The Autumn of Jane Austen

The thing about Jane Austen is that as of the end of 2016, I had never read any of her novels. Which means that I never got Jane Austen references, or Jane Austen jokes, which really started to chafe. And so I decided to remedy that; from end-October to Christmas I read all of them in this order:

25-27 October 2016 | Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen | 4 stars

25-28 November 2016 | Emma by Jane Austen | 3 stars

29-30 November 2016 | Persuasion by Jane Austen | 3 stars

9-10 December 2016 | Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen | 3 stars

14 December 2016 | Mansfield Park by Jane Austen | 3 stars

22 December 2016 | Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen | 4 stars

I enjoyed these books. Perhaps not my favourite genre, but the writing was good and I did keep on reading, the characters were well-developed, my favourite being Fanny Price from NA.

Another great thing was that I had the lot in my stash of TO-BE-READ books.

If, like me, you never read these or have resisted reading them, they’re worth it. If you have and want MORE, then check out Elisabeth Gaskell, she is also great.

Happy reading,

AF

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Stiff—Mary Roach

The first thing I want to say is that I wanted this book for a long time before actually having it in my possession. It was THE ONE BOOK I was looking for during the time that Chapters was closing and I never found the copy that they supposedly had according to their website. In the end, (Pun not quite intended!) I picked it up at Indigo.

Anyway, yes. Stiff by Mary Roach—a book about what happens to human bodies post-mortem.

Tell me it’s morbid if you must, and I partially agree—I have to read this book in the morning or afternoon, it’s not something I necessarily want to read before bed. With this vivid imagination of mine I’ll end up dreaming of body parts—which I sort of do sometimes anyway—and I am working on a poetry collection about dreams so at least I am putting my euphoria and horrors to good use. In this case, definitely horrors. A lot of people are afraid of death & decay, and I feel that if people become more informed, they will become, as a result, less afraid.

In my case I just find it fascinating.

 

Horns—Joe Hill

Although I started Horns by Joe Hill (2010) last October for a little Hallowe’en fun, I went on a writing streak while taking a two-month poetry workshop, and ended up setting it aside for a while. I find it irksome to do that but sometimes it’s unavoidable! When the workshop ended in December I made myself a pile of the reading I had to catch up on and this book was amongst them.

It’s about a young man that grows horns. I won’t provide more of a synopsis here because I would not want to spoil the plot, but I will encourage those who like this dark  subject matter to read it. I very much enjoyed the writing, the conceit, and the non-linear execution. I enjoy, and maybe even favour third person limited.

I do have a favourite scene–which involve snakes, fire, and a monologue. Dark? Definitely. But so very complex at the same time; it was not just scary for the sake of fear, it was scary that included a certain, I want to say buildup of feelings and reasoning behind it.

Joe Hill’s first book won the Bram Stoker award for best first novel in the category of Horror, however, psychological thriller is what I would call Horns; there is mystery and intrigue, a love triangle (spoiler alert!), and a delving into human nature, which I am afraid, is not very positive.

On a side note, the book includes a short story that was also published in the compilation Stories by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio that is worth a browse.
Happy reading,

AF

Update—July 2016

Last week, I saw the film based on Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe, and I thought it was true enough to the book that I can say it was good. Things are missing and things are added, but that is only a natural part of the process of book-to-movie.

You—Caroline Kepnes

Because I have mixed feelings about this novel, I spent yesterday evening—after finishing the book—wondering if I should write a post about it at all. It’s possible and even probable that I will be flip-flopping, so please bear in mind that I don’t have a fully-formed opinion about it yet. It could be that in writing this post—which I have obviously decided to write—that I will end with something somewhat cohesive.
It’s the first book of its kind that I have read—and by its kind, I mean a novel about a stalker. I should elucidate: a stalker whose main tool for accomplishing said stalking is his use of the internet and social media. It gets points from me for originality, but I am sure there are many other books about stalkers that I have not read, and I am sure there will be more, from this author or from others.
I need to mention that this book needed to be written, because internet privacy is inexistent and people don’t seem to be conscious of it, myself included. It is necessary to know about privacy and I think young girls should read it—hoping of course that the intertextuality and music references don’t go over their heads!

There are definitely things about this novel that deserve praise, and one of them is the genuine psychological traits of each character. Everyone’s got something, and if that’s not true to life then I don’t know what is, though I feel like the parts of characters we see are the tip of the iceberg. Again, that’s true to life, though in fiction I think we like to get more information as quickly as possible so that we feel we know the characters inside and out. This is not always possible with real people in real life.

So. Narration. I had a hard time getting into this book because it is written in the second person and I find the tone off-putting and accusatory. After getting a quarter of the way through, I got used to the style and I understand why it was done that way, but that is not to say that I liked it any better after that point.

In fact, I didn’t.

So the thing about a book and about having a narrator at all is that there is a narraror, and one must be aware of that and understand that the story is being told from the perspective of someone. That someone might not even necessarily be the author either, and generally isn’t. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, but Death did not write the book, but Markus Zusak did, writing as Death, so we have the sensibilities of both the author and the narrator. Someone who writes a memoir is the narrator though, so you are only seeing through one sensibility, which is definitely not to say that it is more reliable a text. Because the narrator could be a persona or construction of the author, not only is a story and is written down and thus removed from immediacy and fact, it is also removed by the fact that there is a narrator and we are always wondering about how reliable that narrator is.

So the narrator. Let’s open that can of worms.

The particular narrator in this novel is a stalker and a murderer, though we don’t know the latter initially. It is in the first person and in the present tense so there are sentences like “You are texting me right now.” but in actual fact it would be hard for him to be walking down the street reading a text, answering the text, and on top of it writing the novel that we as readers are reading. He is supposed to be 17 and yet he is the manager of a bookstore. It seems to me that he is a lot older than he says he is, and his confidence and prowess mirror that assumption. And holy crow, does the guy have spare time. But I guess that is a must for a stalker.

If he was in his mid-to-late-twenties I would have found it more believable, but it does not take much to distrust a narrator. Not that I trust him at all—he is a stalker—and all the psyclological baggage that goes along with being one.

I imagine it was a complicated piece to write, and all things said, very well done. It might not jive with me but it probably took lots of planning—and lots of guts—to write.

To talk a bit about the main female character and object of the narrator’s obsession, Beck, is in the process of getting her MFA and it got me a little bit worked up because all it seemed like she was doing was sleeping around and only writing an eensy weensy bit. I’m not sure. I got through my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing in Literature and it was hard, and I assume a Master’s is harder and more pointed, more focused, and so on. Do we see her actually writing anything, anything she herself thinks is worthy? A writer needs to be a ‘writer who writes’ and works hard and I am not convinced she is who she is portrayed to be, but that also ties in to the reliability of the narrator. I saw her more as a college student taking a writing class that she loves, but as I said, we see through his filter.

Beck’s first name is Guinevere, invoking that great beauty, and of course, adultery.

Please take this post lightly. The book did not make me feel good in any way, and I didn’t like any of the characters, but despite that I feel like it is one of those creepy books that stays in your mind for a long time, and some people consider those retained memories a part of what makes a book good. I think a book like this is supposed to make a person feel uncomfortable and gross. If it makes someone feel good…I would start to worry about them.

Also this quote:

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

The commentary on human nature is—what can I say? Frightening.

When I finished it, to my shock, there was a snippet of the sequel. I’m not going to read it but I am going to start counting my knickers.

Best and until next time,

AF

The Girl on the Train—Paula Hawkins

Spoiler Alert! Read no further if you plan to read this novel—which I suggest you do and then come back and read this post!

I am pleased to report that I spent the entire day reading The Girl on the Train and I have to say that it was mostly due to the fact that it was Saturday and the fact that I COULD NOT STOP! It reminded me of the jumpy timeline of The Dinner by Herman Koch but with just the right amount of information—with Koch’s I felt that I was out of the loop somehow. I am not going to delve into why that is, but I felt like I had better balance. The only thing that pulled me out of the narrative at times was the present-future tense being used that was really difficult to wrap my head around but I realise that there was no real way to have written the story otherwise—but as a reader, I was getting a picture of both present and future because we know that a girl got murdered yet she is talking in the present. She is murdered early on in the story and towards the end of the book, she is telling us about what is happening right now, as if she had a pen the moment she was being attacked. It’s all very sophisticated and must have been a pain in the tush to plan, but I still find it off-putting. That is not to say that it’s not a good read! It is! But for the sake of reliability I had to mention it. Let’s just say that I knew I was reading a book. Nothing wrong with that really! But some people would consider it distracting as I do.

I like past tense. Past tense is safe. But even then I am not sure that it would remedy this particular case. I don’t have a suggestion either. But I really did enjoy reading it and it was certainly a suspense novel. At one point near the end I had to sit up in bed my muscles were so tense. That MUST have been good for my brain somehow! (And now I am going to go read an article about how reading affects the brain in a million good ways, thus validating the hours I’ve given over to my reading habits today instead of, oh, hoovering and doing laundry:))

So—if you have not heeded the warning at the beginning of the article and have read through this, you’ve probably got no idea what I am talking about, but you will as soon as you read it.

Happy reading!

AF