Thursday, 9 February 2017

Short review: 'Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color' by Erté

Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full ColorI have a bit of a passion for the ballet and the opera. I remember the first time I went to the ballet and saw Carmen. I was absolutely taken in by the vibrancy of the movements and, of course, by the costumes. And yet I'd never heard of Erté and his stunning designs. So when I saw Dover's book of his colour designs I knew I wanted to peek into this fabulous world behind the curtains. Thanks to Dover Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/10/2016
Publisher: Dover Publications

A fan-bearing slave girl, a worshipper of Horus, the wife of a Russian boyar, Ceres, a mermaid, and a gypsy dancer are among the 49 theatrical costumes selected for this tribute to the work of the Russian-born, Paris-bred designer Erté (Romain de Tirtoff). Spanning the years 1911 to 1975, these extravagant, imaginative designs include costumes for well-known personalities, Folies-Bergère shows, editions of George White's Scandals, and ballets.
Many exotic and historical fashions include Egyptian, Chinese, Persian, Japanese, Russian, and French styles. The lavish, flowing costumes are complemented by different colors to create different moods: deep, lustrous purples, reds, and browns for dynamic, vibrant figures; ochre, sienna, orange, and beige for more formal characters; and pale blue, lavenders, greens, grays, and blacks for people of mystery and hidden powers. As dazzling as Erté’s color graphics and as witty as his fashion designs, this compilation merits the attention of costume designers, artists, theater people, costume aficionados, and all who appreciate the treatment of costume design as a fine art.
Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color is a great coffee table-book, in all the best ways. Coffee table-books are often ridiculed, as if being placed on a coffee table implies a sense of neglect or 'I don't really care'-attitude. In our house, the books placed on the coffee table were treated with a completely opposite attitude. These were the books you enjoyed looking through, whose illustrations could capture your attention until your coffee was long cold. They were also the types of books you'd enjoy guests looking through, always with a sense of 'look at the beautiful things I read'. It is in that sense that I call Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color a coffee table-book.

I absolutely loved looking through the illustrations in this book. Ranging across the world for inspiration, Erté's costumes are incredibly vibrant and stunning. What I loved was how all of it looked so elegant and intricate and yet so fluid at the same time. With no stretch of the imagination could I see these costumes in motion on the stages of ballet and opera houses. At the same time these costumes had a theatricality to it that I would like to see in more movie costumes. Especially the Octopus costume was brilliant, in that it both actually looked like an octopus while still being a costume. I know that sounds like a stupid statement but you have to see the sketch to know what I mean. Naturally this is a book only for those who enjoy costume design. If it is not your thing of course you won't enjoy this, but if even the slightest part of you also loves the theatre you will get some pleasure out of this book.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Overall this was a great collection of prints. Although there is a lack of information to them, regarding when they were designed and for what etc., they are stunning on their own. I would love to own a hardcover of this book. 3 Universes is due to how selective the readership for this collection is and that it is largely a photo collection.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review: 'Lying in Wait' by Liz Nugent

I love me a good thriller, especially if it is all wrapped up in dysfunctional family relationships. Thrillers can, unfortunately, be very repetitive, especially with how many thrillers are saturating the market at the moment. Sometimes stories stand out, however, with how different or interesting they are. I've been blessed enough to read, and see, some brilliant thrillers in the last few months and I'm definitely adding Liz Nugent's Lying in Wait to that list. Thanks to Penguin Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 29/12/2016
Publisher: Penguin Books UK

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don't plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.
Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.
While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart.
But Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks. And his obsession with the dead girl's family may be the undoing of his own.
One of the best things about Lying in Wait is that it grips you right from the beginning with a brilliant opening line:
'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'
Not only does it put you right into the mess of the situation, it also immediately gives you a good idea of the characters you will be dealing with. Nugent has split up her novel into separate chapters with separate narrators: Lydia, Laurence and Karen. Having different narrators can both work for and against a novel. On the one hand it will give you a number of  different perspectives upon the same event, priceless in thrillers, but on the other hand it can also distract from the story the novel is trying to tell. I'm sure we've all read novels with multiple narrators where we ended up hating, at least, one of the narrator's chapters passionately. Thankfully no such thing happens in Lying in Wait. Rather, Nugent masterfully crafts her narrative through her characters, never forgetting she is the one who is telling the story in the end. What one character reveals the other shows us unknowingly, what one feels the other senses, while what one does the other completely misinterprets. Being stuck inside three different heads makes for a surprisingly claustrophobic read.

Nugent deals with a lot of different themes within this novel. Of course there is the main story (the whodunnit of sorts), but around that swirl story lines about gender and class. Set in the Ireland of the last century, the women in Lying in Wait find themselves dealing with the expectations of others regarding their behaviour, looks and future. Whether it's sex, pregnancy, marriage, divorce, or simply having a job, Nugent addresses these issues in the stories of Lydia, Annie, Karen and Helen. What makes their portrayal different from other novels depicting women's issues, however, is that Nugent doesn't avoid to discuss class as well. Whereas Lydia is upper class and expects to be treated as such, Annie, Karen and Helen are working class. This divide expresses itself in much more than just the gross outlines of their characters, it colours their journeys throughout the book and shapes their actions and psyches. Although it used to be easy to forget about class as a major Issue, what between feminism and racism being major conversation topics, but with recent events such as Brexit and Trump, it has come right back to the forefront of our social consciousness and it is rewarding to see authors having already brought it back in their works as well.

Liz Nugent is brilliant at slowly but surely developing her characters over hundreds of pages. None of her main characters are the same towards the end of the novel. As I said above, part of this novel is about dysfunctional family relationships, at the heart of which lies love. Whether it is mother-son, husband-wife, sister-sister, once it comes to loving and living together, every reader knows relationships can become difficult. A good author doesn't just know this, but knows how to use it for their novel. Nugent does the latter, the family relationships becoming central to how characters act. The murder, which happens even before the start of the novel, is like the match that sets of the fuse in all the characters' relationships. Nugent's novel covers a range of years, yet never does her story loose its immediacy. Her writing is gripping, not letting the reader go until the last year and then just dropping them into nothing. Lying in Wait is a roller coaster of a read that never really lets you go.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Lying in Wait genuinely had me by the throat for a few days. Even when I put it down and walked away it was right in the back of my mind. Nugent has definitely won a fan in me with her thrilling writing and great character development. I'd recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers!

Short Review: 'My Cousin Rachel' by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelI was never a big fan of Hitchcock's The Birds, partially because of the on-set stories and the fact I always found it a little bit boring. But then I read a collection of Daphne du Maurier's short stories and that all changed. Her writing gripped me in a way that this film by "the master of suspense" never did. That is when I decided Rebecca and all of du Maurier's other works were due a read. I've slowly worked my way through her work but had never heard of My Cousin Rachel until I saw a trailer for its upcoming adaptation, which sent me on a frantic reading spree.

Original Pub. Date: 1951
Publisher: Doubleday
Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?
After finishing My Cousin Rachel I wondered why so much of my du Maurier reading is tied up with the cinema. Upon giving it some thought I realized that it stems from the power of du Maurier's writing. Although she is classed as a romantic writer, her novels and short stories are full of suspense and a broody, dark atmosphere that translates beautifully onto the screen. Her characters are full of secrets and undisclosed desires, her landscapes and mansions come alive for the reader and her stories ring with an echo of the normal and paranormal. It makes for an engrossing read, every single time. Her short stories is what really turned me towards her, since writing good short stories is an art of its own. My Cousin Rachel falls somewhere between a short story and a novel, not as deep as her novels yet also too involved for a short story. In the end, My Cousin Rachel is a rather quick and straightforward narrative which gives a hint of du Maurier's power, yet I think it doesn't give a full taste of all she is capable.

My Cousin Rachel is, in many ways, quite a straightforward story. Written in hindsight, its main character Philip Ashley warns the reader about the unhappy story ahead of them. With its lush Cornwall setting and its purposefully quaint portrayal of the landed gentry, du Maurier sets a sharp contrast between what we see and what is at the heart of things. Everyone might have a secret agenda and ulterior motives, while some of us may also just be fools. The cousin, Rachel, is without a doubt the most interesting and mysterious person in the novella and it is one of my few petty gripes with the story that we never fully get to know her. Of course this is fully on purpose, giving the reader a sense of Philip's despair. Aside from Rachel, there are a fair few of fascinating side characters, some of which may be a little bit flat but still interesting.

I give this novella...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading My Cousin Rachel despite its brevity. du Maurier is a masterful writer and I'm definitely continuing my mission to read more of her work. I'd recommend this to those who want to get a taste for du Maurier but aren't big fans of short stories. I leave you with the trailer that inspired my reading.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review: 'Faithful' by Alice Hoffman

FaithfulMore frequent readers of my blog know that I have always had a soft spot for Alice Hoffman's writing. There is something magical about how she blends the ordinary with the extraordinary which makes reading her books both soothing and exhilarating at the same time. Hence every time I start a new book by her I am both excited and nervous. What if this is the book that falls flat for me? What if the magic is not there? Thankfully Hoffman never disappoints, especially with her latest, Faithful. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/11/2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.
What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.
Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.
Not many books can make me cry but Faithful managed to have me sobbing in the middle of the night. It's easy  to want to write about tragedies, about loss, heartbreak, love and forgiveness, and many authors do try. It's incredibly difficult, however, to create that fine nuance that can make these literary disasters come to life for the reader. Hoffman has perfected the art of writing about human life, and especially about human women. Whether it's her unnamed protagonist in The Ice Queen, Shelby in Faithful or the magical Owen sisters in Practical Magic, Hoffman writes women who live, dream, fear, hope, doubt and believe. Perhaps it is the fairy tale element in many of her books that makes them feel so real, because they are given a struggle. Their life never passes them by, they are never spectators to the happenings in their own inner selves. Novels about women often fall into self-help traps and there was a part of me that was worried Faithful would go there as well. Although this novel does lay out a "roadmap", as the blur above says, it is never pedantic, patronising or preachy. Rather, it is an inspiration.

At the heart of Faithful is Shelby, a teenage girl whose life is derailed by a car accident. Although her friend is the one in a coma, Shelby's life comes to a sharp stop. Grief, survivor's guilt and a whole series of bad events see Shelby reduced not only to a husk of her former self but to, in her own words, 'nothing'. Deeply cynical and yet secretly hopeful, Shelby is straight up lost and she knows it. As the reader follows her journey, Shelby encounters others in the process of finding themselves. This story could so easily have devolved into platitudes and cliches, yet Hoffman tells Shelby's story with an honest kindness. She doesn't leave anything in the dark, yet also never forgets her subjects are human. Shelby grows enormously throughout the novel, finding herself capable where she never expected, broken where she hopes to become fixed, and saved when she least expects it. Although she has an angel watching over her, it is Shelby who travels this road. It is she who makes her choices, who finds herself making choice after choice when she never thought she would be capable of choices.

Hoffman is, rightfully, heaped with praise for her writing and there is not much that a fledgling blogger like me could add to it. Her writing is magical because she finds the extraordinary moments in life, whether it is noticing a shaking hand or a dog's loyal nature. It was these moments which broke my heart because they are true. I was crying at the kindness of strangers, the love of mothers, the trust of children, and the beauty of a starry night. I was also soothed by these exact things. Life can be heartbreaking and heartwarming, it both breaks you and make you, and Hoffman always finds that balance. Although my life has been a lot less tragic than Shelby's, I could identify with her need for forgiveness and for a reason. A reason for everything, for all the things, all the people, all the moments that become a part of your life and not someone else's. It is painful to read someone writing about your emotions, your thoughts, but there is also something rehabilitating about it. Reading Faithful, reading all of Hoffman's books, brings me that healing pain which makes you stronger at the end of a book. It is something I've never found with any other author and it is why I will always treasure Hoffman's books.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Faithful stunned me, broke me and then put me back together. Yes that sounds dramatic, but I walked away from this novel with an incredibly amount of hope. I will be rereading Faithful numerous times and it will join the list of books that changed me. I'd recommend this, naturally, to fans of Hoffman but also to those who are looking for the magic of writing and the beauty in an ordinary life.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Review: 'Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives' by Leigh Gilmore

As some of you know, I am very interested in women's voices and women's narratives. Although my expertise largely lies in medieval English narratives, I also busy myself with reading up more current explorations of the roles of women within our contemporary world. Thanks to the recent rise of interest in feminism, more books are now seeing the light of day exploring the different ways in which this world is skewed against women. When I read the blurb for Leigh Gilmore's Tainted Witness I knew it was the type of book I wanted to read straightaway. I enjoy academic reads, hence my never-ending desire to stay at universities, especially when they're well-researched and well-written. Thankfully both are true for Tainted Witness and it has been an incredibly enlightening and fascinating read. Thanks to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 17/01/2017
Publisher: Columbia University Press
In 1991, Anita Hill brought testimony and scandal into America's living rooms during televised Senate confirmation hearings in which she detailed the sexual harassment she had suffered at the hands of Clarence Thomas. The male Senate Judiciary Committee refused to take Hill seriously and the veracity of Hill's claims were sullied in the mainstream media. Hill was defamed as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty," and Thomas went on to be confirmed. The tainting of Hill and her testimony are part of a larger social history in which women find themselves caught up in a system that refuses to believe what they say. The Anita Hill case shows how a tainted witness is not who someone is, but what someone can become. 
Why are women so often considered unreliable witnesses to their own experience? How are women discredited in legal courts and in courts of public opinion? Why is women's testimony so often mired in controversies fueled by histories of slavery and colonialism? Tainted Witness takes up these questions within a rich archive, including Anita Hill's testimony as well as Rigoberta Menchú's account of genocide in Guatemala; Jamaica Kincaid's literary witnessing in Autobiography of My Mother; and news coverage of such stories as Nafissatou Diallo's claim that Dominique Strauss-Kahn raped her. Bringing together legal, literary, and feminist frameworks, Leigh Gilmore provides provocative readings of what happens when women's testimony is discredited. Throughout, Gilmore demonstrates how testimony crosses jurisdictions, publics, and the unsteady line between truth and fiction in search of justice.
In Tainted Witness Gilmore casts her eye over a number of high-profile cases and books which caused controversy and saw female witnesses become "tainted witnesses", disbelieved and vilified, hounded and abused. The desire not to believe what we wish wasn't true means that many victims find themselves abused again as witnesses. Seemingly there are stories every day of victims of sexual assault being victim-blamed, of perpetrators being saved by their class, position and race. Look at how Donald Trump responded to the women who accused him of sexual assault, how the media chose a side and how even "Pussygate" had hardly any impact and then tell me there is no need for a book that looks into why we don't believe female witnesses. But Tainted Witness doesn't just look at sexual assault, it does much more than that. Below I want to give a short description of what Gilmore's book covers since I want to show how much work Tainted Witness does, how much it connects and what it tries to do.

Gilmore's first chapter looks at Anita Hill's testimony during the 1991 Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas in which race, gender and sexual abuse in the workplace came together. While he was confirmed, she was defames. Gilmore makes an interesting case both for the role race played as an all white hearing questioned the African-American Anita Hill, as well as highlighting the absence of awareness regarding sexual abuse in the work place, for which a legal definition and framework now exists. In her second chapter Gilmore explores the case of Rigoberta Menchú, whose testimonio I, Rigoberta Menchú shed light on the conflict in Guatemala and the massacres of indigenous people. Similarly to Hill, Menchú found her narrative and personal life investigated, her motives questioned and her ideas spurned. The third chapter focuses on the memoir and self-help books, moving from a book such as The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison, which chronicles an incestuous relationship with her estranged father, to Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which tells the author's journey of survival and self-help. Gilmore highlights how some women who tell their stories don't fit how we want victims to look (like Kathryn Harrison) or how self-help books eradicate personal history and background for a universal humanity. Chapter four revisists Mortensens' Three Cups of Tea as well as Jay Kristoff's Half the Sky and how the stories of underpriviliged or "other" girls (read: non-Western girls) are used by humanitarians to sell a story. In the guise of telling the witness' story, Gilmore shows how their stories are, in a way, appropriated and abused. The picture of a girl in a hijab has become a rallying cry, for all the wrong reasons. The final chapter looks at the testimony of Nafissatou Diallo, who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape and was vindicated in the Bronx court, as well as Jamaica Kincaid's novel The Autobiography of my Mother in which her perhaps unlikeable main character grows up loveless, as well as with the burden of her homeland's (Dominica) colonial past. These two women allow Gilmore to contrast a witness in court to a literary witness. Diallo was equally vilified, if not worse, as Anita Hill and her case allows Gilmore to analyse the he said/she said formula which somehow still always ends up in his favour. In her conclusion Gilmore explores the feminist roots of #BlackLivesMatter and how its activists make themselves knowing witnesses, publicising that which others would like to remain secret.

The role of witness is a difficult one, since it often involves personal morals, prejudices and expectations. Since women already receive less credibility than men, thanks to centuries of writing on "men's superior intellect", it makes the position of a female witness a very difficult one. Gilmore covers a whole range of subjects, yet her writing on sexual abuse victims/witnesses is what struck me most. Between 2 and 10% of reported rape claims are found to be false, which is both an incredibly small number and a terrifying number considering about only one out of 10 rapes is reported. The dangerous thing about rape culture and the narratives we build around rape cases is that many of us become a part of it. The famous he said/she said formula is one we all use and all recognise, yet it is one which is fundamentally skewed because it opens up both the victim and perpetrator to the same level of scrutiny. Female witnesses are tainted by this scrutiny in a way male witnesses often are not, and Gilmore's precise and detailed research into the above cases really brings this home. Although Tainted Witness is dense and at times complicated, it is a very rewarding read. 

I give this book...
4 Universes!

Tainted Witness is very dense but it has a lot of important things to say. It is a fascinating insight into the role of witnesses and how the legal framework works regarding female witnesses. Although one would like to hope female witnesses have it easier now, statistics as the one above regarding reported rapes show that the fear of being tainted still stops many women from reporting crimes. I will be looking for a hardcover version of this book because I want to reread it and highlight it, write notes and thoughts, comb its bibliography for more books to read and borrow it to other people ready to be enlightened.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Review: 'Vivid and Repulsive as the Truth: The Early Works of Djuna Barnes' by Djuna Barnes, Katharine Maller

Vivid and Repulsive as the Truth: The Early Works of Djuna BarnesWhat do you do when you see a book by "the most famous unknown author in the world"? You rack your brain, find you really don't know her, are shocked at yourself and get your hands on the book ASAP. That's what happened when I saw Vivid and Repiulsive as the Truth by Djuna Barnes and her name didn't ring a bell. Unlike many, I'd never heard of Nightwood, a novel now solidly on my TBR-list, so Barnes really was completely unknown to me. And what a shame that was. Thankfully, Dover Books and Katharine Maller changed that. Thanks to Dover Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 17/08/2016
Publisher: Dover Books

The self-described "most famous unknown author in the world," Djuna Barnes (1892 - 1982) is increasingly regarded as an important voice of feminism, modernism, and lesbian culture. Best remembered for her 1936 novel Nightwood, Barnes began her career by writing poetry, short stories, and articles for avant-garde literary journals as well as popular magazines. She took the grotesque nature of reality as her recurrent theme, a pessimistic world view frequently brightened by her sparkling wit. 
A longtime resident of Greenwich Village, Barnes drew inspiration from the bustling streets of Lower Manhattan, and this eclectic compilation of her early journalism, fiction, and poetry recaptures the vitality of her bohemian literary scene. The collection opens with articles ranging from an account of an evening at the Arcadia, a "modern dance hall," to a firsthand report of the force-feeding endured by suffragettes in 1914. In addition to profiles of a postman, vaudeville performer, and other local personalities, Barnes interviews Lillian Russell and Alfred Stieglitz and describes an encounter with James Joyce. A dozen short stories follow, and the book concludes with a selection of compelling and sensual poetry, including verse from The Book of Repulsive Women. A selection of the author's original illustrations is included.
Before going into Vivid and Repulsive itself, a quick note on Dover Books is necessary. I've read and reviewed a number of their collections by now and I always greatly appreciate them. They are well-structured and always offer a great insight into an author's full work. But they don't just cover the well-known and famous, they also provide collections such as these which reintroduce the audience to woefully forgotten voices. It's a real pleasure to be able to find such strong female voices and have them presented so delightfully. Which brings us back to Djuna Barnes and Katharine Maller. Maller both edits this collection and wrote an introduction for it. Quite often these types of introductions get skipped, but in the case of Vivid and Repulsive the introduction is a real gem. Maller does an excellent job at contextualizing Barnes, introducing her and 1900s New York to the reader. Especially of note is her statement on some of Barnes' opinions. Despite having feminist notions, Barnes is also a product of her time. Maller does not edit these more unsavoury moments out, but has excluded some stories from the collection for this reason. She doesn't cover up Barnes' more outdated opinions, but gives them a place without making them dominant. It's an excellent way to deal with covering older authors, I think.

Vivid and Repulsive is a collection of early work, when Barnes started off as a journalist. The first section of the collection focuses on her articles. This was probably my favourite section, as Barnes' articles cover a whole range of topics and are written with a perfect balance of cynicism and interest in her topics. Amongst my favourites are her interviews with contemporary actresses such as Yvette Guilbert who had delightfully modern and feminist thoughts. Also interesting is her obituary of James Joyce, who she met repeatedly. Her articles offer a different kind of perspective, especially on the Bohemian life in Greenwich Village, NY. Impactful is her report on the force-feeding of the Suffragetes, which puts the reader right in the middle of this terrible act.This section was my favourite, although I also enjoyed her short stories. She writes about the miseries of life with an almost blase attitude. Terrible things happen, but it is what it is. For some it may be a bit depressing, but I thought it was very interesting. The final section of the collection focuses on Barnes' poetry. There are some beautiful poems in the mix, such as 'Call of the Night' and 'Love Song', which I loved. The title of this collection is taken from one of the last poems, 'Seen from the L'. Although I enjoyed Barnes' poetry it wasn't as enticing as her prose, but full of beautiful imagery.

After reading Vivid and Repulsive one understands why she called herself 'the most famous unknown author in the world'. On the one hand that is simply her style, but as always there is also a kernel of truth in it. Djuna Barnes' writing is alive with personality and spark. This is the woman who walked into her first job interview saying: 'I can draw and write, and you’d be a fool not to hire me'. She put herself in the most difficult positions in order to be able to truly write about them. She was a Bohemian who moved to Paris and wrote a cult classic of lesbian fiction. She is one of those people whose life reads like a 'Who's Who' of 20th century Paris and New York. Her articles are beautifully descriptive, her short stories depressingly honest and her poetry ever so slightly elusive. Having not read Nightwood, this collection has made me very curious for it!

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I'm very happy to have discovered Djuna Barnes, not only as a writer but also as a person. Seemingly fearless for most of her life, she can serve as a great inspiration for beginning writers. Perhaps don't adopt her violently alcoholic latter years however. I'd recommend Vivid and Repulsive as the Truth to those wanting to find a gem of the 20th century and for those interested in female writers.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review: 'Good Me Bad Me' by Ali Land

As a thriller fan nothing gets me going as much as reading or seeing something I haven’t read or seen before. Admittedly this can be quite a task for an author since thriller novels and films abound, with new ones coming out seemingly every day. So when I saw Good Me Bad Me I was immediately intrigued by the blurb which promised all the right things. And I’m very happy to say that Land did not disappoint. Good Me Bad Me is both a gripping read and a book that will make you think. Thanks to Michael Joseph and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 12/01/2017
Publisher: Penguin UK - Michael Joseph
SET TO BE ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY, CONTROVERSIAL AND EXPLOSIVE DEBUTS OF 2017 - for fans of quality psychological suspense and reading group fiction: once you read this book you'll want to talk about it . 'NEW N A M E . NEW F A M I LY. S H I N Y. NEW. ME . ' Annie's mother is a serial killer. The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police. But out of sight is not out of mind. As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly. A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be. But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water. Good me, bad me. She is, after all, her mother's daughter... Translated into over 20 languages, Good Me Bad Me is a tour de force. In its narrator, Milly Barnes, we have a voice to be reckoned with, and in its author, Ali Land, an extraordinary new talent.
‘But the hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes.’
Carson McCullers (1917-1967)

This is the quote that starts the book and, in many ways, sets the tone. At the centre of this novel is the question of Annie/Milly’s heart and what is in it. The nature vs. nurture debate has spawned not only dozens of academic discussions but also a whole range of literature. Humanity is fascinated with whether it is, at the core, intrinsically good, or if there is an innate ‘bad me’ which is only waiting to come out. Philosophers such as John Locke have argued for the child being a ‘tabula rasa’, a clean slate, upon which external influences start acting from the moment of its birth. So was it the belief of Rousseau that warfare and aggression are learned, and not innate. We find traces of these arguments in novels such as Jane Eyre in which Lady Blanche speaks of children with ‘bad blood’. Even Harry Potter addresses this when Dudley’s aunt monologues about how ‘if there’s something wrong with the bitch, there is something wrong with the pup’. What makes the latter of the two examples fascinating, and relevant, is that they seem to argue for a combination between nature and nurture. There is something of ‘bad me’ that is simply in all of us, in our blood, yet nurture has a major role to play in bringing it out. This cross-section within the debate lies at the heart of Good Me Bad Me. It explores to what extent evil is something that works upon us or from within us, whether bad things that have happened to us can make us do bad things too, or whether we secretly wanted to do those bad things all along.

Good Me Bad Me is filled with women of all ages and most walks of life. Evil serial killers are usually played by men in films or TV shows, with the rare female killer appearing as an extra special, scary treat. Very often her crimes are either sexual or against children, and in the worst cases the two are combined. It is this fear of evil women which fascinates me and which Land also cleverly picks up on throughout Good Me Bad Me. There is an almost blind trust in women to be maternal and caring, to want to protect children and to not be aggressive or violent. It’s the Feminine Ideal which has somehow survived into the 21st century and still makes it hard for women to talk about things such as Post-Natal Depression, the desire to not have children or the aggressive traits in our own personalities. Because of this ideal, the thought of a woman who goes against all this has always been fascinating and is present in a lot of literary and cinematic tropes. She is in the Femme Fatale, in the Last Girl, in the Virgin/Whore dichotomy. Good Me Bad Me addresses some of the points that arise from this combined fear and fascination with evil women and does so through a varied cast of female characters. There are the teenage girls, violently obsessed with their own lives and almost negligently cruel to each other. There are the mothers who care too much or not enough, those for whom motherhood is a challenge but don’t dare admit it. There are the women and girls who use what they have to get what they want, and those who want and give, but never get.

Land’s world is not a pleasant one, but to a large extent it is a very honest one. It has become something of a trend to write about “complicated women”, but often these books lose all the nuance that is so crucial to them. Novels such as Gone Girl are simplified down to “the good housewife is actually a psycho, beware of all women” and are thereby crucially misunderstood. Naturally thrillers and crime novels are sensationalist in a sense, but they also address significant issues around how men and women are seen and see themselves. Good Me Bad Me strikes a very good balance between following the genre’s knack for the terrifying as well as giving some insight into the minds of the people it is serving up to the reader. Land throws in enough twists that both engender sympathy for all the characters, while also making a sword out of that sympathy. In the end Good Me Bad Me won’t tell you who is good and who is bad, it will give you enough material, however, to come to your own conclusions with your own justifications as to why.

Land’s writing throughout the novel is superb. First person narratives are always tricky and very often do not work. Not only does an author need to create a consistent voice for their narrator, that voice also has to change and develop throughout the story. In the case of thrillers or crime novels the extra task is added that the narrator on the one hand shouldn’t give too much away, but on the other hand also needs to reveal enough to keep the reader engaged. There is a very good reason as to why Good Me Bad Me had to be written in first person. Annie/Millie is the sole focus of this novel, it is her psyche, her mind, that is under the microscope, so to say. The way in which Land writes Millie, how she breaks up sentences, constructs thoughts and gives shape to internal processes is fascinating and really draws the reader into Millie’s mind. There is something fractured and hard, yet also vulnerable about the writing of the book which gives the reader a constant glimpse at what’s in Millie’s mind, even the things she herself would rather not know about.

I give this novel…
5 Universes!

I absolutely loved Good Me Bad Me. I raced through it, not only because I was desperate to know what would happen but also because Land gives you no choice but to hurdle along until the bitter end. I’d recommend this to fans of Psychological Thrillers and Crime Novels.