Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea is about Riley, a girl who believes a cat has stolen her soul. Surprisingly, apart from this, Riley is a very relatable character- a teenage girl who hasn’t quite figured things out yet, and doesn’t know if she ever will. She worries she is too tall, and too weird, and can’t establish friendships properly, and she doesn’t realize that everyone else is just as “fucked up” as she is. The story feels real to the degree it doesn’t even seem particularly odd when her travelling companions all agree to go out in the early morning to search for the cat that has Riley’s soul without questioning it- it seems like the kind of thing any of us would do.
It’s the first graphic novel I’ve ever read and though I have to admit I’d never even thought about reading one, I really enjoyed it. It was quicker to read and undeniably prettier than looking at blocks of text- it’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen the characters, rather than just visualising them. This is definitely worth the read whether you’re into graphic novels or not, and might just get you thinking about life a little differently.
Irwin’s comment that he doesn’t “think there is time” for Hector’s kind of teaching anymore is a sad one – and applies well outside of the context of Alan Bennet’s The History Boys. Whilst the play does pit Irwin and Hector’s teaching methods against each other :
Dakin- We don’t know who we are sir. Your class or Mr Irwin’s.
Irwin- Does it matter?
Timms- Oh yes, sir. It depends if you want us to be thoughtful, or smart.
It never seeks to suggest that “smart” is superior to “thoughtful” or vice versa, nor that Irwin’s teaching methods hold any more merit than Hector’s. As such neither are defined as being either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways of teaching- neither is better or worse than the other- there is a feeling of it being “unquantifiable”, the very phrase used by the Headmaster to describe Hector’s results. That judgement highlights everything that is wrong with the education system today. There is no general consensus on ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake’, but there is one on knowledge for league table results sake.
You learn in Irwin’s method- to pass the exam and get the results. There are now very few Hectors. There is no “sheer calculated silliness” -there is no antidote. The system doesn’t want to produce kids that know all the words to When I’m Cleaning Windows – they would prefer those “who, in later life, had a deep love of literature, or who would talk in middle age of the lure of language and their love of words. Words said in that reverential way that is somehow Welsh”.
Why do we need Hector’s way of teaching? Because without it, the whole educational proces can become disheartening. If you’ve ever felt that education is not the way it appears in literature, that is because it isn’t. Our Lupins have been replaced with Snapes- Our Hectors by Irwins. The regurgitation of facts and statistics holds more merit than the gobbets you can remember, the poems and the stories you have learned by heart, not just because you had to but because you wanted to.
Sometimes, we stumble across that one class where all this is possible. A small number of students in a room crammed with books, with old film posters plastering the walls. Where the set text is abandoned within ten minutes in favour of a discussion about a dream someone had last night- a class where you forget you’re learning. “Love apart, it is the only education worth having”. For those of us who find out Hector, the answer to “What has Gracie Fields got to do with anything?” is this- probably a lot more than we first thought.
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.
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.