T5W| Top 5 Characters I Wouldn’t Want To Be.

Hello everybody, HAPPY WEDNESDAY.

The theme for T5W this week is ‘characters you wouldn’t want to trade places with’ and as I only have a few minutes to get this typed up before Nathan drags me to the car to go climbing; I’ll dive right in.

I found this week’s list especially difficult to compile – in part because my morbid attraction to books with unsavory characters (that I definitely wouldn’t want to trade places with because they’re AWFUL) means that I had a lot of books to choose between and in part because I only had a few minutes to collect my thoughts. I did however pick 5 characters for this list that I could not be tempted to trade places with in a million years, be it because they’re generally unlikable, irredeemable people or because their situation or circumstances are so dire that I can’t imagine how I’d cope.

The first character I picked for this list came to mind immediately and they’re a pick of the situational variety – Ma from Room by Emma Donnoghue. Ma is the young narrator Jack’sroom_9780330519021 mother in Room and though the novel is told from his perspective, we get a really hard-hitting sense of what the situation must be like for Ma, who’s held captive in a room by a man called Old Nick and has been for seven years. Her situation is unbearable to say the least, I can’t even begin to imagine how she remains such a strong, admirable character throughout.

The second character who springs to mind, again because her circumstances are so horrific and terrifying that they send shivers down my spine is Agnes from Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. Agnes is this novels protagonist and she’s awaiting her execution for the murder of her former boss, living out the remainder of her numbered days on a remote Icelandic farm in IMG_27781829, where she’s attended to by a priest who’s charged with her spiritual preparation for death. Pretty awful situation all considered. That said, it’s a beautifully heart-wrenching book. Amazing imagery, 10/10 would recommend.

My third pick for this list is Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, the only (but completely logical) reason being that he’s a sick and twisted psychopath who tortures and murders women in the most horrific and demented ways and has literally no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This was a really easy one.

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The next character on my list suffers unimaginable hardship and cruelty and that’s Lina from Between Shades of Grey. Lina is a 15 year old Lithuanian artist, taken in the beginning of the novel with her mother and brother to a labour camp during the second world war. Throughout the novel, she experiences how ugly humans can be to one another and loses almost everything dear to her and her situation is terrible and one that nobody would ever wish to be in.

betweenshadesofgreyAnd my last pick is Frank Wheeler from Revolutionary Road. I can’t express how desperately sad I feel for Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. I think at his core he’s a good person, and a very normal, relatable person which is what makes Revolutionary Road so poignant but he embodies everything I’m scared of becoming, self-deluded and scared of perusing your IMG_2542dreams and living the life you want. I think it a nutshell, Frank
and April both feel incredibly unfulfilled with their lives, and they expect more from Suburbia and marriage and life in general because they feel like they’re owed a happiness that
they don’t want to work for; they aren’t really motivated enough to do anything about their frustrations and they pay the very human cost of that fool’s paradise.

So that’s all for my T5W this week, I’ll see you again next week! Now to go and climb some walls!

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The God of Small Things | A Review

It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because Kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings.”

On the face of it, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel The God of Small Things tells the story of a family tragedy in Ayemenem, India in 1962. Beneath a tragic storyline, Roy crafts a complex, politically charged examination of stolen innocence and human desperation – a rich, animated novel woven with some of the most spectacular descriptions I’ve read and held in place with a generous measure of almost unbearable misery. This is a novel with many faces, rattling with complex language, rich metaphor, political voice and a sense of premonition so strong it churns your insides and prickles the hair on the back of your neck.

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Seven year old twins Rahel and Estha live with their divorced mother Ammu, grandparents and Uncle Chacko, who recently returned from England after a divorce, leaving behind his ex-wife Margaret and young daughter Sophie Mol. When Margaret’s new husband dies in an accident, Chacko invites her and Sophie Mol to spend the holidays in Kerala. This sets in motion a fateful series of events which culminate ultimately in the death of Sophie Mol and alter the family irreparably.

Written in a dizzying, non-sequential narrative style, the story flits to and fro between 1962 and 1993. Roy delineates haunting scene after haunting scene with a genre defining mastery, spinning a compelling web of meanings, causes and consequences with each temporal shift and revealing at each stop the significance of each event in the timeline of the twin’s lives. Though the spinning pace and jarring structure take on an ever-so-nearly-disillusioning quality, Roy manages to reign in her narrative just short of completely confusing. Instead, The God of Small Things is guided to a different territory, where narrative structure cleverly reflects a fitting metaphor – that memories are rarely sequential and things don’t always make sense, especially from the perspective of a child!

Most enjoyable perhaps for me was that juvenile perspective and the unique voice given to Estha as events unfold. Roy’s depiction of innocence sets the reference point by which we experience the main events of the novel and so many of her adult themes are written with all the fragile innocence of early childhood, setting a poignant contrast. On the one hand we have brooding, atmospheric gloom waiting in ambush at every corner, yet this menace hides in the history of children, crouching in the shadows of a pretty, lyrical prose – a prose which serves to decorate an unforgettable message -the consequences of small things can be devastating, things can change in a day, and it’s best to be prepared.

Tales From Nowhere

‘Many places can feel like nowhere: a desert, an isolated village, even the middle of a bustling, impersonal city. And then something happens: an adventure, a revelation, an experience that changes the whole landscape. The discovery that every place is the center of the world to somebody and has its own riches and wonders’.

Tales from Nowhere was my first Lonely Planet anthology; my book of choice for my own European adventures. It traveled with me in the door netting of my housemate’s camper van, nestled next to my Jungle Formula and paper packages of half eaten baguette, always in reach of my makeshift bed for our days driving south on D roads to the Verdon Gorge. 200 pages and some 643 miles later, I finished the collection, sat on a stranger’s bed, locked out of my house in the middle of the night and with sand still dusting my lap each time I moved my head. My own nowhere place. And a fitting finale for a collection so centered on the true nature of adventure.

Edited by Don George, the collection conglomerates 30 travel stories. Bound together under the expansive theme of nowhere, each tale takes us to a place so separate and yet so expressively relevant. Dazzlingly rich, but beautiful in their simplicity, modesty and innocent explorations of what it truly means to travel, these 30 stories wind from continent to continent, from the stretches of Icelandic wilderness to The Worst Country in the World, abstracting a sense of nowhere at each stop and illuminating the significance of our most (seemingly) arbitrary experiences. For me, this contrast is what made the book such a joy to read these past few weeks travelling south. Settling into each page, reading aloud to Nathan on the beach or by the light of my phone as we drove through the night to a mechanic in Troyes, I was transported from my own nowheres to the middle of the roads traveled by others. With these stories reverberating in my mind, I reminded myself again and again that the tiny mechanics shop, the squat toilet aires, watching the biggest great dane puppy I’ve ever seen in my life gallop across a service station car park at 6am, these nowheres were in those moments the center of my world. Those that made me wonder where is ‘nowhere’ when you are constantly ‘somewhere’.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter | Book Review

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

First a disclaimer: I’m very nervous to undersell such a clever, enchantingly unique gem of a book yet figuring out where to start with this review is a formidable task. So long it’s been since I’ve read a short story collection of this caliber, I really want to do well by Carters clear ambition. Yet however spell-binding this collection may be, and however ornate Carter’s narratives, I can’t help but hold back on a few points. These shorts are commendable, yes, but untarnished? I’m not so sure.

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From the first retelling of Bluebeard, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories outlines a clear aim, to reshuffle the traditional perspectives on the ideologies and values of folklore and traditional mythology. So powerfully political and sexually charged, Carter’s collection in this way rears its head unapologetically, embellishing such familiar stories and settings with a uniquely challenging voice.

Throughout, Carter maintains an elaborate penmanship, often very complex and at times a little convoluted. It’s on this point that I’m divided, for on the one hand, I appreciate Carter’s flamboyant, almost poetic descriptions, but on the other it often feels as though the strong political intent is compromised. That said, the lyrical quality of her writing, so peppered with Gothic symbolism and raw eroticism, contributes to the collections bewitching effect.

Primal and atmospheric in tone, her collection delves confidently into themes of gender theory and morality, sexual liberation, agency and lust, thus shattering established understanding and reclaiming traditional fairy tale telling with a force that had me marveling at each pages end. Carter’s female characters especially are portrayed as strong and powerful and with each short Carter manipulates our own deeply embedded, and often misguided perceptions of gender roles, sending forth familiar heroines to shrug the shackles of folklore with a distinct feminist angle. It is in this sense at once so deeply sensual and sophisticated, yet it retains the hard edges of depravity and violent sexual desire that sets this work aside stylistically.

Thematically, while so well intended, I didn’t enjoy the stories very consistently – I hated a few whilst some I enjoyed a lot more. I feel that in many places, the true ambition contained within this little book fell short of recognized, or else was lost on me as I tried to keep up with a spiraling narrative, tangled with long sentences and elaborately punctuated passages. Final verdict? A very clever, valuable book, yet one from which I hoped to have taken that bit more satisfaction.

3.5/5

 

Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland | Book Review

4/5 stars

This weekend just gone, Hey Nostradamus strutted onto my American literature radar, reminding me again of my admiration for a writer who can make me feel so sad, yet so hopeful at the same time. HeynostadamasA deeply thoughtful and engaging novel, tinted with a delicate wit and irony so very characteristic of Coupland’s writing, Hey Nostradamus grapples with questions of faith and acceptance, compounding its themes almost as much as it reconciles them.

Each quarter of the novel takes a different focus, and Coupland shifts between the years with each short chapter. From these four separate yet connected vantage points on a high school Massacre painfully reminiscent of Columbine, we come to understand the depths of grief, sorrow and anger felt by those involved, and those left behind.

Driven first by 17 year old Cheryl, killed in the shootings, the book wanders from a secret marriage and pregnancy, through the horror of the mass killings, to Jason, Cheryl’s grieving adolescent boyfriend. We then meet Heather, Jason’s adult partner before the book comes finally to rest with Reg, Jason’s god fearing, spiteful father. Each character negotiates the aftershocks of the shootings; their nuanced, scattered responses building a rich narrative framework, a structure turned inwards on themes of faith, destiny and remorse and brimming with the same wistful sentiment that keeps Coupland firmly atop my favorite authors list.

It took me a while to understand the true scope of Coupland’s ambition with this book, in so much as I didn’t realize immediately that the indents in Cheryl’s chapter we’re actually prayers, filtering upwards from those struggling to cope with the tragedy, and I didn’t fully appreciate how grounded this story was in redemption until the final few sentences, yet this book stood out to me as all Coupland’s work seems to; as an incredibly visceral, courageous look at humanity and it’s discontents. So intent on truth and unvarnished authenticity, Hey Nostradamus details such growth and hope, guided by a truly unique, collaborative narrative. I’m almost sorry I didn’t read this sooner, and almost wish I had it yet to come.