books · review

The Girls by Emma Cline

Emma Cline’s The Girls tells the story of Evie Boyd, an ex-member of a cult in 1970’s  Petaluma, California. The novel begins properly with Evie’s present- a somewhat run-of-the-mill, paycheck to paycheck life, in which she house-sits in various places and does little else. However, we have already been introduced to her colorful past in the two pages that make up the introduction of the novel- with the eponymous girls mentioned within the opening line. We learn very quickly that the Evie was involved in a cult that was involved in murderous activity from her interactions in this section- and this sets the reader up for the rest of the novel, to find out how the seemingly normal Evie was ever involved in this, and how the events unfolded. Because of this, there are no real surprises in the novel- everything we read inevitably leads up to what we have already been told will happen.

The protagonist, Evie, is introduced in the 1960’s as a 14 year-old who is lost in the sense that all 14 year-old girls are- struggling with divorced parents, confusion about sex, and wondering just who she really is. If the novel is truly about anything- it is this. All the details given about Evie’s life, repeated throughout the story, the house-sitting, the movie-star grandmother, the hippyish mother, all feel as if they should be clues to lead to something else, but they never does. Much like the novel, which feels to me to end rather oddly- you are left wondering what the purpose of all these details was- after all, why would Cline include it, if it wasn’t somehow part of some greater whole?

Part of the point of the novel seems to be that just about anyone could have got caught up in that cult culture at the time- showing the vulnerability of girls. We see that Evie is not a bad person, through the details that Cline gives about her. They make it impossible to think of her as anything but an innocent kid who got swept away in something much bigger than herself- and I think this is something Evie herself struggles with- wondering if she could have been like them, wondering what really separated her from them.

Another is the preoccupation (inferred from the title) with girls. We see many different types of girls within the novel- Evie’s mother, with her desperation to ‘find herself’, Tamar with her obsession with her life being ‘just-so’, Sasha and her strange relationship with Julian, and the girls at the ranch. Sasha’s character appears to be the primary reason for the ‘present’ parts of the novel for existing- they focus entirely on Evie seeing Sasha and wanting to help her, to stop her from settling for her relationship with Julian, and it is clear Evie sees something of herself within Sasha. The focus is on girls- and their dysfunctional relationships with men- which may well be the reason that Evie and the other girls end up living in the commune.

Overall I would give this book a 4/5 rating, it’s enjoyable and a fairly easy read (if you can get used to the unusual prose style) and perfect for a summer read.

books · Novels

“Board my body up. I’m not for loving. Anymore”- Love is a Half-Formed Thing

Through studying Irish fiction, I finally got around to reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. After getting past the original difficulty with McBride’s stream-of-consciousness narrative, what I found was a particularly disturbing novel that has stuck with me for some time. McBride’s next novel, The Lesser Bohemians, whilst slightly less difficult to read (in no small part due to having read the first novel) and lighter in tone, shows the same disturbing attitude to sex and relationships.

After the narrator’s rape at the age of thirteen by her Uncle, her life seems to become a series of increasingly terrible ‘relationships’, if you can go so far as to call them that. At first, she appears to have control of her situation, however by the end of the novel the scenes of a sexual nature are barely readable. What the narrator of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has in common with Eily, the narrator of The Lesser Bohemians is that their first sexual experience is all-consuming. They both feel a strong love and attachment to their first lovers, even though both experiences are less than loving. They both go out and have relations with other men before coming back again to the same one, almost as if they are destined, or doomed as the case may be, to be with them.

Reference is made frequently in The Lesser Bohemians to the concept of ‘Irish shame’, and being Irish in itself. It seems that this is defining, particularly for Eily, their sexual attitude. Although both women become far more free in sexual relationships after their initial encounters, it is shown that it is of great importance to them. Their strong attachment and unique sexual attitudes afterwards seem to show that the sexual restrictions they would have experienced as a result of their Irish background caused this.

However, the most prominent and obvious theme and the reason for the strange relationship with sex for both girls is their innocence. For the narrator of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, she is extremely young when she begins these relationships- whereas Eily is in her late teens, embarrassed at being the only virgin among her peers, and carries an embarrassment about sex for some time that does not exist in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing because it never even had the chance to develop.

Both novels give incredible insight into the lives of their narrators and are definitely worth reading if you can get past McBride’s prose- and both will keep you thinking for some time.

books · Novels · Uncategorized

“Men went mad and were rewarded with medals”- Why Yossarian Wasn’t Crazy

 

“Who’s they?” He wanted to know. “Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?”
“Every one of them,” Yossarian told him.
“Every one of whom?”
“Every one of whom do you think?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then how do you know they aren’t?”

When you think about books about war, what comes to mind ranges from old dusty tomes of battles long ago won and lost, or new, shiny paperbacks with first hand accounts of snipers still fighting a war. Less thought of is Catch-22, because it is easy to forget that it is a book about war- it is sometimes hard to see that it is even when reading. It is comical, absurd and satirical- which is not what is expected from a book about war, but then again, perhaps that’s what is needed.

War is a tricky subject- nobody seems to want it, and yet everyone seems to have been part of one at sometime in their history. There’s a great deal to be said – and a great deal that has been said- about it. Literature has an air of implying that there were positive aspects to war- when Scripps says “you can’t explain away the poetry sir” in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, he quotes Philip Larkin’s MCMXIV

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Joseph Heller does not do this. What he shows us is that war is absurd. He does this without even saying so- but through his characters. Milo Minderbinder, offering “a share” in his company- that amounts to a literal peice of paper with ‘one share’ written on it, and ochestrating attacks in the war for profit, allowing the enemy to attack as long as they allow them to retaliate. Doc Daneeka being declared dead because his name was on the log book of a plane that crashed, despite the fact he is standing right there, telling them he is not dead. The men only being allowed to go into Major Major Major Major’s office when he is not in. Catch-22 itself. Every situation and every character is absurd and crazy- the suggestion being that you would have to be in order to be there.

 

 

Clevinger thinks Yossarian is crazy for thinking that they are trying to kill him, but it’s true. It is true that every time they fly a mission, there are people trying to kill them. In truth it is Clevinger who is crazy if he truly feels that no one is trying to kill Yossarian – he has no real response to “Every one of whom do you think?”. He claims to have no idea- but it is clear that Yossarian is referring to the enemy because they are at war, a fact Yossarian has to constantly remind them of.

The entire novel demonstrates the absurdness of it all. What Heller shows here is that war can be absurd- and that this causes those involved to act and think in strange ways. Although Yossarian is frequently declared as being crazy, to the readers he appears to be one of the sanest people there.

The first Catch-22 of the novel is that if someone wants to be grounded, he cannot be crazy, as it is rational to fear the immediate danger he faces when he flies. So therefore if he were crazy, he could be grounded, but to be grounded he would have to ask- which would therefore make him not crazy, and so on. It sums up the essential ridiculousness of the whole thing- it is the situation that is crazy, and not Yossarian.

books · Personal

The Liebster Award!

Thank you so much to @Olga’s Oddish Obsession for nominating me for the Liebster Award! This is my first ever award and my blog is still pretty new so I’m really pleased someone noticed me, her blog is amazing and you should definitely all check it out!

 

Rules

  • Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions that the blogger gave to you.
  • Nominate at least 5, but no more than 11 bloggers who you think deserve the award.
  • Tell those bloggers you nominated them!
  • Create 11 original questions for the next nominees to answer

1. Why do you read if you could be doing anything else?

That’s kind of exactly the point- I could be doing something else, but I’m not, I’m reading. I’m a procrastinator, it’s just what I do

2. Do you consider youself a pessimist or you always the friend to lift up another’s spirits?

I’m definitely very optimistic, if not too optimistic at times!

3. Who is your favorite protagonist and antagonist of all worldly time? (doesn’t have to be from a book)

My favourite protagonist is Yossarian from Catch-22, and my favourite antagonist is General Woundwort from Watership Down (you have to be one heck of a rabbit to believe you can take on a fox!)

4. Do you like being called a nerd or can that seem insulting in a way to you?

I feel like nerd has taken on a whole new meaning- it’s not really uncool to be a ‘nerd’ anymore, so I wouldnt mind it at all.

5. Have you begun to complete a few of your goals for the new year?

I have! I’m trying to take up a new hobby by teaching myself crochet, and I’m starting work on the novel I always said I was going to write (and never did)

6. Are you a sweatpants and large shirt person or do you plan out your tumblr outfit to feel comfortable?

I’m more of a hoodie-stolen-from-the-boyfriend and skinny jeans person myself.

7. Do you have a sweet tooth or bathe in the joy of knowing your gonna live longer?

I definitely have a sweet tooth- after all, what is life without Cadburys Dairy Milk? There’s not much good in living longer and be miserable :p

8. Are you a fan of ordering online or do you prefer going to the store?

I prefer to go into bookshops, but I don’t actually always buy from them rather than online, basically because university is expensive and I can’t always afford to spend that much on a book, but if something catches my eye I’ll generally buy it there and then!

9. Have you ever had the chance to meet an author of your favorite book?

I did meet the author of my favourite two series growing up, Darren Shan (Darren Shan Saga and Demonata novels) about a year ago now, I was beyond excited for it and I think I asked a pretty good question (at least I hope), but I was so nervous about it that I can barely remember what I said!

10. How long have you been reviewing and is it what you expected?

About three or four months now, but only just starting to take it a little more seriously! It’s actually a lot of work alongside and English degree because it is so much reading, not that I’m complaining of course 😉

11. Lastly, what other interests do you have besides reading and/or writing?

Making things, gangster films, and crochet!

I nominate….

@My Tiny Obsessions

@Flavia The Bibliophile

@Book Adventures

@Reading Every Night

@Rather Too Fond of Books

And your 11 questions are…

  1. Why did you first start your blog?
  2. Which novel really got you into reading?
  3. What is your favourite TV show character?
  4. Which literary character is most like you?
  5. What do you think is the best book to move adaptation?
  6. Have you kept/broken any of your new years resolutions already?
  7. If you ever wrote a book, what would it be about?
  8. Which mythical creature do you wish was real, and why?
  9. If you went to Hogwarts, which would be your favourite subject?
  10. If you could meet just one famous person, who would it be?
  11. Which song would appear on a soundtrack to your life?
books · Novels

Review: Watership Down

“Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now. A foraging wild creature, intent above all upon survival, is as strong as the grass.

 

I picked up Richard Adam’s Watership Down at my local Waterstones recently, not really sure what to expect from it. I had only ever seen the film when I was very young, and, having virtually no memory of it, was going into the novel completely blind. After buying it, a number of people said how sad it was, and so I spent most of the time bracing for some terrible, titanic-like tear jerker that fortunately, I never found.

What I did find was a novel that, despite being to all intents and purposes, about rabbits– and it really is, much as the novel may be termed to have much to say about humans- was very fast-paced, dark and dramatic, with rarely a dull moment to be .found. It is not a childrens book in any sense. Yes it may be true that it is as much a commentary about humans as anything else, there is an awful lot of rabbits in there- both literally and figuratively, as rabbit words (such as ni-frith) and rabbit mythology (the tales of el-ahrairah) interspersed throughout the novel. This does give it elements of childrens literature, but the sheer darkness and violence of the novel can be striking at times- as well as the deep politics involved in the novel, evident through the choosing of Hazel over Bigwig as Chief Rabbit (which surprised more than just the rabbits within the initial grouping) and the inclusion of other animals within the plot.

At times it appears it is just a simple “journey” story, for the rabbits to find their forever home, which in theory, would not take up much page space. What makes the novel different is that Adams appears to spot the plot-holes that would otherwise be there, and have the rabbits solve them- practical considerations, such as breeding, protection and food must be taken into account, so that whenver it may appear that the novel has come t an end, it truly has not, and there is much more to come, which in the case of this novel is a more than welcome surprise.

I have to say that this truly is one of the best novels I’ve read- or at least, one of the only ones I would go so far as to use the term “unputdownable” for in the sense that you really can’t stop reading because it feels so essential to know what happens next, and can only wish that there were more to be read.

books · Novels · Personal

Fantastic Books and Where to Find Them

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I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter series ever since I read The Philosopher’s Stone when I was 8 years old- and ever since then it’s been a major part of my life. Three Halloweens in a row as Hermione, a ginger cuddly cat named Crookshanks, and a jar of Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans later, I’ve been to the Warner Bro’s Studio Tour and I’m on my way to Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter in July 2017 (and I still have a firebolt somewhere in my back garden)

And…No, suprisingly, I haven’t seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s not that I have a problem with it being made- additional content to any great series can only be a good thing (remakes though- is a whole different story) but it’s just sort of not the additional content I wanted. I mean, I can’t be alone in having wanted marauder era (the sheer number of “fifth marauder” fanfictions should be enough to tell you that) For me, the marauders come above the golden trio in my list of favourite characters.

It’s kind of difficult to see why this in particular is the first Harry Potter spin-off film- and first additional content apart from The Cursed Child play (which I still don’t really understand the plot of)- it’s  based on a book that’s mentioned probably less than ten times in the entire series, and a character that never appears- so for some of us it’s probably a little bit of a disappointing choice. I’m actually planning on giving it a go soon though – I’ll buy the book after Christmas and post my findings here- I’ve certainly heard good things about the film so far, so hopefully I’ll enjoy it…but I’m still secretly  not so secretly hoping for marauder related content some day in the future….

 

books · education · Novels

The Perks of Old School Intertextuality

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an immensely popular novel- and in essence, a coming of age novel. We’re following Charlie through his (sometimes) awkward high school years,and everything that comes along with that- the love interests, the drugs, the music, the literature.  So much literature. The character of Charlie’s teacher Bill seems to soleley exist to give him this literature, and why? Well, supposedly, because literature is enriching. It helps you grow as a person, and that is what you do, when you are coming of age. Though it isn’t just that- it’s not as if authors just throw random references to other books into their work- more so that they’re carefully chosen, specific books. If you’re going to include another author in your book, you’re essentially recommending it to your readers-so if a book is included, there’s a reason it’s in there.

Tobias Wolff’s Old School also has a great deal of intertextuality, and more interestingly, it has a book in common with Perks of being a Wallflower. This particular book is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand even appears as a character in Old School, as one of many visiting authors to the school. One of the books main themes is individualism, on which the main character comments this

For once I had a complete picture of the world: over here a few disdainful Roarks and a few icy Dominiques, meltable only by Roarks; over there a bunch of terrifid nobodies running from their own possibilities. Now and then I caught glimpses of other ideas n the novel, political, philosophcal ideas, but I didn’t think them through. It was the personal meaning that had me in thrall- the promise of great mastery achieved by doing exactly as I pleased

Charlie also reads the book, and after being encouraged by Bill to be a “filter not a sponge” gives his thoughts on it:

There was this one part where the main character, who is this architect, is sitting on a boat with his best friend, who is a newspaper tycoon. And the newspaper tycoon says that the architect is a very cold man. The architect replies that if the boat were sinking, and there was only room in the lifeboat for one person, he would gladly give up his life for the newspaper tycoon. And then he says something like this …  “I would die for you. But I won’t live for you.” Something like that. I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and then make the choice to share it with other people. Maybe that is what makes people “participate.” I’m not really certain.

It is certainly an interesting book for both authors to have chosen for their respective ‘coming of age’ stories- as both fictional readers point out, it’s a book where the main character is extremely individualistic- he is only out for himself, and all of the other characters in the novel are defined by their help/hinderance towards him, and not on their own terms. It could potentially teach the reader that it is more important to share their lives with someone else (as Charlie notes) or it could do the opposite- turning the reader into someone who is hedonistic and who only thinks about themselves, which is what the narrator of Old School takes from it. From there, a reader of Old School or Perks of Being a Wallflower could read this book for themselves, and form their own opinions from it.

In doing this, it creates an experience that you as the reader can share with the characters of the book- it is something you can have in common, having read the same book, and perhaps even the same opinions.

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