5 reasons you need to read Frankenstein now

 

You need to read Frankenstein now. In the suspendsion between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, where you can only eat mince pies at meals because you have so many left over, there is no better way to escape to the stoic mourning of Christmas (until next August) than to read. But why read Frankenstein?

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1. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the conception Shelley’s story. (In fact, the way Frankenstein came about, with that ghost story competition with Lord Bryon at Lake Geneva is nearly as famous as the outcome- Frankenstein- itself.) Shelley had a remarkable sense of audacity to publish her book, even if it was initially anonymous, because at the time such gruesome horrors conjured from female minds was frowned upon. But luckily she did, and for the centuries since it hasn’t ceased to shock and thrill all who have come across it, whether Frankenstein was in a literary form, or in a film or stage adaptation. There would be no better way to commemorate Shelley’s great novel than to read it on this anniversary.

2. The season is to create the right atmosphere for book: at the moment, we are in the depths of winter. Darkness seeps into our windows too early everyday, leaving us looking solemnly outside from underneath our blankets, a hot tea by our side. Frankenstein is full of rich imagery concerning nature; soaring icebergs and bleak landscapes. You can all too easily submerse yourself in the wintry atmosphere. For those living in warmer climes… it might be significantly harder to envision the biting chill of polar landscapes whilst you rub the rest of your suncream in, but there you go.

3. You need to learn who Frankenstein is, if you don’t know already. For years in movies the creature that Victor Frankenstein creates has been given that name, but frankly that it grossly inaccurate and just because Frankenstein sounds like an awesome name for a monster, doesn’t mean it is one. This mistake has thus been duplicated: Frankenstein’s Bride isn’t Frankenstein’s bride at all, but his creature’s bride.

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4. It’s a classic 19th century novel, with thrilling plot, including: a string of murders, a rampant patchwork zombie and a nervy scientist who is starving for revenge. Story arcs don’t t get much more adventurous than. Despite being writing in the contemporary dialect, reading it is rarely a challenge and by reading an older novel you’re literary horizons will expand. It is on most Top 100 reads not because it is so old, but because there something so profound about it. It’s also the first novel in history about the education of a scientist.

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5. Frankenstein explores issues in society. Our world is changing- some argue too quickly. The last of 2016 is rotting away, and then 2017 will be forced upon us. Yet Frankenstein has been with us, modern humanity, for some time. It hasn’t been lost in the flurry of mouldy manuscripts because people connected with it; back then and now. Frankenstein reflects culture greatly. And that is due to the theme of ethics and science- what are the wider implications of an experiment? We have the technology so that it can be done, but does that mean we should do it? To what extent should the scientist’s have control over the created beings, or care for them- is it their duty? In many ways, it is clear that Frankenstein is more relevant today than ever before.

So what are you waiting for- find that battered copy! Or have you read Frankenstein before- what do you think of it? Literary masterpiece, or overrated? Please go ahead and comment your thoughts…

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How books will solve your Christmas problems

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope that you are all having a fantastic day, whether you are having mulled wine around a fire or sipping Christmas cocktails on the beach. However, if you are at a sudden loss (in that strange lull after lunch where people wander around, dazed with their paper crown slipping over their eyes) or seeking inspiration, then I have 4 things that books can help you with this Christmas:

  1. Need more decorations and a way to entertain the restless younger cousins? Dig out some old books to make into paper chains; it’s a fun activity which will keep people occupied as long as there are pages left, will look great and is the perfect way to reuse unwanted books.

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2. You’ve forgotten about Uncle Simon again, haven’t you? That relative who always lingers on the side of conversations, nervously sipping apple juice from his glass and never truly looking like he’s comfortable with other peoples’ presence (he was dragged to the annual family reunion by the persistent aunt). Well, what could be better than a book to give him? Just nip upstairs and grab a relatively unscuffed book from your bookshelf, wrap it in the dregs of the snowflake wrapping paper and you’re sorted! You can look smug as you present the gift you definitely didn’t forget and Uncle Simon will be grateful for an excuse to sit on the sofa, pretending to read the book whilst talking to your dog.

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3. But you’ve just run out wrapping paper haven’t you? The local store is closed (how inconsiderate- they’re practically obliged to stay open, Christmas no exception, in cases of emergencies like these) and the tissue paper that you’ve always had stuffed behind your cupboard is just a few inches too small to cover the book. Fear not! Along the same vein as earlier, you can not only indulge in your friend’s/ relative’s ‘love for books’ (“You know Rosie, I know that it’s a bit unconventional, but I remembered that you loved books, so I thought that book wrapping paper would be a nice touch”) by using torn pages as wrapping paper. Not only is it a vintage touch that will separate you from other present-givers, but it will also save you from a troublesome situation. Just check which book, or part of a book you’re using as wrapping paper first; you wouldn’t want to give a wrong impression…

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4. It was a terrible read. Absolutely awful- a complete waste of your time and frankly, you could’ve written a better ending with your eyes shut. Don’t let these feelings of discontent well up inside you: instead burn the book(s) on your wintry fire. It’ll be satisfying to watch it be enveloped by the flames and is a productive way to get rid of it.

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So, again, I hope you all have an amazing day and that this quick guide provides some help on Christmas day!

Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin

Moonwalker. Innovator. Alcoholic.

A brutally honest autobiography of Aldrin’s life, reflecting on not only the stellar parts of his career, but the parts which have shrouded him in despair and embarrassment.

Many Americans view Buzz Aldrin as a national icon; a hero. Part of Apollo 11, the space mission which cemented him in history as the second man to ever walk on the Moon, Aldrin certainly is extraordinary. But there are other sections of his life that define him, too. Like when he was a fighter pilot in the Korean war, an author of novels or when he spent most his days slumped beneath bedsheets, due to the overwhelming depression he suffered. Most people aren’t aware of this side, and Magnificent Desolation explains what precisely Aldrin went through following his Moon Landing; it turns out that the physical side effects were the least of his worries, and that he was psychologically underprepared for the fame that would ensue.

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This book, despite being co-written by Ken Abraham, was definitely written by Aldrin. The words had bitter edges on certain topics (like when discussing his failures in his post-astronaut military career, or when discussing conspiracy theorists) and at other times would appear as if he was desperately trying to seem complementary, as if through the publication of this book he was wary of any outstanding offences he could cause.

Also, occasionally Aldrin would start to build up an event as if it had massive significance in the grand scheme of his life, and as a reader I would wonder what this event would foreshadow. More often than not it turned out to be completely irrelevant and not tie into anything else in the book:

“One overly zealous reporter planted himself in front of our car, refused to budge while snapping photos of me through the windshield. In exasperation, I raised my hand and gave him the finger. As soon as I saw the flash go off, I knew that I had made a gigantic mistake. When we got back to the hotel, my first call was to the attache at the embassy to see if he could quash the picture. He must have successful, because the photo never showed up”

It’s just utterly frustrating. If it turned out that the image had been leaked and had started to give Aldrin an awful reputation which affected his speaking career, then it would have been understandable. But nothing came of it- so why waste a paragraph mentioning  an irrelevant event that is not tied onto anything else in the book? This happened so many times throughout and frankly I found myself exasperated.

What I did enjoy though was when Aldrin started to discuss how in his later career he continued to develop ideas for space exploration. His words sounded so resolute and hopeful for the future- how by 2030 we should have people living on Mars, and his grand plans for a Mars Shuttle System. Above all I found that part fascinating, because it offered me an insight into the future of space. He spoke a lot about space tourism too; it seems like a plausible concept and he discusses it at length because he had devoted plenty of time to ensuring that it became as intrinsic to the American economy as ordinary tourism. We’re not quite there yet, but time can only tell!

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I would recommend this autobiography to those  who have an interest in space history and astronauts, as it does not only offer a valuable insight to Aldrin’s life, but also into the future of space in our society. It is not a necessarily a relaxing read as most of the information is presented quite factually and straightforwardly, but nevertheless I’m glad I gave it go!

The Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Peculiars are being hunted down, taken hostage and their souls devoured. But there is a solution- capture the man who is leading this brutal movement. In the last novel of the trilogy, Jacob seeks an end to the torture that has haunted the Peculiardoms and to rescue his friends who are being held captive by the antagonist, Caul.

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A Peculiar is not that strange friend who decides to wear socks on their hands instead of gloves: Peculiars are humans gifted with certain abilities which allows them to: turn invisible or breathe underwater or communicate with bees or float through the air. There’s endless possibilities. People with these talents, however, are not welcome in society, (except in laboratories) so the Peculiars have instead found refuge in Loops, where a segment of history – perhaps only a single day, is continually repeated in a small location so that people can live there. This means that, although time is technically moving forward, the days aren’t, so the Peculiars remain the same age they were when they entered the Loop.

Which brings me onto my criticism. The romantic relationship in this story was bizarre; Riggs kindles the ongoing relationship between Emma (a girl who can create fire) and Jacob. This is dull; ultimately that is what the other two novels did. We saw their relationship develop, and there was no massive obstacle to it except at the very end when Jacob has to return to his parents. And although this crushes his heart, Jacob can still send letters to Emma and doesn’t see her for only a few months before they’re reunited indefinitely. Gripping story, eh? It would have been a more effective aspect of the novel if Riggs had put in proper tangible obstacles in the way, not a mere “I love you Emma, but I need my parents more” line in the last few pages. Also, I found it slightly strange that, due to the whole frozen age instance due to entering Loops, Emma, although appearing 16, was actually about 150 years old. This is mentioned repeatedly, and it made the whole relationship appear strange because in modern society relationships with age gaps that exceed 100 years are frowned upon.

Anyway. Considering that the novel is the last in the trilogy, it clearly wasn’t going to be as strong as its predecessors. The overarching ending was cliché: a final battle takes place between the good and evil characters: unsurprisingly the good come out unscathed and the evil are all crushed, including their fortress. Yes, they have a fortress with a moat too. It is a concept that has only been seen in nearly all children’s stories ever written. Then, after Jacob has to make the ‘heart wrenching’ decision of leaving his friends (it took him all of one paragraph) and return to his parents, a chapter later they’re all reunited. What author likes to put their protagonist into emotional turmoil, anyway?

At times it did appear that Riggs had added certain segments of the plot in merely so that it could take up more pages… so that there could actually be a novel. Some parts, although clumsily stitched into appearing to be essential to the plot, seemed weak and merely as a buffer to the actual storyline: the fact that they need a hollowgast (which is a type of monster that likes to eat Peculiars) to run the machine which would enable them to get into the fortress felt like an irrelevant fact- and yet he spends about 50 pages trying to get the characters to hunt one. Or, Riggs could have instead written, ‘and it turned out the Panloopticon (the name of the machine) was ready for use. So we prepared our things to go into battle.’ But no. We had a few lovely rambling scenes, and because it didn’t seem like the natural path for progression at that stage, it made me painfully aware that this was all fiction, instead of enjoying the story.

It was still wonderful to see how images were weaved into the plot though. Throughout the entire trilogy, Riggs has supplemented his prose with old photographs, most of them enhanced and altered using ancient techniques. They add another element to the story, not necessarily making it feel more credible, but offering a guide when you are trying to tackle imagining some of the more outlandish situations. However, if you are considering buying the Library of Souls for the pictures, I would instead recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, as that one all-round is stronger.  Below is an image that was included in the first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children:

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Overall, a disappointing end to a series that I had truly enjoyed, but nonetheless I encourage you to read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, because there all of Riggs’ crafting skills are on display, representing him at his very best.

Have you seen the film and read the book? How do they compare? Also, do you think that the Library of Souls is a strong finish? Are there any series/ trilogies out there that get better as they progress? Do leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

December Book of the Month – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

A mystery clouded by mental instability. Raw, shocking and cruel, but above all honest, this is a insight into the world of a teenager battling mental illness. It is clear that, in 2013 at least, the judges of the Costa Book Award were wise. I can’t think of a more suitable winner- I was gripped by the novel and read it in less than two days.

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Matthew Holmes, aged 19, recounts the incident that has dominated his childhood painstakingly, from the computer in his local mental health centre. Why is he there? Diagnosed with schizophrenia, just like his grandfather, Matthew often hears his older brother with Downs Syndrome, Simon, speaking to him. Begging him to play, to come outside and join him:

“If the tap choked and spluttered before the water came, he was saying I’m lonely. When I opened a bottle of Dr Pepper and the caramel bubbles fizzed over the rim, he was asking me to come out and play. He could speak through an itch, the certainty of a sneeze, the after-taste of tablets, or the way sugar fell from a spoon.”

And our protagonist feels compelled to listen. Simon has been dead for over a decade. Some say he died at a Caravan Park in Dorset, but  Matthew believes it was practically murder. The guilt that has wracked him, and wrecked his family after that fated night saw a shocking transition from an innocent, boisterous boy to a teenager stumbling through life, taking all the wrong turns.

For me, it was Matthew’s voice that made this novel remarkable. His voice, breaking free from the words, illustrated the development of his character incredibly. Matthew was almost tangible, and that is what Filer achieves so greatly. That sense of a person speaking just out of sight. That there really is someone out there, a boy that age. It’s how we get lulled into fiction, because it’s all just stories, isn’t it? In the end it’s a product of a person sitting in front of a bright little screen, carefully crafting the characters that seem so spontaneous. The characters we take home and discuss over dinner, and bring into our lives.

One outstanding aspect of this novel was the detail that Filer gave concerning mental health facilities and regimes. He clearly didn’t research through watching films. Actually, Filer was a mental health nurse, and so the vivid descriptions of the mistrust Matthew feels as he is forced to take his drugs tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and to endure the awful side effects, can be taken at face value as that of a (relatively- this is still fiction) accurate account, not that of some dreaming, sheltered author.

Yet on the other hand, there was a minor issue. Only a small one in the grand scheme of things, but it must be mentioned. The great reveal was grossly delayed. It was saved until page 247. By that time the actual suspense had faded away, because my interest in reason to Simon’s death could only last for so long, and by that point I had a rough (correct) idea anyway, so the climax/ reveal came as no shock. It is worth mentioning, that from the outset the protagonist does mention it the ‘shock of the fall’ (yes, that’s the title too!) which kills his brother, but we only really learn why it is has triggered schizophrenia and lasting guilt until the reveal. And marvellous at character building although Filer is, I don’t care that much to be interested until the end of novel.

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Overall I thought that this poignant novel, with a frank and humorous tone, is definitely worth a read because of it’s insight into the life of a teenager with schizophrenia, and the clever use of typography and sketches to aid the narration. Here is a short extract which I think sums up the tone of the novel perfectly:

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”

So have you read the Shock of the Fall? What do you think of it? What is your favourite book concerning mental illnesses?