Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit- Jeanette Winterson

win
Winterson based this novel on her own childhood

The bones of this book are made from the Bible. Yet it is also constructed from the joyous shredding of beliefs, when Jeanette starts to question her religious upbringing by her Pentecostal parents.

Religion? You might say. Religion; today the cause of wars, shootings and fear. Religion; a burden on society that is as addictive as it is dangerous. Why would I want to read about something like this? I’ve enough of it in the skirting the tabloids next to gruesome photojournalism. Why should you read this? Because it’s hilarious. It opens with the frank lines; “Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what.” There is an honesty behind these words, a vivid way that the characters are illustrated that it seems like the story can be nothing but genuine. It follows Jeanette’s childhood, where her predominant influences were her strict (adopted) mother, driving her to be a missionary and the local church community. Initially homeschooled, legal obligations forced her to school;

‘”Why do you want me to go?’ I asked her the night before. “Because if you don’t go I will go to prison” … “But if you go to prison you’ll get out again. St Paul was always going to prison.”      “I know that” (she cut the bread firmly, so that only the tiniest squirt of potted beef oozed out) … “but the neighbours don’t. Eat this and be quiet.”‘

Jeanette struggled with fitting in with her decidedly non-Christian classmates, as well as  with desire, when she falls in love with one of the girls at the Church. At sixteen, she is forced to decide between religion and love, family or girlfriend.  And the question that rages in Jeanette’s mind is; why can’t I have both? 

orange!

Personally, I do think that there is a slight inequality in the amount of male and female characters, but given that this is a book about matriarchy in society and lesbian love, there isn’t much room for omnipresent male characters…. maybe not such an appalling thing, actually. (It’s worth mentioning that there are a few but they’re more secondary/ tertiary characters, hence the visibility of this ‘inequality’.) It doesn’t detract from the quality of the plot though, even if the storyline is more thought-provoking pace than action packed.

One issue, however, was the slight irrelevance of the myth theme of Percival which was introduced; it did offer variation from the wintry grey industrial scene, and it was an unusual way to represent Jeanette’s story (I presume that’s what it was), however it did appear to be part of the novel as a mystical exciting feature, rather than something which was actively contributing to the story.

The wonderful thing about this was observing the transformation of Jeanette, and the way her comically awkward tone dominated her perspective of childhood. Although it’s set in the drab Midlands, this novel is a sparkling example of fiction at its finest. Like all novels, there’s an interesting reflection of author in it, too: the fact that the protagonist has the same name is the author is not the only similarity- the novel is actually based on Winston’s own upbringing, where she explores her childhood by turning herself into a fictional character.

Anyway, generally a great 20th century novel that is worth the title of a classic. If you’re a literature fan, then you should have read this by now (!), so I recommend this specifically to teenagers, mainly because the book discusses the pressures of conformity. A pressure they are no doubt familiar with, so reading this might just be an eye-opener on the topic.

April Book of the Month- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

_92898174_mediaitem92898172
The original legend of the Essex serpent was Perry’s inspiration

A compelling novel that explores the relationships that tie people together- and break them apart.

Set in 1893, the Essex Serpent follows a troop of characters as Cora Seaborne reacts to her husband’s death. Far from the respectful widow, for reasons which Perry tantalisingly hints to throughout, Seaborne is delighted with her newly-found freedom, escaping with her maid and son to the marshy plains of Essex.

Revelling in her man’s overcoats and the death of the whale-bone corset, Seaborne indulges in her passion for archaeology, and finds for herself what might be a living fossil. Only seen by the disaster it had struck- stolen children, sheep drowned, madness seeping throughout the minds of those in the Aldwinter town- it seems like the Essex Serpent has arisen from the estuary once more. Drawn unfathomably to her polar opposite, the brusque local vicar William (whilst she has her beliefs firmly grounded in science), they explore the nature of the rumours together, discovering for themselves not only the power behind a relationship, but the consequences it can have on others, too.

26225360

This novel is brimming with positive attributes: firstly, it is a joyfully authentic Victorian novel, where every detail, though not tediously precise, contributes to the stifling atmosphere of the smog-filled streets, or helps conjure up the tension that Darwin’s new theory had struck up amongst those in society. So this can appeal to those that love to dabble in the historic genre, especially since this is one of the few 19th-century (style) novels that not only have women starring as protagonists, but are actively rebelling against the roles that society had given them, with the consequences shown, too. Dracula, Frankenstein and Oliver Twist, classics though they may be, don’t give a flavour for the life of women, and although there may be Austen with Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey (which was unbelievably dull, like a stale cracker), here you almost have the real thing but things you care about actually happen.

Like the mystery behind a giant snake in an estuary. Who said mythical beasts couldn’t be in successful adult novels? (It did win Waterstone’s 2016 Book of the Year, after all.) This adds an aspect of intrigue and fantasy to the novel, creating a tone of wonder after it has been soured slightly by the maid Martha ranting about the London Housing Crisis. (Something which I was completely ignorant of beforehand, but now I feel suitably educated in thanks to reading this.) That’s another positive; it covers a wide spectrum of characters in terms of ages and backgrounds, so that the plot isn’t isolated in the stuffy upper-class corner. (Admittedly, it doesn’t have someone from every single ethnic background, or sexual orientation, which apparently has become the benchmark for a book with ‘character equality’ these days, but it satisfies me.)

All in all, a superb read which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in historical literature or emotive, fantastical writing with complex relationships between characterss.

5 Signs You’re a Reader

We all know that reading is a dangerous sport and yet many of us persist, despite the very obvious perils. If you are, however, unfamiliar with the hazards, then here they are.

1. You will buy books instead of food. Or clothes, theatre tickets, houses…

when-i-get-a-little-money

No. Not the important ones like I will become a fountain of gratitude,  meditate everyday and recycle everything. You will slowly start to cut back to afford books, (given that merely borrowing one is a terrible idea) and it not only becomes a question of skimming the grocery shelves for the lowest prices so that you bound over to the book section and splurge (splurge? This is legitimate spending going on here) but also, start asking questions like: do I really need a new jumper? It may have a massive hole in the middle, but £30 could buy me a wonderful new hardback, and a cheeky paperback too if I’m thrifty. Again, it’s won’t really be a choice you’re making, but a predestined path you’re following.

2. You hoard.

ho

It’s true. After all, once you’d started that Harry Potter series, there was no way that the subsequent 6 other books wouldn’t wriggle their way into your bookshelves too, right? It starts off alright, with the books stacked neatly in the cupboards, and you tell yourself that at the end off every month you will clear them out, but soon you have to face the reality. How could you ever throw something like A Bear Called Paddington away? It squints at you, the corner of the front page a bit jammy from when your 7-year-old self was munching breakfast and reading. Then you remember that happened on holiday in Cornwall, oh memories of Cornwall, and then you realise that to throw away Paddington would practically be blasphemy, because, well, it’s been with you for so long, and what if you might, maybe read it again?

3. You have no social life.

Do I want to go out to a long stuffy dinner to face a mangled crustacean or stay at home with a book and enough ice cream (in my case, granola and yoghurt) to last? It’s a quite simple answer, actually. Soon, you find that you become much better friends with fictional characters than real people. It’s sad, but true- anyway no one has a sense of humour quite like Death from the Discworld series, so why bother looking any further? And you won’t really be in your living room, will you?

(“So what did you get up to on Friday night?” *Looks around, innocently* “Me? I was trekking in the Amazon and got attacked by a crocodile” *Cue other person slowly shuffling away*)

Well, at least books can’t reject you, and to say the least, going out for dinners might become rarity because…

4.You’re TBR is normally waaaaay to long (and an existential crisis ensues).

hammy

You read. Then you begin to read more, start searching novels online and begin chatting to friends (those you have left) not about the weather, (which may be just as well) but this year’s Man Booker shortlist. Stop, before it gets out of hand. But you can’t. Book research is addictive, (as is endlessly perusing the shelves of bookshops when you’ve already bought a book, but are wallowing in the excitement of potentially diving into the tombs around you). Yet, like everything, there becomes a limit and soon it seems perhaps you can’t quite read all 207 books on your TBR that’s you’ve collected that year in the 14 days preceding your TBR deadline. You made the deadline to gently push you in the right direction and pressure you to find enough time to read. Trust me, this tactic becomes stressful, and you start to flail and wonder how, let alone on a time limit, but ordinarily you’re going to finish them all. There’s no consolidation either, no gentle hand willing you to step back, because you have actually wanted to read all them since, forever it seems… and ditching that list would be wasted hours.

5. You show your love for books in weird and strange ways.

book-lovers-understand-hell

A conversation of praise isn’t enough, oh no. Cue the Pinterest accounts, the Facebook group chats dedicated to books series (I’ve known it happen, that’s all I’m saying) drawing endless pictures of your favourite scenes in the books, and even tattoos.

Reading is a commitment, my friend. Look where we are now; I find myself writing about books in my free time, when I could be doing actual useful stuff, and you are reading this (which I very much appreciate, I have to say). But seriously, people become seriously attached to novels.

booky

For example, don’t even try to argue against Tris on a forum, unless you want to end up hunted out like a Divergent yourself. Also, you might start finding yourself dressing like the characters and even wearing the same type of clothes. I know. (Having said that, Katniss braids are AWESOME so why wouldn’t you want one? I should have stopped trying to defend myself by now to be honest.) And you know all those fancy book quotes that we see plastering library /bedroom walls / phone cases. Someone had to make them, and normally they were  done by the fanatics themselves.

So you’ve been warned. These are the perils of reading. (Happy April Fools!) Have you personally suffered from any of these traits, or seen something entirely different spring up as a result? Do let me know and have a great (hopefully prank free) day!

Review: A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington

23rd of April 2017. A massive day for some, it’s when this year’s London Marathon will be taking place, and amongst the tens of thousands, Chrissie Wellington will be competing. She may be one anonymous figure to you, but her fastest marathon time is 2:44:35, which is impressive enough. Especially as that was run immediately after a 3.8km swim and 180.2km bike. You may not have heard of her, but you should have, considering that Wellington is a 4x Ironman world champion and is regarded as one of the best female triathletes in history.

a life.jpg

Reading her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, was inspiring because it shows how determination can almost force results into existence. Wellington won her first world title only 9 months after leaving her day job, and a highly prestigious one at that, as a civil servant in Whitehall. She became a professional athlete at the age of 30, and this is incredible not only because it defies the idea that you have to be committed to a single discipline from a young age, but because in reality Wellington had no real background in sport either. This is one of the many reasons that I’ve come to respect Wellington; she had the security of an established, well paying job, yet she took a risk. She became an athlete and entered a brutal, competitive world in which she was chronically unfamiliar. But she prospered.

If you’re looking for any reason to read this book, it’s this: it explains the history of an athlete like no other, and not just an athlete, but a genuinely compassionate and interesting person. Wellington’s career includes Nepal working on aid, as well as triathlon, making it fascinating to read if you’re looking for an insight on their rural culture, or even as a civil servant.

welly.jpg

This is a book about triathlon, true. Yet it’s also about so much more; about aspects of her career that not only prevent monotony from the reader’s point of view, but also show that the physical attributes of someone can be just the beginning of someone’s personality, not their defining feature. In a book I’ve reviewed previously, Swim Bike Run by the Brownlees, featured there was basically just a skimmed version of their childhood, training sessions and races. A Life Without Limits, on the other hand, is much more varied.

If you want something that is inspirational, a book that will motivate you to achieve more (Wellington set an ironman world record time with shingles, after all) than you need to look no further.

Have you tried a triathlon before? What’s your favourite sport, besides reading marathons obviously 🙂 ? What’s the best sports (auto)biography you’ve read? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

March Book of the Month- I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

We think we know. Or at least that we can imagine: the terror that struck their hearts, the fear that perpetrated every dream, the weight of their sorrows.

If there is anything to illustrate just to what extent the present is ignorant of the past’s sufferings, then this is the book to do it. An autobiography, I Have Lived A Thousand Years is the shocking retelling of Bitton-Jackson’s experience of two years under Nazi rule, as a Jew. We have all heard the stories of concentration camps, seen images and even visited them. But until you have absorbed the description of someone who suffered, you will never skim the surface of understanding what life was like during the Nazi regime. Having been subject to work at Dachau and Auchwitz, there are countless, gruesome recollection of days without water and food. Where she was forced to march for miles, leaving trails of red as pieces glass drove deeper into their bare feet. It is, to say the least, a raw and uncensored account, and rightfully so. Just be warned that it can be incredibly emotional.

livia

In concise detail, Bitton-Jackson writes about the most influential and momentous experiences of her childhood. After growing up in a small town in Hungary, one day the streets are overwhelmed with Nazi attitudes. It spirals, scarily fast, out of control. By reflecting on the events of the past, it reminds what a great distortion of reality we actually have, how the peace we bathe in every day is no more concrete than the placated moods of the global leaders. So, the message is, don’t take it for granted.

co

By reading this book, you will perpetrate, as much as any of us can, the reality of the concentration camps. The way that everyday could be the last- the fact that there were teams of Jews forced to drag their friends’ bodies out of the gas chambers, to pick out their gold teeth, unpeel whatever could possibly be of value from their bodies. The pointless violence. The train journeys, with the final destination intangible. The days so long, I could feel Bitton-Jackson’s despair penetrating through the pages. The bodies staggering as plumes of blood dotted their shirts, after the prisoners clamoured around the trains’ window to collect soup from the Red Cross during one of the stationary periods of the train journey. Except, of course, it wasn’t the Red Cross. It was the Nazis, using Red Cross vans, and even bowls of soup, as a lure to get the Jews to come to the window so that they be shot more easily.

It was a horrific read.

In a way, Anne Frank’s diary is the perfect prequel to this. Of course, they lived on different sides of the continent, but both were young teenage girls, and whilst Frank recalls the conditions of her concealment, Bitton-Jackson tells of her experience of what followed. In my opinion, I Have Lived A Thousand Years should be considered as classic a war read as Frank’s Diary, because it is one the few books to tell the story of a survivor, and reads well too. I would recommend this to anyone interested in history, current affairs or simply a gripping, emotional read. In many ways, it’s much more engrossing than a novel, and what better way to honour the deaths of so many millions, than by understanding the conditions of their deaths?

TBR Tuesday- My Top 5

The average reader has at least 65 books on their TBR. I am no exception. It seems that every time I even look into a bookshop window (it just proves how good Waterstones is at promotion!), it gets much, much longer. Stops at the library are dangerous. Books on display, all waiting to taken, except when you do crumple into the temptation, they merely end up sitting in your shelf accusingly because you have no time to read them, given that you have at least 10 other library books you need to read first. The result? Awkward chats with the librarians, asking for ‘just one more extension’ on the book, when really you know it’s not going to be read in two weeks, is it? Or, you bring it back at the end of the time sheepishly, and when asked “How did you find it?” you dip your head in embarrassment and say “Oh, well, it was on that shelf over there and I just saw it as I walked in” and scuttle away before you can feel their quizzical gaze on you. You once (when asked) pretended that the plot was original indeed, however it was, all things considered, an anticlimax. Why did I think it was an anticlimax- is that what you’ve just asked? Well, although you thought a knowing shrug and nod of the head was a sufficient answer to that one, they clearly did not.

So, here is what’s recently joined the party of my TBR, which is turning more and more into a rowdy Glastonbury mosh pit than anything else, with books battling it , roughly pushing each other out the way for the coveted number one spot.

I will start with Number 5 (just to add to the suspense) :

5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Offred has limited options in her society, The Republic of Gilead. The dominating one: have children. If she doesn’t, then she’ll be punished and live an exiled life in a wasteland, destined to die of radiation sickness. Yet can fear of the law repress Offred’s dangerous desire, desire which does not conform to the rules?

handy

I’ll admit it. I’ve never read any of Atwood’s books, and it’s high time that I start. In a time of such political upheaval, this didn’t seem like such a poor choice to help me reflect upon events, either.

4. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

Quite Ugly One Morning is a humorous murder mystery set in Scotland, with a sassy journalist, Jack Parlabane, for a protagonist. He unwillingly finds a corpse and then willingly shoulders his way into the centre of this investigation. Filled with (apparently) remarkable dialogue and wonderful characters.

quite
It will be funny. It will (hopefully) have people making haggis to perfection. It will be a change from the ‘serious’ literary novels. Or so I hope- but I’ll have to read it first to find out.

3.  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

An amalgamation of science-fiction and fantasy short stories, often finding inspiration in the most mundane of subjects.
kenn
You know me. Any excuse to read short stories… especially since this collection has had overwhelmingly positive feedback. So why restrain myself? (I think somewhere the title ‘The Paper Menagerie’ also resonated with me, because it is too similar to The Glass Menagerie, a play I found amazing, and therefore some biased link was made!)

2. American Street by Ibi Zobo

Fabiola travels from Port-au-Prince to Detroit, in search of that old Golden Dream, and her American cousins. But once her mother is detained in U.S immigration, Fabiola not only has to navigate the high school politics alone, but how to deal with America’s attitude  towards her arrival, too.
zob
It seems like a relevant novel to read right now, with the immigrant crisis at its peak. But also, after recently reading A.A.Gill’s essay on Port-au-Prince, I’m interested to explore a part of that city from another perspective, even if it is a fictional one. American Street seems like it will be a proper young adult novel, one that I can truly enjoy, and be a wonderful example for the genre.

1.Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

Frank and April Wheeler have everything, everything that a couple in the 1950s could want. A new house, two small children, talent. Of course, April never hoped that she’d be a housewife, and Frank never hoped that his job would be so monotonous, but they know that these are sacrifices for the great reward. The reward of a happier relationship and that lifestyle always just beyond reach. But is it? Yates describes the Wheelers’ once noble intentions slowly falling apart, and as they do so, the pair disappoint not only each other, but the people they should have been.
rev
I’m not sure if “the blurb sounds really awesome” is a good answer, but that’s basically my thinking. I think when I read this there were an acute, yet tender, examination of relationships, done a poignant and unashamed way, which will be refreshing (and sometimes painful?) to read. Also, it is set in the 1950s, and since I have recently been doing so much reading on the World Wars, it will be useful to read a story set in America’s post-war era.
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on them? Is your TBR completely random, and changes constantly, or are you quite quick at ploughing through it? Do comment below!

February Book of the Month – A.A Gill is Further Away: Helping with Enquiries

Everyone was shocked. It was unexpected, especially since A.A.Gill had only recently revealed his cancer. His death has shaken literary world, and now there is a gaping hole where his columns used to be, ever opinionated and witty, and the newly employed writers are floundering to fill it. Reading over their thoughts of the mango soufflé suddenly appear (whereas it most certainly hadn’t before,) trivial. Of course those journalist can’t help it, but how can you fill the page in place of one of the best journalists of our time, and not appear feeble in comparison?

further away

 I decided to read A.A.Gill is Further Away because his death had inspired me to look what he had achieved and created. It contains a remarkable selection of short essays. The book is roughly split into two: the first half is composed of essays which he had written about his experiences in England, and for the latter each essay is about a foreign country. The remarkable thing about Gill’s writing is that the subject is almost regardless. His essays about bantam chickens are as compelling as those reflecting on his trip to Haiti. Every topic felt fresh and were explored with such a zest and enthusiasm towards writing about the subject, that is difficult to find. You can tell the Gill enjoyed his job, that he felt satisfaction from diving into corners of the English language to extract the most precise metaphor, or adjective, or whatever else it was. The descriptions are vivid and quite literary for essays, which I enjoyed because often I find that non-fiction books can be stale in that respect.

1410126-A-A-Gill-Quote-You-either-get-the-point-of-Africa-or-you-don-t

The variety of subjects were in itself a relief: each essay is roughly 10 pages long and detailed enough to make one feel (if somewhat briefly) immersed in the location, but because Gill’s writing is incredibly intense, not so long that one loses concentration or interest. Gill has a unique voice, one which is blatantly unafraid to point out the faults in a country or to highlight the triumphs in the ordinary. This is wonderful. So often people are timid to say something that not only defies public opinion, but in fact is disparaging, simply because of fear. There’s none of that here! And those readers who think that this type of writing, or as it has been labelled ‘complaining’, is dull, well it isn’t. Gill writes about, for example, his Madagascan tribal culinary experience with such humorous distaste that it’s impossible not only to sympathise with him, but to laugh.

I thought that A.A.Gill is Further Away was a fantastic collection of essays, and contained some of the best pieces of travel writing that I’ve come across. If you’re looking for an escape, not necessarily to another world as the cliché goes, but at least to another country, then look no further.

op

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All — Jonas Jonasson

A hilarious, thought-provoking and unusual read, Jonasson has delivered a novel which looks at our world through a completely different lens.

Imagine, a hitman. You know the type: leather jacket, yesterday’s stubble and the cool shades. There’s one in Stockholm, living in a hotel, and this novel follows his exploits (or how he has been exploited, more accurately), as the receptionist of the hotel and a priest use the hitman in order to create a business. Except, of course, the first attempt didn’t work, and the novel follows them as they try to set up three different businesses in succession, all with differing aims. As the trio’s professions change, their mindsets change with them, as each experience has altered their perspective and outlook on life.

hit

The plot flowed marvellously. It is hard, reflecting on it now, to see the seams of the novel, to segregate it into the pigeon holes of “Begining, Middle and End”. Even though there were three business opportunities, the way that Jonasson writes about them makes you feel like you are floating along with the current of the story. It is all smoothly executed; there were no random, stilted scenes. It felt like the characters were creating their own destiny, and that I was merely an observer. Which, of course, is enjoyable to read. But not as enjoyable as the humour that populated the pages, the small witticisms that punctuated the paragraphs and brought grins to my face. And how can I help it? It’s a funny book. Honestly. And if the chilly weather and darkness is affecting your mood, I’d recommend you read this.

The protagonists were certainly not the usual stereotypes: there was a scheming priest (who didn’t believe in God), a receptionist who ends up running a multi million dollar enterprise, and a hitman who had been recently converted to Christianity. By choosing such bizarre characters to star in his book, Jonasson puts creativity back into writing. Why couldn’t this happen? Perhaps it never would in the real world, but at least in a place without boundaries, it’s fun to allow yourself to imagine. Right now, there is a feeling that people are clinging to their clichés. We are a long way from books like Pullman’s Northern Lights, or one of Dahl’s creations. I know that they are both children’s books, but at least they have a sense of wonder about them, of the credibility coupled with the unbelievable. And that is what I have found here.

One issue I discovered though, was that the antagonist wasn’t dislikable enough. He was known as The Count, and would constantly be talking about chopping people up, but not exactly in a menacing way. Actually, I found the way he spoke, and was referred to, more humorous than anything else, and so this made it difficult for me to feel any sense to rally against him. It’s a minor issue, because the novel’s not really centred around the antagonist vs. protagonist theme, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless.

So, looking for something a bit different, something light-hearted? Then find a copy of Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All. Have you read it- how did you find it? What’s your favourite comedic book? Do comment below and let me know your thoughts!

The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan

It’s January. People are looking at gym leaflets, trying again to stick to the resolutions they made in vain last year. Trying as best possible to hide from last year’s events, (whether it was political, or that Dinner Party at Fred’s which no one dares mention,) using the new shiny ‘2017’ as a shield. It is at this time of year that most people try and avoid history, in whatever form. However, we shouldn’t shun history. It should not be cast aside. Instead, it should be utilised, and used to our advantage. (So, note to self, never attempt to serve Baked Alaska near the Victorian curtains again.) The Uses and Abuses of History illustrates people who have done exactly that (no, not served Baked Alaska and then set the house on fire,)  but have used history to their advantage. Although there may be situations you will never find yourself in, there are many examples that can be related to, and the book will start to answer the common question: What can you even do with history?

use it.jpg

The Uses and Abuses of History is a thorough review of the way history has been manipulated and used as a tool in order to achieve certain goals. It shows us what the consequences are when history is taken into the wrong hands, and how this can in turn affect us in the present. To tell the truth, there wasn’t exactly a balance of uses and abuses of history, as Macmillian mainly looked at the more negative side to the way the past has been used, but it was nevertheless an interesting collection of essays.

For a non-fiction essay based book, it is surprisingly readable and full of interesting and understandable examples, which makes this book stand out from the hundreds of others similar in theme, crammed with illegible text and unfathomable references. A great example from the book was the Communist Chinese’s’ use of history; they tried to eradicate every single piece evidence of a time before communism in the country, including priceless artefacts, and rewrite the past to be used for their own means. Many people brought up in the Chinese education system have never once questioned their textbooks, the history of their country that had been fabricated from someone’s mind in an office. The words from their teachers that settled like dust in their minds after a long day at school were, and still are, taken as complete truth. The Uses and Abuses of History teaches you that rewriting the past to suit your own means is easier than you think, and more common in our lives than you’d expect, whether in terms of a politician vying to elevate their popularity, or a simple blunder made by an uninformed amateur historian.

prop.jpg

Not exactly a fast-paced action novel, nor one bursting with intricate characters (although the public figures referred to here are illustrious,) but if you’re willing to read a book about history, then this may as well be this one. After all, what is the point in history?

Have you read this book- what did you think of it? What’s your favourite historical novel? How close to the truth  do you think historical novels should be? Comment your thoughts below!

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Myanmar has only had 69 years of Independence. The past is closer than you think- and you can immerse yourself in it in Orwell’s first novel.

Imagine the existence of places centuries ago. We are all familiar with the concept of Victorian London, or the America as Columbus saw. But can we ever really believe in that place, petrified by the weight of history? Not simply in terms of overpaid actors, but understand the place that existed only a lengthy string of years ago?

burm

Yes- if you read Burmese Days. Since Orwell himself was stationed in Burma as a policeman there is an inescapable authenticity to the novel, and the blank way he causally refers to cultural customs illustrates that he wasn’t desperate to impress readers with his knowledge. (Unlike those authors who adopt the manner of *And here is a recipe for a rare national dish, inserted for no purpose whatsoever except to show you that I didn’t intend to spend countless hours trawling the internet for no credit.*) Due to his experiences (Orwell could even speak Hindi and Burmese) the novel felt genuine and gave me a clear idea of life at the time, and should be regarded as a valuable resource to anyone studying Burma in the early 20th century.

The plot itself could be considered mundane. There is a languid pace; it moves at the speed of someone overwhelmed by the summer heat. It’s mundane, almost. All that happens is that a British man abroad struggles (and fails,) not only to secure his Indian friend a membership to the European club, but the marriage of a girl. This is what the story is driven by, and after awhile it does become rather repetitive.

But then again the ending was shocking, and ends the sense of banality that had been previously lurking. It was so depressing (and tragically realistic,) that it made you ponder the entertainment value of reading it after all. (Why do I spend hours of my life, in happy solitude, staring at bits of paper?)

Thankfully this is interspersed with Orwell’s vivid descriptions of the scenery- he indulges much more in the literary side here than in his other works. For this reason, it would be useful for any fan of Orwell to read this first novel, so that not only can they enjoy the contrast to his later more refined tone, but see how from the start he was interested in discussing political and social ideologies. In fact, Burmese Days foreshadows the themes that would be seen so boldly in his books later on; the individual flailing against the tidal wave of an inhumane society.

A bold and unashamed novel, Burmese Days challenges British colonialism in Burma, offers a rich insight into the life of officers and has an unnerving finish despite the light hearted manner veiling the rest of the novel. If you are interested in political affairs (for Burma/ Myanmar, is rising globally currently), then this is an essential read. After all, if you seek to know something, you must first understand it’s history.