Reflection: September & October 2016

Genres

  • 2 x Drama
  • 1 x Historical Fiction
  • 1 x Romantic Thriller (is that a genre?! I’m not sure…)

I think I’ll start with apologies, again, for my absence from blogging in the last couple of months! There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I don’t love doing it even more fiercely than when I began, I just underestimated the sheer amount of written work I would have to be doing this year, and so didn’t factor in writing on my little blogging corner of the world. I am, however, back! I have four books to discuss in this reflection, into which I’ve added September and October together purely because of my failures last month… Some of these are texts I have read for my own pleasure; others are ones that have been set for me to read in class, in which case I’ll indicate in each mini review!

(All mini-reviews are spoiler free!)

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A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

This was the first of two texts within this review that I had to read for my English class, and admittedly not one that I would probably ever have picked up otherwise. Being a play, it follows a number of characters in an upper class, late nineteenth century English setting as the truth behind a scandal of parentage begins to be unravelled. Having read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ some months ago I was hoping that my second delve into the works of Oscar Wilde would be just as exciting and fulfilling, but was left somewhat disappointed to say the least. The amount of satirical commentary behind much of the dialogue within this play cannot be overstated, however in terms of plot and characterisation it left a lot to be desired. In some ways, the roles of half of the characters within the play are utterly irrelevant to the plotline and they exist solely to make the reader loathe every snobbish word of how the upper class is presented. While this is undoubtedly amusing in parts and gives a good insight into social attitudes in the nineteenth century, if you’re wanting a fast moving, unpredictable plotline this play is absolutely not for you, and I would definitely direct you towards ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ instead! Due to this, I gave it three out of five stars.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

The second of the two books I read for class, and I enjoyed ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ immensely! The play follows Southern Belle Blanche Dubois as she is evicted from her life of luxury into a less pristine neighbourhood in downtown 1940s New Orleans. It deals with attitudes to sexuality, family, mental health and in a few instances, domestic violence. This leads to the suggestion that this play is not a light read; in fact it is tragic, and I truly felt for its protagonist towards the end. My immediate thought was that this was a play of interesting dynamics; Blanche’s strained relationship with her sister, her disjointed relationship with her sister’s husband, and the sometimes charming relationship between her and her primary love interest Mitch made for a very three dimensional portrayal of what is essentially a plot that does not reach further than two rooms of a single house. My only complaint was that it felt somewhat slow in some instances due to this.

What I did appreciate immensely was the sheer amount of symbolism that Williams uses within the play to emphasise the events around the characters, and the deteriorating mental state of Blanche. Additionally, the use of music to establish mood was particularly effective, and again gave the play another level of depth that I was not expecting. Owing to this, I gave it four out of five stars.img_3000

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

After having heard the hype surrounding the TV show adaptation of this novel, I knew that it was only going to be a matter of time before I HAD to get in on it! Of course, I wanted to read the book first, and I must say I was absolutely blown away. Claire Randall is the ultimate strong-willed female protagonist, who embodies logical, emotional and physical strength and intelligence. Pairing that with the juxtaposing settings of post-second world war Scotland and the Highlands in the 18th century makes for a novel that was so unlike any I have read before, and in the best kind of way.

The novel is built around the events of Claire Randall’s life as she steps forward into a circle of standing stones and is transported back to a Scotland in the midst of uprisings and turmoil. Taken back to Castle Leoch and made healer for its Laird, Claire establishes a life dominated by her overall goal to get back to the standing stones and be transported back to her own time. This is not however, as easy as it may be supposed when she meets Jamie MacTavish/Fraser and ends up caught in the centre of a world of political conspiracy and passionate encounters.

The first thing to be noted about my experience of reading ‘Outlander’ is that it revolves around a period of history that I knew next to nothing about. This gave a wonderful opportunity to be educated as well as enjoying the fast paced intrigue of the novel’s events. I had a few problems with the way in which Jamie was presented in one instant (I won’t disclose which due to spoilers but it was very uncomfortable), however for the most part he was a wonderfully written character with so, so much depth. Some moments were touching, and some hilarious, however I particularly enjoyed the fact that it was not always Claire being saved by Jamie, in many cases this was the other way around (although I found Claire wrestling a wolf to the ground with her bare hands somewhat difficult to believe…) Gabaldon’s descriptions of both action and romantic scenes were as flawless as her research and depth of world building was meticulous. I don’t really have the space to go into further detail on my thoughts, which I could do all day, but overall I gave ‘Outlander’ five out of five stars, and am thoroughly looking forward to reading the next instalment.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

I read ‘Carol’ after having seen the film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (had I known it was adapted from a book before that I would have read it first!) I have to admit, this was one of very few instances in which I actually preferred the film. The novel follows its main character Therese, an aspiring set designer, as she sees the beautiful, mysterious Carol and becomes drawn into her world. It’s essentially a story of self-discovery and first love.

What I adored about ‘Carol’ was undoubtedly the setting of 1950s New York. This is always an attractive scenario to me, and the vivid imagery that Highsmith uses made it all the more vibrant and real. I also enjoyed the delicacy and poetic nature of the way that she portrays Carol and Therese’s relationship, and how raw both characters’ emotions were. Additionally, the inclusion of a plot line outside of their relationship concerning a mother-daughter relationship between Carol and her daughter Rindy served to make the plotline more rich and three-dimensional.

The disappointment, I think, stemmed from the fact that neither Therese nor Carol was as likeable as I expected and wanted them to be. This may sound slightly harsh, however throughout the novel Therese is constantly, absolutely obsessed and consumed with jealousy over who Carol may be talking to (mainly surrounding her best friend and ex-lover Abby). For instance, ‘a strange resentment rose in Therese because he (a waiter) had said her name, and she made a resolution not to speak of Carol again at all, not to anyone in the city’, springs to mind. Therese cannot deal even with other people mentioning Carol’s name, she is that possessive. Equally, Carol is often aloof, so quick to anger, and sometimes very cruel in the manner that she speaks to Therese to the point that the reader forgets there is supposed to be so much passion and devotion between them. In my mind, the film adaptation toned down these aspects of both characters which I felt made their story considerably more believable and immersive. Due to this, I only awarded it three out of five stars.img_3004

And that’s it for this reflection! I hope you enjoyed reading it, and if you have read any of the texts I mentioned I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Have a great day!

First Books for November: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood (for class) and ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson.

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