everyday existence is what each of the three women seem to crave - a relationship, a happy home, family love, a house and its contents. Equilibrium. And yet, what these women are trying to attain seems impossible; everyday living is difficult to achieve. It's depression, it's curiosity, it's quite tragic.

Beautifully written, Cunningham weaves the three stories together seamlessly. In fact, though the reader is told the stories of three different women, Cunnigham is really presenting the one story. What effects our lives? How do we shape our lives? What do we aspire to? Whee - I love a book that asks so many questions. If you haven't read the book, go read it. If you haven't seen the film, go see it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: 21 Sept

Oh hello Teaser Tuesday. Long time no see. I read this passage this morning and I really identified with it.

"She would like to write all day, to fill thirty pages instead of three, but after the first hours something within her falters, and she worries that if she pushes beyond her limits she will taint the whole enterprise. She will let it wander into a realm of incoherence from which it might never return." (69-70)
The Hours ~ Michael Cunningham

Saturday, September 18, 2010

For Review: Mansfield Park ~ Jane Austen

It was sad picking up this book, knowing very well that this is the last of Jane Austen's novels for me to read. But for much the same reasons I was very excited to read it, and I'm more than glad I did.

Fanny Price is essentially given away by her mother to be brought up in the care of her aunt and uncle Bertram. She's at first unused to the social change but gradually (over several years) she begins to become more comfortable with her surroundings. But she's never fully integrated into their lives - her cousins Maria and Julia are preoccupied with marrying well while the eldest Tom squanders his money on trips to London and alcohol. Fanny is the outsider both in terms of society and of character. Even her beloved cousin Edmund (a gentle, booky sort who joins the clergy) is busy with finding himself a wife. Having spent eight or nine years at Mansfield, Fanny returns to spend time with her maternal family in Portsmouth but finds that she's been too far removed to be completely welcomed home.

Typical of Austen, the plot is the character relationships. Fanny has to contend with a well to-do family, to understand the concept of balls and dinners, and has affairs of the heart to deal with. Her heart is always after Edmund, who is in turn trying his best for Miss Crawford. But Miss Crawford's brother is determined to win the heart of Fanny (for love, or sport?) But Maria and Julia are fighting for Mr Crawford's affection (which he willingly doles out). Meanwhile, meddling aunts try to arrange marriages of convenience.

The pairings and marriages of Mansfield Park are of much interest. Some marry for love, some marry for money, some choose not to marry based on moral principles. It's interesting to follow the love affairs and show how they work, or don't work. Seemed to be that the marriages of convenience proved otherwise, while marriages of love are happier affairs, even if that means lack of fortune or a lower social standing. Ultimately, it's up to each of the women to choose their own fates according to their priorities.

Fanny Price is consistent with her morals, and while she may not be worth millions of pounds and while she might never have the grandest of houses, standing by her principles is what eventually finds her every happiness. She deserves her ending, especially given all the difficulty she goes through throughout the novel. Per Austen, characters receive their just desserts. As ever, the novel has much to say about morality and society while being very enjoyable and host to an array of extremely colourful, Marmite, multi-faceted characters. Which do you love/hate?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday, Friday

Been absent for just over a week now, but things are proving crazy. Back to school time yet again, and being the overly organised person that I am, I've been writing down timetables, checking reading lists etc etc. That, and I'm still working fifty hour weeks. But this was my final week of that - thank goodness! The usual fourty hours for me and back to part time studying.

I had every intention of doing my Alphabet Thursday feature yesterday and I did try but try as I might I just couldn't think of any literary characters whose first name begins with Y. Nor for that matter (probably because my brain was broken) could I think of even any second names beginning with Y. Help? Any favourite Y characters? Who can I feature? Or must I admit defeat?
Book Blogger Hop
Friday is blog hop time again! Hurray! This week is time to think about other blogs that I love and appreciate. Here are two of my favourites:

Dead White Guys: An Irreverent Guide to Classic Literature 

~ I love this blog. Really love this blog - it's like everything I wish my own blog could be. It's immensely amusing, very clever and lots and lots of fun. This girl really knows her stuff, and she's able to show it through the most amusing blog entries. It's my taste entirely. So if classic literature is your game, you'll learn and laugh a lot at this blog.

Park Benches & Bookends

~ I'm really into this unique way of blogging. This blog is written by a Mr and Mrs who are just delightful before you even get to the actual reviews. The result is a very high-brow but eclectic mix of book reviews and it's very interesting to see where their tastes meet and vary. There's no trash here. Here is a couple that know their stuff. Highly recommended to any blogger/blog reader!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Alphabet Thursday: X

Alphabet Thursday is drawing to a close, which means I've been blogging for at least 24 weeks. It still feels like I've barely started, just beginning to make a space and a name in the so-called 'blogosphere'. It's been interesting all the same, and I'm still coming to terms with what people seem to be reading and, more obviously, what people aren't reading. Several of my more recent blog posts and reviews have gone untouched with opinion - and I'm still not sure if that's because they haven't been read, or if it's because people have nothing to say. Hmm.

But here we go, this week is X and I could only think of one character. Who would you put for your alphabet thursday X?

Xavier Ireland leads two lives - one as the funny and caring radio DJ, and the other as a lonely soul. At night, in his studio, Xavier advises his many loyal listeners on problems of the heart and on everyday questions and dilemmas. During the day, his time off, Xavier doesn't always know what to do with himself. He goes to speed dating, Scrabble tournaments, reviews films and makes several trips to the newsagents. He's living a lonely life in London because he chose to, but why?

The revelations of Xavier's past are horrifying and in no way could I have guessed what had happened to him. It is a part of his history that rouses several emotions at once - to love or to loathe? But I'm sympathetic for Xavier, painfully aware of the burdens that he carries with him. So when he finds a love interest I'm rooting for him. I want him to connect back to reality, rather than hiding behind a mic, behind a false name. Xavier's life is one of many in a web of existences, and Eleven really proves how consequential our decisions are.

For Review: Lunar Park ~ Bret Easton Ellis

Writer, father, husband, son - the Bret Easton Ellis of Lunar Park has various relationships to come to terms with. As a writer he must separate fact from fiction, as a father he must gain the trust and love of his son, as a husband he should be loving and compassionate, and as a son he has bridges to build and burn between himself and his father.

That not enough? This Bret is an alcoholic, taking all sorts of drugs (prescribed and otherwise) and there's someone running around imitating Patrick Bateman.  Let's be honest, Patrick Bateman is best confined to the page or the television set (Christian Bale is one thing, but an axe and a raincoat are another).

Ellis is genius in his narration of Lunar Park. It's told in first person (from his own experiences, of course) and the style fluctuates with his various states of mind. At times it is measured, calculated and slow, but with some drugs and paranoia the narration becomes frantic. Amazing. I know Ellis isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea (I can tell by the lack of interaction on my previous posts on the author) but there are elements to this story that makes it more accessible than the likes of American Psycho. Towards the end I was engrossed in some narrative that I wouldn't have imagined before to find in Ellis' novels. I can't say much without spoiling, but suffice to say that I had some very messed up dreams once I'd finished the book. So glad when I woke up that none of that stuff had actually happened to me. Or had it?

There are details in Lunar Park that will be picked up by readers of Ellis which makes for an exciting bit of omniscience on the reader's part. But they'll go completely unnoticed by anyone who has no experience of Ellis, making for more twists and revelations. So what's your excuse for not reading this time?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Alphabet Thursday: W

Wendy Moira Angela Darling is a much loved character, either from JM Barrie's play, his novel, from the Disney feature or pantomine. She's the eldest sister, uncertain about becoming an adult: after all, given the lives of her parents it doesn't always seem entirely satisfying. To avoid growing up she goes with Peter Pan to Neverland, taking her place among the Lost Boys.

But they're seeking a mother - someone to tell them stories, someone to keep house. Wendy dutifully accepts her role, maturing as the play/novel progresses. She is aware of her role as a woman which, if anything, is to remind the boys of their place and keep them clean (quite right). By the time she returns to England, Wendy is ready to accept that she will grow up and that with that comes responsibility.

She's an adorable character, very self-determined and independently minded for a young woman. I think my own love of Wendy is that, though she's only young, she is capable of all the facets of womanhood; strong, independent, intelligent, caring and loving. (Boy, why are you crying?) Feminists might kill me but I couldn't care for them anyway.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

I Read, Therefore I Am

When I was studying on my undergraduate course I found that the more I learned in philosophy, the better I understood literature. Likewise, the more I learned in literature, the better I understood philosophy. Geek as I am, it's not unknown for me to read a novel and think to myself, 'How very Cartesian of you' or 'This author has clearly read Schopenhauer.' It gets me all very excited and probably unreasonably giddy.

So, when I heard of Simon Van Booy's edited collections I was quite beside myself. Why We Need Love, Why We Fight, and Why Our Decisions Don't Matter are questions of quite epic proportions. Needless to say, they are questions raised very often in our little mortal lives. Van Booy has offered some help with his three volumes, gathering together some of the most important and fantastic poetry and prose. There are quotes from philosophers, historical figures, passages from Elliot, Joyce, Bronte, Blake and Shakespeare. Need I say more?

These three books are absolutely stunning; they're small, gorgeous to look at and feel (several of my friends have ooh-ed and aah-ed them) and they contain such a beautiful collection of words. Simon Van Booy has brought together something very important with these. They can be shared, they can be dipped into, they can be personal, they can be borrowed and they are definitely there to be loved (can't you tell?). Any literate person who has lived really ought to take a peek and see what they can find.

Many, many thanks to Harper Perennial for providing these books.