Death in Venice, deathly menace

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Looking morbid… 

As Thomas Mann is a fellow German, I am glad that our nation -somewhat sidelined for engineering and precision- was represented in the literature-classics-to-be-read list. However having read Death in Venice, I now vote that it should be removed from said list, even if it means Germany is once again shunned.

Famously a short-story, I was expecting Death In Venice to be packed with electrifying plot twists and wildly unexpected turns. At 70 pages, there is plenty of room for a proper character arc and plot development, however it seems that Mann didn’t get the memo because he spent 47 pages just dwelling on the beauty and seeming greatness of Tadzio.

‘a page and a half of sublime prose based on Tadzio’s beauty—the purity, nobility, and quivering emotion tension of which would soon win the admiration of many’

Now I’m sure Aschenbach would have rejoiced at the modern era; Facebook and Instagram are the perfect tools for stalking certain individuals, and there would hardly be a millennial who would say that they weren’t guilty of this, but- an essay on Tadzio? The following of him around? The commitment to him even at the risk of death? It’s all very hyperbolic and excessive, which I understand is the point of Death In Venice so I cannot criticise that. What is problematic is the extent of time that Mann dedicates to the same scenes of wonder and adoration; of course content should reflect the feelings of the protagonist, but readers don’t need 70% of the book solely focusing on the description of a secondary character. It was unsurprising that Ascenbach would die in the end, as unfortunately Mann gave that away in the title, but I thought that the end still wouldn’t be so blindingly predictable? There are only so many ways that the protagonist could die, and dying cholera was the first and most probable on the list.

SUPPOSEDLY BRILLIANT WRITERS SHOULD NOT BE PREDICTABLE

If only Mann were alive to read this. He would learn so much. You see there is utterly no point in reading if the plot resolution can be visualised preemptively, otherwise the thrill and engagement aspects are eliminated, which are what makes the process so enjoyable in the first place. And as a short story, Mann has a particular duty to finish surprisingly or with a twist, but the death was obvious (again, title), so there was nothing to make up for the long drawn out descriptions. It is even difficult to find a climax at any point. So superficially, the book’s awful. It just blabbers on.

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me waiting for the part where it becomes interesting 

So, what are the deeper meanings? Can they save Mann and catapult him back into literary greatness? Clearly pederasty is a major theme and is ultimately what shot the story to fame. It is rarely discussed in a literary form now and even less then, and so many people are be fascinated by this notion of infatuation, and exploring this within the context of a book is a rather comforting way to deal with the problem. Paedophilia often haunts newspapers but is rarely spoken about as a society unlike murder or theft due to embarrassment or awkwardness, and so it seems that ultimately in the novella form allows people to see it and truly stare it into eyes, and sit by themselves and decide what they think of it and why, as discussion of the topic is somewhat limited. Fundamentally Aschenbach is a paedophile and it’s written from his perspective, but interestingly Aschenbach justifies his lust by comparing himself to the ancient Greeks, saying he was acting the warriors did then. Nice try, but the Greeks also forced women to wear veils and stay indoors, and I don’t Aschenbach endorsing that part of society. One cannot pick and choose parts of culture to emulate, if one is going to hold up that entire culture to form the basis as justification for what is a modern day crime.

The one redeeming feature of Death in Venice could be the cholera. Cholera was the sriracha to the otherwise bland bowl of rice the plot was. Ironically, in the opening Aschenbach longs for far-off countries with unconventional scenes and happenings. Guess what, Aschenbach didn’t have to go to India to experience the fun, India (in the form of cholera) came to him. (If cholera could be called fun. Who knows? Aschenbach lived a very sheltered life, so perhaps anything goes for the thrill-factor.) Cholera could even represent the way his lust for Tadzio consumes him, and even kills him; his emotions cause him to stay in Venice even when he knows it’ll eventually lead to his physical decline, just as chlorea actually leads to his death. It’s a double-edged symbol and rather fun once thought about. But Mann, there needs to be more than one turn per 70 pages. Come on now.

The secondary characters are worth considering, and although there is analysis, it’s not particularly mind-blowing. The man at the graveyard, for instance, is masculine with his bulging Adam’s apple and also hideous because of his ‘permanent facial deformity’. So he’s everything which Tadzio isn’t. This doesn’t mean that the Graveyard Man is a precursor or foreshadows the relationship, but if we’re searching amongst scraps for something to say to help merit Mann, then maybe it reveals that Aschenbach who is describing him, is only focusing the features which revolts him the most ? He craves youthfulness and beauty, so the antithesis of these attributes shock him and captures his attention. This line of argument applies to the man on the boat with the make-up, feigning adolescence whilst the ugliness part can be applied to the minstrel. Curiously, towards the end of the story, Aschenbach metamorphisms into that which he hates, and becomes more leering and even has that session in the salon to make himself seem younger, and then doesn’t seem like an imposter himself. Interesting.

There is plenty of Freudian analysis of Aschenbach online and in books, which will be doubtless more absorbing that what I can say because I have no interest whatsoever in investing that sort of time into a story I find dull. But what is captivating is the notion that Aschenbach is a queer contemporary icon. Of course, throughout history literature has not been exactly kind to the LGBT community, so icons are taken as they come, but Aschenbach is a problematic choice. He may claim pederasty at the best of times but morally his actions are perverse and ought to be treated as such, not exalted because of his sexuality. And in some ways, it does seem like Aschenbach is not actually gay, but more is in love with the concept of divine beauty, in whatever form that may be. Tadzio just happened to be extremely beautiful, and so Aschenbach craved the look and the form of Tadzio more than his personality or character, just like a sculptor admires a figure for the shape and dimensions as opposed to any emotional attributes. In many ways Tadzio could easily have been female, without any qualms to the plot, and then the plot would be relatively unchanged, but leave the world with one less icon.

 

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East of Eden – John Steinbeck

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So take a left at the T junction, go straight past Eden and then take the third exit at the roundabout. Then you’re East of Eden.

Steinbeck said that ‘everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this’ novel, and he was certainly correct in saying that East of Eden was the literary finale compared to all his previous works.

At a hefty 602 pages, it may seem daunting at first, but unlike many of other long novels (like Tess of the D’Urbervilles), the content deserves to sprawls across hundreds of pages. In fact, sprawl seems to the wrong word. Each word seems to be carefully chosen, like Steinbeck was a gardener picking only the best fruit that the English language could offer. It is remarkable to think how Steinbeck could even begin to plan a novel of this magnitude; in no places does it, like an under-baked pie, sag under the need to get to the next exciting event. All of the plot is gripping and thought-provoking, and the meanings span across so many levels. Although I may indeed regret saying this, (the old adage being careful what you wish for!), it seems that in spite of its length, this novel would be a joy to study as there is just so much to unpack.

The first thing to comment on is obviously the book’s namesake, East of Eden, referring to how the plot loosely links to the story of Adam and Eve and ultimately Cain and Abel. Adam is both Adam from the Book of Genesis and Abel; Charles is Cain. This makes sense because if Cyrus, their father, is God, then Cyrus’ rejection of Charles’ pocketknife and adoration of Abel’s stray puppy mirror wonderfully God’s praise for the lamb and hatred for the crops offered by Cain. Following this cruel dismissal from God, Cain famously kills Abel, and so Charles beats Adam almost to death, before running off to get a hatchet to finish Adam before he eventually escapes. Again Cain becomes marked by God to prevent others from killing him, and so Charles becomes scarred when working in his fields. Lastly Cain didn’t have any descendants whilst Adam did, which can be a direct parallel to the lives of Charles and Adam. The interesting thing about the way Steinbeck did this was that it was never glaring obvious that the two stories paralleled each other, nor was the next chapter ever predicatable, whilst still holding true to the Bible original.

Furthermore Adam and Cathy can be interpreted as Adam and Eve from the Bible. When considering the original sin, it can traced entirely back to Eve, as she was responsible for all the acts of wrongdoing in Eden due to the loss of the pair’s innocence. In this way, Cathy can be regarded as a solely evil character because of all the ‘monstrous’ manipulation, lying, cheating and murder she carried out in her lifetime. Scholars believe her to be a representation of a debased form of Eve, as she seduces men at every opportunity for her own means; for example, from framing her parents’ death without remorse, to using the whoremaster to engineer a better circumstance to herself, to her betrayal of Adam and ultimately her own kin. The list of the other devious happenings she organised goes on, but essentially it’s clear that Cathy is undeniably a gruesome and perhaps hyperbolic version of Eve in the context of the Book of Genesis.

The important thing to remember when reading East of Eden, too, is that it’s not necessarily meant to be realistic. The narrator even mentions that Cathy has a ‘deformity’ within her soul, meaning that she is crueler and harsher than an average person. Cathy is an exaggeration of humanity’s worst qualities and yet she is still somewhat plausible, in a twisted sort of way. It’s worth mentioning this just because many critics at the time of the novel’s publication argued that the characters were unruly and unimaginable, making this not such a fantastic read after all, but then again these same critics did believe a certain man to walk on water, and so these contradictions in what is plausible and what isn’t make their arguments rather hypocritical.

All in all, although I was initially quite unenthusiastic about taking the plunge into East of Eden, when I did I was amazed by the vivid characters and plot that lay before me. So come join me! The water’s lovely…

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

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A clear favourite amongst the Ayemenem locals

Roy’s breakthrough debut novel is more like poetry than literature; in the sense that most of it doesn’t make sense.

I have discovered from years of scouring award winning poems that a lot of their  imagery is not coherent in any way and yet somehow manages to capture the imagination of the judges. Roy’s novel should have won the attention of the public and the Man Booker committee, not because of imagery (of which there is a copious amount and so I dwell upon it), but in spite of it.

I can understand that the novel was singularly exceptional in the way that the caste system was handled, with the underlying political tension creating another area of conflict, as well as the looming fate of the infamous pickle factory, however I cannot understand the language used by Roy most of the time. As in: I cannot understand what she is trying to say. This is problematic, particularly because lots of phrases become epithets to characters or circumstances, so some level of coherency would be useful.

Here is a random example:

‘He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair

This sounds wonderful and indeed poetic, but it is rather nonsensical. So fear is the rose, right? So Rahel takes Velutha’s fear and makes it add to her beauty/ shows it off? Of course, as any self respecting literature scholar will know, you can always adjust the meaning of phrases, because no one has the ‘definitive’ meaning so if you shout loud enough then your opinion of a piece of imagery could be deemed somewhat plausible. So someone might say that Velutha makes himself vulnerable and turns his fears into a thing of beauty, because he is a powerful character who can create perfection from his own fallibility and in doing so Rahel respects his weaknesses and turns into something which complements her one of her own strengths, her beauty. You could say that. But we all know that that interpretation is rather whimsical and far-fetched, and yet many people would justify the relevance of this quote (and many others equally ridiculous) by saying that this was the true meaning.

Another example is:

blood spilt from the man’s head ‘like a secret’

Let’s break this down: a secret is a piece of information which must be concealed from individuals or groups for the threat of causing conflict. Blood cannot come from someone’s head like something which shouldn’t be discussed. The movement of blood isn’t like something that should be concealed, especially when one considers how much blood does actually appear from a head injury as this character as sustained, and how this actually is useful as it signals injury and therefore brings help. No one wants a severe injury to be hidden for fear of causing problems when they could be receiving medical tension and their life is at risk. Call me pedantic, but these examples (and I can list many more), prove that much of Arunhati’s imagery is at best parnassian and at worst unintelligible. I adore well-written books, just not when the language it pretentious and self-indulgent.

So why isn’t this terrible flaw pointed out more often?

Many people will go to the depths of the universe to defend Roy because they can relate to other parts of the plot and so want to defend the ENTIRE novel, instead of admitting there’s a few faults, to justify that they don’t like books with flaws. This aggravatingly works in their favour because literature is always ‘open to debate’, if you are willing to concede that ‘debate’ includes twisting things out of proportion and context to prove a point. In another instance people can simply skim past words and not step back and internalise them, and so although things may sound pleasant on the tip of their tongue, they may never truly think why Roy makes these bizarre comparisons. Worst of all, it may be because people honestly believe that they aren’t intelligent enough to understand the references, even when it’s a vague and poor reference that they’re dealing with, and so the problem is with the language and not their intellect.

The book does however has beautifully and vividly crafted characters, however it did take me almost the entirety of the plot to suddenly be able to differentiate them as they were introduced rather haphazardly all at once. It seems apparent that the plot in question only really starts to develop and come into its own in the latter stages of The God, mainly because the rest of the novel is so utterly character driven. This naturally places Roy’s piece in the ‘literature’ section of the Types Of Books scale, but it did seem a bit indulgent at times even for literature. For example, an author can go on and on with elaborately described scenes where characters are just brushing their teeth, but then it seems to be more for the author’s enjoyment then for the reader’s benefit, and as the book is being sold, it really ought to be more reader in mind than the writer.

Also, the incest part at the end? This was entirely unnecessary to the plot and quite abhorrent. Some argue that it’s to evoke a reaction that would be parallel to the Velutha/ Ammu relationship, so that Western reactions to the twins’ incest could be a template for Untouchable/ Touchable relationship, as there is no caste system as such in the West and so it may be hard to imagine what feelings would have been created by the news of the two together. But in all seriousness, the caste system is cruel and names people’s worth before they are even born, based on the social standing of their family, not on the individuals’ potential, and so people are born into a lottery of sorts. Incest, on the other hand, not only destroys the boundaries that one assumes exists between family members and siblings, where the love is meant to be platonic and caring at to the highest degree, but also violates the idea of preventing cross-breeding. There is a real reason to be concerned by this as opposed to the Untouchable/ Touchable relationship, and not just because of it is at odds with Western culture, but with all cultures and even morales.

So The God of Small Things was generally an adequate read; the flash backs and glimpses into the future also tended to add to some of the confusion, but once the plot is firmly sorted in one’s head I suppose reading the novel the next time will be a more enjoyable and clearer experience. If you can get past the opaque language, that is.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Some books are a joy; a mere afternoon of reading and in a flash the paperback has been read. This is not one of these novels. At 460 pages with miniscule font, I can hardly say that there was much ebullience ignited by this classic.

True: there were complex (and contemporarily speaking) risqué issues handled. It is unsurprising that in a harsh and patriarchal 19th Century society that Hardy’s piece caused quite a stir amongst those lucky enough to be able to read.

I did get a sense from the novel that it was far too long, simply because half the content was unuseful. Tess D’urberville is defintely a book that can be skimmed through, as the pace is slower than a hungover sloth, so if you’re reading and miss a line, any overlooked information will be repeated at least three times before it is somewhat relevant.

The climax of the novel is in the last twenty or so pages (Hardy, you kept me waiting a long time!) and even then it was so awkward that it can be hard to give it merit. It seems out of character for Tess to stab Alec, even if he did anger her greatly. Hardy always presented Tess as a maternal figure, caring not only for her siblings but for Sorrow too. She was mainly meek and obeyed orders, being careful to avoid (where controllable) shame upon her family.

For Tess to murder another man seems contradictory on two accounts: although this was an impulsive act, Tess is firstly rarely impulsive herself (she didn’t marry Angel straight away, and deliberated about telling him her secret, as well as hiding from Angel’s brothers instead of suddenly facing them), so the murder- as it wasn’t premeditated- is unusual. Then Tess must have known she’d be caught, meaning death and therefore one less source of income for her poverty stricken family. Seeing as Liza-Lu was held with the utmost respect by Tess, so much so that Tess suggested her marriage, it seems unlikely that Tess was seeking ‘revenge’ on her family by depriving them of her presence/income.

As for the effect on Angel; Tess knew that she was already outcast by Angel, but still hoped with relentless optimism for his forgiveness. Morales dictate that murder is a gruesome crime, so it is strange that Tess should murder Alec and still hope to be liked that Angel. How could she expect this death to be forgiven, particularly when after the stabbing she purposefully seeks out Angel to tell him. Of course, contemporarily the death of the father allowed the widow to move onto another man, although cold murder does seem to be drastic as it limits the longevity of her relationship with Angel, if it was going to happen at all. Didn’t it occur to Tess that he may be repulsed by her brutishness, even if it was to cut off this societal tie?

The language was more like a desert than flowery, although there were a few buds here and there to brighten up the barren language. There were some interesting motifs and symbols, too: the mention of birds frequently throughout the novel were a thought provoking motif of the freedom of characters. The strong theme of freedom and freewill tie strongly into birds; as the Mrs D’Urberville’s finches could fly around the room, they were free. But the mess they created had to be cleaned up by Tess, so the freedom of one creates hardship for the other. This of course is somewhat ironic as nothing but difficulty stems from Tess’ work there, particularly because Alec’s feeling of entitlement to Tess’ body and the consequences of these interactions ultimately leads to Tess suffering throughout the rest of her life.

Many would even say that the peasants that Tess encounters on a particular walk are a metaphor for herself, because although pheasants (and all birds) are synonymous with beauty, grace and freedom, these pheasants can never fly again due to violence, condemned to suffering for as long as their lives may last.

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A rather more cheerful looking pheasant 

Thus Tess is sentenced to a life as an outcast after her encounter with Alec and then Sorrow, and her wings are clipped as she suffers everyday as she cannot truly be with Angel.

Another interesting motif to touch upon is that of the Bible and the story of Adam and Eve. Even though Adam and Eve are directly mentioned in some imagery by Hardy, the comparisons run much deeper than that. Tess is Eve whilst the serpent is Alec, because whilst he doesn’t necessarily tempt her, he takes her to the realms which society cannot forgive, just like God could not forgive Eve for taking the apple, even if the serpent led her there, like Alec led Tess to her downfall. The guilt imposed upon Tess after Alec’s seduction (which was under a tree like in the Book of Genesis) never leaves Tess throughout the novel (although maybe it does after his murder at the end…). Either way, this guilt can be drawn back to the original sin which all of the human race now have within them, and are what caused Adam and Eve to be exiled from Eden, just like how Tess and her family were exiled from their home.

Lastly is the symbol of Prince and inherent suffering. Prince is of course a name with a royal link, just like the D’Urberville name is, and yet Prince toils away his entire life with no pampering or luxury, just like Tess’ family continue to suffer even though they have royal heritage. The death of Prince is unusual, because of the piece of metal driven into him, which is reminiscent of a wound sustained by jousting, which is a sport that only the highest in society could partake in. As Prince dies because Tess fell asleep, dreaming about knights and royalty, it suggests that dreaming and hoping for a better life ultimately leads to loss and suffering. Prince was the ultimate resource for her family, and now gone, the Durbeyfields must live in deeper poverty once more thanks to Tess’ fantasising, even if it was subconsciously. This links into the overarching theme of inherent suffering. Tess didn’t intend for any relationship with Alec, and yet it was imposed upon her, whilst she never meant for Prince to die. Yet these events, entirely out of her control, govern her livelihood and happiness, and so Hardy emphasises that the state of our existence is completely at odds with the notion of self-determination.

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Nike’s JUST DO IT campaign suggests that circumstances are entirely irrelevant to achieving any goals

This theme is the most engaging in a modern context, more so perhaps that the commentary of a patriarchal society or the mobility throughout social class, because luckily it seems that in the centuries since publication the ability to change social class is much easier, and only recently has an idea of the strength of the patriarchy and the need to deconstruct been discussed. But the concept of self-determination is often left astray, because of millennial parenting techniques and corporations. The idea that ‘because you want it, you can have it’ is incredibly damaging long term (watch Simon Sinek’s excellent talk on this here), whilst companies cash in on this idea. Think of Nike’s JUST DO IT and of all the millions of self-help books written that sell out even though they’re written by people with no education on the subject. This idea of meritocracy at all costs is dangerous, as proven by Hardy, and needs to be looked at through a larger lens more as we progress.

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday, I’m going to spend my money… on books.

WAIT NO, I still have about £150 of book vouchers! And it’s not even my birthday, it’s the blog’s third birthday, and because anything that is three years old is still rather insentient, it doesn’t matter what I buy them because they won’t remember anyway. (The parents will though; they’re the ones you’re trying to please by going Jimmy’s birthday. Jimmy won’t care if you gave him stick- he’d actually be delighted- but the parents would look on in deep anger. They didn’t spend £400 buying invitations that matched their wall paper for nothing.) And it’s a blog. Not a human, so no gifts required.

Anyway, this year, instead of handing out cake like last time (I mean, unless it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and bad-karma free, no one would it anyway), I’m going to be setting some blog goals:

  • Keep up the poetry (although irritatingly I cannot enter poems I’ve put on here into competitions, so I might wait until I’ve entered them and then post them)
  • To try and sneak in some author interviews
  • To branch out into films (I’ll explain in another post)
  • To get y’all some insight into pre-released books

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I thought four goals was a decent number to have, reflecting the fact that The Ink Cloud would be entering into its fourth year. If you’ve got suggestions, please pop it into the comments section below and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

SUMMER CHALLENGE

You know it’s summer when leave the library staggering under the weight of thirty insanely erudite books you hope you will finally have time to read.

I have been given a list of books which I have been asked to read and absorb over the summer, and frankly it’s a bit of a challenge. Not the reading in itself, but more the slight apprehension surrounding the discussion afterwards when I arrive back at college.

Of course, reading The Great Gatsby is no difficulty, but will I be able to understand all the nuances and symbols of it in one read? No. But I don’t want to look like a fool, bashing some literary classic until a fellow wizened student turns to me and reminds me that the “pointless” character I’m referring to is a metaphor for anarchy. Or something. So along with all the reviews I’ll be doing over the summer, I’ll try and do a bit more analysis into the central themes and characters just so I am a bit more ‘clued up’. Anyhow, here are the books:

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Great Gatsby – Scott Fitzgerald                                                                                                Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy                                                                                             A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy                                                                                         Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

So this is about one book a week over the Summer, which will be more easily done than others because some weeks are looking to be quite packed (like when I’m going to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe)! Now, on the official reading list there are 32 books, including Anna Karina and Great Expectations. We have to read at least 3 books, and so I’ve tactically decided to read the slightly shorter one -bear with me- because if I’m going to be reading 600 pages, I’d rather it be spread across 3 novels than one, so that I hit two birds with one stone. A bit cheeky, I know, but there’s a logic to my madness… because I also have a Classics reading list to delve into. Greek and Latin literature! So mainstream! Anyway, I’m hoping to also read:

The Iliad                                                                                                                                                  The Odysessy                                                                                                                                     The Tom Holland books                                                                                                                         A prose version of the Aeneid                                                                                                  Horace’s Odes and Satires,                                                                                                             SPQR by Mary Beard

Plays: Medea                                                                                                                                 Oedipus Rex,                                                                                                                         Aristophanes ‘Frogs’

Have you tackled any of these Classic Classics? If so, let me know what you think and if you have any other recommendations! But until then, I better start reading… or revising because I still have two exams left and should stop procrastinating.

Alderman’s style is The Power to success

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The reason why The Power by Naomi Alderman is such an influential book in the media right now is because of the excitement is has generated, mainly in women. This is because books of this nature have never been written before, and if they have been written then it hasn’t been written with such skill and have been confined to the whimsical areas of Young Adult fiction. Admittedly there might be a seed of an original idea somewhere within the text, but it’s overpowered with dramatic yet uneventful scenes of badly written romance.

The interesting thing about the success of The Power is that it is almost an oxymoronic parallel to The Handmaiden’s Tale, that obviously has recently been in the mainstream media’s attention with the new TV series that just come out and all the press and interviews which  following that release. It strikes me though, that these narratives are capturing people’s attention at the same time because they are the inverse of each other and yet are starting very similar conversations.

Clearly one of attractions of The Power for many readers is the idea that they can induce lightening. It’s exciting in the same way that when you read Harry Potter you first adore it, and then hope that you will receive a letter announcing your place there. Unlike the Harry Potter series though, it’s the feeling that anyone, of any age, has the potential to ignite the Power within themselves, whereas with the Potter saga once you’re past having an 11 year old’s mentality, your hopes of becoming a wizard fade too. Also, it’s the near-plausibility of something like the awaking of the lightening within you which creates an even more vivid story. One doesn’t have to have a particularly active imagination to see something like this feasibly taking place with genetic modification being so visit pervasive in our lives: only one yield of crops could go ‘wrong’ and a whole chain of mass DNA altering could be set off. Yes, it’s never been proven before in biology, but that’s because humans are changing things globally at such a phenomenal rate that there isn’t time to stop and do long-term effects research. All this comes into effect as sowing the idea into people, giving them hope that maybe they have something like a skein inside them, that can be awoken in 5, 10, 25 years and change the status quo forever.

The Power offers an unusual approach to crime. Firstly, in most books a murder, burglary, or act of fraud will act as the centre piece of the book. The book might even be a murder mystery or called “The Grand Heist of George Ned” or something like that. Here, crime actually serves as a catalyst in the plot, instead of as a show-piece, which is strange and yet refreshing. Allie kills her adoptive father early on in the book: the rest of the novel isn’t about her internal demons (although perhaps that might’ve been interesting and accurate to feature, as killing someone would have a psychological effect on you even if you did despise them). Instead of dwelling for chapters on the murder, it’s treated as a necessary event but not a predominant one. Most writers feel like a mugging in their novel needs a thesis from each of characters about it before they can move on, which means that crime is rarely used as an effective tool in literature (except in detective/ mafia style stories) and that is why The Power is so interesting.

One of the crucial literary-based things Alderman has done is that she has made the characters – if not relatable – then at least understandable and has given us a way for the reader to be sympathetic with them. The scene where Roxy kills a man in his pool, in normal society, would be seen as horrific and shocking. But the reader can understand why Roxy feels like she needs to kill the man, and many wouldn’t feel like his death was inappropriate or uncalled for, whereas in a real-life context no-one would necessarily condone that same murder. (Don’t write in a say that readers feel sympathetic to Roxy because they know it’s not a real life situation. Obviously, they subconsciously know this, but if your heart has ever raced whilst reading a book, then you should know words can trick you into thinking they’re reality.) An example of this is that you don’t view Allie or Roxy as murderers. You don’t think to yourself as Roxy speaks, you are a serial-killer, because even though it’s accurate, that language is reserved for people in society who are portrayed as violent, distasteful and unlawful. All very interesting stuff.

As for the characters, Alderman employed the classic multiple point of view. It was used skilfully, and one could notice the various speaking styles the characters had, without it appearing too overbearing or obvious. Often writers read in books or on blog-posts that you need to have clear voices that distinguish each character, and whilst this is true, the result is often unnatural with each character speaking in wildly different stereotypical dialects. In this respect -given that many before her have tried and failed with multiple POVs- she strikes a great balance between differentiating the characters and having read the prose seem natural and not like it fabricated from behind a desk or a computer screen.

One of the essential components of this book was seeing the characters, particularly Roxy and Ali, grow up. All bestselling books or series will tend to share this component of age within their work because, for the most part, the readers will tend to be of an older age and it’s a classic tool which creates more engagement. This engagement is created when the reader, even if they’re not a criminal, sees Allie turning up at the convent with no friends. They remember their first experiences at school. Or when they get into a fight with their parents, or there’s trouble going on at home, and this doesn’t have to be as dramatic as having your own brother rip an organ from you but that sense of betrayal and disappointment can be the same. Yet as the characters grow more mature they come across different situations- which they wouldn’t if The Power was set when they were in their 20s across a 3-day-peroid. You wouldn’t be able to witness the creation of the NorthStar camps, the riots in the Middle East and the creation of Bessapara. Roxy wouldn’t be able to be both the clueless yet eager teenager and the dominating dealer that she was. Yet all these moments evoke priceless emotion in the reader, so not only are they able to relate to them in some way to each part of their lives, but they’re able to see the characters mature and develop to enrich the narrative.

In books giving advice about writing, they often say that the readers want more than anything to see development in a character. In the Hunger Games, seeing Katniss go from a selfish, hard girl to a steely and emotionless to a romantic and sly one is fascinating. Yet in real life this is hardly the case. When people tell you in high school that the bullies are jealous and will grow out of throwing food at you and spreading rumours, it’s true that whilst the methods will evolve, the motivation will remain the same. Whilst ordinarily this character transformation is implausible, the way Alderman artfully went from each time-frame meant that each quirk of each character could be exposed, and that a believable and subtle change over time could be seen.

Now for the characters themselves; there was diversity within the characters, which is important to me but not necessarily for all the reasons in which diversity is important for most people. So often in modern literature you do find this eagerness to over-compensate for the lack of diversity in the past, and I have spoken about this topic at length in my other posts. To this extent, I find that The Power has the perfect balance. The character Tunde is one of these, as he does add new perspective, being male, which is crucial for multiple reasons. It’s important because although it’s a female-centric novel, the impact of The Power is on everyone, so to be able to explore how a man feels not only adds variety but is vital to give the reader the full experience of the revolution that the world is going through.

I recently went to a screening of Journey’s End and I asked the producer afterwards if they were worried about what people would say about the lack of diversity in the film. I have studied WW1 to a great extent and I understand the context that the film has, but many people won’t, and it could potentially cause some backlash because in society at the moment people feel so passionately about this topic. He replied that the board had considered including multiple ethnicities, but ultimately felt like it wouldn’t be true to reality. This is a line that I completely support, because I was genuinely curious and (unlike my friends’ firm beliefs) didn’t ask simply to make the producer feel uncomfortable.

To that extent, I’m glad that Alderman wasn’t trying to address all the problems in society in her novel. She focused very clearly on the female role within modern society, allowing that theme to take precedence instead of including lots of random characters and rogue traits which you often feel like are only included in books so that they can win some obscure prize based on the issue on the character has. The Power is  revolutionary because it asks what if women did have more power, what if the tables had turned and they represented more than angry feminists and people who couldn’t vote just over 100 years ago. Alderman’s not trying on top of that to address alcoholic parents, abusive relationships and mental disorders.

This book should be on a pedestal for all others for the fact alone that Alderman took one problem, turned it on it’s head, and made a best seller. You don’t have to include the entire LGBT+ community and organic vegetables to create a conversation.

Overall, though, the success of The Power is cannot be attributed to the great writing, the vivid use of crime, the development of characters nor the sustained focus on the original problem if one does not consider the timing. Now clearly this book has been in the making for years; yet the timing of its release could not have been better planned. Why? With the recent Hollywood scandals and the whole #metoo campaign, the conversation about women in society has been generated again and this means that The Power is going to be read by people who have this topic already on their mind by simply scrolling through their tweeter feed, meaning that they’re much more likely to be perceptive to the ideas that Alderman is grappling.

 

This is Why Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter

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Yes, sometimes people with questionable opinions get into power. Luckily, this won’t apply to most people. Probably you, too.

I’ve said it. The words that millions of people across the world have been waiting for. In an age of social media where you can directly contact the President of the United States through a tweet, it’s easy to feel like your voice matters and that your voice is powerful. Which is true: in a way. Activism is a necessary and intrinsic part of society, ensuring that negative aspects are tackled but that in particular is not what I’m discussing when it comes to opinions. It’s those of individual people on an individual level.

This concept (jarring in the optimism of the 21st century) came to me as I was reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half Formed Thing. The book didn’t appeal to me; there were odd loop-holes in the plot (such as if the boy was to die of a brain tumour why weren’t there trained nurses looking after him- why was he abandoned by the doctors to the care of his psychotic family? Or how could the protagonist even afford to be at home all the time without a job when their family were desperate for money, and then suddenly said finicial problems were never mentioned?) Anyway, these critical thoughts were tumbling through my mind when I realised that all this was irrelevant. Absolutely and utterly irrelevant. It’s not to say that I’m writing off all my past book reviews, but I just thought- who cares? As in, this is my opinion, and in the end if McBride is satisfied with her work, does it matter what I think?

Part of me thinks of course it does. I am a reader and therefore a customer and therefore someone who could pay her for future books. On the other hand, my opinion is formed due to billions of experiences and interactions that have happened up to over a decade ago which dictate my preferences and standings on all conceivable topics. Ultimately, even I cannot control what I enjoy, so are ‘my’ opinions even really my own? Even if McBride read my feedback on a hypothetical review, should or would she change her work just because I asked her to?

I hope not.

The process of editing is laborious, so her book would a product she would have to be absolutely content with, so even if I said I didn’t like certain parts, it wouldn’t matter. There will be other people who do like it. Who don’t mind loopholes. This theory of the devaluing of our opinions comes from the idea that you can say what you want, but that doesn’t mean something will change. There is crucial difference between saying something, people listening, and then something happening in response. People like to think that when they speak, it’s like to a room of open-eared fans, when in reality it’s more like shouting at a few seagulls who just stole your chips and are coming back for the fish later.

A billion people could read this blog post. Imagine. All those people I could reach just through a single post- the influence I could have on the world through my thoughts. But realistically it’s this kind of self-entitled thinking which should be prevented. Not dreams or aspirations, but more people understanding their place and influence in society.

And it’s not just about me. It’s about you, too. Having just watched one of Simon Sineck’s speeches about the millennials, (which you can watch here) it made me realise how people truly do inflate their sense of purpose and self. They are egoistical, some might say, but through no fault of their own; how can we not expect ourselves to achieve great things when “every single one of us is special and can do what we want simply because we believe we can”. This is the type of rhetoric being told to the millennials. It was (and still is) chanted in schools. To the generation who now has the highest rate of depression and suicide ever. It doesn’t quite add up, does it? I won’t paraphrase Sineck’s interview but it linked into my earlier thought about overestimating one’s impact on the world. You are allowed to have opinions, thoughts, stances on things- I just urge you not to expect it to make a difference on a global scale. It’s like being a child and writing to your local MP, adding in the essential drawing of a melancholy polar bear on a lone icecap. Yes, you will receive full marks for initiative, but don’t you think that the Houses of Parliament realise that polar bears are dying and actually yes there is a war on and refugees and protestors outside their door and-

I want to tell people to stop waiting around for modelling agencies or Ivy League universities to magically be attracted to you by your sheer brilliance. That’s what  a lifetime of unfounded but well meaning praise has led them to believe will happen. It may seem like a pessimistic article, but a necessary one. When people (at least those I know) are wracking up thousands of followers on social media it is easy for them to feel powerful; when people don’t immediately reply to emails, or you have to wait to talk to someone as they’re in the middle of a conversation, it’s easy to feel annoyed. To feel like the world isn’t quite functioning as it should. Or is it your mindset which isn’t quite functioning properly to fit into a cohesive society?

We all want a podium to stand-on and whilst a dream is fine if it helps you through the wild current of life, don’t expect it to stop you from drowning.

Distillation of thought

We sit.

We sit and we think.

We sit and we think and we turn a page.

Or we stand in the train, the tears of a child seeping into conciousness

a stranger’s anger twisting

into our minds at the half-line of a phone call,

eyes darting away to avoid the shadow of confrontation-

we grip the book tighter trying not to think about

yesterday or today or the taxes or the work or the-

we mumble excuses, push past other people with other problems,

stepping onto the platform, book still clutched in our hand

like a medicine against the pain of reality,

the page now lost.

 

We sit and we think and we turn a page.

Arrive at bookshops with hours to shed, looking for a book

like we’re looking for a new life

They pile in your mind, the weight of unread masterpieces

dragging down your social confidence, because what if that was

a line of a Wilde novel, slipped into a party conversation to ignite a laugh,

but us being the fool

(always the fools, aren’t we)

we miss the joke because we hadn’t spent enough time alone,

alone with a book

which isn’t the same thing, is it?

 

That time spent thinking about stolen money,

stolen dreams,

stolen people,

the time spent crouched over pieces of paper that spout

lies, glorious lies but lies all the same,

is like a drug for curiosity. We read to escape,

to deduce with Holmes and

make spells with Harry

or ponder with Hamlet

because our world isn’t enough, too cramped

and busy

and stuffy with mortal problems

to be valuable.

 

Instead of searching for a cape of words-

a place to hide whilst problems fester and grow

(the thoughts pushed frantically to the back of the mind)

we should spend more time on returning from our imagination.

Searching for a plan, a solution, a way

instead of the right chapter, because when you return

from altars of blood and planets of moonlight, the problems will still exist.

The father will still be crying in the corner, untouched.

The girl’s fists will still be clenched, blood bursting into her palm

The woman’s face will still be etched into marble, and she won’t speak anymore.

 

 

The world is fractured, humanity splintering

into shards of terror and fear and horror

at it’s ends, but the ends will only become sharper

if we try to hide

behind pieces of paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thwaites undergoats an udderly ridiculous joureny

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Goat and follow your dreams; if a man can become a goat, then you can definitely become a popstar

The concept behind GoatMan is ingenious. It sounds like an invention only someone desperate, determined and open-minded would do. Which is Thomas Thwaites in a nutshell, or should I say, goat’s cheese wheel.

Stumbling along in life, with no job and acting as a unwilling trustafarian, Thwaites decided to turn his life around. Somehow, he thought that becoming an elephant walking across the Alps was the way to do it, with a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Which does still sound decidedly trustafarian-like all things considered, but at least the author wasn’t dog-sitting anymore.

Having trekked to Copenhagen and given some shamanic guidance in a hut, Thwaites realised he should’ve been a goat all along. It would’ve got my goat to say the least if I was part-way through an elephant design project and changed animal, but Thwaites didn’t seem to mind. Throughout the book we are guided through his process of realising his goal: visits to goat farms, creators of prosthetics, animal dissections (ft. snow leopard and an alpaca with practically tuberculosis) and a psychologist all feature. It’s exciting stuff.

Winning the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for the project, as seen in the book GoatMan by Thomas Thwaites, this goes far deeper than merely thinking ‘goat-like’ thoughts. Impressively, Thwaites commits to the project with a level of dedication seldom seen elsewhere, and the documentation of this is displayed aesthetically, which appears to be the designer of Thwaites coming through, or in any doubt, a great publishing house. For every notable event, there is a technicolour image to boot, my favourite being (not the goat’s rumen spilling everywhere in graphic detail whilst I thought about my last meal, but in fact) Prof. Hutchinson’s freezer. It’s filled with hundreds of plastic bags with mysterious lumps and it’s all rather intriguing. Lumps being dead animals and intriguing meaning including giraffe necks and elephant feet. Check out his blog here: http://www.whatsinjohnsfreezer.com

As a concept it’s fantastic; sometimes it’s wonderful to do something just for the sake of it, not because it will ‘look good on my CV’. I hear this so often, with people wandering off on Duke of Edinburghs (it’s overrated- I ran out of food because my porridge pots broke and I woke up with frost on the inside of my tent), or attending up to 8 hours of extra curricular activities a week in the hope of impressing someone later in life in an application. Whilst pursing interests is important, I find that since the only incentive is to gain a place at an academic institution, it seems like a waste of time. Most people I know don’t even know what they want to do next weekend, let alone for their degree courses. Yet societal values have convinced us that the only path to success is: go to university, have a long working career- establishing yourself as upper middle class whilst you have a family, then retire. That’s the conventional measure of a happy lifestyle today, with the amount of wealth accumulated punctuating that achievement. But what if that isn’t true? There are so many assumptions in there, and now people automatically think they want going to university, but with no real incentive of their own except that that is what everybody else is.

So this book appeals because it is a rebellion of that. Sure, Thwaites did it to drag himself out of a pool of unemployment, but he could have worked as a waiter to do that. He didn’t know that he was going to win the Ig Prize for the Project. He received (and still does probably) uncertain comments from people around him surrounding it, but he preserved because that’s what he wanted to do. To live a simpler life is a noble aim, I suppose. It’s difficult to let go of everything, of contacts, the internet, unnecessary material objects. There’s an underlying fear of making that decision and getting so far behind with the world that if you don’t hurry, it’ll be too late to return.

Yet to take the time out and simply read this project counteracts that. You’ll never put reading this on your CV, and you’ll be so enraptured that you won’t think of your phone. Think of reading this as a little rebellion, your own holiday from being a modern Homo sapiens.