Friday, 28 February 2014

'Johnny Got His Gun' by Dalton Trumbo - Literature of the First World War

This has to be one of the most gripping books I've read so far, the other being All Quiet on the Western Front. It made me panicked at times and brought me close to tears quite a lot. I've read it for my "series" of Literature of the First World War, in which I am discussing a piece of literature or art, inspired by or created during the First World War up until the 28th of June, the anniversary of the assassination on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for many marking the beginning of the First World War.



Dalton Trumbo was born in 1905 and is best known for being one of America's classic scriptwriters. He was responsible for movies such as Spartacus, The Brave One  and Roman Holiday. He is also known for becoming a communist and being famously blacklisted during America's Red Scare, which prevented him from working in Los Angeles for a long time. He wrote Johnny Got His Gun after getting inspired by an article about a soldier who lost all of his limbs during the First World War. It also became a leading anti-war novel during the American protests against the Vietnam War.
51606Few American novels are genuine classics, with a permanent place in our literature. This is one of them. First published in 1939, the story of an average American youth who "survives" World War I armless, legless and faceless with his mind intact was an immediate bestseller. Its anti-war message had a profound effect on Americans during the Vietnam era, and is now being reissued.

Although this novel is mainly important during the Vietnam Era, I felt it was important to read it for this series because it shows how the experiences of the First World War continued to shape how people looked at War and especially at soldiers. One of the major things that came out of the WWI was the devastating effect of shell-shock on soldiers. Although hardly recognized as a true illness, it was very frequent and by the time WWII swept over Europe it started to be treated. This novel focuses more on the consequences of "surviving" but still being broken, both physically and mentally.

What I said at the beginning of this review wasn't a joke. This novel literally grips you by the heart and squeezes it. Trumbo's non-standard decision to abandon punctuation makes a huge difference to his writing style and to how you read. Without commas there to make you take a breath, you stumble through sentences, speeding up your reading because you're desperate for the end of the sentence. As a consequence, it is almost exhausting to read this novel because at the end of a paragraph you're almost in a state of panic. Let me explain with an example:
'Oh no.I can't. I can't stand it. Scream. Move. Shake something Make a noise any noise. I can't stand it. Oh no no no. Please I can't. Please no. Somebody come. Help me. I can't lie here forever like this until maybe years from now I die. I can't. Nobody can. It isn't possible. I can't breathe but I'm breathing. I'm so scared I can't think but I'm thinking. Oh please please no. No no. It isn't me. Help me. It can't be me. Not me. No no no.Oh please oh oh please. No no no please no. Please.Not me.'
This might seem overly dramatic now, when it has been taken out of its context, but when you're reading the novel and you're stuck in poor Joe's mind, this absolutely terrified me. You race through the lines and the hopelessness, helplessness and panic that you find in these words and the endless repetition of 'help' and 'no' really hit home hard.

What makes this novel different from all the other ones I've read so far is that it takes place completely off the battlefield. Although we get flashbacks to all of Joe's life, the action is all in his head, all in the same bed. This allows Trumbo to freely play with all off the human emotions such as love, pain, fear and anger. It also means that rather than showing the consequences of war the way West does in 'The Return of the Soldier', Trumbo takes you through them, one horrifying step at a time. This is also where the reader has to decide whether this is a book for them or not. The absence of punctuation and the constant return to Joe's inner darkness are a strain on your reading and I was unable to read it anywhere were there wasn't complete silence. You have to reread some of the sentences to see whether you actually understood them and then a paragraph on you realize you haven't. You start to wonder about the chronology of his memories, what is real, what is imagined, etc. and by doing this the novel really makes you question the mental strength of humans.

I have always had respect for soldiers because being willing to risk your life so others can live in peace is an incredibly heroic thing to do. After reading this novel, however, I am also scared for and of them. Compare it to how Frodo returns from his "adventures". How does one move on, when in your heart you begin to realize that there is no turning back? The mental strain of warfare must leave wounds that never heal and looking at the current veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan I dare say we still haven't found a way of reintegrating them into our society in such a way that their hurt finds a proper outlet.

I give this novel...

5 Universes.

It is a horrifying yet necessary read, I believe. Although Trumbo never fought himself and, as a scriptwriter, has a good eye for what sounds dramatic, he does manage to capture the same kind of desperation I have found in the other novels. I recommend it, but only to those willing to power and suffer through.

Friday Memes - 'Johnny Got His Gun' by Dalton Trumbo


Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was submitted by Elizabeth over at Silver Review.

Have you stopped accepting books from either authors or publishers to try to catch up? Id not, do you think you would ever do that?

I kind of have, because ever since I've started University I have been incredibly busy. If, however, an author or publisher emails me with a really good book I will accept it for review because I would never deprive myself of the chance to read a really good book. What also helps is that most of the books on my TBR pile are books I want to read at some point in the future, such as classics. Before I reach my thirties I want to have read War & Peace, for example, but there is no real pressure to do it right now. With Netgalley books it's different because they have to be reviewed before the publication date, usually!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. And this week we have an amazing question:

Change the Plot. If you could, of what book would you change the ending or a plot thread? Go ahead and do it...change it!

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowThis is such a good question that I felt the need to answer it despite not really having an answer. I've been annoyed at the way that plenty of books turned out but that is more the normal kind of 'Why did you have to end at all? I want so much more!' kind of frustration. But I think I would have to go with New Moon from the Twilight series. The first book wasn't all that bad, I felt reading it at the time, and now looking back on it, although there is obvious things "wrong" with it, it still sort of holds up. But New Moon just completely ruins it by taking any kind of power or agency away from Bella. What I would have done is:


Edward still would have left, but not in the woods because that was strange as well. He would have told her at her home, saying she wasn't old enough, didn't know enough about vampires to get mixed up with them, etc. Bella would have been upset, would have cried, but also would have been angry at Edward for leaving just like that after she practically risked her life to save his. And then she would have grown a backbone and started researching vampires seriously, not just on the internet. I'm talking stacks of books at the library, dusty and old books. And she would have enlisted Jacob to help her because she does slightly thrive off of his love for her. And then when he started becoming a werewolf, he would have come to her, terrified at what was happening. And she could have helped him through his changes, thereby realizing that she was actually strong and capable. At that point, Alice would turn up and tell her about Edward getting into trouble by moping around the Volturi. Bella could then have used all her new knowledge and skills to defeat the Volturi, thereby saving Edward and preventing the strange boredom that was Eclipse. Edward would then have turned her because she was strong and capable, and then they could have maybe become something like supernatural "hunters" but without the killing. Rather, they could've helped people transition into their supernatural state, like Jacob.

...God, now I really want to write this story, but different from Twilight. How bad would it be if I did write it? Would that break some kind of copyright laws?

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice. This week I'm using Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for these memes. I'm now going to write a review for it for my Literature of the First World War series.

BB:
'He wished the phone would stop ringing. It was bad enough to be sick let alone having a phone ring all night long. Boy was he sick.' p.1
This novel has been quite challenging to read because Trumbo completely ignores all the grammar rules related to commas, full stops, colons, semi-colons etc. I understand why he did it, but it took some time to get into.

F56:
'He drowned without a struggle because he couldn't struggle. He didn't seem to have anything to struggle with. It was like a bad dream where someone is chasing you and you're scared to death only there's nothing to do about it because you can't run.'
I realize this is quite a long quote, but I loved the whole thing so it had to be posted. What really separates this novel from the others I have read is how incredibly emotive the writing style is. It is gut wrenching!

So, what are all your answers? Can't wait to find out!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Favourite Marauder

Thursdays have officially been reserved for this meme because it is a Harry Potter meme and with the books finished and the movies all out, I need something to keep Harry Potter in my life. This fabulous meme is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts, so hop over there if you want to join!


This week we're choosing:

Our favourite Marauder!


This question is right in the feels! I mean, I absolutely love the Marauders and would love nothing more than for J.K. Rowling to write a book (preferable a series that never ends) about them. I just absolutely love the idea of how Harry and his friends are both mirroring the group around his parents and at the same time are so different. And the Four Marauders have a really special story that includes everything from tragedy to what friendship really means. And of course they are deliciously devious. To the right is some amazing fan art that I found on Tumblr (where else). I'm not quite sure who made it, but I found it on Tiaplay's tumblr. 


As you may have noticed, I am trying to evade answering this question because it is really hard. But in the end,  I will always have to choose Remus Lupin. His character is absolutely beautiful and I do believe he is what kept the Marauders together. James and Sirius would have become complete idiots without him, I think, and they never would have included Peter into their group. He is the cause they became Animagi and that they had to create the Beauty that is the Marauders Map. He is also an incredibly positive influence in Harry's life, I feel, one of the few. Sirius brings with him the expected amount of emotional turmoil, but Remus protects and teaches Harry. He is one of the reasons, also, why Prisoner of Azkaban is both my favourite HP book and movie! When he, in the film, talks to Harry about Lily and the music is playing, I start crying!

And let's not forget this:

Never will I forgive you for this, J.K.! Never!

So, this is a rather tambling answer, but that is what happens when you get me started on Remus and the Marauders. There is some amazing fan art and fanfiction etc. out there about them! 

Spotlight: 'Tea and Primroses' by Tess Thompson

Today I am spotlighting Tess Thompson's 'Tea and Primroses' for you!

Nothing is as it seemed in calm, quaint Legley Bay.  
Famous novelist, Constance (last name) lived a seemingly straightforward – if private – and somewhat predictable life. Friends, beloved daughter Sutton, a beautiful home, and all the success an author could wish for. A perfect life….but was it? When a hit and run accident suddenly takes her mother’s life, Sutton finds hidden secrets with her heartbreak. Emotional walls she assumed Constance had built to protect her privacy may have been to protect something – or someone – else entirely. 
Family and friends return home for support, including her own lost-love, Declan. He’s the first thing she craves to help her cope with her loss and the questions she’s left with, but he’s also the last person she wants to see. Will he be able to put down roots at last? 
Can the loss of true love be the making of a life or is it destined to be the undoing of everything? When money, power and love combine across time, anything is possible.
About Tess:
Tess Thompson is a novelist and playwright with a BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California. In 2011 she released her first novel, Riversong, which subsequently became a best seller.
Tess Headshot 1Like her main character in the River Valley collection, Tess is from a small town in Oregon. She currently lives in a suburb of Seattle, Washington with her two young daughters, Emerson and Ella, and their puppy Patches. She is inspired daily by the view of the Cascade Mountains from her home office window.
Tess is working on her next novel and regularly blogs about her journey as a mother, author and friend at www.tesswrites.com.
Check her out on Twitter and Facebook
and the book on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Itunes!

And especially for you, here's the Prologue as a sneak peak!

Prologue
When the doorbell rang, Sutton Mansfield at first thought it was part of the music on the radio. She hummed to her favorite country station, set loud as she moved about her bungalow, sipping hot, black tea and unpacking from her overseas trip. She was looking forward to lunch with her mother, who had used her contacts in the publishing industry to arrange the dream trip for Sutton’s thirtieth birthday. Sutton had studied for two months with a master baker in Paris.
She pushed open her front window; the familiar scent of the seaside entered the room. It was an ordinary morning in Legley Bay: the sound of seagulls in the distance; the familiar view of her street, lined with modest houses built mostly in the 1940s; and, just beyond, the Pacific Ocean a paler blue than the August sky. Legley Bay was a one-stoplight kind of town, the unwanted stepchild of the northern Oregon coast. There were no tourist temptations here, no stretch of beach with famed rocks like Cannon Beach or Manzanita or Arch Cape. No one opened shops or restaurants to tempt wealthy city dwellers. It was nothing more than the ordinary here, buildings sagging and faded from damp, salty air, and small businesses struggling to survive against Wal-Mart and Costco thirty or so miles in every direction but west.
Opening the window a little farther, she took in a deep breath through her nose and felt grateful for the familiar. Home is home. It was good to return. She turned away from the view and back to her cozy bungalow, decorated with eclectic pieces she’d gathered over the years, antiques and shabby chic, all very French countryside, like the artisan and rustic baked goods she made: crusty breads, buttery pastries, soft cookies.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: 'Unmade' by Sarah Rees Brennan

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and is a weekly meme in which you showcase your current 'want-to-read-so-bad-it-hurts' book! Hop over to Jill's blog to join in!

This week, I'm going for Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan from The Lynburn Legacy series. I read, and loved, Unspoken, the first book of the series, and have just bought Untold which I can't wait to start reading. I have just done the very impressive thing of not reading the blurb for Unmade while copying it from Goodreads because I'm pretty sure there's spoilers in there. Try to avert thy eyes, if you're still waiting as well!
Pub date: 23/09/2014
Who will be the sacrifice?
18309803Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.
Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.
This final book in the Lynburn Legacy is a wild, entertaining ride from beginning to shocking end

So, what book are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Teaser Tuesday - 'The Medea Complex'

It's another Tuesday and after the day I've had so far I can't wait to see what you guys are reading! Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB over at Should Be ReadingThe rules are simple:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Be careful not to include SPOILERS
  • Share the title & author, so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they want.
I'm currently reading The Medea Complex by Rachel Roberts for review, so I'll be teasing that. 
1885. Anne Stanbury - Committed to a lunatic asylum, having been deemed insane and therefore unfit to stand trial for the crime of which she is indicted. But is all as it seems?
18685624
Edgar Stanbury - the grieving husband and father who is torn between helping his confined wife recover her sanity, and seeking revenge on the woman who ruined his life.
Dr George Savage - the well respected psychiatrist, and chief medical officer of Bethlem Royal Hospital. Ultimately, he holds Anne's future wholly in his hands. 
The Medea Complex tells the story of a misunderstood woman suffering from insanity in an era when mental illnesses' were all too often misdiagnosed and mistreated. A deep and riveting psychological thriller set within an historical context, packed full of twists and turns, The Medea Complex explores the nature of the human psyche: what possesses us, drives us, and how love, passion, and hope for the future can drive us to insanity.

This week's teaser:
'Why did women decide to enter the workplace? A question that will no doubt confound me until the day I die. Curing the insane is easier than answering that question'
I think this teaser is a great example of how well Roberts has set this novel in its own time-period. Because it is based on a true story, I'm happy she didn't shy away from putting in some of the ugly things that happened.

On a side note, if this looks like the kind of book you'd enjoy reading, let me know and I can get you in touch with Rachel, who would love more reviews of her book!

So, what are you teasing?

Monday, 24 February 2014

Mailbox Monday: Second-hand Bookstores Are A Danger

I haven't done a Mailbox Monday in a while, but then I made the mistake of going into town on Monday and I bought myself some books. The meme is now hosted over at Mailbox Monday so hop over there to add your link to the Linky thing!

On a side note, I'm part of today's promotional tour for 'Immortal Sin' by Julie Milillo! Check it out here, in case you're interested.

So, on Saturday I went into a Waterstones (always a bad idea) and bought two books:

51606Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo for this week's Literature of the First World War post.
Few American novels are genuine classics, with a permanent place in our literature. This is one of them. First published in 1939, the story of an average American youth who "survives" World War I armless, legless and faceless with his mind intact was an immediate bestseller. Its anti-war message had a profound effect on Americans during the Vietnam era, and is now being reissued.

I've only just started this one but it's really good so far.

11099729Darth Plagueis by James Luceno because it has been ages since I've read a Star Wars book and I thought it was about time I started again!
Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination--and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?

I've only managed to read the Prologue so far but that was already really exciting, so I can't wait to find some spare time to continue reading.


After Waterstones, we went to this amazing second-hand bookstore here in Nottingham called Bookwise, which sells most of its books between £1 - £3, so I was extremely happy. Thankfully I was with a friend who pulled me away before I could pick more more books, but I did manage to snag these two:

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare. I'm in the process of writing a paper about the role of the Citizens in Coriolanus, so I figured it would be useful to have my own copy.

Shakespeare's last tragedy explores the career and death of a brilliant and arrogant Roman general. This is an ambitious and intriguing story of heroism.

37781Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which has been on my 100 Classics list for 2 years now. It's also on my Kindle, but I'm somehow finding it hard to read it on there so I thought a paperback copy might spur me on.
THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society. 
So, what did you get in your literal or metaphorical Mailbox this week?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review: 'The Plague' by Albert Camus

11989
This is one of the novels I put on my 100 Classics list because I was really interested by Camus' ideas about life and destiny etc. and this novel sounded like it explored these themes. Also, the Plague is a very interesting subject for a novel and I found myself enjoying it although at times I felt Camus lingered too long on certain events.
A gripping tale of human unrelieved horror, of survival and resilience, and of the ways in which humankind confronts death, The Plague is at once a masterfully crafted novel, eloquently understated and epic in scope, and a parable of ageless moral resonance, profoundly relevant to our times. In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes a omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion.
The novel is set in the 1940's, in the Algerian city Oran, which actually suffered from a cholera epidemic in 1849. The title makes it clear that the Plague will come, no matter how resistant Oran's citizens are at the beginning. The slowly creeping disease is described masterfully as it changes from threat to imminent danger. Throughout, Camus manages to not let the book slide into mass-hysteria. By that I mean that it would have been easy , at this point in the novel, to over-dramatize and explicitly state the horror of the Plague. Camus' understated yet severe writing style brings the fear of the Plague much closer because it showcases the inability of the people to do anything about it. Critics have argued that this was Camus bringing in his notions of the Absurd. Absurdism is a philosophical theory that argues that humans constantly seek for a meaning to life, yet are incapable of finding that meaning. This is perhaps best characterized by the characters of Grand, I feel. Grand is a writer of questionable talents, who spends the majority of the novel trying to find the perfect opening line to his novel. In the constant adding, changing and removing of adjectives, Grand hopes to give a meaning to a sentence that is simple in its essence. The sentence becomes meaningless as Grand mulls over it and it is one of the few true tragedies in the novel that this man is incapable of letting his search for meaning go and thereby misses out on his own life.

The Plague is a very male novel, in the sense that all of the main characters are men. A feminist critique has probably already been written, arguing that Camus takes away agency from women by not showing them helping against the progression of the Plague. But rather, I feel, the women play an important, yet background, role. Dr. Rieux' mother, for example, remains largely in the shadows of the novel but is a point of trust and comfort for Rieux and later on Tarrou. She seems unaffected by everything that is going on around her and hardly changes, thereby managing to be like a calm in the storm. Similarly, through the absence, the wives of Grand and Rieux allow them to help the Plague-stricken town while also hoping for an end to the disease. They also help Camus in setting up the themes of exile and loneliness that strikes most of Oran's citizens. The isolation that many of the people feel is palpable through the absence of women in the novel. Seeing them as symbols for fertility and life, their non-presence doesn't bode well for the town which is slowly dying out. 

Camus wrote this novel as a kind of memoir, a collection of documents that are put together to form a true recollection of those years under the Plague. However, it is not told through first person, but rather, quite objectively and from a distance through a third person-narrator. Although this narrator reveals himself at the end and states his reasons for this distance, it causes the reader himself to also be removed from the heart of the tragedy. We are like the people outside of the town, looking and peeking over the walls but keeping a safe distance. People are described through their actions and words, but the narrator doesn't try to ascribe emotions to them. Through this, the few moments where the reader is practically pushed to the bedsides of the suffering and dying are extremely tragic and stand out, becoming the moment that the reader remembers clearest.

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

I enjoyed reading this book, yet there were certain elements to it that prevented me from completely devouring it. The distance created by Camus between the reader and the town meant that as a reader you a very detached from the narrative. I wasn't completely drawn in and as such took quite a long time to read it. Camus' philosophical ideas are close to the surface of the novel and when they break through very interesting, but at times I felt they were interrupting the narrative. I would recommend it, however, because the way he describes how the Plague takes hold is fascinating.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Review: 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad

117837Heart of Darkness is the kind of novel that splits an English degree class in half. There is those who like it, fervently, and those who hate it, passionately. The same happened to my year when we read this novel in one of my modules about Victorian literature. I found myself among those who were surprised by the novel and found themselves defending it. This novel is also on my 100 Classics list

Dark allegory describes the narrator’s journey up the Congo River and his meeting with, and fascination by, Mr. Kurtz, a mysterious personage who dominates the unruly inhabitants of the region. Masterly blend of adventure, character development, psychological penetration. Considered by many Conrad’s finest, most enigmatic story.
Before getting to the actual review, I want to discuss the throughI had about this novel before I even got to reading it. Heart of Darkness is one of those books you know about, have heard about but have never read. You have talked to people about it who haven't read it either and together you have decided that it is a racist empirical novel that cannot be liked by anyone who believes in equality. Although I might be presenting it a bit extreme, there are a lot of prejudices towards Conrad and his novel that hardly anyone ever fights against. While reading it, I found almost all of them disproved and I want to address perhaps the most important one. Yes, there is racism in this book and it is at time quite shocking. The narrator, Marlow, and the author, Conrad, are products of their time and therefore, to a certain extent, share their age's ideas. However, the novel is one of questions. Joseph Conrad and Marlow slowly lose a conviction they never really believed in as they travel down the river into the heart of darkness. Marlow is the foreigner here, the one who intrudes and doesn't fit in, and I believe this is partially what triggers his doubts. By the end of the novel, any difference that Marlow sees between himself and Africans is self protection, because once he accepts them as equal, the behaviour he has seen around him and tolerated becomes blame.

The novel starts out in London, on the river Thames, where Marlow and some other marines are waiting for their next journey and it is on that ship, waiting, that Marlow tells his tale. In the beginning he is occasionally interrupted, but once his story takes him away from England everyone else is silenced. Because Conrad makes it explicit that Marlow is talking, you cannot help but question whether he is a reliable narrator or not. Is he trying to present himself or others in a better light? Quotes like the one below makes this question more complicated:
'They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force — nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind — as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only.' 
This quote doesn't present Marlow as a very big Empire-supporter. Rather, he seems to see the flaws of the system, the corruptness and lies that lie at the centre of the ideology, but doesn't know how to respond to them. All his life, Marlow has dreamed of exploring the blank spaces on his maps and now that he has come so close, he realizes that there is a darkness in these "blank" spaces and he had no right to assume there was nothing there. The violence with which the British forced themselves upon Africa is judged severely in this book as disproportionate and deluded. The 'idea' Conrad mentions was the "belief" among some that it was Britain's duty to spread democracy and education to other, less developed places. Although the latter is to be recommended, the first reminds of modern-day America which has damaged itself and its international reputation by throwing themselves into the limelight as Democratic Country Nr. 1.

The narrative and theme of the novel, which will possibly throw some people off and undoubtedly start an argument, distracts from Conrad's style of writing, which is absolutely beautiful. Marlow, as a narrator, talks very emotively and is very descriptive. His increasing frustration over his situation and his alienation from his surroundings become clear in the text and in the way he writes it. The repeated mentioning of the 'silence' in the jungle surrounding Marlow is oppresive to both him and the reader but also seems like 'a deep breath before the plunge'. The entire novel seems to have an air of suspension, as if a major change is about to come yet no one knows when and how. As such, the reader accompanies Marlow on his journey and for me, I was definitely changed at the end.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!!

This is the kind of novel that you will have to think about. It is a trigger for a lot of conversations but also simply a beautifully written novel. Conrad's prose is elegant and honest, without oppressing the reader with grand ideas. I recommend it to everyone, even if you think you might dislike it like I initially did. It is a novel I will pick up again and again, reread with purpose and just when I want to read something beautiful.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Friday memes - The Medea Complex

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's another Friday and I feel like doing some memes! So, first of here's a good old classic: Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Question of the Week: What was the last book that made you cry?


It's been some time since I have shed actual tears, but welling up happens a lot, as does dry sobbing. Sometimes a book is just so perfect in it's description of a certain emotion or event and you recognize so much of yourself in it that it hurts. And then all you can do is cry.

18685624The last book where tears were rolling was probably All Quiet on the Western Front because it's simply a  stunning book! I just felt so bad for all the characters, yet strangely enough, despite them being soldiers and me being a couch-potato book blogger, I thought I somehow understood them. And it made me emotional!

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 by Freda over at Freda's Voice. For those memes, I'm using The Medea Complex by Rachel Roberts.

1885. Anne Stanbury - Committed to a lunatic asylum, having been deemed insane and therefore unfit to stand trial for the crime of which she is indicted. But is all as it seems?
Edgar Stanbury - the grieving husband and father who is torn between helping his confined wife recover her sanity, and seeking revenge on the woman who ruined his life.
Dr George Savage - the well respected psychiatrist, and chief medical officer of Bethlem Royal Hospital. Ultimately, he holds Anne's future wholly in his hands. 
The Medea Complex tells the story of a misunderstood woman suffering from insanity in an era when mental illnesses' were all too often misdiagnosed and mistreated. A deep and riveting psychological thriller set within an historical context, packed full of twists and turns, The Medea Complex explores the nature of the human psyche: what possesses us, drives us, and how love, passion, and hope for the future can drive us to insanity


So, onto the memes.

BB:
'What I really want to know is how the bastards did it.'
That is a very good question considering the blurb!

F56:
'Is a lie, a lie by omission?If so, I have just lied to a man who contributes thousands of pounds per year to this hospital.'
Never bite the hand that feeds you. Unless the hand is attached to an asshole, in which case you should most definitely bite it!


So, what are you reading? And over which book have you ever cried?

'The Return of the Soldier' by Rebecca West - Literature of the First World War

This "series" of posts focuses on the Literature written before, after, during or because of the First World War. I will do so until the 28th of June, the anniversary of the assassination on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for many marking the beginning of the First World War. So far I have only discussed the work of male authors, such as Barbusse's Under Fire or Sassoon's Hero. Now it is time for a female author to take the stage.



Rebecca West is the pseudonym for Cicely Isabelle Fairfield, who was born in 1892 in London. She grew up in a very intellectual household until the age of 8 when her father abandoned the family and they moved to Edingburgh. Her official education stopped when she was 16. She trained as an actress in London but worked as a journalist for a variety of publications to support the Suffragette cause. After insulting H.G. Wells in a review, he invited her to his house and they became lovers. She built a lucrative career out of her writing and died in 1983. The Return of the Soldier was her debut novel and is often overlooked, yet it was the only novel on the First World War  that was written by a woman during wartime. 
Set during World War I on an isolated country estate just outside London, Rebecca West’s haunting novel The Return of the Soldier follows Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked captain suffering from amnesia, as he makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life. Will the devoted wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the poor innkeeper’s daughter he once courted leave Chris to languish in a safe, dreamy past—or will they help him recover his memory so that he can return to the front? The answer is revealed through a heartwrenching, unexpected sacrifice.
On a first note, the synopsis above is surprisingly misleading when it comes to the structure of the novel. Rather than following Chris Baldry, the reader follows his cousin Jenny as she prepares for and is disappointed by Chris' return. Her outlook on things is at once dramatic and emotional but also cool and analytical. She gives the reader a stereotypically female view of England, musing over 'the first lavish day of spring' or 'the flowered curtains', but also the stark reality in beautiful prose:
'No one weeps for this shattering of our world.'
Being the first female author I was reading for this "series", I wasn't sure what to expect. Whereas the male authors "benefit" from the action at the front and the very obvious strong emotions, the women had to deal with the waiting and suffering at home, in apparent comfort and splendor. The fact that both Kitty (Chris' wife) and Jenny have built their entire existence around Chris and his happiness shows how empty their lives are, especially if one remembers how impossible a return to the "normal world" was for Remarque's protagonist in All's Quiet on the Western Front. Rebecca West presents the Homefront as exactly that, a front. What you see is the supportive family, waiting patiently and supportive, but in truth both women are hiding their emotions and are stuck in a past that can never become present again, quite similarly to Chris.

Besides dealing with the War, West also brings the class-divide to the forefront. Knowing she got her penname from a George Bernard Shaw, famous for Pygmalion, it is hard not to draw comparisons to the play. Eliza Doolittle is, despite her lower class origin, the most sensitive person in the play, both capable of change and seeing through the facades put up by others. Her leaving at the end of the play is as much a gift to herself as to Dr. Higgins. Comparing Eliza to the dowdy Margaret may seem absurd to others but makes a lot of sense when one considers the dedication with which Margaret cares for Chris. The lower classes were severely hit by the War, are so by any War, yet carried the country through. Margaret represents the suffering and charity that allowed this survival and the relationship that slowly grows between her and Jenny could be interpreted as the subconscious coming together of the lower and middle classes during the War.

Psychoanalysis is a major part of the novel, despite not featuring in the foreground. It is mentioned in passing that several Freudian doctors are trying their hardest to get Chris' memory back and the final psychological push is not described at all, only its effects. The critic Cristina Pividori argues that similarly to Freud, West realized the destructive effect of war upon the soldier's psyche. Chris' search for love is his attempt at finding a safe place where he can talk about his experiences. In order to keep this post spoiler-free, I can't discuss the way West resolves the problem, but the title itself gives a clue to the end. What Kitty and Jenny want is the return of the Soldier, of a man who has been affected by the War and has grown from it. What they get is a reminder of how their lives used to be before the War, and the realization that they, in their current state, will never fit into that world again. 

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

West manages to show how big of an impact the War had on the homefront and on people without having to show any fighting. As such, her novel forms a great addition to the other ones I have read in the last few weeks because it shows the alienation that took place for the soldiers from a different point of view.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Best Spell

There was a Harry Potter meme and yet somehow I never knew about it...I feel like I've committed a crime! Please forgive me, Pottergods. To make up for it, I'm joining in now! It's called Harry Potter Moment of the Week and is hosted by Leah over at Uncorked Thoughts, so hop over there if you want to join!

This week we're picking:

The Best Spell?

Oh God, this is such a hard one because so many of the spells are absolutely amazing! On the one hand I want to be really cheesy and say Expelliarmus because it is such an important spell to the entire series and to the message of the books. I loved Lumos Solem in Philosopher's Stone. Obliviate breaks my heart but is beautiful as well. But the spell that made me really happy was Piertotum Locomotor.



Just the idea of being able to bring these stone statues to "live" to protect the very building from which they come is amazing. And the occasion gave rise to this line, which still makes me cry:
"Hogwarts is threatened! Man the boundaries! Protect us! Do your duty to the school"
Also, McGonagall's excitement at being able to use this spell is adorable. Especially because Molly is just so done with all of this.


Me too, Minerva, me too.

So, what do you think was the best spell? Leave a link in the comments and I'll come and see :)

Spotlight: 'Paradigm Shift' by Bill Ellis

Today I am spotlighting Bill Ellis' novel Paradigm Shift, published by Booktrope. Set in southern Virginia in the '70's, Paradigm Shift is a rich blend of social history, drama, love, passion and determination. Ellis delivers a powerful page-turner about the struggles and perseverance to overcome all odds. 
Dogwood Springs is a typical Southern town nestled in a valley alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwest Virginia. Life had been good for its 5,000 residents, especially after the Bobcats won the state high school football championship in 1973 behind its “famous five” all-state players. But like many towns that depended on a textile mill and furniture factory for employment, life takes a downturn in the last quarter of the twentieth century as mills and factories are closed and jobs are shipped off to the “deep South” and Southeast Asia. 
Workers can no longer meet mortgage payments and foreclosures plunge Dogwood Springs into
a deep depression. The homeless population spikes upward and a tent city emerges in the heart of downtown. Greed, political corruption, and a growing drug culture combine to wreck a once-proud and bucolic setting. 
Yet, the famous five men return for their class reunion with the skills and abilities to change thinking and create a paradigm shift that will rejuvenate their community. In a rich blend of social history, drama, love, passion and determination, Ellis delivers a powerful page-turner about the struggles and perseverance to overcome all odds.
About Bill Ellis:

Bill Ellis calls Martinsville, Virginia -- formerly the “Sweatshirt capital of the world” - his hometown. He is the author of five novels and is a frequent contributor of social and political commentary on the Longmont Colorado Daily Times-Call Opinion page. He is a past president of the Longmont Writers Club and was editor of the club’s second anthology Collected Works of the Longmont Writers Club. The Longmont Council for the Arts awarded him grants in 2007 & 2008 to be the writer-in-residence at Sunset Middle School directing eighth graders in the writing, editing, and publishing of an online magazine. Bill has spoken to over 1,200 students in local schools over the last six years promoting the importance of writing. 


Follow him at billelliswrites.com.


Praise for Paradigm Shift:



"What a great book! I mean a spirit lifting, healing great read. Bill Ellis is one great writer! Paradigm Shift is a must read!"

"One of the appealing things about the book is that ANY adult reader would/could enjoy reading it because Bill makes it so easy to relate to the story and characters." 

"Bill Ellis stirred up some uncomfortable racial memories of my own from Lynchburg and Tazewell, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina in the early 60’s. Thank you, Bill, for having such a well-considered alternative path to old hatred – your transformed community of cooperation called Dogwood Springs."

Does this look like the book for you? Not sure yet? Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the book to tempt you!


Virginia Woods, 1955
THE SOLITARY BLACK MAN slouched against an ancient oak tree as if he’d found his best friend. The chilling November wind sank into his bones and he dreamed of a cozy fire. His three hunting partners had dispersed: Charles Hanson, who owned these woods and five thousand acres surrounding them, was off to the north a few hundred yards; Judge Hamilton was a ways to the west just over a hillock; and Rip Morgan, the dumbest white man Thomas had ever known, was south another few hundred, also over the hillock. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Waiting on Wednesday - 'Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart' by Christopher Fowler

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. I am terrible at this meme because I have a sieve for a brain and publication dates escape me! But, I have bought a diary for University and decided to make it a Blog diary as well so it actually has some publication dates in it as it is! 


For this week, I'm waiting for Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May - The Bleeding Heart, well, sort of. I saw it on Netgalley and requested it and got an ARC today and it just looks really good and I'm really excited. Therefore, I feel like it warrants to be included in the meme, even though I am starting to read it as soon as this post goes up!

It's a fresh start for the Met's oddest investigation team, the Peculiar Crimes Unit.Their first case involves two teenagers who see a dead man rising from his grave in a London park. And if that's not alarming enough, one of them is killed in a hit and run accident. Stranger still, in the moments between when he was last seen alive and found dead on the pavement, someone has changed his shirt...
Much to his frustration, Arthur Bryant is not allowed to investigate. Instead, he has been tasked with finding out how someone could have stolen the ravens from the Tower of London. All seven birds have vanished from one of the most secure fortresses in the city. And, as the legend has it, when the ravens leave, the nation falls.
Soon it seems death is all around and Bryant and May must confront a group of latter-day bodysnatchers, explore an eerie funeral parlour and unearth the gruesome legend of Bleeding Heart Yard. More graves are desecrated, further deaths occur, and the symbol of the Bleeding Heart seems to turn up everywhere - it's even discovered hidden in the PCU's offices. And when Bryant is blindfolded and taken to the headquarters of a secret society, he realises that this case is more complex than even he had imagined, and that everyone is hiding something. The Grim Reaper walks abroad and seems to be stalking him, playing on his fears of premature burial.Rich in strange characters and steeped in London's true history, this is Bryant & May's most peculiar and disturbing case of all.

I haven't read any of the other 10 (10!) books, but I guess that just means I have plenty of enjoyment ahead of me! What are you waiting for?