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 · 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


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.





Novels · poverty

“Genuinely Down and Out”- The Richness of Poverty in Literature

“If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, “I’m a free man in here”- he tapped his forehead -“and you’re alright.”

Poverty in literature is the opposite of poverty in real life. It’s poverty in a parallel universe, where the poor aren’t walked past on street corners, where their poverty is what makes their characters endearing. Being poor is almost always an indication of a better class of character- it makes for richer personalities and experiences.

Literature is saturated with examples of this- in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, when Harry tells Draco he “can tell the wrong sort for himself”, in the characters of Oliver, Fagan and the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist, in Charlie Bucket and his grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Poverty does not necessitate the evilness that real life statistics suggest it generates- here is a place where ‘broken window theory’ doesn’t apply, where people root for them rather than refuse them opportunities and block them at every corner. No one says it’s their own fault- everybody sympthasizes, and everybody loves them.

It is, of course, a romanticized version of poverty- though poverty is perhaps one of the least ‘romantic’ subjects that one can think of. However it seems that the romantic idea of it is that it suggests the possibility of being poor and not being ‘lesser’ for it. That being poor is not even close to the worst thing that a person might be, because, in truth, it isn’t, though many think it is. Down and Out in Paris and London is very effective in conveying this through actual experience.


“It is a feeling of relief, almost pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs- and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

This so perfectly illustrates that what people believe it is impossible to cope with is, in fact, possible. That humans, as a whole, are incredibly resilient and can survive in the worst situations. It also illustrates a negative thing about humans- in that we would be relieved to know we had reached the dogs, because we would no longer be concerned about our status and our roles in the world. That being “down and out” could actually be beneficial to some peoples character- to have nothing is not necessarily to literally have nothing- there is something to be gained from the experience. Traits that the rich cannot possess because their money and privilege bars them from such experience, but that come readily to the poor because their lack of money demands the experience. The poor may not be financially rich, but this gives them something the rich can never posses, because it is an experience that quite literally cannot be bought.

Nigerian Fiction · Novels

From Lagos with Love- Americanah’s Ifem and Obinze

The love between Ifemelu and Obinze in Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, Americanah, is the kind of love that everyone wishes they had. It breaks through the stereotypes that the romances of your youth are not built to last, and beyond that, through the hardships adult relationships face- distance, money, education, and status. Ifem and Obinze, in their respective journeys, beat the odds and prove that true love does exist- but it is not this that makes their love story so endearing.

FullSizeRender (7).jpg

What Adichie creates in her recounting of the pair’s early relationship is a pure relationship, full of love and free from responsibility and hardship. This is something many can relate to- the kind of relationship you might have before you have a career, bills to pay, or a family. Where the only thing that is important in that moment is that you love each other and nothing and nobody else seems to matter. Ifem demonstrates that through her nickname for Obinze:

“My eyes were open but I did not see the ceiling. This never happened before.” Other girls would pretend they’d never let another boy touch them, but not her, never her. There was a vivid honesty about her. She began to call what they did together ceiling, their warm entanglements on his bed when his mother was out, wearing only underwear, touching and kissing and sucking, hips moving in simulation. I’m longing for ceiling, she once wrote in the back of his geography notebook, and for a long time afterwards he could not look at that notebook without a gathering frisson, a sense of secret excitement. In university, when they finally stopped simulating, she began to call him Ceiling, in a playful way, in a suggestive way- but when they fought or she retreated into moodiness, she called him Obinze.

This passage has stuck with me ever since I first read the novel- it is obvious only two chapters into the book (where this excerpt appears) that what Ifemulu and Obinze have is true love. This is the kind of sentiment that I wish I was able to express as well as Adichie allows Ifemelu to- it is something that many will feel and yet at the same time be unable to articulate to their partners in such a way. Perhaps if we could all, or had all told our Ceiling that, then things would somehow work out in the way that their relationship did- maybe we could defy the odds, defy what our parents say and what society says, and just be happy.