Sunday, 17 March 2013

Review: 'Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys

I here have to admit to a terrible reading-sin: I was rather prejudiced against this novel. This prejudice was largely based on the fact that I only knew it was a sort of prequel to 'Jane Eyre' that was meant to highlight the true nature of Mr. Rochester and England's colonial past. I have often found myself disliking post-colonial (interpretations of) novel. Post-colonialism is a literary theory of analysis, not a genre. In the same way, I believe, you cannot write a feminist or a psycho-analytical novel. Novels are later on interpreted as such. But thankfully I have a University that "forces" me to read books I might otherwise not have read.
Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress who grew up in the West Indies on a decaying plantation. When she comes of age she is married off to an Englishman, and he takes her away from the only place she has known--a house with a garden where "the paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest tree ferns, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched."
The book is split into three parts. The first part shows us how Antoinette grew up, directly after the end of slavery. The second part introduces us to an Englishman, presumably Rochester although he is never named, and the third, and shortest, part gives us a glimpse at Antoinette's life in England. Out of these three I definitely enjoyed the second part the most. Here we see the interaction between two different cultures that, although they have been in contact for generations, are only now truly forced to face one another. This is where the true worth of the novel lies, in my opinion. The failure of communication, the honest attempts at contact and the eventual suffering of both cultures is described perfectly. If we take the novel as such, as a description of the changes wrought by the emancipation of slaves, then I can truly admire it for the masterpiece some say this novel is.

As a prequel or "explanation" of 'Jane Eyre' I think this novel fails. Although Rochester is never named, the third part makes it very clear that this is indeed his 'mad woman in the attic'. By writing a novel like this, Rhys superimposes her, presumably prejudiced, vision of colonial England onto Charlotte Bronte's characters. As a second son I believe it is rather unlikely Rochester was really involved in his father's dealings with slavery and he was only sent over there to find a wealthy wife. In writing this prequel, Rhys has undoubtedly made many Rochester fans rather angry since he isn't always the most charming man, not that he always is in 'Jane Eyre'. Had I been the editor I probably would have advised to remove the third part of the novel. Its tone seems to rushed compared to the rest of the novel and any sympathy that has been created for Antoinette gained through her struggle fades within 10 pages.

Overall I give this novel...

3 Universes!!!

I enjoyed parts of this novel when Rhys let her own experiences speak. Her love for the Caribbean came through best in her descriptions of its nature, and sometimes even of its people. You cannot help but feel sorry for the struggles the main characters go through and when this novel focuses on those struggles, it is a great read. Forget that this could be a 'Jane Eyre' prequel and skip the last part, and you could truly enjoy this novel.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Blog Tour for Liesel K.Hill's 'Persistence of Vision'

Persistence of Vision
Fellow blogger Liesel has now entered the ranks of authors and I am more than pleased to be able to share her work with you: Persistence of Vision!
In a world where collective hives are enslaving the population and individuals have been hunted to the verge of extinction, Maggie Harper, and independent 21st Century woman, must find the strength to preserve the freedom of the future, but without the aid of her memories.
After experiencing a traumatic time loss, Maggie is plagued by a barrage of images she can't explain. When she's attacked by a creep with a spider's web tattoo, she is saved by Marcus, a man she's never met, but somehow remembers. He tells her that both he and her creepy attacker are from a future in which individuals are being murdered by collectives, and Marcus is part of the rebellion. The collectives have acquired time travel and they plan to enslave the human race throughout all of history. The flashes Maggie has been seeing are echoes of lost memories, and the information buried deep within them is instrumental in defeating the collective hives.
In order to preserve the individuality of mankind, Maggie must try to re-discover stolen memories, re-kindle friendships she has no recollection of, and wade through her feelings for the mysterious Marcus, all while dodging the tattooed assassins the collectives keep sending her way.
If Maggie can't fill the holes in her memory and find the answers to stop the collectives, the world both in her time and in all ages past and future will be doomed to enslavement in the grey, mediocre collectives. As the danger swirls around her and the collectives close in, Maggie realizes she must make a choice: stand out or fade away...

Liesel K. Hill's message to all of you bloggers!
The Persistence of Vision blog tour officially ends tomorrow. I would like to thank all the
wonderful bloggers wh
o were so willing and enthusiastic in helping me with my tour. I sent out
lots of emails, thinking I’d get a fraction of response, but ended up getting over a hundred of
them, including some people I didn’t have to invite who just jumped in and wanted to participate! 
Thank you so much to everyone for your help and support. It’s been a great tour!
I will wrap up on my blog, Musings on Fantasia, tomorrow, and there are a few more posts later in the month that we couldn’t manage earlier, but the official tour ends this week. For today, Juli wanted me to talk about, as I wrap up, what I want people to know about my book.
There are so many things, and yet I find it hard to actually put anything into words. I want people to know how much delight I take in what I do, how much I love my characters and creating great worlds and stories. I want my readers to know that I write for them every bit as much as for myself, and that I will endeavor to never let them down. I want people to know that I began this story because I have a passion for this world and this story, and I intend to see it through. And that I’ll do my best to make it bigger and deeper and a worth escaping into.
Mostly, I want people to simply know that this story exists and that, even if they don’t want to
or can’t follow this journey with me now, it will be there whenever they do want to. Like great
dystopian stories, I’m here to stay. 
Thanks so much to all my wonderful blogger friends and all my supportive readers. I hope we
can all be part of one another’s world in one way or another for a very long time.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Review: 'Zofloya, or the Moor' by Charlotte Dacre

Everyone who knows me, knows I don't really appreciate Gothic fiction.  I tried to read 'The Italian' by Ann Radcliffe and had to abandon it halfway through because it really wasn't my taste. But I didn't have a lot of choice when it came to the reading list for my module 'Studying Literature'. 'Zofloya' was on there and it was there to stay.
The novel follows Victoria's progress from spoilt daughter of indulgent aristocrats, through a period of abuse and captivity, to a career of deepening criminality conducted under Satan's watchful eye. Charlotte Dacre's narrative deftly displays her heroine's movement from the vitalized position of Ann Radcliffe's heroines to a fully conscious commitment to vice that goes beyond that of 'Monk' Lewis's deluded Ambrosio. 
Reading when you don't want to read can be really difficult, so I approached this novel with as much of an open mind as possible. One of the best things about this novel is that it is set in Venice. I adore Venice, so that was a plus-point. But then, in the tradition of Gothic fiction, the city was quickly abandoned for ruined castles and the country side. Gothic novels thrive on the supernatural, the damsels in distress and the heroic men. 'Zofloya' is different in two out of those three aspects. Yes, there is the supernatural, sometimes hidden away as a reference and sometimes out in the open. The main character however, Victoria, seems to break all the conventions. She is a very active character, desperate to make her own destiny, but only because she feels entitled to it. It is hard to like her or wish for her to succeed because, from the very first page on, Dacre condemns her as a spoilt brat and she never truly recovers from this. Also, no matter how active she is, she still depends severely on the character Zofloya to get anything done.

Many of the characters, all of them really, are severely flawed and yet Dacre has not taken the time to truly elaborate on their flaws or virtues. If Victoria is the complete opposite of a typical Gothic heroine, then Lilla is the perfect, bare template. She lacks character, incentive and is very unrealistic. Victoria's mother, Laurina, is blamed for everything bad that happens in the novel, as if her original sin (pun intended) created every other sin that follows later on. Rather than use her characters to get her messages across, Dacre has personified her message and as a consequence the novel seems overly preachy at some points. She occasionally interrupts the narrative to play Captain Obvious and redirect our attention to a different character. The ending is one big chapter of confusion, at least to me. It seems as if, after spending pages on Victoria's emotional state, Dacre decided she had enough and brought together all the story lines in one cave. I will not tell you what the major twist is, even though it wasn't that spectacular in my opinion. The ending felt rushed and incomplete and left me wondering why I just read this book.

There have been many different interpretations if this book, both in a feminist and a racist light. Do I think it is bad that Zofloya is a Moor and therefore black? No, as a Moor Zofloya is an impressive, male character, especially when compared to the other men in the book. Had he been a Scandinavian lumberjack his character would have completely failed. Also, he is the 'other' in the story, he has to be different in order to form a proper contrast to the other characters. As I already mentioned, I do not think this novel is particularly feminist. It is a Gothic novel, by definition it is rather unfeminist. Yes, Victoria is quite active but she is utterly enslaved to her passions and therefore weak.

Overall I give this novel...

2 Universes!!!

Sometimes a novel simply isn't to your taste. Yes, it is an amusing read if you like over-dramatised narratives and characters that act irrationally. For study it was perfect because it both shows and reverses Gothic stereotypes. Would I read this again? No. Do I recommend it? Not really, no.

Have you read 'Zofloya'? Was it to your taste or do you agree?

Bulgakov's Friday

I have really missed being part of the Friday memes, so here is me returning to the arms of the blogosphere!
This week I am reading 'The Master and Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakov. Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and  F56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

'At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the Patriarch's Ponds. One of them, approximately forty years old, dressed in a grey summer suit, was short, dark-haired, plump, bald, and carried his respectable fedora hat in his hand. His neatly shaven face was adorned with black horn-rimmed glasses of a supernatural size.'
'And here it seemed to him that a whiff of some putrid dankness was coming in under the office door. Shivers ran down the findirector's spine. And then the clock also rang out unexpectedly and began to strike midnight. And even its striking provoked shivers in the findirector. But his heart definitively sank when he heard the English key turning quietly in the lock. Clutching his briefcase with damp, cold hands, the findirector felt that if this scraping in the keyhole were to go on any longer, he would break down and give a piercing scream.'
Ok, perhaps I didn't stick to just one line per meme, but I just really liked all of these sentences so I felt like I should post them all!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee, and this week's question is:

Is there anything as a newbie blogger that you've done, that as you gained more experience you were like -- oops?

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowI think I do more wrong now than I did at the beginning. I was really on top with posting every day and reviewing a lot, not forgetting when what should be posted. And now I sort of get caught up in life and I forget to review the books when I actually finish them! What I did do at the beginning that I no longer do is review books that I don't really like. At the beginning I was just really happy to be allowed to read books, if that makes sense, now I pick more carefully so that I review books I know I can be critical, but positive, about.

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Ramblings of a Coffee-Addicted Writer. This week's question:
You're going on a long train ride. What books will you bring to read?

Well, I would bring my Kindle because it is my walking library! I just got a new skin for it, which sound scarier than it is. I guess I should narrow this question down on which books on my Kindle I would read. At the moment I'm reading 'The Master and Margarita', so I would continue reading that. I also have a craving to reread 'Wuthering Heights' after we discussed 'Jane Eyre' in one of my modules this week. I just love that book too much. I have been wanting to finish 'Breakfast of Champions' for weeks now, so I should probably get onto that too! How long a train ride are we talking about? I once went on a 10 hour one, that should be enough to finish at least 'Breakfast of Champions' and 'The Master and Margarita', right?

So, how about you on this splendid day?