Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Fandoms, Why They Matter

Most of us will have had the experience of loving something and finding others who share that sentiment. For many people it is one of the first times we really feel included in a group, feel part of something special and feel the drive to share and create. We have entered a fandom. Below I have taken a look at three different fandoms, those that still create, the ones that pay homage and those that seem to allow grown up women to become little girls fawning over their Prince Charming.

Unlike others, I do not think that fandoms truly started with the rise of the Internet. Long before the Internet, people got together and shared their love and passion. Whereas it is now more international, connecting people from different continents, it was, perhaps, more binding back in the day. There would always be those people in your town who loved the same band as you. You could meet up, listen to their songs and listen to them again. Read the lyrics, memorise them, discuss them, feel them. Comraderie could be found in sharing a love for something. It served as a tool of defining yourself. Where you a Rolling Stones fan or a Beatles fan? And it was not as divisive as it might sound because even though the "others" might not love what you loved, at least they knew what it was like to love. In other fans you recognised the same kind of feeling and that was something to rejoice in. Fandoms are crucial to the artists themselves. They are the loyal bunch, who will stay with a band or a novel or a film over the years. They will go to every gig, they will read the book to their kids or watch the film continuously. Without this backbone, many artists would have failed. Not only are they a source of income, they are an inspiration. 

Look at the Star Wars fans, a fandom created long before the Internet became accessable to the masses. All it took was one film to come out and it changed the way the movie industry works and the way fans operate. The Star Wars fandom is one that, on the first glance, isn't very exuberant or flashy. It is a strong under current in the fans' lives and forms a real community. Sure, we have the occassional spats when the "original" fans decide to hate on Jar Jar again. But we are the fandom that builds its own costumes, creates our own 501st Legions and unites over discussion of good, evil and the grey middle section. 1977 sparked societies, merchandise and true involvement with the Star Wars Universe itself. Books, comics, music, art, sports, all of these have been ways in which people have expressed their love and understanding of Star Wars. And they have influenced the way Star Wars exists. The books are canon, their characters and storylines feature in the existing and future Saga. If a certain character is picked up by the fans, the big shots at Lucas Films, and now Disney, are bound to notice. And this is where a new evolution has taken place. Fans realise their power, now that they have become international. Surely they were aware of each other before, but now people can reach out to each other across borders and organise events or action unlike any before. An ongoing example is the demand to continue the Clone Wars series, after Disney pulled the plug. Fans from across the world are sending in their padawan braids in protest. If it will work, who knows. But the fans are making themselves known.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Fountainhead Friday

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
Another Friday, another Follow Friday question. Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question:

Is there a song that reminds you of a book? Or vice versa? What is the song & the book?

This is actually quite difficult! Usually when I hear a song I might suddenly think if a book, but there isn't one particular book or song that always come together in my mind. I do have songs that remind me of "things". 'Died in Your Arms Tonight' by Cutting Crew always reminds me of summer because there was a summer 3 or 4 years ago where I listened this song on repeat for hours upon hours. That man's voice did things to me!

I might go for a really boring (and wrong) answer and say that the Lord of the Rings soundtrack fits perfectly with both the book and the movie. Reading the book while listening to the soundtrack is simply gorgeous and I recommend it to EVERYONE!

I'm currently reading Ayn Rand's 'The Fountainhead' and loving it! The  way people always complain about the book and Rand herself, I had expected something...well, different. But it is actually very good. So I decided to use it for Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice).

Book Beginnings

'HOWARD ROARK laughed.He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozenexplosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The waterseemed immovable, the stone--flowing. The stone had the stillness of one briefmoment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pausemore dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays.'
Originally, I just wanted to quote the first line because it's a great opener in itself. But I simply love the two or three paragraphs that come after. But rather than subject you to all three, here's the first one. I think it is simply beautiful!

Friday 56
'A few commissions had dribbled into their office in the past year, country cottages, garages, remodeling of old buildings. They took anything. But the drops stopped. The pipes were dry. The water had been turned off by a society to whom Cameron had never paid his bill.'
I especially love the last line. You can hardly feel sorry for Cameron since he never "paid his bill" and yet it is terribly tragic. Also, the characters are architects, that's why they're talking about commissions.

So, what music are you listening to while reading? Leave a link or tell me in the comments!

Monday, 22 April 2013

'I Can Carry You': Samwise Gamgee and why I love him!

When people are asked who their favourite 'The Lord of the Rings'-character is, the answer is often Aragorn or Legolas, yet I have, thankfully, found that I am not the only one whose answer to that question is Samwise Gamgee. Whereas the movies and books have always been able to make me cry, I have found that more often than not it is because of Sam. In my eyes he represents everything that is right in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Before describing the character, I think enormous credit should be given to Sean Astin. He gave an incredible performance, especially in 'The Return of the King' and I feel he hasn't been praised and awarded enough for it. He is very much the heart of the film. Now, back to Sam.

One of Sam's key positions is as Frodo's retainer. It is a role that is found in many Old English and Middle English texts. The lord's retainer was held at high esteem and mourned after severely if he passed. Frodo might not be your stereotypical lord of the mead hall, but he is Sam's lord. This type of relationship was mirrored in the World Wars between an Officer and his Batman (not that one). The batman was much more of a servant, responsible for the luggage and horses for example, yet it was a desirable position. I think we can recognize some of this in Sam, considering his love for the ponies. In the Second World War, where Tolkien got his inspiration for this relationship, many social boundaries were fading. On the battle field, this relationship quickly became the only glimpse of home these men still beheld. I think this is also reflected in Sam and Frodo. Sam becomes Frodo's home. I think everyone who has seen the films remembers the scene on the slopes of Mount Doom. 'Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?' Although this scene is different in the book, it very much carries the same meaning. Where Frodo is slowly consumed by the war between himself and the One Ring, Sam brings back the memories of home, the human touches to life that make the bleakest sky light up. But Sam does not just represent Hope for Frodo, but also for the reader. There is one beautiful quote in 'The Return of the King' which shows Tolkien's purpose for Sam beautifully:
"Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Through Sam, the reader can see the hope that lies beyond the immediate situation. Whereas we might see other characters fail, through their own fault or no, Sam does no wrong because his ulterior motive is always pure love. He travels with Frodo not because he so desires, but out of friendship and love, and perhaps some pushing from an old wizard. He is the unrelentless drive within human beings to always strive on and improve their situation. Where others give up hope, Sam sees a star and a way forward.
"Come, Mr. Frodo!' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!"
There is an unrelenting strength in Sam, that makes him crucial to the development of the plot.

Speaking of plot, this is where I will make my final stand in this fangirl post. 'The Lord of the Rings' is an incredible meta-textual book. This basically means that the nature of writing and stories is discussed within a story. Inception, but then on a literate level. Take this excerpt from 'The Two Towers' for example:
"'Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We're in one, or course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring! " And they'll say: "Yes, that's one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave. wasn't he, dad?" "Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that's saying a lot."'
Sam is able to see events unfold and see the beauty and worth in them and that makes him special to Tolkien. He, in many ways, leads the plot on by pushing Frodo on and, in perhaps a genius move, Sam finishes the novel. 

"He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said” "
Sam leads us back to the Shire after Frodo can no longer go on. He has a strength that is rooted in his love for home, for simplicity. He wants to return, even if he will not be the same. Although he is forever changed, he returns and therefore wins. He remains undefeated by the shadow that seemed to pervade everything. He sees and is the light for ever beyond the reach of any kind of evil. And that is why I love him so much. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Freaky Friday

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowI am seriously running out of titles for these Friday posts but I simple do not want to number them, because I would never be able to keep track. First three weeks would be fine and then suddenly 'Friday 22'! But let's set my incompetence aside and focus on these memes! Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee

Q: If you could hang out with any author (living) who would it be and what would you want to do?

If I could only pick living authors I would probably go for a dinner party rather than just one author. Not only is there more food, but there's more authors. I would definitely invite Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I'd just force him to tell me how he writes so beautifully. I mean, it just isn't fair the way he uses words and crafts fantasy! I would also invite J.K. Rowling. That's a no-brainer right there! She wouldn't even have to do anything, I'd just be her personal slave for the entire evening out of endless gratitude. That woman has given me so much throughout my childhood that I'd make her whatever she wants for dinner, even if it has mushrooms in it! Umberto Eco would be another one. There is no one, in my humble opinion, who writes about the Middle Ages this well. In case you can't remember what he wrote, 'The Name of the Rose' is his. He is also funny, which is always good when entertaining guests. I'm going to limit myself to four guests. And with the last one I am going to break the rules. Number four is George Lucas. I realise he hasn't, as such, written books, but there is hardly a movie out there that is drenched deeper in mythology and legend than the Star Wars trilogies. People often miss this fact because they cannot see past the label of 'Sci-Fi', but I just want to pick his brain about so many different things! And I owe him just as much, if not more, as J.K. Rowling. My childhood was the better for his imagination.
And in case one of them had something better to do than eat my food, as if, my extra choice would be John Green. I haven't read any of his books, don't hate me please, but he seems really funny and I definitely want to read one of his books soon!

Today I decided to use 'Catch 22' by Joseph Heller for Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice). 

Catch-22At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn't even met are trying to kill him. His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
Book Beginnings
'It was love at first sight.'
It's just such a lovely way to begin a novel. It also tells you a lot about the main character, so that's good! And I think it is very hopeful, which makes me automatically hopeful for the novel. And let's face it, it is 'Catch 22', so I doubt I'll be disappointed.

Friday 56
‘Captain Yossarian requests permission to speak to the major at once about a matter of life or death,’ he repeated determinedly.  ‘Permission denied,’ Major Major snapped.
Don't be ridiculous Yossarian, we have more important things to deal with than matters of life or death! This novel really is making me laugh at times, Yossarian is just really funny at times.

SO, who are your author guests? Leave a link in your comment so I can see you answers or tell me in the comment itself!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

WWW Wednesday's

WWW_Wednesdays4I wanted to do a meme today but because I'm so bad at keeping up with new releases I decided to try something different from Waiting on Wednesday and so I found WWW Wednesday's, hosted by Should Be Reading.

To Play along, just answer the following three questions...

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish?
  • What do you think you'll read next?

So, here we go:
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading, or at least trying to read, 'To The Lighthouse' by Virginia Woolf. I am going back to University on Sunday and I have a lecture first thing on this book on Monday, so I should probably step up my act. But whenever I think of University I first decide to do my essays! Priorities...

What did you recently finish reading?
This morning I finished reading 'Roman Tales' by Stendhal. I really enjoyed it, even though it was a very different read from anything I've read lately. I do really recommend it though, so check out the review here if you're interested.

What do you thin you'll read next?
I am actually not quite sure. I think I might start 'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller because it's a bit of a shame I still haven't read it! It is a classic after all and people keep referencing it in my lectures and seminars and I just sit there and nod, pretending I know what they mean!

So, how about you? What are your WWW? Leave a link in your comment and I'll come check out your answers!

Review: 'Roman Tales' by Stendhal, translated by Susan Ashe

I first noticed this book on NetGalley and when I read the description I decided I wanted to read it. Also, I am always intrigued by writers who write under a pseudonym, his real name was Marie-Henri Beyle. I have nurtured a new found love for short stories lately, so last night I finally got to indulging myself with this collection.
Revered by key literary figures including as Balzac and Mérimée, Stendhal is best known for his novels, but his shorter works were just as powerful. In this brand new translation, Susan Ashe brings his greatest Italian stories to the modern reader, whilst staying true to Stendhal’s style and brilliance.
The collection includes:
-    The Abbess of Castro-    Vittoria Accordamboni-    The Cenci-    Along with accompanying essays by Charles Dickens, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Stendhal himself.
Together, these stories convey Stendhal’s love of Italy and admiration for the society’s honesty, sincerity, and above all, passion. ‘Roman Tales’ will reaffirm Stendhal as one of the great French masters of the 19th Century.
Out of the three stories here translated, 'The Abbess of Castro' is the largest one, taking up almost half the novel. Elena di Campireali, our protagonist, is a young girl whose true love for Giulio Branciforti is spoiled by a proud father and a plotting mother who both consider themselves in a better position to judge than Elena herself. We also see the downfall of pride and stubbornness and it ends very Shakespearian, in death and misery. Stendhal is able to both write objectively and yet make the reader feel for his characters. He perfectly shows that in the real world there are no such things as black-and-white characters. Each one of them has motives that are both pure and base and often their means to achieve their goal are flawed at best. I  probably preferred this story to the other two because there was more of it, but also because although restrained, Elena is still, to a certain extent, active. She is also the only woman in this small collection who is able to take her life into her own hand and make demands, rather than rely on others, mainly men, to help her. I like that in a female character.

'Vittoria Accordamboni' is a mix between a 'who dunnit' and politcal intrigues. It is a nice cooler after the high passions of 'The Abbess' that preceeded it, but also sets the political tone for the next tale, 'The Cenci'. In essence, this is a family tragedy of epic proportions. Shakespeare would have had a field day, as would Freud probably. Again "translated" from an old source, it tells the tale of the life of Beatrice Cerci (portrait to the left) who like Vittoria really existed and was forced to deal with her father in a rather horrid way. This is, although perhaps the most gruesome, the holiest tale of the three, making Beatrice as pious as is possible considering the circumstances. It made me chuckle at times, although I doubt that was Stendhal or Ashe's intent.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Stendhal wrote. I have a weakness for anything old and his claim that he was translation 500 year old Latin sources was right up my alley. But whereas I like it, I can easily imagine that Stendhal's writing style alienated others. It is almost a chronicle style of writing, relaying events without colouring them in for the reader. Yet he is said to have been one of the first Realist writers, writing as early as the early 1800's. As Stendhal himself says:
'Therefore, kind reader, do not search in these pages for a striking style, shimmering with fresh allusions to fashionable modes of thought.' p. 91
Not withstanding his "impersonal" style of writing, Stendhal actually stands incredible close to the reader through his writing style. Take the quote below:
'Personally I would not have chosen to portray this character. I would have been satisfied with merely studying him because he is satanic rather than intriguing.' p. 115
He is here telling us of the truly despicable Francesco Cenci. His aversion for this character is also felt by the reader and author and reader bond in this mutual disgust. By relaying to us events already chronicled, Stendhal takes on the form of a storyteller, scaring his friends with terrible stories filled with love, passion and murder.

Credit should also be given to Susan Ashe, who did a great job at translating a work that itself claims to be a translation. Her writing makes the reading experience fluid and easy, despite the often factual information that is being relayed. Also very interesting was the introduction by Norman Thomas di Giovanni and the essays by Stendhal himself, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Dickens in the Appendices. These additions are very informative and truly offer more insight into the text without being obtrusive or too pretentious, as these essays sometimes are. 

Overall, I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Although I did really enjoy reading it, I do not know whether I'd reread it in the near future. I am a sucker for historical fiction and I guess this is as close to historical as fiction gets. I read it within an evening and a morning because the stories definitely generate a drive in you to find out how the story plays out. The interlinking and historical accuracy of the tales is also a bonus, in my eyes, and I think everyone could enjoy it as long as they approached it with an open mind. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Review: 'The Country Wife' by William Wycherley

This was one of the last plays I had to read for my Introduction to Drama module. I've still got one or two coming up, but I thought I'd review this one before I started reading those.
It is a satirical comedy sharply focussed on the follies, vices and hypocrisies of Restoration London through its central characters: the desperate Pinchwife; his naive wife; the sex-obsessed Horner and Lady Fidget's 'virtuous gang' of town ladies.
One of the first things that needs to be said about this play is that it is a Restoration comedy. The Restoration period is known for its freer, anti-Puritan approach. The monarchy had just been restored and was more flamboyant than it had ever been. Most plays written at the time were comedies of a, perhaps, questionable nature, both dealing loosely with sexuality and yet delivering social commentary quite satirically. The same is true for this play. 'The Country Wife' may seem trivial, and is for the largest part, yet it also comments on the hypocrisies of both city- and countrylife. 

As you may have seen from the blurb, characters have been given names to symbolise their characteristics. I myself have never really liked it. Of course names always reflect the characters because authors brood over those names long and hard, but this is simply too obvious for me. In drama many things are different from fiction writing, yet this seems like an easy way out. Pinchwife is peculiarly obsessed with his wife, Horner tries everything to get into a woman's pants and Mrs. Squeamish is...well, squeamish. 

The plot is severely hindered by its characters. Mrs. Pinchwife is incredibly annoying and blind. It is hardly funny. Clearly she is a satire of innocent country wenches that are brought to the big city, but there is hardly any merit to her. Her husband always finds himself on the wrong side of 'domestic abuse' track and you can hardly feel sorry for him to be stuck with such a wife. The only character with some sense in him is Horner and he therefore rules the play. All others are pawns in his game. 

It is hard to enjoy a play or book when you "have" to read it. And yet I can positively say that my dislike for this play does not stem from this. The play 'The Rover', also a Restoration comedy, was also required reading and yet I quite enjoyed it. Characters and dialogue were witty and the plot was interesting. It is a shame to see a play from the same time be its complete opposite. 

I give this play...

2 Universes!

It does not happen often that I truly dislike a play, but there was simply little to enjoy for me in 'The Country Wife'. It is a simply read that doesn't take very long. Scenes written for laughter are, on occasion, fun yet more often than not I found myself exasperated. All I can do is pray that this play is not chosen for our exam next month.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Friday Memes and GIVEAWAY of 'Arabella's Shadows'!

Today I have an amazing giveaway for you: 'Arabella's Shadows' by Fleur Gaskin! Hop over here for more info and an excerpt and here's a synopsis:

Everything in Arabelle's life is coming together. She has confidence, great friends, she's even dating Naak, a wealthy Thai socialite. But there are too many models in Bangkok. Arabelle’s broke, she can’t find an agent in New York, and Naak isn’t as wonderful as he first appears. Slowly the Shadows creep back into Arabelle’s mind, bringing with them thoughts of hopelessness and despair. The vile Shadows know something Arabelle’s refusing to remember and, if she’s not careful, they’ll use it to destroy her. Based on a true story, Arabelle’s Shadows takes us on a journey through the struggles of growing up, not quite making it as an international model, and attempting to overcome a crushing depression.

Does that sound like your kind of book? Then join the giveaway and win a free E-book of 'Arabella's Shadows'!

  • A follow would be greatly appreciated but is NOT required
  • Leave your email and name in a comment
  • And hope you win!
The Giveaway is open until Monday!
Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
And now, onto the memes. Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read and this weeks' qst is:

Have you ever read a book that you thought you would hate -- ? Did you end up hating it? Did you end up loving it? Or would you never do that?

I have started books, even though I thought I might despise them. One of them was 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' by Stieg Larsson. Everyone had read it and was raving about it and there was a movie coming out so I decided there was no better way to spend my week of freedom than to read the Millenium trilogy. I finished 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' the same day. The same thing happened with the sequel, 'The Girl who played with Fire'. I took a bit longer, 2 days, with the final one, but I truly enjoyed it.

Although I think the saying 'Don't judge a book by its cover' (what else are you supposed to judge a book by if not the cover and backside?), I do think that you need to give books a try if you think there is a chance you might enjoy it. For that reason I started reading the Mortal Instruments series. Unfortunately, I wasn't that amazed by it. I quite liked it, it was fun, but there were plot holes as gaping as the hole in my wallet and I only really liked one character.

For the next two memes, Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader, and Friday 56, hosted by Freda's VoiceBB is from 'Breakfast of Champions' and F56 is from 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.

'This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.'
This is such an understated way of starting such a genius novel. And it is an indication of how funny it is as well!

'You should say the first romance of your life. You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.’
Harry is such a terrible influence on Dorian, but the sentiment here is almost nice!

So, how about your memes? Don't forget to join the giveaway, all you have to do is leave your email and name in a comment! Good Luck :)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Spotlighting: 'Arabella's Shadows' by Fleur Gaskin

Today I'm spotlighting 'Arabelle's Shadows' by Fleur Gaskin. Gaskin has written an amazing book, reflecting our modern obsessions with our looks in a contemporary coming-of-age story.
Everything in Arabelle's life is coming together. She has confidence, great friends, she's even dating Naak, a wealthy Thai socialite. But there are too many models in Bangkok. Arabelle’s broke, she can’t find an agent in New York, and Naak isn’t as wonderful as he first appears. Slowly the Shadows creep back into Arabelle’s mind, bringing with them thoughts of hopelessness and despair. The vile Shadows know something Arabelle’s refusing to remember and, if she’s not careful, they’ll use it to destroy her. Based on a true story, Arabelle’s Shadows takes us on a journey through the struggles of growing up, not quite making it as an international model, and attempting to overcome a crushing depression.
Author Bio:

Fleur Gaskin is from New Zealand. She was an international model for six years, working in over ten countries, mainly in Asia and Europe. She has been in TV commercials, walked on runways and done many print jobs including Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue magazines.
She presently lives in Shanghai, China with her fiancé.

Connect on FB and Goodreads, or check it out on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Smashwords and more

And check back tomorrow for a GIVEAWAY of 'Arabella's Shadows'!

Excerpt of 'Arabella's Shadows':

I awoke to find myself on a lumpy bed so big I'd turned myself horizontal in the night. In the bathroom I discovered there was no toilet paper, no towels. My stomach was grumbling and my mouth parched. I was desperate for water but wise enough to know not to drink from the tap.
The night before Fa had told me I wasn’t going to be in the show. “You are not ta??? enough.” She repeated herself a couple of times but still to this day I have no idea if she said you are not tall enough or you are not Thai enough. Honestly I think she was just being kind. It must have been because I wasn’t good enough, period. I should’ve tried my best on the catwalk instead of pretending to not care. But even then, who knows if they would’ve taken me.
As the entire agency was busy with the show I was left to look after myself for the weekend. From my small concrete balcony I could see what looked like a shopping mall. I pulled on shorts and a singlet and headed out to find it.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Review: 'Breakfast of Champions' by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of ChampionsI decided to read this book purely because of its title. It is the first Vonnegut I have read, so I decided to judge by the cover, or, since I read it on my Kindle, by the title on the cover. I am very glad to have read it because it has truly been a reading experience like no other.
In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s  most beloved characters, the aging writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth.

Vonnegut himself is central to this book. He is the one remaining factor throughout the whirlwind of characters, events and opinions that are thrown at the reader. He provides us with pictures and thoughts while we're reading, lighting upon almost everything we know or believe to know about America. The New York Times review said the following about the novel and I wholeheartedly agree:
'He wheels out all the latest fashionable complaints about America...and makes them seem fresh, funny, outrageous, hateful, and lovable, all at the same time. '
Remembering that this novel was written in the 1970s is almost a shock, considering how current some of its ideas seemed to me. Everything from racism to obesity is touched upon and discarded after analysis and judgement. The plot itself seems rather simple and any true action that we "see" takes place within a day or two. The rest of the novel is histories of characters or random thoughts that sweep the reader away from the main plot and return him later, much or less the wiser.

For a large part of the novel there seems to be no point to its existence. From almost the very first page, the reader knows the conclusion of the novel. Vonnegut doesn't hide the end from us but gives it to the reader in advance. He himself said 'To Hell with suspense.' And yet the way the plot plays out is fascinating. I found myself interrupted many times while reading this novel but never once did I consider just leaving it and moving on. I wanted to know what else Vonnegut would show, what he truly thought about his own characters. And I was hardly surprised when he himself showed up in his novel. In an interview, Vonnegut, in my eyes, revealed how a work as this could be created.
"I was really surprised when Karabekian said what he did about the band of light."
What Karabekian says about the band of light is, in my eyes, a key to the heart of the novel. It is one of the moments in 'Breakfast of Champions' where everything becomes very clear and the reader and Vonnegut are able to look through the clutter of everyday life that permeates the pages and see, for mere seconds perhaps, life for what it is. The fact that this came about as a surprise for Vonnegut himself makes it all the more beautiful. Outside of his knowledge, life was revealing itself to him and through him to us.

I am almost sorry to have finished this novel because it is an amusing mix between laugh-out-loud moments and moments of realization. It is both fiction and auto-biography, both personal to Vonnegut and universal. I have no doubt that in rereading this novel I will discover much more, not only about Vonnegut but also about the novel itself. Perhaps a warning should come with this novel. You have to have the trust to follow Vonnegut wherever he takes you. He is in command of the story, even though the characters escape him at times. Don't expect this novel to be a neatly wrapped present that will reveal itself easily and not leave you without questions. This novel is a glimpse into life and as such it hardly could have a satisfying, final ending. I will end this review the way he ended his novel.


I give this novel...

5 Universes!

It is a masterpiece. No more needs to be said.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Review: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

'The Picture of Dorian Grey' is one of those books you will eventually hear of and desperately want to read. But, like me, there is a chance you will perhaps not find the time or get distracted by life before you are able to truly lose yourself in the London Wilde creates. But thank God for those quiet evenings where you are the only one still awake and you can sit on the couch with a glass of wine and immerse yourself in Wilde's writing and read the novel within hours. 
Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged; petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral; while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying, enchanting, obsessing, even corrupting readers for more than a hundred years. 
Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Grayis not only a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde’s fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed “Art for Art’s Sake.”
I greatly enjoyed Oscar Wilde's plays, which are such a perfect example of wit and intense scrutiny of human behaviour coming together. Wilde has an eye for character, which comes across perfectly in his plays. He wrote only one published novel, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and I couldn't help but wonder whether his writing style would work in this form of literature. In some aspects plays are easier than novels. The audience is aware of the artificiality of what they are reading, or especially when they see it performed. The reader approaches a play differently to a novel. Whereas we want to be swept away by a novel and want to believe what is written in its pages, we remain, mostly, on the outside of a play. We may sympathise with the characters, but we regard them rather than become them. 

I believe that, in some ways, Wilde suspected the same. Much of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is devoted to explaining the characters' moods and actions and feelings. In a play, you would see these through actions or perhaps through a soliloquy, but it doesn't happen often in novels that a character talks to himself for pages upon pages. An actor addresses the audience, and therefore the soliloquy works. A character, as such, does usually not address the reader. Therefore we know much about how Dorian Gray feels, or at least how he thinks he feels, but we don't see much action. Some novels are descriptive in the sense that they convey action and let the reader fill in the thoughts and emotions. Wilde focuses
 in on Gray and his soul and allows the reader to imagine the actions that contributed tot he decay of the latter. 

Much has been written about the context of the novel and of how it mirrors Wilde himself. Therefore I do not think I need to detail that, except to express a hope for Wilde that his life was not like Gray's. What I loved about the novel and what fascinated me was the way Wilde uses language to express emotion, desire and thought. His slight misogyny aside (I am not surprised he was gay, if this is how he thought of us women), Wilde creates beauty with language:
'Soul and body, body and soul - how mysterious they were! There was animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who could say where the fleshy impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began.' p. 71
or dispenses wisdom with it:
'To get back my youth I would do anything int he world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.' p. 238.
It is a true joy to read something so both ridiculous and true. The reader is very much at Wilde's mercy throughout 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. In some ways the plot moves very slow, too slow compared to the character development we see. On the other hand, years pass of which we only see or hear glimpses. However, when the final page has come, the culmination of everything has occurred, there is a feeling that you have witnessed something. We have seen youth and innocence be corrupted, we have seen Gray fight his inner and outer demons unsuccessfully, his largest corrupter himself. And throughout all of this, you have spend a great evening, resting on a couch with a classic in your hands.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

This novel is a true classic and very enjoyable. The many intertextual links are bound to get literature fans excited. For Wilde fans it is, of course, a must read. His talent is ever present and his talent for staging dramatic events makes it the best "Gothic" novel I have read in a very long time. 
Have you read 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?