Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Intros & Teasers - 'Another Man's City' by In-ho Choi, Bruce & Ju-Chan Fulton

Another Man's CityThis week I've been reading a number of books on and off, and this one is one one of them. Another Man's City is one of the Library of Korean Literature-series of books. I read another book out of this series, The Republic of Užupis by Haïlji, Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, not too long ago and really enjoyed it. The point of this blog is very much the broadening of my literary horizons so I love finding foreign literature in translation. I never thought I'd find such Kafka-esque literature in Korea but Another Man's City is really blowing me away.
Another Man's City is structured as a virtual-reality narrative manipulated by an entity referred to variously as the Invisible Hand or Big Brother. The scenario is reminiscent of Peter Weir's 1998 film The Truman Show and Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Unconsoled. The novel begins with a series of seemingly minor juxtapositions of the familiar and the strange, as a result of which the protagonist, K, gradually finds himself inside a Matrix-like reality populated with shape-shifting characters.
Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesday are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm. 380

What the hell? K groped the fuzzy boundary between sleep and wakefulness for an answer - what had awakened him?His alarm clock. The strident ring a desperate cry letting the world know of its existence. Again the shrill clamor.Dammit! K didn't like being woken up. He fumbled at the nightstand, found the alarm clock, silenced it.' 1%
I liked this beginning because it immediately pulls you into the character's immediate sensations. Nothing is worse than the alarm clocks going off in the morning and I could sympathize with K from the get go. But trust me, from here it only gets weirder!

TeaserTuesdays2014e'That spider woman was not Janus, and Janus, whether a man or a woman, was not the spider woman. In that case, was Janus, the place, that is, part of the hour-and-a-half gap in the filmstrip of his memory?' 15%
Ok, so I have chosen the weirdest quote I could find on the page, just to give you a taste of why I'm calling this book Kafka-esque. Janus is a two-faced god, in this case one male and female. It's also a nightclub in this book and K is desperate to figure out what happened the night before.

So, does Another Man's City sound like your kind of book? Have you read any Korean/Asian literature lately?

Monday, 28 September 2015

Interview with Virginia Macgregor, author of 'What Milo Saw'

Displaying WhatMiloSaw_B_9780751554274-2.jpgToday I have the honour of presenting you guys with an interview with the author of the amazing What Milo Saw, Virginia Macgregor! I read and reviewed this book recently and highly recommend it.
Nine-year-old Milo suffers from retinitis pigmentosa: his eyes are slowly failing, and he will eventually go blind. But for now, he sees the world through a pin hole and notices things other people don't. When Milo's beloved 92-year-old gran succumbs to dementia and moves into a nursing home, Milo begins to notice things amiss at the home. The grown-ups won't listen when he tries to tell them something's wrong so with just Tripi, the nursing home's cook, and Hamlet, his pet pig, to help, Milo sets out on a mission to expose the nursing home and the sinister Nurse Thornhill.
Sounds good no? Check out the interview below to convince you even further.

J: What inspired you to write about a character with Retinitis Pigmentosa? 

VM: I’ve always been fascinated by sight and vision: both physically and metaphorically every human being has a unique view of the world. I am also hugely short-sighted (when I take out my contact lenses, everything’s a blur), so I’m aware of having a visual limitation every day. As writer, I naturally made the imaginative leap of wondering what it would be like to lose my sight altogether, or to have a condition that severely limited my vision.

During one of my check-ups, I spoke to my local optician about the kinds of visual impairments that children struggle with, and she told me about a little boy she was looking after who has Retinitis Pigmentosa. At the same time I read a touching article about a six-year-old girl called Molly Bent who had created a bucket list of the things she wanted to see before she went blind. These events all came together while I was planning and writing What Milo Saw and I immediately knew that RP was something that Milo was struggling with too.
Displaying V109 B.jpg
J: Was it challenging to write from a child's point of view?

VM: It was a complete joy. Milo’s perspective was the most fun to write – while I was working on the novel, I really felt like I was living in Milo’s world. Of course, I had to make sure that I got the details (I wanted the viewpoint to be real and authentic), but I never felt it was hard work. Writing from the view of children is one of the things I love most. You’ll find me doing the same in my second novel, The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells. I think it’s really important that adult fiction reflects a range of perspectives from characters of different ages, including those of children.

J: One of your novel's main characters is a Syrian refugee. How did you go about writing this character?

VM: I am a contemporary writer. That means that I ground my fiction in the here and now. I want every one of my novels to give a sense of what it means to be alive today and that means weaving in the issues that face us as individuals and as a society in the twenty first century. While I was writing What Milo Saw, the Syrian crisis was just beginning to rear its head. It is sad to see how the refugee crisis has got worse than I ever could have imagined when I wrote Tripi’s story. I wanted to show how refugees can enrich our lives, how they are human beings, like you and me, and that some of them have suffered a great deal to find a new life in a safe country. On a personal level, I had a nomadic childhood and my extended family is scattered fire and wide around Europe and beyond, so I am interested in the notion of home and belonging.

J: Aside from the title, there are clear parallels in your novel to James' 'What Maisie Knew'. Were these parallels something you purposefully explored?

VM: While I was writing What Milo Saw I read a number of adult novels written from the point of view of children. I loved how Henry James explored a little girl’s perspective on her parents’ divorce. We see her confronted by the messiness of the adult world and the shortcomings of the grown-ups who live in it. This technique creates what literary critics call ‘an ironic gap.’ Because a child’s view of the world is incomplete, when we, as adults, read that view, we fill in the gaps because we know more than them. This can be hugely poignant. Children also have a wonderfully honest and quirky way of seeing things, which can add humour to an otherwise sad story. 

Thank you so much for your interview, Virginia! I love getting an insight into an author's mind and into their writing process. So, does What Milo Saw sound like your cup of tea?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Weekly Overview

It's been a fun and busy week. I went to see Marina Warner, which was amazing because she's such an inspiration! And the I caught the Donmar staging of Coriolanus in the cinema (praise be to NT Live), which actually made me cry. Ans then on Friday I saw A.N. Wilson talk about this book on the Bible, which was absolutely fascinating. He's such an intelligent and funny man that is was a pure joy!

So that's been my week! I've got a sh*t ton of books due for review in October, here's to praying that I will actually get around to all of them and not die of book-overload!

How was your week? This post is linked up to The Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Friday Memes and 'Fly Away Home'

It's Friday and I'm extremely tired! But it's been one hell of a week. This week I met Marina Warner, one of my favourite authors and academics, and I bought a copy of her new anthology of short stories. She even wrote a dedication into it, which made me rather happy! I'm using this collection for today's memes!
A long-awaited new collection of Marina Warner's short stories. Like her award-winning novels, Marina Warner's stories conjure up mysteries and wonders in a physical world, treading a delicate, magical line between the natural and the supernatural, between openness and fear.
Dame Marina Warner is a British novelist, short story writer, historian and mythographer. She is known for her many non-fiction books relating to feminism and myth. She has written for many publications over the years, including The London Review of Books, the New Statesman, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and Vogue.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted respectively by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda by Freda's Voice.

'My dear, you know that burning house dilemma, when you have to choose what you would take out of it? Forget loved ones, they're thrown in, like Shakespeare and the Bible on Desert Island Discs. No, what would you take with you, after the wife and sprogs've been carried out of the flames in those loely big burly firemen's arms? By the way, since when did they turn into fire-fighters? This gender-blind talk, on trend, not like me, like being a chair, or a customer service officer - not my style.' p.1 (from 'Out of the Burning House')
I love that Warner begins her stories with something so straightforward and recognizable as that 'burning house dilemma'! And how she manages to sound so casual and direct, really address the reader with her questions. It's also always a good way to start an anthology by building a relationship between the narrator and the reader, since those two don't really change between stories.

'The pious acts of disfigurement weren't consistent: a few female saints, a few male saints, and several characters in the stories (men and women) were obliterated like the face of the Prophet in Persian or Indian manuscripts of a similar date, when he and other Islamic saints are screened from our gaze by short veils.' p.56 (from 'Watermark')
This has a very different tone from the previous story and I really like it! Marina Warner is so incredibly learned and intelligent (in case you haven't noticed, I idolize her a little bit) that I'm always astonished when she mixes knowledge with an easy and smooth writing style.

So, that's me for today! Do you like short stories? Would you check out Fly Away Home?

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #5: I.v.2 - I.vii.6

It's officially offical: I really like Les Misérables. As a consequence I am slightly (read: extremely) annoyed at the musical and film for having nice songs but not doing Victor Hugo's novel justice by a looong mile. I mean, I'm empathizing with Jean Valjean for crying out loud, something I never did when watching the film. There are so many moment which I feel would have been so much better had the film actually taken direction from the novel. Part of the reason that I'm now completely on the side of the novel is because I have switched to reading 20 chapters instead of 10. It gives you much more of the story to enjoy and discuss. Also yes, here's a picture of Anne Hathaway as Fantine because Anne Hathaway is amazing.

Plot Summary:
In these chapters we really see Fantine being torn down to the ground. It's a lot less sudden in the novel, rather than film where it all happens within a single song. By seeing how Fantine's decline happens slowly but surely it is inevitable to see how society forces some people into destitution. Because Victor Hugo set her up as such a cheerful and innocent character it is heart-breaking to see her spirit brought so low as well. The downward spiral is stunningly described and it really drags you right in.

We also returned to M. Madeleine or, as we all know he's really called, Jean Valjean and got introduced to Javert! There were a couple of amazing scenes which worked really well, such as the lifting of the cart, Valjean releasing Fantine from Javert's custody and, especially, Valjean's conflicting feelings about confronting himself with his past. Although the chapters dedicated to his internal struggle are quite long they are absolutely fascinating insights into the human psyche. I've managed to stop myself at an enormous cliffhanger as well. Fantine is in the hospice, close to dying but desperate to see her daughter and Jean Valjean is on a mad drive to Atras while still undecided on whether to give himself up or no.

Feel of the Chapters:
These chapters are a bit of a whirlwind, considering the slow start of the novel. A couple of the things that have been set up throughout the preceding chapters suddenly are resolved or become relevant and it was great to see Hugo bringing all of these strands together. There is also a lot of desperation to these developments though, which can be a little bit depressing if you stay in it for too long. But that's where it's good that Hugo has picked up the pace because this way the novel keeps going and doesn't linger too long on the misery of others.

General Thoughts:

  • Javert's introduction was interesting. He's an interesting character and like all the others his presence in the novel is very different from the film. Because we get to see his motivation as well as that of the other characters it's a lot easier to feel for him. 
  • I already said this above but I loved seeing how Fantine's mind became darker and darker, how she lost herself in her misery. It was really well-written.
  • Victor Hugo keeps popping into his own story, dropping hints, pointing the reader in different directions and adding his own voice to the story. It's always fun, rather than intrusive, so that's definitely something I hope keeps happening
  • There is no political talk, for once. Most of the chapters so far have had a lot of time for philosophical digressions about life and religion, but real life definitely takes over now.
Something Interesting:
What is this history of Fantine? It is society purchasing a slave. From whom? From misery.From hunger, cold, isolation, destitution. A dolorous bargain. A soul for a morsel of bread. Misery offers; society accepts.The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not, as yet, permeate it; it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists; but it weighs only upon the woman, and it is called prostitution.' p.323
The last five times I have picked up references in the novel to discuss here, but this week the above extract was what really stuck with me. Throughout my reading of Les Misérables so far I've been surprised with how liberal and forward-thinking Victor Hugo was, but I wasn't expecting him to so strongly condemn society for prostitution, rather than raging against the women. 

Favourite Quotes:
'Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought.'
I absolutely loved this quote. It's so beautiful I had to get up in the middle of the night to find a pen and paper to write it down.
'Conscience is the chaos of chimeras, of lusts, and of temptations; the furnace of dreams; the lair of ideas of which we are ashamed; it is the pandemonium of sophisms; it is the battlefield of the passions.'
This is just amazingly phrased. Not only is the alliteration in the first part nuts (in a good way) but it is also a great description of something as hard to describe as the conscience. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Short Review: 'The Dover Reader: Edgar Allan Poe', eds. by M.C. Waldrep & J.B. Kopito

'The Raven' is a short story that pretty much everyone has to read early on in their school years. It's a staple of American Gothic literature, but Edgar Allan Poe has much more to offer than just that story. Dover's new Poe Reader gives the audience an insight into a lot more of Poe's work, both prose and poetry. Thanks to Netgalley and Dover Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 17/12/2014
Publisher: Dover Publications
The father of the detective novel and an innovator in American Gothic fiction, Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) made his living as America's first great literary critic. Today he is best remembered for his short stories and poems, haunting works of horror and mystery that remain popular around the world.
This anthology presents Poe's finest works in a rich selection of poetry and prose that features his only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Short stories include "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Purloined Letter," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and more than a dozen others. In addition to a few selections of Poe's nonfiction writing, the compilation offers "The Conqueror Worm," "Annabel Lee," "The Raven," and many other memorable poems.
Edgar Allan Poe is the kind of author everyone knows about but that most people only pretend to have truly, extensively read. His style is immediately recognizable, his stories beyond tragic and his poetry beautiful, and this Dover Reader will give you all of it. Although much of Poe's work is already in the public domain, this Reader gives you a good oversight of his prose work while providing you with a good selection of poetry and non-fiction work. Few authors have been as labelled as Poe, whose name is practically synonymous with the Macabre. With this kind of selection it's easy to get a good grip of Poe's entire work and really understand his genius more.

Similarly to Dover Publications other anthologies, this one is arranged chronologically. However, it is also split up into three sections: fiction, poetry and nonfiction, each of which is chronologically ordered. What I loved about this order is that's from the index it's really easy to see what Poe was working on when, which stories were written at the same time as certain poems etc. This Reader also contains the only complete novel ever written by Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. I have read some stunning anthologies of Poe's work which made the most of the Gothic nature of Poe's work through illustrations and lay-out. The Dover Reader is a lot more straight-forward, more of a reference book than an anthology for pleasure reading.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Edgar Allan Poe is a fascinating author whose writings have been incredibly influential. The Dover Reader brings Poe's various works together beautifully and gives a good oversight of his career. I'd recommend this both to those who want a casual read of Poe but also those who want to get a more comprehensive view of his beautifully macabre writings.

Intros & Teasers - 'The Dover Reader: Edgar Allan Poe'

This week I'm using an anthology that I just reviewed today. I mean, who doesn't want to read Edgar Allan Poe all day? Have a look at the Dover Reader below!
The father of the detective novel and an innovator in American Gothic fiction, Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) made his living as America's first great literary critic. Today he is best remembered for his short stories and poems, haunting works of horror and mystery that remain popular around the world.
This anthology presents Poe's finest works in a rich selection of poetry and prose that features his only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Short stories include "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Purloined Letter," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and more than a dozen others. In addition to a few selections of Poe's nonfiction writing, the compilation offers "The Conqueror Worm," "Annabel Lee," "The Raven," and many other memorable poems.
Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesday are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm.

'Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other. Hereditary wealth afforded me an education of no common order, and a contemplative turn of mind enabled me to methodise the stores which early study very diligently garnered up.' 1% (from 'MS. Found in a Bottle')
I always feel like with Poe's short stories you have to get into it initially. So this beginning doesn't really do anything for me so far, but I tend to always fall in love with Poe's stories halfway through!

TeaserTuesdays2014e 'My father made no direct opposition; but my mother went into hysterics at the bare mention of the design; and, more than all, my grandfather, from whom I expected much, vowed to cut me off with a shilling if I should ever broach the subject to him again.' 48% (from 'The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym')
I am really curious what has triggered such a response in the family, especially since there are such different responses. I especially love the fact that the Grandfather seems to have almost the strongest objection. This just painted a really fun image in my head so I thought I'd share it.

So, what are you sharing today? And do you like Poe? Got a favourite short story?