Monday, January 16, 2012

Emmeline: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Do you know what an ipad is?

Douglas Adams didn't, but he wrote about one, 31 years before they were released on the market. Except he didn't call it an ipad, he called it the hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy, a book with thousands of pages that could be accessed by pressing buttons. If in the form of an actual book, it would be far to heavy to carry around.

Most futuristic books appear hopelessly anachronistic once the actual future arrives. Mary Shelley's The Last Man, for example, was published in 1826, set around 2030, and the characters all run around in horse and carriage and sending letters by messenger.

Adams' book (and the whole series) is amazing because in it he writes about technology that the inventors hadn't even started imagining.

Reading this book was weird because I couldn't remember whether I'd read it before. The whole time I kept second-guessing myself. It was familiar but new all at the same time. Maybe I read it when I was a kid, or when I was drunk (less likely), or maybe it was just familiar from the movie (the Zooey Deshanel version).

So, should everyone read this book? I say probably, it's worth it, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if you didn't.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Retrospective Read: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

[Spoilers start at the end of the second sentence]

I read Jane Eyre many years ago and it didn’t really capture me. I struggled to get into the story and later only had a vague idea of how the story went. When we lived in the US Emmeline was studying it and the college was to put on a play of Jane Eyre. There was some discussion around the book before the play, but not much as she had not finished and no one wants to be the person who accidentally spoils something (“Are you up to the bit where it is the wife in the attic? oh, nevermind”). Poor Emmeline and her strict policy of reading books before seeing them performed was reading Jane Eyre right up until the lights were dimmed in the theatre.
As a theatrical device in said play, the red room and the attic were the same place. It made the story a little difficult to follow, but drew a comparison between crazy young Jane and the crazy wife. The idea of the crazy wife that has to be locked away concerns me as to Mr Rochester’s character as there was a time when it was du rigour to have your wife declared crazy and committed so that she was no longer a bother. If she wasn’t crazy before he locked her away I’m pretty sure being locked away would have been enough to make her pretty mad.
I reckon that the way in which he escapes being pigeonholed as such a man is the fact that he never actually had her committed because he didn’t want to not care for her and didn’t want her not living in an asylum. Given what we know about asylums, that was a good call if he did indeed wish to care for her.
Mr Rochester is a more interesting love interest than Austin’s Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy. He seems to have more depth and not just be a pretty face. The relationship has its basis in communication and mutuality not longing glances, frission and high tempers. He is also much more worthy of love than the men in Wuthering Heights
Jane herself inspired me as a teenager reading the book because she was confident and a survivalist, but not at the expense of her own happiness. She took risks and they paid off. Lizzy Bennett (to continue the Pride and Prejudice comparisons) is confident in her own way, but she does not experience any threats to her comfortable way of life* and does not need to survive in the way that Jane does.

This is probably a book that I should reread at some stage, but realistically I probably won’t unless one day I’m lying around bored and it is the most appealing option. There are just so many books I want to read for the first time!!

I would recommend not reading Jane Eyre too young.


*I will note that if Lizzy and/or her sisters do not marry reasonably well they will in fact be homeless and reliant on the kindness of others once their father dies, this is not an imminent threat but I imagine it would stress one somewhat (especially with Mrs Bennett harping on).

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

[Spoiler Alert]

Overall review:

Emmeline warned me that The Picture of Dorian Gray was depressing* so I was expecting something more along the lines of The Bell Jar. Unfortunately I knew the basic storyline of The Picture of Dorian Gray because on the tvshow ‘Freaky Stories’ I seem to recall one where a young man stabs his painting at the end. Emmeline was disappointed when I told her that because it robbed me of the ending, or at least of being able to guess the ending!

Throughout the book I felt a little as though it was an opportunity for Wilde to show off a large amount of knowledge he had amassed on a variety of subjects, rather than him just writing a book. The descriptions of Dorian’s obsessions went on too long and there was a tendency to skim after a while. Jeffrey Eugenides** writing the introduction claims that Wilde writes witty dialogue but struggles in other areas and needs actors to bring his work to life. What dialogue there is to be had is mainly found in the first third and last quarter and, especially when it involves Dorian or Harry flirting (including with each other) is indeed snappy and one can imagine it being performed on the stage with much chemistry between the characters.

The Picture of Dorian Gray leaves me hanging out to know what it is that Dorian does to lead others astray***. It is clear that he creates ‘fallen women’ and that is not too hard to understand, but I wonder how he ruins the lives of the young men whilst escaping unscathed himself. That being said, I also love that it is left to the imagination.

[I]n his search for sensations that would be at once new and delightful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to their subtle influences, and then, having , as it were, caught their colour and satisfied his intellectual curiosity, leave them with that curious indifference that is not incompatible with a real ardour of temperament.

In the light of the previous sentence (and given Wilde’s own sexual proclivities) I like to imagine that not a few of the young men ruined were taken as lovers also. Dorian has the sort of sex appeal that does not discriminate. Beautiful and self destructive people are drawn to Dorian and he obliges them by flattering their beauty then destroying them.

A few notes I made as I read the book:

Lady Henry scores the best introduction in the whole book “She was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest.” How does every woman not want to look like that?

As a language-nerd I was super-excited to see that the French that was in the book was not translated into English immediately afterward, however the conversation French phrases made it clear what was being said. When Dorian reads three particular stanzas of a French poem on Venice, they are relayed to us in their original form and the meaning is made clear in the reveal that follows. This is not always well done, in Anna Karenina**** Tolstoy throws French around like it’s Christmas and mostly I found it annoying and pretentious.

Harry to Dorian: “You will soon be going about like the converted, the revivalist, warning people against all the sins of which you have grown tired.” There is indeed no one so passionate about the evilness of x than the one who has turned from x themselves!

Is this a book everyone should read? I can’t decide. I think it has some interesting ideas but the package does not call for universal recommendation.

(read Emmeline's review here)

*she later retracted that statement saying that she meant something else

**Author of Middlesex which I have read and have yet to review, Emm’s review is here

***Apparently the first version which he was commissioned to write was ‘mawkish and nauseous’, ‘unclean’, ‘effeminate’ and ‘contaminating . I wonder if it details some of Dorian’s dalliances and if so are there still copies around?

****A book I read before we started the challenge and have not as yet retrospectively reviewed

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Winne-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

I may get accused of cheating, because I believe I am now in front of Emmeline book-wise, but that is only because today I read Winne-the-Pooh!

This is a really sweet book, I love Milne's style of writing, you can really imagine that it is his son's toys and he is telling the stories about them. When the real Christopher Robin is asking the narrator questions the answers are very much an adult storyteller's indulgent answers.

The whole thing is very sweet.

When Winne-the-Pooh was on tv the character I disliked most was Gopher, who I believe was introduced by Disney and was not an original Milne character. I also didn't like when the storylines were over the top. Those aspects that most reflect the nature of the book are what makes the show a classic and well-loved.

There is a tradition in my family of giving 'Now we are six' to children on their 6th birthdays and having read Winne-the-Pooh I may start bequeathing it and other Milne books on non-six birthdays!

I believe this is a book that everyone should read - it only took me 2 hours tops!