Category Archives: ‘Thoughts on…’

Bus Reads 5: Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’

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I was interested to read this book, as a friend of mine from Uni is from the Czech Republic, and the novel is set in Czechoslovakia during the turbulent 1960s, so it allowed me to see something of her nation’s story as well as giving me an idea about where she is coming from on various issues. I had no preconceived notion about this work, so the book didn’t surpass or fall below expectations, but I was surprised just how much the book revolved around sex. Now, I don’t have an issue with this, but it would be nice to be warned when I’m reading it on a bus. I feel that people may be reading over my shoulder and think I’m reading something salacious. Anyway. I’ve read much worse since.

The way in which sex and love were presented through the thoughts and actions of the different characters was interesting and thought-provoking, with Tomas seeing it as nothing but another way of getting to know women better, and indeed being the only way to fully know their individual differences. This view can be understood somewhat in his profession as a surgeon, as this would precondition him to see people as the same, working in the same ways and as perhaps highly impersonal, whereas the act of sex allows him to see beyond the mechanics of the body into the personality of the individual. However, this view of sex and love as two distinct entities was something that seemed to run through the novel with all of the characters, and which begun to grate on me after a while. I can’t say that I condemned the characters for their actions and their views (that sounds a bit harsh), and indeed they were all likeable, believable figures, but I did see myself in moral and ideological opposition to them. For me, the two should be intimately intertwined, and so I was perhaps less able to empathise with the people in the novel than I have with other literary creations.

I did find the passages concerning the dog Karenin rather moving, though, which was a tad embarrassing on the bus, but Kundera did well to make Karenin as well-formed a character as the others in the text. Also, the sense of loneliness and desolation created worked well, and tinged much of the work with a quiet sadness that made it a poetic read in one respect. However, I think the biggest problem I had with the novel was that I missed the central philosophical tenets that underpinned the idea of ‘lightness’ and its opposition. Perhaps another read may be in order, in a quiet room with no distractions and a steaming mug of something rich. I feel that the book deserves a second chance, as I don’t think I’ve done it justice.

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Bus Reads 4: Thoughts on Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’

On the left, a very good cover for the book, with concentric circles suggesting a spiralling and trapped mental state...and on the right... my copy. Garish and rather hideous.

On the left, a very good cover for the book, with concentric circles suggesting a spiralling and trapped mental state…and on the right… my copy. Garish and rather hideous.

I’ve got a long way to go to be up-to-date with my book reviews, but this is another off the list. The problem is that I can’t really remember what I wanted to say about some of the texts, or even if I really wanted to say anything particularly about them at all. This is one such book that has been causing me issue.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I like this book. It is on the list of my favourite novels. However, I can’t really say why I like it. It’s not as though the subject matter is a cheery one that makes you want to read it for light relief, and considering how sublime a poet Plath was, her prose falls somewhat flat in comparison. Indeed, I often found the writing somewhat cold, but it could be said that this matches well the narrator’s mental state, suggesting one of detachment and introspection. The plot is not that elaborate, but I did like the way in which this allows Plath to focus on some of the mundane details and the actual mental state of her voice in the text. The novel also seems somewhat cyclical, with Esther being pretty much where she begun despite her sexual awakening, realisation of her freedom as a woman, and seemingly successful treatment, and this works well to suggest that her recovery is perhaps temporary and the clarity is transitory. I can’t fault Plath on the way in which she describes and illustrates the slow collapse of a person’s sanity and mind, and the sparse plot allows for this to be shown almost imperceptibly, taking the reader along with the narrator and really dragging them into the place of the character.

I feel that I also must comment on the opening line of the novel:

It was a queer, sultry summer; the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

This works to introduce the novel in miniature, with her confusion and isolation hinted at, along with the electro-shock therapy that Esther will undergo, and the fact that this was a summer that would stand out as being different and defining. I also like it for the fact that the juxtaposition of the summer and the death, almost glanced over, instantly startles and unnerves the reader, and conjures up the images of Plath’s poems. Definitely one to reread and reanalyse.

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Resolutions 2015

Image: facebook.com/lego

Image: facebook.com/lego

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

I suppose these should really be made on New Year’s Day, but they’re not too late.

  1. Get more blog posts up on here! I’ve got about 12 book reviews to get written, so I’d better get cracking!
  2. Bite the bullet and submit my book of poetry to publishers. That’s the one I finished editing in January 2014.
  3. Finish writing the book of short stories and random prose pieces that I begun in early 2014.
  4. Begin writing the novel I have planned.
  5. Return to archaeology in my spare time- it’s become a bit neglected of late. It may help that we’re planning on moving to a different (nicer) part of the city soon, which should enable me to actually get all of my Arch & Anth texts (and my uni notes and essays) in some sort of usable order and actually on SHELVES, which they are still without at the moment.
  6. Get my ear pierced and have a tattoo. Okay, maybe I’m joking with that one…
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Bus Reads 3: Thoughts on Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’

joyce youngI daren’t say when I begun to read this book, or indeed when I finished it. However, I’ve got six more books to review after this one in order to catch up with where I’m at now with my reading. Hmm. The reason I’ve put this off for so long is that I’ve not really known what to say about this work. I mean, it is sublime, in my opinion. I adored it from start to finish, and find it so beautifully poetic that I took in more of the sound of the text and the feel of the words rather than any actual meaning. I probably read it in the way that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are better read, actually, considering that A Portrait of the Artist… does have a conceivable and intelligible plot.

Firstly, I think that this text works so well due to its nature as a bildungsroman based upon Joyce’s own youth, and interestingly, the actual text almost ‘comes-of-age’ along with Stephen due to the clever way in which the writing style alters almost imperceptibly throughout the story. Morrissey stated recently that when writing his Autobiography, he “…wrote the childhood sequence almost as a child might, and the adolescent period as an adolescent might, and the adult section as a ‘suicidalist’ might”, and save for the last point, this rings true for Joyce here. In the same way as a person ages imperceptibly if you see them over a long period, the text also matures and develops in a way that is not really noticeable unless you stop and take a step back. I was unable to tell when the writing begun to alter until it had done so for many pages, and see in this part of Joyce’s genius, as the text is so fluid and well crafted.

I also quite enjoyed the way in which religion is given such a prominent role in the text and shown to have influenced and shaped Stephen in various ways, but have been debating with myself recently whether or not the tortuously long sermon was required at the length it was. I suppose that the length and somewhat repetitive and cyclical nature of this highlighted the nature of religion to Stephen and to Joyce, not only in focus (mainly sin and salvation) and the way in which this the affects the narrative and the way that the protagonist views himself and his actions, but in its almost smothering, incessant inability to go away (as the sermon seems to have no way of ending). However, this did make it rather heavy going, as it was a lot more preachy than the sermons I am personally used to hearing, but did also show me another side to Joyce, as I didn’t realise he was able to write such text.

The section I had most issue with, though, was the way in which the book ended. After the way in which the blurb built the end of the text up, with Stephen’s final break with everything around him and need for Wildeian artistic freedom, I felt that this didn’t really come across. It was a bit of a damp squib, really- somewhat akin to a child having a tantrum, and then calmly walking out of the room. Perhaps it needs a second read to pick up on everything here.

That said, I  adored the book, and can only look towards my next reading of it!

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One year on WordPress! Happy birthday Electric Puppet!

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Well- today is my 1st anniversary on WordPress, and to be honest I never thought that I’d stick with it for a few months, Let alone a whole year! I can’t say that my reach has been that far, but I’m happy, as this blog has been something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, as it provides me with the opportunity to just share things I find of interest, and to get things off my chest at occasional intervals. Also, I no longer keep a diary, and so it’s nice to be able to look back over it to see my first thoughts on various texts and to keep a track of my intermittent ‘Life Updates’. I’ll come back to this point at the end of this post, but for now will steal a bit from my New Year post, where I referred you to the best of Electric Puppet in 2013, and add some of 2014:

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

Lastly, I’ve got quite a few more book reviews and posts to get up on here over the next few weeks, but am toying with the idea of doing slightly more regular random life-post blogs, a bit like a daily blog. Feel free to comment if you think that this would be a good idea or not.

Bus Reads 2: Thoughts on Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’

Dubliners

The edition of my copy.

I bought this 4 years ago, whilst I was reading ‘Ulysses’, but only read it at the beginning of this year, as after finishing the aforementioned epic last summer (I did take a 3 year break from it- it didn’t take me 4 years to read), I didn’t feel like approaching Joyce for a while. However, I am so glad that I did. So glad, indeed, that I devoured ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ immediately afterwards. But that’s for the next post. Suffice to say, I adore both that work and this one.

Having read ‘Ulysses’ first, I was pleasantly surprised just how readable the ‘Dubliners’ collection is, with the prose style being at turns simple and yet poetic, and actually intelligible. There is such an attention to detail in the stories that the reader is placed within the action (or more often the inaction) to an immersive extent, and the mundane lives of the characters are presented through a microscope. For example, take this line from ‘A Painful Case’:

One evening as he was about to put a morsel of corned beef and cabbage into his mouth his hand stopped. His eyes fixed themselves on a paragraph in the evening paper which he had propped against the water-carafe. He replaced the morsel of food on his plate and read the paragraph attentively. Then he drank a glass of water, pushed his plate to one side, doubled the paper down before him between his elbows and read the paragraph over and over again. The cabbage began to deposit a cold white grease on his plate. The girl came over to him to ask was his dinner not properly cooked. He said it was very good and ate a few mouthfuls of it with difficulty.

This is fairly representative of the collection as a whole, to be honest, but I do not mean this as a negative at all- I like this painfully close attention to detail. However, this attention to the minutiae of everyday Dublin existence does allow Joyce to neglect plot somewhat- or at least create plots that share this mundane and somewhat pedestrian social environment. I didn’t really notice this as I read the text, but have been increasingly aware of the fact while mulling over what I should write on this post. Looking at the plot summaries on Wikipedia, I am still none the wiser as to what I should write regarding the narrative substance of the tales.

This aside, the collection truly bewitched me as I read it, and I will most certainly read it again (partly so as I can attempt a closer understanding of the individual plots). I will also say that I missed some of the messages of the text which are left to the reader due to the unfinished nature of many of the plot strands of the stories, so will make more of an effort to look out for these next time too. To be fair, perhaps a better way of summing the book up would be as a collection of scenes or vignettes, rather than stories. If it is approached like this- with less expectation of narrative completeness- then perhaps the text works on a higher level. Nevertheless- I loved it as it was, with my confusion intact.

To finish off, here is my favourite line from the book, which incidentally is the final line of the closing story (or novella), ‘The Dead’:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Pure poetry, and a hint of things to come with regards to Joyce’s next work.

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Bus Reads 1: Thoughts on E.M.Forster’s ‘Collected Short Stories’

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E.M.Forster by Roger Fry

Well this post has been a long time coming. I read this back in January, and have only now got around to posting anything on it. To be fair, the next few ‘Thoughts on…’ posts are similar, in that I’ve had them read for several months, but have just been so tardy in getting these posts written. Also, the labelling of this as a ‘Bus Read’ is because this was predominantly read on my way to and from work on the bus. As are the next few books, actually.

 


 

This isn’t the first time that I’ve read this book. I was leant it about 11 years ago by my family Vicar, and on the basis of it containing ‘The Machine Stops’, I bought a copy off ebay whilst at Oxford- only getting around to reading it at the start of this year. I have to say that this Wellsian tale is the real gem of the collection, and is perhaps the best short-story I have read- it is perfect in plot, style, message, pathos and irony. My favourite quote from this story has to be from when Vashti is taking an airship over the surface to visit her son Kuno, and refuses to look at the geography that is passing beneath her, just due to the irony and the way in which it pretty much sums up the view of Vashti as a character and the view of humanity in her time:

They were crossing a golden sea, in which lay many small islands and one peninsula. She repeated, ‘No ideas here,’ and hid Greece behind a metal blind.

The rest of the collection is not of the standard of ‘The Machine Stops’, but several of the stories are nevertheless quite noteworthy- and several are not. ‘The Celestial Omnibus’ is the title story of one of the parent volumes for this collection, and tells the tale of a young boy who finds an omnibus that takes him into Heaven, where he meets many mythical heroes. Later, the bus transports a middle-aged neighbour of the child’s, but he dies after falling from the carriage through the sky to the ground below. The story is a highly imaginative one that nicely portrays the imagination of children and the way in which this is closed to adults, as well as showing that children can often be telling the truth, despite the incredible nature of what they often say.

Indeed, my favourite stories in this book all revolve around Heaven or the afterlife (except the anomalous sci-fi tale): ‘The Celestial Omnibus’, ‘The Point of It’, and ‘Mr Andrews’. When it was first published, Forster states that his Bloomsbury friends asked of ‘The Point of It’, “What is the point of it?”, but personally I quite like this story, with its account of a life lived to the full by a man following the death of another young man who he believed was his friend, but who quickly faded from memory. We see the surviving character as he too dies and then reaches Heaven, and see him reassess the way his life played out. Even if the story doesn’t go anywhere particularly, I still like it for the droll manner of its writing, and in the almost Dante-esque descriptions of Heaven with its pillars and deserts of sand.

Similarly, ‘Mr Andrews’ tells of a man who dies and meets a Muslim man on his way into Heaven, where they compare and contrast lives and ideals to show that actually despite our cultural differences, everyone is fundamentally the same on the inside. A nice message, and very well put.

I’m not overly fussed with the other tales in the collection, to be honest, for the simple reason that they don’t seem to either go anywhere or leave any real lasting impression, but despite that I would certainly read this collection again (I have already read it twice, which sort-of vouches for that), with ‘The Machine Stops’ a must. However, I feel that this collection may be a bit like my experience with Fitzgerald. In his case, I adore ‘The Great Gatsby’, yet am not overly impressed with many of his short stories, whereas with Forster I really like many of his short stories, and so am worried that his novels may not live up to these. I shall have to hurry up and read some of his novels to find out!

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Thoughts on Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’

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I never expected that this would be the case when I started to read it, but Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ has become one of my favourite books. I can’t really say why, either, other than it is a great read and highly entertaining, as well as being really engaging due to the relaxed first-person narrative. The subject matter is not one that I particularly like (i.e. excessive drinking and drug taking-  although I’m looking forward to reading Burrough’s ‘Junky’, and am currently getting absorbed by Amis’s ‘Money’ with its permanently sozzled narrator), but it does make for some highly-interesting and surprisingly amusing scenes. Also, the descriptions are rather poetic, too. Indeed, the first few lines of the book set the pace for the tone of much of the rest of the work:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process.

As with ‘On the Road’, much of this novel is a road-trip story that is a dramatised account of the author’s real-life experiences, and in a similar way, the main protagonists all seem somewhat lacking in intention and direction. However, unlike Kerouac, Thompson is travelling as part of a journalism assignment, with the drug-taking and illegal activities taking place whilst carrying out this intention, and with little regard for the consequences; Thompson (or ‘Raoul Duke’) and his Samoan attorney will return to their real lives as soon as the events of the novel are over. In ‘On the Road’, the travelling and the events that occur are still an escape from the author’s usual life, but are also integral to creating his life, and allowing him to experiment with new avenues and paths down which to move on with his life.

I managed to surprise myself reading this text in part as well because some of my favourite passages and scenes involved the characters getting incredibly high or wasted whilst locked in their hotel rooms, and the light way in which their drug taking is approached. I think that it appealed to me so much simply because these actions are so far removed from both what I know and what I would usually read, and it made an incredibly fresh change. Also, the Ralph Steadman images make the book interesting, as besides being wonderfully evocative and lively (if a little chaotic and disturbing), they also give an incredibly adult book a somewhat childish air, as very few adult novels have in-text drawings.

This is definitely a text that I would recommend, and will happily read it again when I get the chance. Also, it has given me many ideas for my own writing, which can only be a good thing!

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Thoughts on Donald Barthelme’s ‘Forty Stories’

Forty Stories

 

It is perhaps interesting that for me the best part of this book was the introduction written by somebody else.

*

Q: And why was this?

A: Because it was the most entertaining part and made the most sense.

*

-Surely not?

-Why yes.

-Really?

-As sure as eggs is eggs is eggs. With bacon. Fried in chocolate for the delectation of the discerning middle classes.

*

The expectation that was assumed to be in evidence was not proved to be as such when the reading actually commenced following the cesation of the previous tome which previously I have reviewed and thought upon prior to this thinking and musing and thought about, leaving the reader in no doubt as to what this reader thinks re: this forty-storey book of stories (not as tall as first thought- blame the government and the recession and the teachers on strike along with the bloody airport staff) that you may or may not have come across. Therefore the sense of what I write (along with the logic of illogical executions, randomly placed lions and latter-day saints living in apartment blocks) will either be all perfectly sensible or unknown to the extreme.

*

-So is he like Kafka?

-What?

-Kafka.

-Who?

-Kafka.

-Yes.

-How?

-They’re both dead.

-More specific…

-Is that not specific enough?

-No.

-Not like Kafka, no. More scatological and less obvious. And without the questionable presence of insects. But similar in some ways-

[insert b&w engraving of a Victorian lady in a bathing costume, a woodlouse and a Greek temple]

-Even better, let’s use a bold black circle as a discussion point. You must reference Ghandi, the Buddha and Jacques Cousteau. In any order. Your time begins once the porcupines have registered and taken their seats on the plane. Any second now…

*

Kaboom and kaballah. Bismillah and bar mitzvah. Etcetera. Etc. Et. E.

*

And so on.

And a bit more.

-Did it inform you about the present state of the state’s present president? Or Global Warming?

-No.

-Did you enjoy it?

-Ask me another question.

-Did you derive pleasure from it?

-That’s the same question.

-But different wording.

-I don’t know. Yes and no.

*

Q: Why yes?

A: Because some of the stories were interesting and surreal but in a good way.

Q: And why no?

A: Because some of the stories were unintelligible and surreal but in a bad way.

*

Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby. That was a good one. As was The temptation of St. Anthony. And Porcupines at the university. And Lightening. And Sakrete. And The genius.

*

Somebody else = Dave Eggers (as per Penguin Modern Classics edition ISBN on request. Send a postcard.)

*

I may read this book again at some point but at the present moment I know not when but I do hope to at some point as then I may learn to understand the intricacies of the many texts [40 to be more or less precise- Ed.] in this book cut and spliced from other Bartheleme books of short tales and stories and vignettes and randomness that I will never bother to read due to the bad taste and headache this volume left upon the counter next to the coffee mug i drowned my sorrows in, and which was not as good as either the cover (always judge a book by it) or the introduction (never judge a book by it) made it out to be.

*

Now go and make me an omlette using only the words on this page and the pages of fifteen separate newspapers from the day on which your favourite uncle turned into a teenager. Then tune in next time for the next exciting installment. Leave your comments and likes and etceteras below, above, behind and all around like love. Here is the author:

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Image: Dan Hillier

Now enjoy with a selection of chocolates from around the world, presented on a seaweed platter. And don’t forget the bacon.

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Thoughts on Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’

Moominpappa's new hat

Yes, I know that this is technically a children’s book. However, as I’ve said before about Roald Dahl, I think it’s fine to read children’s book when adult if they are classics, and Jansson’s Moomin books fit that label magnificently.

Finn Family Moomintroll is the third Moomin book, published in 1948, but was marketed as the first in the series when published in the UK in the 1961. I honestly can’t remember whether I’ve read it before, as I did read several of the stories when I was younger, and remember that I really enjoyed them. Upon reading this book now, I was impressed by the fact that it is not all light and airy, and indeed the series gets progressively darker in the later books Moominland Midwinter, Moominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November. Strangely, this darker tone appeals to me, and I would be interested to read these volumes.

Finn Family Moomintroll revolves around the discovery of a magician’s hat which can transform anything placed inside it into something else, and this makes for some inspired and entertaining exploits. I particularly liked the clouds that appeared from an eggshell placed in the hat, and found the entire plot extremely satisfying.

There’s very little else to say about this, but I did enjoy it, and hope to read more, with the eventual hope that I can introduce my children to this series, and have a new excuse to buy them all!

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Thoughts on Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’

The original scroll manuscript of 'On the Road'. Image: theguardian.com

The original scroll manuscript of ‘On the Road’. Image: theguardian.com

I approached this text with an almost reverential awe, but have to say that in all, I didn’t find it as good as I had expected it to be. This was because the style was not quite as experimental and radical as I had imagined it to be, with the ‘Spontaneous Prose’ style not as free and ‘spontaneous’ as it was built up to be when I was researching Kerouac and the book prior to reading it. I expected it to be slightly more fragmentary and random, rather than simply free-flowing, and to not follow a narrative structure as closely as it does. That isn’t to say that the book does not come across as relaxed and almost conversational, though, because it does, and this is a source of a great deal of the book’s charm for me.

Within the novel, there are some passages of great lyrical beauty. For example, I particularly liked this section from Part 2 Chapter 10:

And just for a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transitions from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it. I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic Mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like the action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water. I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine lat in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die, and walked our miles and picked up ten long butts and took them back to Marylou’s hotel room and poured their tobacco in my old pipe and lit it up. I was too young to know what had happened. In the window I smelled all the food of San Francisco. There were seafood places out there where the uns were hot, and the baskets were good enough to eat too; were the menus themselves were soft with foody esculence as though dipped in hot broths and roasted dry and good enough to eat too. Just show me the bluefish spangle on a seafood menu and I’d eat it; let me smell the drawn butter and lobster claws. There were places where they specialized in thick red roast beef au jus, or roast chicken basted in wine. There were places where hamburgs sizzled on grills and the coffee was only a nickel. And oh, that pan-fried chow mein flavored air that blew into my room from Chinatown, vying with the spaghetti sauces of North Beach, the soft-shell crab of Fisherman’s Wharf – nay, the ribs of Fillmore turning on spits! Throw in the Market Street chili beans, redhot, and french-fried potatoes of the Embarcadero wino night, and steamed clams from Sausalito across the bay, and that’s my ah-dream of San Francisco. Add fog, hunger-making raw fog, and the throb of neons in the soft night, the clack of high-heeled beauties, white doves in a Chinese grocery window…

I adored the theme and the sentiments that Kerouac presented, and I can see why Bob Dylan is quoted on the back cover of the Penguin Modern Classics edition as saying that ‘It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s’, as the book provides a glimpse into a life that- whilst still being concerned with the mundanity and troubles of everyday existence- is primarily focussed upon travel and the search for happiness through the nomadic lifestyle of the great American Roadtripper. If you overlook the lack of money and the problems that Sal and Dean face, then the ability to set out into the wide expanses of raw country and endless desert is an intoxicating idea and a treasure chest of beauty and possibilities. However, for most of us such a dream would always stay just that- a dream- and the pressures and stresses of the 21st century make the idea of such a lifestyle in the present all the more remote and improbable.

I also enjoyed the literary allusions in the text, which I feel add much to the theme and the intent of the book, even if many of the interpretations may have not been intended. On the Road is a wonderful example- as are most of Kerouac’s novels- of a roman à clef, being a fictionalised account of the travels that Kerouac made with his friend Neal Cassady across America, with the names of Kerouac, Cassady and their other friends being changed for legal reasons prior to publication. For example, the author becomes Sal Paradise, and Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty, with the writer William S. Burroughs appearing as Old Bull Lee. Therefore, the relationship between Sal and Dean is rooted in reality, but I cannot avoid the similarity between their relationship and that of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Both Dean and Jay are characters whom seem to be quite shallow and empty individuals with little purpose in life and yet have a profound impact on the narrator of their respective stories, with Nick and Sal both idolising their friends and seeing them as almost incorruptible men who stand for all that is good in the world, despite their evident failings. To be honest, I find Dean an easy character to dislike, and was very unimpressed with the image of him that is created for the reader, as he seems to be a complete and utter arse. That is purely my opinion, though, based on the way that Dean is shown to breeze through life leaving woman after woman behind to look after his ever-expanding count of children, and how very little about him seems to be honest or convincing- he seems insincere through his hyperbolic sincerity. However, he does work well to represent the pointlessness and futility of many people’s lives in the US in the 1950s, and can be seem perhaps as a metaphor for the emptiness and directionless nature of the post-war years. 

I am interested to read more Kerouac to learn more of his style and about him, and feel that my experience of On the Road is somewhat incomplete if I don’t read the Original Scroll edition. I’m not going to hunt this out yet, but will certainly make an effort to get hold of a copy when i next feel like reading this book. Also, this is definitely a book that I do hope to read again, as there is so much in the text that I feel I must have missed things. Highly recommended, but it may change your outlook on your own life!

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Thoughts on Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’

heat wave - penelope lively

I will admit that when I started this book, I really didn’t enjoy it, and disliked the first three or four chapters. To begin with, I was slightly dubious of the use of the present tense, and found the whole writing style that Lively employs incredibly pretentious, over-wrought and somewhat anal in its faux importance with itself. However, several chapters in, the text suddenly hit me, and from then until the end of the book, I was in love with every word.

I think that one of the main problems had been the fact that I’d read Hemingway’s ‘The Torrent’s of Spring’ a week or so prior, and was greatly aware of the repeated use of empty questions such as “Why did she feel like that?” or “When would her feelings for him end?” (I’ve made those question up- they aren’t quite the same in ‘Heat Wave’, but you get the idea). However, after a while they managed here to drag me into the story rather than alienate me from it, and as with the Hemingway work, they just became a part of the book’s charm.

The way in which the narrative flits between the present and the past does get slightly confusing and irritating in parts, but on the whole this is done well, and to be fair, I can’t fault Lively on the way in which she evokes memory and the nuances of emotion and feeling that cross an individual’s thoughts when they think about the past- or indeed confront the present. The plot was not the best and most developed that I have ever read, but the tangents taken into the past of Pauline, the lead protagonist, and Harry her ex-husband flesh out the plot by several orders of magnitude. Also, the descriptions used by Lively make the fairly simple plot both page-turning and magnificently well executed, with the present tense coming into its own in the flash-back scenes in order to show how the actions of the past can morph and merge into the present, and make time fragile and unstable in the human mind.

The present tense also places the reader in the midst of the spiraling and rapidly escalating action of the final scenes, which I won’t reveal, but which do work to genuinely shock the reader. I did find the turn faintly predictable, but this didn’t lessen its impact as I read, and managed to keep me captivated.

I do have more to say on this work, but will leave it here for now. It’s taken me a good few months to get this post up, and as I’ve said in several posts, I’m magnificently behind on my book reviews. However, despite the delay, I can’t recommend this book more highly, and can honestly say that it will appear on my list of favourite books when I get round to posting it.

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Thoughts on the first two ‘Adrian Mole’ books by Sue Townsend

Adrian Mole 1 and 2

After finishing the mental assault that is ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, I thought that I’d better choose something decidedly lighter in tone for my next reading project. I only own the first two ‘Adrian Mole’ books, and thought that I may as well approach them both together due to them being fairly short and following directly on from one another. Also, I’ve got a ridiculous amount of posts to do on books I’ve read recently, so this amalgamation speeds the process up somewhat.

There isn’t really a vast amount to say regarding these books, as they are fairly unassuming and not overly spectacular, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, they are very funny in places due to the ironic tone that Townsend takes and in the innocence of much of what Mole writes, but they just don’t stand out as great works of fiction to be honest. I did enjoy them though. The use of a diary structure allows for revelations to appear gradually and add much of the humour to the books, with the reader travelling with Mole through the events of his life. One aspect of the books that I particularly liked was the fact that they were written and set in the early 1980’s, and as such include many political and cultural references from the time that are interesting glimpses into the recent past. I did not pick up on some of the references, but understood the vast majority, and particularly liked Mole’s view of Margaret Thatcher:

Friday February 12th

…Sometimes I think Mrs Thatcher is a nice kind sort of woman. Then the next day I see her on television and she frightens me rigid. She has got eyes like a psychotic killer, but a voice like a gentle person. It is a bit confusing.

from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾

The main thing that bothered me with both of these books was the tone that Townsend uses, with Mole coming across as world-weary and somewhat precocious in his views and opinions of himself, and I fear that in the later volumes this tone may get incredibly irritating if attached to an adult character. As a child and a teenager, it is somewhat believable (some passages remind me very much of my own early-teenage diaries), but gets grating after a while.

Saying that, I will definitely re-read these, in part because they are light reading and quite quick to get through, but also because I want to see if my attitude towards them changes upon second read. I just don’t think that I will read any more after these two. Let me know if you disagree!

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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Thoughts on George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

1984 eyes

This post has been a long time in mental gestation, as I’ve been mulling over for some time how quite to sum up what has to be one of the best books I have ever read. I can’t even say why I particularly like the novel. However, I did build the book up quite a lot in my expectations prior to reading it, as I put it off and put it off in order to wait until I felt ready to engage fully with the text; I didn’t want to approach it half-heartedly. Despite this build-up, I think that the book managed to work on me on its own merit, rather than on my assumptions of what it would be, in part because the book is actually so much more than I had ever expected.  For one, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a love story, albeit one with no happy, fairytale ending. Also, on a political level, it is not so much of a commentary upon what could happen if a political party gained too much power or a nation became an extreme police state, but it is more an exercise in how far the human mind can be stretched before it can too be controlled. In a recent song, Lady Gaga sings that “You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”, but here, in Orwell’s future, they will use your mind and make you believe whatever they want you to, whether this be that two allies are suddenly at war and have forever been in such a state, or that 2 + 2 = 5.  I think that it is this message about the mind that we are presented with here that sticks with me, personally, and which makes the book so much more than mere dystopian fiction or political warning. We know that political regimes can control the information that its subjects receive and the way in which it is presented- Hitler and Stalin did it in the past, and in the present we have Russian government suppressing the voice of those who disagree, the Chinese blocking the internet to stop certain materials reaching into the country, North Korea banning almost everything that speaks of the outside world, and countless other nations that control and censor in order to remain in power. However, it is beyond the reach of any leader to actually control the way in which its people think on a truly base level. Sure, propaganda can brainwash to an extent, but not in the way that we see Winston’s mind turned at the end of this novel, and it is this that is truly frightening- the idea that people may be able to be reprogrammed in such a way as they carry out ‘double-think’ on a daily and continuous basis, and indeed believe that 2 + 2 = 5, despite also being able to see that it logically and mathematically can never be the case. (I’m sure that there are many ways in which it could be argued that people can be made to think exactly what someone else wants them to, and examples that can be given such as Nazis carrying out the atrocities of WWII, but no example can be given where the way that someone thinks is overridden to such an extent as it is here. There were several times during Winston’s torture and interrogation by O’Brien that I gasped aloud due to the latter’s ignorance and frightening acceptance of party lies, such as those detailing Big Brother’s role in science and the works of nature. However, such scenes also work well to show the party and the entire concept of double-think and thought control to be preposterous and something of a hyperbolised distortion of what really goes on.)

Another aspect of the novel that I found frightening was the concept behind ‘Newspeak’- if the langauge is reduced to its barest form and the words for ‘thought-crimes’ are removed, then people will not carry out ‘thought-crimes’, as the words to express the thought will no longer exist. The concept and idea makes sense- for example, I am limited in the amount of French that I can speak, and so if I do not know the word or words for something in French, then I cannot discuss it in that language. However, for a lover of literature and language, such a destruction and reduction of an entire lexicon is a terrifying thought, with the translation of existing works such as Shakespeare and Dickens into ‘Newspeak’ tantamount to sacrilege. Here we can see the way in which the Party attempts to control thought, by changing the very vocabulary that people use to think and therefore the way in which thoughts present themselves and can be ordered in the mind.

I was also surprised and impressed by the way in which the Ministry of Love was made out to be a place where political dissidents were killed, when in actuality it was a place where people were re-educated and taught how to think afresh, with those who were believed to have disappeared simply being reintroduced into society as a different person. This for me managed to place the Party on a different level to actual regimes that are fuelled by oppression, and showed a fate that is almost worse than death. However, the torture scenes were surprisingly effective, and shocking in just quite how graphic they were, considering that the novel was published in 1949. It was also in these torture scenes that I was reminded of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (see here for my ‘Thoughts on…’ regarding this novella), and only at this point that I realised quite how much Burgess was influenced in the writing of his book by Orwell and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Burgess’s debt to Orwell can be seen clearly in the former’s book ‘1985’, which uses his ideas and style to produce a more modern echo of the novel, and which begins with an extended interview with Burgess talking about ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. However, this book and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ don’t just share torture scenes in common, but both stories are ultimately concerned with the nature of human agency and free will, and the ability of the individual to be in control of their own thoughts. It is this shared theme that I think makes these both such fantastic and thought-provoking works, but for me ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ triumphs over ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for several reasons. Whereas the latter concerns itself with the re-education of a teenager who is seen to need altering and correcting before he becomes an adult, Orwell’s story is more frightening, as it does not take an individual susceptible to influence (i.e. the teenager), but a middle-aged adult who is already educated, and so should be already able to think for himself. It also takes the idea of individual control, and extends this to an entire world (or at least an entire country. It is my personal theory that ‘Airstrip One’ is actually the only such controlled nation in the world, and that the rest of the world is actually as we know it to be. All ideas of ‘Eurasia’ and ‘Oceania’ and the endless wars are actually fabrications of the Party, and the world continues as usual beyond the country’s shores). There were many occasions whilst reading the novel that I was genuinely frightened by what I read, and was fearful for the world that was envisaged and the similarities that can be seen between the novel and our world, as well as the potentials that the story offers. To see the book as simply one commentating upon the surveillance and spying of governments is to not get under the skin of the text, and it holds messages and ideas that run deeper than this. I haven’t really touched here upon the love story between Winston and Julia, which forms the axis around which the novel revolves and around which Winston is finally destroyed, but this too should be seen as a further key to understanding the novel. It is love that helps to hold Winston together, as well as the weapon with which he is ultimately defeated.

These ‘Thoughts on…’ have been difficult for me to write, as I have been unsure quite how to explain this novel, its themes and the reasons why I like it so much, but I hope that I have gone someway to explaining my ideas and thoughts. I would not hesitate to recommend this book, and think- as with ‘Animal Farm’- that it should be required reading for everyone; I will certainly be re-reading it, but don’t think that I could cope with it too soon due to the sense of deflation and mental exhaustion that I felt upon completing it.

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Thoughts on Ian Fleming’s ‘Diamonds are Forever’

diamonds are forever

This is another post that I’m rather late getting up on here, as I read this a good few weeks ago. Better late than never though, I suppose.

I approached ‘Diamonds are Forever’ very much as just a title to knock of my reading list, imagining it to be light reading and not really a very serious book. This impression came about with the reputation of the films as pieces of entertainment, but not very much more. However, I was genuinely impressed and quite surprised with the book, and indeed was taken in from the first page simply by how well-written it seemed to be. The scorpion motif at the opening seemed an interesting metaphor, and I liked the way in which it resurfaced at the novel’s close as a way of showing the circle to be complete, and the tale over.

In terms of the story itself, it seemed a rather generic spy novel (not that I’ve read many of these), but what stood out for me was the descriptions and the settings- I really did feel as though I was there with Bond as he travelled to Las Vegas or visited the racetrack, and found the level of detail regarding the card games and the horse racing very refreshing. Also, missing was the Bond of the cinema-screens, with his vagrant disregard for any female as nothing more than a sex object, and his questionable record that can been seen to border on the indecent. Here, Fleming instead presented a deep, thoughtful Bond who actually cared about the feelings of the person he was attracted to, who wanted to know her as a person, and who only embarked upon a relationship when he believed it would be long-term. Tiffany Case, the object of Bond’s affection here, was also presented as a deeply thoughtful and intricate person, who was a far cry to the air-headed pin-up that Wikipedia says the film version of this book made her into, and whom any Bond I have seen seems to think that a woman should be. Instead of tempting Bond from the off, Tiffany is presented as intelligent yet vulnerable, who would be better suited as the rescuer rather than the rescued, and I found this refreshing and enjoyable to read. Rather than being a simple adventure novel, the developing relationship between Bond and Tiffany added a further element to the book, and led to it being a much more thoughtful and developed book, allowing us to see into Bond’s mind and his thoughts, and to see him as a more rounded, realistic and likable character.

There’s very little else for me to really say regarding this book- I liked it, despite hearing Shirley Bassey’s voice in my head every time I picked it up, and may read more Fleming in the future. In terms of the films, however, I think I will steer away from the theatrical adaptation of this book, as from what I gleaned off Wikipedia, it seems to veer off from the plot in rather surreal and stupendous ways. I’m inclined to watch the Daniel Craig films, but may stick with the novels for the others.

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Thoughts on Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’

how the elephant got its trunk

It’s taken me quite a while to get around to writing this post, as it’s been a good few weeks since I read the book. I’ve put it off for a bit as well, as I am slightly unsure what to say about this collection. Don’t get me wrong- I did enjoy reading it.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ was published in 1902, and in general the tales included are intended to explain to children how several animals came to look or act how they do. Those stories that concern the appearance of animals are inventive and show a clever knowledge of both animal behaviours and the basis of Darwin’s theory of evolution, as each of the stories suggest that the features developed to assist in the plot of the story appear as adaptations (such as the kangaroo’s legs in ‘The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo’) or are passed on to offspring (as at the end of ‘The Elephant’s Child’). However, I particularly enjoyed the two interconnected tales ‘How the First Letter was Written’ and ‘How the Alphabet was Made’, as they provide a vaguely plausible and interesting take on the appearance of writing- even if their invention of our Latin alphabet is rather suspect. Another personal favourite in the collection is the last story, ‘The Butterfly that Stamped’, as I thought that whilst the premise was a tad sexist, the surreal nature of the tale and the sheer whimsy of the plot stand this story apart from the rest of them, with their being no particular message or meaning behind it.

I was also taken slightly by Kipling’s writing style in this book, as I had expected these works for children to be of a slightly higher lexical complexity than modern children’s books, simply from the time that they were written. However, I hadn’t quite expected the style to be such that it emulated Biblical texts (i.e. the Book of Genesis) in its repetition and use of almost identical passages. Similarly, I hadn’t realised prior to reading that Kipling produced all of the illustrations in the book, and I was very impressed by just how good and inventive these are. I have reproduced one of the most famous at the top of this post, which was included in the story ‘The Elephant’s Child’.

I think that my enjoyment of this book was tempered somewhat by having read Ted Hughes’ Kipling-esque ‘How the Whale Became’ many years ago, as I expected this to be a more faithful indication of what the original book was like than it actually is, and missed the sense of humour that Hughes added to his work. It was with Hughes’ work in mind that I produced my own such story several years ago, ‘How the Platypus Became so Weird’, which I am planning on re-editing for inclusion in a collection of short stories that I am going to begin working on this coming week (more on this to come). However, in all it was a fairly decent book, and is something that i would read again- although I think that I may ‘dip into’ the book next time, or read a tale here or there in between other books.

Lastly, I would just like to commend the cover art of the edition that I read (and which i bought a few months ago- see this previous book-purchases post):

just so stories

I can’t really put my finger on why I like this Penguin Modern Classics edition- I think it’s just the simplicity and the slight playfulness of the tail. On an interesting note: this book has now been issued as a standard black Classic, presumably because it is now over 100 years old. One to add to the discussion, if you remember one of my previous posts.

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Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Torrents of spring’

the torrents of spring

Erm… right… hmm. To begin this post, I will say that I don’t think that this was perhaps the best book I could have read to introduce myself to Hemingway’s oeuvre. However, this isn’t to say that it is a bad work, because it isn’t. I just think that this doesn’t do justice to his reputation. 

‘The Torrents of Spring’ is a novella published in 1926 that- according to the introduction to the edition shown above- was written as a parody of Sherwood Anderson’s 1925 novel ‘Dark Laughter’ and can be seen as a rejection of the authors that made up Hemingway’s social circuit, and acted as his teachers and his literary advisors. I don’t know the aforementioned novel, but was still able to see where the author was at least parodying something. For example, the redundancy of rhetorical questions is laughable even for a parody, but they do manage to show the particular pointlessness of the characters’ lives and reduce serious thoughts and situations to scenes of comedic patheticness:

They were a hardy race, those Scots, deep in their mountain fastnesses. Harry Lauder and his pipe. The Highlanders in the Great War. Why had not he, Scripps, been in the war? That was where that chap Yogi Johnson had it on him. The war would have meant much to him, Scripps. Why hadn’t he been in it? Why hadn’t he heard of it in time. Perhaps he was too old.

This is perhaps best summed up by quoting the last few lines of the book:

Mandy talking on. Telling literary reminiscences. Authentic incidents. They had the ring of truth. But were they enough? Scripps wondered. She was his woman. But for how long? Scripps wondered. Mandy talking on in the beanery. Scripps listening. But his mind straying away. Straying away. Straying away. Where was it straying? Out into the night. Out into the night.

Similarly, the repetition of the line ‘She would never hold him’ in relation to Diana and Scripp’s relationship adds a note of futility and shows the pathetic nature again of their lives and her defeatist attitude towards both herself and her husband. If it was indeed Hemingway’s intention to create characters that the reader does not believe in or care about, then he succeeded brilliantly.

The plot of the novella is a simple and yet vaguely absurd one, with the protagonist Scripps O’Neil embarking on a journey by foot to Chicago following the end of his marriage, and then finding work in the town of Petoskey at a pump factory. On the way here, he picks up an injured bird and decides to keep it under his coat, and later marries a waitress named Diana who works in the town’s beanery. She attempts to learn about literature in order to please her new husband, but he gradually looses interest in her in favour of another waitress named Mandy. In the penultimate chapter, the character of Yogi Johnson gets over his impotence when he sees a naked squaw, and decides to follow her into the night- gradually disrobing as he does so, and leading the reader to the conclusion that he is going to rape her. Despite the seriousness of this scene and the commentary that it makes upon the treatment of Native, First-Nation Peoples in the US, it cannot come across initially as anything but farcical. Indeed, the plot is somewhat generic, and is highlighted to a great degree by the several ‘Author’s note to the reader’ sections that reinforce the fact that this is only a story, and not to be seen as anything more.

One point that I did find interesting about this book was that despite parodying the literature of over 80 years ago, its style is remarkably prescient now, and does remarkably pastiche the ‘chick-lit’ novels of recent years that seem to reproduce like bacteria on the shelves of supermarkets, airport bookshops and W.H.Smith. For this reason, I think that the novella still works now, even if the aim of its sarcasm is different and imposed by the reader and not the author.

It may seem from the start of this post that I don’t like this book, but this is not strictly true. It is something that I would read again (in part due to its brevity), and which gave me a certain sense of delight once I got into it a bit, but I don’t think that it is something that should be read without having familiarised yourself with some of Hemingway’s more famous works first, as it doesn’t display his style or provide anything that says his other works would be worth reading. I will try some of his other works, but with some interest and trepidation.

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Thoughts on Tolkien’s ‘Roverandom’

roverandom_0301

‘Roverandom’ is a short children’s tale by J.R.R. Tolkien, submitted for publication in 1937, but not actually released until 1998. It has its basis in a tale told to Tolkien’s children in 1925, and was worked upon for several years, gradually incorporating separate stories that fleshed out the central narrative. The ‘Roverandom’ (or Rover) of the title begun life as a real dog who was turned into a small lead toy figure by an irritated wizard, and was created in an attempt to console J.R.R.’s young son Michael when he lost his favourite toy- a small lead dog- on a trip to the beach at Filey, Yorkshire. The tale exists in a number of draft forms, showing that Tolkien spent considerable time crafting the tale to turn it from a mere bedtime tale to a part of his wider legendarium that also appears in the more famous ‘Lord of the Rings’ books and his other connected writings. Indeed, many aspects of this story can be seen to be precursors to scenes in ‘The Hobbit’, which he begun work on soon after completing ‘Roverandom’, such as Rover’s flight with Mew to his home in the cliffs and Bilbo’s flight with the eagles; the encounters with spiders on the moon and later the encounter with spiders in Mirkwood; the White Dragon (as seen in the image above) and the description of Smaug, and the three wizards being pre-emptive of the figure of Gandalf.

The success of ‘The Hobbit’ led to ‘Roverandom’ being overlooked by Tolkien’s publishers in favour of more books about Middle Earth, but the greater recognition given to these (albeit splendid) works does not mean that this short tale is not worthy of note or of merit in its own way. Despite the fact that ‘The Hobbit’ may have not been written if it were not for this work, this tale is actually a pleasant story that moves at a fairly decent pace, and which is actually a joy to read due to the inventive words play, subtle jokes, digs about environmental matters and sheer inventiveness. I particularly liked the section when Rover is on the moon, due to the vaguely surreal nature of the scenes, and overall was slightly reminded of Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomintroll’ books and children’s stories written in the 1950’s and 1960’s (I can’t place any specific examples) that deal with dreamlike worlds or journey’s across strange lands.

I don’t think that it is a book that I will return to in a great hurry, despite enjoying it, but it is something that I would happily lend to a Tolkien fan as required reading at least once.

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Thoughts on Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

HofD

At the age of 11, I was quite an avid stamp collector, and through the beneficence of several family friends, I was able to amass a fairly sizable collection. I was particularly proud of a medium-sized green album that I put together of stamps from the British Empire, representing countries such as Tanganyika, Rhodesia, and the Malay States that no longer exist. This interest in the might of British Imperial power made me see the time of the Raj in India and the years up to the 1960s through somewhat tinted lenses, and it was only by studying anthropology at university that I saw that my previous adoration had perhaps been somewhat misplaced. Now, I can see that the British Empire had detrimental effects on almost all of the nations that it subsumed, and that these effects are being felt even now across the world. By imposing our way of life onto other cultures, we successfully eradicated much indigenous culture and society, cloaking it and choking it in the smog of so-called ‘modernity’ and suggesting that the British people were a chosen people placed on the highest level of the Chain of Being above all others. It was with this personal and intellectual background that I approached Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.

I will begin by saying that I disagree somewhat with Chinua Achebe’s view that ‘Heart of Darkness’ is a racist text that portrays the people of Africa as savages, and the continent itself as one of uncivilised, brutish violence. I don’t want to play the cultural-relativist card, as this seems a clichéd and somewhat lame excuse, and also because I think that Conrad’s text is much more than that. It is true that his use of the word “nigger” sits uncomfortably with today’s readers, and this is perhaps a sign of the times in which it was written and nothing more. However, I think that Achebe misses the central crux of the tale that Marlow tells, as rather than promoting imperialism, the subjugation of the African individual and Africa as a continent, and extolling the virtues of romantic exploration- as personified in Henry Morton Stanley and his search for Dr Livingstone- he presents the stark reality of attempting to voyage into the heart of a continent that is ‘dark’ not due to the colour of its inhabitants or the nature of their un-Christian souls, but simply because it represents a void in the knowledge of the rest of the world. The ‘darkness’ is present in the fear that the unknown presented to the people of the late 19th century, and is therefore only culturally relative in as much as the text documents the beliefs and thoughts of people at a given period in history; it does not hide behind this as a justification for the thoughts. 

The theme of ‘darkness’ is perhaps an obvious one in the text due to the clue given in the title, but I was genuinely surprised by just how many times the word ‘dark’ or ‘darkness’ is actually employed within the text. (Upon a further reading, I may endeavour to note each of these occasions, but it will come as a shock that I haven’t yet attempted this.) Not only is it used to describe the physical appearance of the Congo jungle, but also the Thames on which the story is narrated, and the character of the enigmatic Kurtz. In doing this, Conrad manages to make a connection between the unknown and unexplored, potentially dangerous African continent and the lifeblood of the English capital, suggesting a similar unfamiliar side to the river and at a further level the country as a whole. Due to the manner of its colonising, Britain could be said to have had a ‘Heart of Darkness’, and as such be just as dangerous and savage as the unexplored land is perceived to be. Similarly, the ‘darkness’ of Kurtz is suggested firstly in the way that he too- like the interior of Africa- is unknown and a mystery to Marlow (he is literally in the dark about the character, piecing together his own ideas about the man from the scraps he is told), and also in the way that Kurtz recognises his own ‘darkness’ and through his exploitation of the native people, and the ‘darkness’ of his actions as a part of the colonial machine in his final words: “The horror! The horror!” Kurtz further represents a ‘darkness’ in the way that he takes advantage of the veneration shown to him by the locals due to his position as an outsider, and highlights the ‘darkness’ that these people were in when it came to the Europeans; they were ‘in the dark’ about the true intent of many colonisers, and were unaware of the way in which they were having their way of life slowly removed (or at least altered).

Upon reading ‘Heart of Darkness’, I was struck by Conrad’s exquisite prose, and pleasantly surprised at just how many passages gave me cause to refer to a dictionary. For a writer who was writing in his third language, I think that the text is a stupendous achievement, and am enamoured by it also due to its dual nature as a piece of fiction but also as an anthropological text, revealing much to us about the colonial apparatus and the way in which such explorations effected all parties concerned. Often, this is overlooked in even the best ethnographies. For example, Mead excludes mention of the US influence upon those she studied in Samoa, as well as the bias behind her research, and Evans-Pritchard in his three celebrated studies of the Sudanese Nuer fails to mention the fact that he was employed as an anthropologist by the British to report on these communities could best be brought under colonial control, and also fails to show the ways in which the British-imposed culture had manages to impact upon their laws, economy, religion and general way of life. Instead, we are presented with a false image of the Nuer as a people untouched by the ‘modern’ world, when in actuality, the ‘facts’ recorded are all as they stand post-contact.

I believe that ‘Heart of Darkness’ should be read by anthropologists as well as lovers of fine literature, and would recommend it as essential reading for everyone. The technique of a ‘story-in-a-story’ narration is slightly jarring (as I found it to also be in ‘Frankenstein’) in the way that one character recounts a book-long story recounted by another character, but i was not put off by this and hope to revisit the text again, armed on this occasion with a pencil ready to annotate and to count up the repetition. And when it comes to the stamp collection, I think that it will provide me with a fresh perspective on this too.

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Thoughts on Jostein Gaarder’s ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’

Through a Glass, Darkly

 

To begin this post, I’ll just say that I’m not sure whether this is a children’s book, a teenage novel, or a work aimed at adults. I’m guessing that it is perhaps all of these, as the larger-than-average font and use of child protagonist suggests the former (and perhaps the second option too), but at times the subject matter hits for the older reader. Anyway- I read this a few weeks back, and have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by it. I read Gaarder’s sublime ‘The Christmas Mystery’ every Advent for a good 4 or 5 years when I was growing up, but haven’t yet read his most famous work ‘Sophie’s World’, and so was unaware just how good a philosopher and thinker this writer is. If this book is aimed at children, then I think that he deserves even more credit, as the way he manages to get the subject of death and the afterlife across to younger readers is incredibly sensitively and well done.

The short book centres on a girl named Cecilia who is ill in bed over Christmas with what seems to be cancer of some kind (this is never explicitly said, although it is mentioned that she has lost her hair). While she is here, she is visited by Ariel, an angel who wishes to know more about what it is to be human and how it feels to have a body of flesh and blood. Thorough is questions, the reader wonders with Cecilia just quite how you can actually explain what taste, smell and touch are like to someone who has never experienced these things, and what it really is to be alive. In exchange, the girl learns from Ariel about God and his creation, and though the discourse we learn that the God of the book’s reality is a flawed character. However, the most important lessons seem to be on the nature of life itself and what it like for both an individual with a terminal illness and for their family as they wait together- and apart- for the inevitable. Through her friendship with Ariel, Cecilia is able to carry out her last wishes of playing in the snow for the last time, using her new skis and toboggan, and seeing her best friend for the last time, but is also able to face death without fear, knowing what is on the other side and being guided there by her guardian figure.

This may make the book sound somewhat morbid and depressing but strangely it is far from it. I did initially have reservations with reading the book, and indeed it took me to read and re-read the blurb on the back of the book several times in the charity shop I had it from on more than one occasion before I finally decided to go back and buy it. However, I’m glad that I did get it, as it is a charming book, told with very little sentimentality and not purposefully trying to depress or upset the reader; uplifting and positive are two words I would use to describe it. Although, I did find myself fighting back the tears when the end arrived, and it is perhaps an emotionally sapping story if it is properly engaged with.

I enjoyed this book for the messages and discussions that take place within it, as well as the way in which it makes you view life and faith slightly differently, but it would perhaps be equally appropriate for helping someone through a bereavement- whether his may be an adult or a child. Recommended, certainly, but prepare to be surprised by both the books depth and your own vulnerability to emotion.

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Thoughts on ‘Metamorphosis and other stories’

Image: zombiebackrub.deviantart.com

Image: zombiebackrub.deviantart.com

Yeah… that pretty much sums it up, to be fair. I approached this book with an immense excitement and hyped it up somewhat in previous posts, but when I was actually reading it, I found the collection a bit lacklustre, if I’m being honest. The actual story ‘Metamorphosis’ is very good, in both the way it is written and in the story itself, and despite being fairly simple in plot when it is broken down (as above), I didn’t actually expect it to go how it did. I didn’t know the story before hand, and so was approaching it completely blind (other than knowing a man becomes an insect- or more accurately, ‘vermin’. The original German doesn’t state explicitly that Georg is an insect). However, I was expecting there to be some kind of moral in the story, but couldn’t find one. I will have to read some commentaries on it, but personally I missed any sort of allegory within it or greater message behind Georg’s plight. Now, I’m not saying that there needed to be a moral or that every story needs one, but to me it seemed as though it was written with this intention, but that it hadn’t quite been pulled off.

The other stories in the collection were a rather mixed bag. I could see that some of these did indeed have messages behind them, but again feel that some of these may perhaps have been lost in translation somewhat, as some of the very short glosses (‘Meditations’ and ‘A Country Doctor’) were completely lost on me. I was somewhat surprised by the way that these tales went, as they were in many cases very abstract and modernist- I knew the term ‘Kafkaesque’, but han’t realised it was originally applied to things that were quite so odd. Odd in a strange-and-somewhat-disjointedly-random way. I can’t really explain these pieces, other than to say what I already have, and that they were… different. However I do also think that they were ridiculously compelling too, due to the short, clipped nature of their writing and presentation. They have certainly given me some ideas for my own writing, and i think writing some similar pieces would be a good way to use up various story ideas that I have and scene ideas but which I can’t fashion into complete novels or stories. I suppose they could always be expanded upon later on, too, if I felt the inspiration. Perhaps this is an experiment I should endeavour to complete sometime soon. I will update this and say how I get on.

I feel that with this ‘Thoughts on…’ I should perhaps have gone through the book a story and collection at a time, giving thoughts on each, but don’t know quite how useful or interesting this would be, as some of the pieces, such as ‘The Airplanes at Brescia’ and ‘The Stoker: A Fragment’ left me feeling fairly lukewarm. However, I will produce an extended discussion of this book in the future as and when I think about it and get around to it.

Oh- a final note. ‘In the Penal Colony’ is well worth a look. I think that it is also available as a stand-alone Penguin Mini Modern Classic, and is very interesting. I enjoyed it, if only for the imagination and twisted thoughts that went behind its writing.

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Thoughts on Ruskin’s ‘Great Ideas’

Ruskin on art and life

I finished reading this book before starting the Kafka works that I am currently enjoying, but never got around to posting on it.  This has been due to my reticence over attempting to succinctly explain the ideas within it. As I stated in a previous blog entry, this is one of the books in Penguin’s ‘Great ideas’ series, and is made up of two extracts from Ruskin’s existing books: ‘The Nature of Gothic’ from The Stones of Venice Vol. 2 (1853), and ‘The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy’ from The Two Paths (1859).

The writing style of Ruskin is typically Victorian and somewhat hard going, but soon grew on me and became easier to follow- I think it just threw me at first. The first extract is a celebration of the Gothic style of architecture, claiming that this Mediaeval combination of features is the most perfect building style due to six “…characteristic or moral elements”, which he lists as: “1. Savageness. 2. Changefulness. 3. Naturalism. 4. Grotesqueness. 5. Rigidity. 6. Redundance.” I didn’t quite follow some of his logic within the chapter, or understand some of his points (I think that I may need to re-read it in due course), but what shone through more than anything was both Ruskin’s love for the architecture he was discussing and his sheer passion for his subject matter. He went off on various tangents within the piece, but the most important point that seemed to be made was on the nature and the production of art. Within his explanation of “savageness”, Ruskin suggests that the perfection of the Gothic comes from its imperfection- an imperfection that is due to true thought, feeling and application of craftsmen, rather than the perfection created by skilled workers who give no thought to their work. He views these latter people as slaves, and believes that people should do without convenience, beauty or cheapness, as these can only be gained through the “…degradation of the workman”. We then get a list of ways in which this can be prevented:

1. Never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which Invention has no share.

2. Never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end.

3. Never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the preserving records of great works.

Through his examples, he displays his dislike for mass production and thoughtless creation that exploits the worker rather than celebrating them, and provides us with a moral and a philosophy that is as equally relevant now in the 21st century as it was then in the 19th. Despite some reservations, I found this piece of great interest as both an insight into the way Ruskin thought, and as an alternative way of viewing art and the work of the craftsman. From an anthropological stance, this latter point is of interest as it provides arguments that can be given in any discussion of the question of art- what it is; whether some things actually are art, and just as a way of providing another case study for a society’s opinions about art (as I’ve stated on the ‘Archaeology & Anthropology‘ page above, the anthropology of art is one of my particular interests in this discipline).

The second piece in this book was the essay ‘The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy’, that originally was “A lecture delivered at Tunbridge Wells, February 16th, 1858”. I will say less on this piece, in part because I have less to say, and in part because this does not seem to have been the main focus of this ‘Great Ideas’ volume.

The essay takes as its subject iron due to it being integral to the economic and manufacturing of Tunbridge Wells at the time, and personally I think that the piece begins well. Even though a few of his facts are slightly questionable now, and some seem naive in their assumptions, he starts by explaining how both the natural and the man-made landscape are affected by iron in its oxidised form and how the majority of the colour and features we find so asthetically appealing are due to iron. I found myself learning a great deal from this, and at several moments as I was reading I found myself thinking “Oh yeah; I never thought of that!” However, I felt that Ruskin became somewhat unstuck in his discussion of iron in policy, as all this seemed to amount to was a religious and moral rant about war, which took away somewhat of the intellectual argument he begun with. I don’t mean to say by this that religious discussions cannot be intellectual- far from it; it is just that he didn’t really seem to make an argument, and seemed to… well- moan, for want of a better word.

However, despite the book ending on this rather flat note, I was pleasantly surprised by the two pieces as a whole, and am interested in delving further into Ruskin’s work in order to understand some of his other ideas and to see how these two segments fit into his wider academic philosophy. The book is also quite a recognisable product of its time, and it is also enlightening to read Ruskin as a way of further understanding his times. Slightly heavy going at times, but recommended on several levels!

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Thoughts on Shakespeare… and ‘Star Wars’…

Shakespeares Star Wars

Yep. You did see that book cover image right. There is indeed a lost manuscript by Shakespeare that has recently been unearthed titled ‘Star Wars’, which seems to have been in the private collection of a one George Lucas (before he sold the work not to the Bodleian or the Library of Congress, but to Disney) and mercilessly plagiarised in order to make several moderately successful films… Okay, I jest. ‘Star Wars’ has been more than moderately successful…

I’m joking, obviously (…), but there is indeed a book out entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ by Ian Doescher, which reimagines Episode IV as if it were a play by The Bard. My wonderful partner bought me this when we were in Oxford for the Graduation last week, and I devoured it soon after due to the sheer brilliance of the concept, and my mutual love of ‘Star Wars’ and Shakespeare (although my love of the former is somewhat greater than that of the latter…). Indeed, the book is actually ridiculously good (and borders on the ridiculous), as the dialogue is highly convincing as Shakespeare whilst also being so ‘Star Wars’: for example, the famous line “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you are my only hope” is kept, becoming this:

“Oh help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help. / Thou art mine only hope.” Act I Scene 6, Line 73-74

I was also interested to see that several famous Shakespearean lines had been preserved in slightly modified form:

  • “- that all the world’s a star.” Act I Scene 7, Line 98
  • “I do not like thy look. Indeed, young lad, / I bite my thumb at thee.” Act III Scene 1, Line 57-58
  • “What paradox! What fickle-natur’d power! / Aye: frailty, thy name – belike – is Force.” Act III Scene 6, Line 51-52
  • “…We enter swift unto the area / Where should there be great Alderaan in view. / But pray, what madness meets the Falcon’s flight? / Is this an ast’roid field I see before me?” Act III Scene 8, Line 2-5
  • “A plague on 3PO for action slow, / A plague upon my quest that led us here, / A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!” Act IV Scene 4, Line 120-122
  • “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, / Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life / From thee. What manner of a man wert thou? / A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?” Act IV Scene 6, Line 1-4
  • “It hath defenses ‘gainst a large assault, / But like a king who fell for want of horse / This station may be crush’d by smaller might.” Act V Scene 4, Line 29-31
  • “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears.” Act V Scene 4, Line 65
  • “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” Act V Scene 5, Line 231
  • “So Biggs, stand with me now, and be my aide, / And Wedge, fly at my side to lead the charge- / We three, we happy three, we band of brothers, […]” Act V Scene 5, Line 248-250

There may be more, but those were the ones that I picked out. I also like the other Shakespearean devices that Doescher employs, such as the use of asides and soliloquy, the clever wordplay, and the way in which C-3PO and R2-D2 take on a role akin to that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in ‘Hamlet’. It is also clever that within this version of ‘Star Wars’, R2-D2 actually uses English in his asides to show that he is far more intelligent that many of the other characters, and allows us to actually see the droid as a character with proper emotions, thoughts and views. Also, this adds comic value to many of the exchanges between R2 and C-3PO, as the latter is unaware of much that the former thinks, making him seem somewhat stupid.

I quoted above Doescher’s interpretation of the line originally spoken by Hamlet when he is confronted with the skull of the jester Yorick, and just wanted to point out that here, we have an element to the play that is missing in the original film. In this soliloquy, we have Luke musing upon the helmet he had procured from a dead Stormtrooper as a means of disguise, imagining the person that once wore it. In the films, there is no sense of the ‘troopers as people; rather they are faceless soldiers, and so it is nice to see this extra flash of humanity added to make us think for a moment upon the true nature of those who make up the enemy side. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but it would be nice occasionally if this sort of thing was done- not just in film and literature, but in the current news and in our teaching of history (I’m thinking of the killing of insurgents in Afghanistan and the dehumanization of German soldiers in the two World Wars as two examples).

All-in-all, this is a remarkably good book, that doesn’t require prior knowledge of either ‘Star Wars’ or any of Shakespeare’s works (although knowledge of both does improve the enjoyment and the understanding greatly), and it is definitely something that I will come back to again and again.

Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine

Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine

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Thoughts on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books

aiw and ttlg

I actually finished reading these two over a week ago, but have only just got around to posting anything about them. Now, it may seem strange that I have been reading two children’s books, but they are two that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while and have never had the chance before now due in part to never owning copies. Also, having lived in Oxford- the home of Alice and the home of a rather quaint shop selling nothing but Alice memorabilia- I feel that I sort of have a duty to read them.

I know the story of the first from the Disney cartoon from 1951, and simply adored the 2010 live action version despite the plot alterations and the more radical mash-up of the two stories, but was actually rather surprised by just how many famous sections of the Disney film are taken from ‘Through the Looking Glass’- for instance, the talking flowers and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the two books are, and reminded again that children’s books in the 19th century were actually far more intellectual and difficult than they are now, which is no bad thing, but which is a sad state for current children’s literature. Honestly, I don’t think that I could pick a favourite out of the two, but I did find ‘Through the Looking Glass’ a tad dragging in places due to the exasperating amount of discussions between the Queens over the logic of their conversations and the laborious actions of the White Knight. In contrast, the wordplay by the Gryphon in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is truly brilliant, and the story in this one for me is a lot tighter. I don’t know if that is just because it is more familiar, though. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ also has the added bonus of containing the poem ‘Jabberwocky’, which I had forgotten was such a good piece of writing.

I am glad that I read these two books, as they are perhaps the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time (and made such a refreshing change from the not long finished ‘Ulysses’, which is still casting an unhealthy shadow over me several months after completing it). It has also made me realise just how many other books have been inspired by Carroll’s (or should I really say Dodgson’s) use of nonsense and the concept of a journey by a central character, on which they meet a number of strange characters. One of the most obvious such books is ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster. I have read this, but long now to read it again, and hope to get a copy soon so as I can. Looking at Wikipedia, there are a vast number of books using the world of Alice and similar characters or settings, but I find those like the aforementioned ‘…Tollbooth’ the most interesting due to not attempting to align themselves with Carroll’s work whilst still retaining that seed and element. Interestingly, Wiki also says that Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ also contains several references, but… I don’t fancy reading it to find out… I do, fancy writing my own Alice-esque novel off the back of my reading, however, and so may have to get thinking…

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Thoughts on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

clockwork orange

I posted a number of days ago my thoughts upon reading the first few chapters of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and have taken longer reading this than I originally intended and imagined. However, I literally have just finished it, and felt that I should get some ideas down while they are still fresh- even if it is 3:35 AM!

Originally, the violence bothered me in both the sheer brutality of it and the way in which it is told with cold excitement and pleasure. However, I can now see that the violence enacted by Alex and his friends is but a narrative device on which to hang the central theme of the book. The idiosyncratic language used allows much of the violence to be covered up (or at least veiled), and after initially finding this daunting and inapproachable (due to having spent too long trying to decipher ‘Ulysses’), I soon read past this. Indeed, the use of the slang draws the reader in and makes them feel as though they are a part of the story, as they can understand what the narrator is saying and the words he uses, when many of the characters cannot break this code.

I was surprised to find myself as shocked by the violence depicted in the “cinny” as by that carried out in the first part of the book, and irritated that I begun to feel for Alex during his corrective treatment due to the way in which the supposedly ‘good’ State was treating him and abusing him phycholigically. I say irritated, as I begun the book wanting to hate Alex, and  convinced myself that I would be detached from his character. Also, after hearing of the rapes and attacks, I was shocked by the slow revelation that the characters carrying out these acts were so young, with gradual references to school, living with parents, and the use of milk-bars to suggest the adult pub, but with a more childish edge.

The central theme of the novel (novella?) is summed up initially by the charlie (prison chaplain) when he says:

“It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. … Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”

It can be seen that the enforced good is so rigorously and violently imposed that it ceases to be good, and becomes a form of evil and ‘bad’ in itself; whereas the bad commited under one’s own free will becomes more ‘good’ in comparison due to the retention of human free will. Interestingly, the US market received the book upon its original publication in 1962 (and subsequent publications until 1986) without the final chapter, leaving Alex to return to his own ways. It is this ominous and defeatest ending that Kubrick used to close his film on, making the story a cyclical one that becomes not so much about a singular character named Alex, but about an everyman character named Alex, whose tale is to be echoed on and on and on. However, the original book in its UK edition contains a further chapter which I feel actually reveals the true message of the book. Burgess gave ‘A Clockwork Orange’ 21 chapters to relate to the age at which people are seen to become full adults, and in this final, 21st chapter, the 18-year-old Alex realises that even though he has regained the free will to commit acts of violence, it is actually the love of a wife and the role of a father that he wishes to choose for himself. Yes, we can see that the narrator is finally choosing to be good rather than having it imposed upon him, but we also become aware that the entire book has been an (albeit very exaggerated) alegory for a person’s teenage years and their path to maturity and adulthood: He rebels against his parents and society; he is punished for this and adults attempt to mould him into a better person (or the person that society wishes them to be); this works for a time, but then the child has to work out for themselves that this adult life is what they want, not what they are told they want; finally, the rebellion is put behind them and they become an adult. Personally, for me this is the bigger message of the book, and one that turns this book from an exploration of a philosphical conundrum to a coming-of-age story with a more powerful and applicable message.

All-in-all- not what I expected, but a lot better and a book I would thoughroughy recommend.

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Thought’s on ‘Animal Farm’

animal farm

I said a few days ago that I’d recently read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, and that I would give a few of my thoughts upon this. Well- here goes!

‘Animal Farm’ is one of those books that I’ve meant to read for a while now, but haven’t until the past week or so. I feel slightly bad saying this, as to me it is  one of those books that I should have read (along with Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, which is also on my SOON TO READ list, and a host of Dickens, which are not). I knew that the message and theme of the book was meant to be upon the nature of socialism and the irony that this system has as a form of government, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how clever the book is. Despite being intended as a parody of Stalin-era Russia, there are several aspects that also bring to mind the Nazi state, such as the Night of the Long Knives-like killing of those who disagreed with or who spoke out against the state, and the Molotov/Goebbels-esque character of Squealer, flanked by canine Gestapo. In themselves, the use of dogs for the bodyguard, police roles suggests further that such secret police and other officials  are less influenced by political ideology and agendas than loyal service to whoever is in control, as before the rule of Napoleon, the dogs at Manor Farm would have been at the bidding of the previous leader, Mr Jones.  Indeed, the entire way in which Orwell shows propaganda and political manipulation at work comes across brilliantly, with the other animals only being dimly aware that the truth of the past may not be quite as it is being portrayed to them by their leader. Similarly, the subtle rewording of the Commandments painted on the wall are not questioned on the basis that they are on the wall, and so must always have been so. This blind belief that what the state tells is citizens is alway true and that the state knows best is a message that can just as easily be applied to present regimes and indeed our own country as it can Soviet Russia.

However, the best aspect of the book for me is the way that when the control of Napoleon begins to manifest itself, the reader is shocked by each act and led to think that they are terrible, and highly wrong morally. I for one couldn’t imagine such things actually happening, and the fact that these events are occurring to animals makes the links less obvious- but then suddenly it hits that everything that seems so shocking did actually occur in Russia, and the tightening of state control did take the same brutal and immoral routes.

All-in-all, I found ‘Animal Farm’ to be a highly enjoyable, gripping and thought-provoking novella, and for anyone who hasn’t read it, I would highly recommend it. I have only given here a few thoughts of mine upon the book, and urge you to find your own illusions within it, but hope that this may help.

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First thoughts on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Image

Before starting this blog, I managed to finally finish reading ‘Ulysses’, which I begun in the summer of 2012 before going to uni. Subsequently, I managed to read Truman Capote’s ‘Summer Crossing’, George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ in a week, and I will post my thoughts on some of these in due course. However, I have now begun to read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in the edition shown above, and thought that I’d put down a few thoughts upon finishing the first few chapters.

I knew from the reputation of the film version by Stanley Kubrick that the book might be shocking and a tad violent, but I was slightly surprised by just how violent and coldly so it seems to be. Despite the acts being disguised through the interesting Joycean use of language, the rape scene in chapter 2 comes across as shocking to say the least, partly in the level of enjoyment seen to have been gained from it by Alex and the electrified retelling of it as though it were a playful and exciting act. I will read the rest of the novel with some trepidation, but also intregue, as I want to see how far Burgess takes the shock factor, and how much further he stretches language- a technique I did not expect him to employ, but much prefer in this case than I did in ‘Ulysses’.

I will post my further thoughts as I progress with the book.

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Penguin Blog

Thoughts and ideas from the world of Penguin

Women of Mongolia

New Media Research Expedition Through Altai and Ulaanbaatar, Summer 2015

Triumph of the Now

How To Read, How Not To Live

Pretty Books

Fiction, Young Adult and Children's Books & Reviews

A Medley Of Extemporanea

Books, books and more books (and libraries too)

Great Writers Inspire

Learning from the Past

"Broken Glass"

Quietly contemplating female characters in English and American literature

Deathsplanation

n. 1. The act or process of explaining about death 2. Something that explains about death 3. A mutual clarification of misunderstandings about death; a reconciliation.

A Bone to Pick

by Scott D. Haddow

Asylum

John Self's Shelves

Anthropology.net

Beyond bones & stones

Tales From the Landing Book Shelves

The TBR Pile: Stories, Poems, Arts and Culture

bloodfromstones

A great WordPress.com site

SARA PERRY

The Archaeological Eye

Prehistories

Adventures in Time and Place

Don't Bend, Ascend

Something Different

These Bones Of Mine

Human Osteology & Archaeology amongst other things...

History Echoes

History, Archaeology, Anthropology, Technology, and Mythology

archaeologyntwales

archaeology in wales cared for by the national trust

The Feast Bowl

The Wordpress blog for the National Museums of Scotland

History Undusted

The dusty bits of history undusted and presented to the unsuspecting public.

Stephanie Huesler

My ponderings, research, tidbits & the nuts and bolts of good writing.

Nicholas Andriani

Adventure Travel and Gastronomy, Passionately Explored

Stoke Minster

The Historic & Civic Church of Stoke-on-Trent.

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

The World according to Dina

Notes on Seeing, Reading & Writing, Living & Loving in The North

Museum Postcard

Reviews and thoughts on museums explored

Bones Don't Lie

Current News in Mortuary Archaeology and Bioarchaeology

Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

How can we use material traces of past lives to understand sex and gender in the past?

Grow up proper

A raw view on life

A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

Early medievalist's thoughts and ponderings, by Jonathan Jarrett

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