Monday, 21 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Friday, 18 December 2009
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Monday, 14 December 2009
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Now whilst this could be seen as too unrealistic to be disturbing, the way it is written makes it seem all too real. It doesn't have a definitive setting, although there seems to be a chief, which would suggest some kind of African culture, but also flutes and guns and crabs which would suggest a more western setting. This mix of cultures, and also mixing the familiar with the unknown is what makes this story disturbing. Any concept of; this couldn't happen here or this wouldn't happen now is not present. It is just an event, with no definitive time or place so we are left totally to focus on the feelings of the family.
The story is seen through the eyes of the younger brother of the condemned girl, and it is clear that we are supposed to feel the confusion, bafflement and horror that he feels. But although the story is narrated by him, we do get to see the event through the eyes of various family members. We feel the panic and fright that Ik feels, as well as the pain her mother feels.
But although the story itself disturbed me greatly, it is the attitudes of the spectators that give this story it's power. Although narrated by the young boy, the joy and party atmosphere of the spectators to this bizarre execution is terrifying.
"Everything went slippery in my mind after that. We were being watched so hard! Even though it was quiet out here, the pothering wind brought crowd-mumble and scraps of music and smoke our way, so often that we couldn't be private and be ourselves."
"and they tell me I made an awful noise that frightened everybody right up to the chief and that the husbands parents thought I was a very ill-brought up boy for upsetting them instead of allowing them to serenely and superiorly watch justice be done for their lost son."
I could say lots more about this, but it is only a short story, and I should leave some of it for you to read for yourselves! And it is worth reading, but very disturbing!
Friday, 4 December 2009
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
As most people probably know, this was supposedly written by the chimp who starred in the Tarzan films in the 30's and 40's, and is his autobiography. Written as a 'tell all' memoir, starting with his childhood Cheeta talks about his 'rehabilitation' from the jungle, his career in films and what happened to him after his fairly brief stardom ended. Peopled with the movie stars of the day, Cheeta talks very frankly about what goes on during the glittering social scene of the film stars. Sex and drugs feature highly, obviously, although in a much more matter of fact and almost bored way than if this was told from a human perspective. From Cheeta's perspective, the debauchery present is seen purely as animal behaviour, and therefore the author can get away with saying a lot more than would be said in a normal autobiography, as the chimp sees no taboo. A lot of the humour in this book comes from the way Cheeta describes human behaviour, the one that sticks most in my mind being his description of marriage;
"He had one of those lifelong monogamous arrangements (his third) going on at this time. These arrangements were sort of ritual periods of reduced sexual promiscuity, which the dreamers indulged in, often for years at a stretch, as a kind of relief from their natural state of undiscriminating sexual appetite"
The book is littered with comments like this that simultaneously illuminate the supposed differences between us and animals, yet show that we are not that much different, even if we profess to be! Cheeta's voice is genius at showing the horrible way we treat each other, and other animals. Another example is his insistence that in being taken from the jungle, brought to America and moved from cage to cage he is being rehabilitated and humanity is doing a good thing!
But as well as satirising the stars themselves, it is poking fun at the trend for writing celebrity biographies. A long paragraph at the start, where Cheeta is discussing what he wanted to call his autobiography made me chuckle, with him running through all the classic titles, such as My Life, My story, my loves or any combination of these., finishing with the following statement
"Who could possibly want another memoir by anyone? Let alone another ex-movie star's reminiscences? How presumptuous to assume that a celebrity's hoary old Hollywood war-stories could be of interest to anyone but himself!"
I think that sums up this book perfectly! A satire on Hollywood, both as an entity in itself and the individuals concerned. But also, a very touching story of friendship between human and animal even with the cruelty inflicted on them in the name of entertainment.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Sunday, 29 November 2009
Friday, 27 November 2009
The confusion Effie feels is quite understandable when her mother tells her she is a virgin, therefore not really her mother! And her father is unknown, or so she has always been led to believe. And to top it all off, her mother also reveals that her grandmother is not who she thought she was either. So whilst family details are the story that Effie is trying to extract from her mother, Effie is telling the story of her life at Dundee university. This is in fact the main portion of the book. During the short time she recounts she seems to lead quite an eventful life, peopled by lots of eccentric and odd characters. There are the odd group of friends, all writing novels, her layabout boyfriend, who is supposedly studying with her, but never attends lectures and spends his life quoting Star Trek, various quirky lecturers, and a private detective who seems to appear randomly and take Effie off on some odd adventures.
Just to add to the confusion, the story is interspersed with extracts from at least three different stories, these being the novels written for the creative writing class, including Effie's own attempt at a detective story. All these stories interlinked make for a confusing read, but the strands do come together in the end, and it becomes easier to follow which particular story we are reading at the moment.
But even Effie's narration of her life at Dundee is called into question as truth or fiction (probably somewhere inbetween). On various occasions her mother interrupts her to question her narrative, and Effie responds by saying its her story so she can do what she likes. She even writes two possible outcomes for a couple of occasions in the book. So although everything is tied together in the end, I was left questioning how much of the story is true, how much was elaborated and how much just made up. In fact this seems to be the second book like this I've reviewed this week. Start of a theme perhaps? Possibly, because I think I've got another one on the Library pile with that running through it too!
In essence it is a book full of stories, stories we tell ourselves, stories we tell each other, stories for both a public and private audience. It was really thought provoking and made me think but I'm struggling to do it justice here, possibly because everything was so interlaced it is difficult to write about. It was good though!
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Monday, 23 November 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Monday, 21 September 2009
Thursday, 17 September 2009
(Mind you, this doesn’t necessarily mean funny, since we covered that already. Just … GOOD.)
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
So bearing all these changes in mind, onto the story. It's the story of Doris, a Whyte slave girl who at the start of the story is being helped to escape to try and return to her homeland to find her family. Predictably this doesn't go to plan and she is re-captured, punished and returned to her master, although she lives a much harsher life after her capture. Through her narrative we learn a lot about her previous life with her family as cabbage farmers in Europe, her fairly cushy slave role as a personal assistant (if any slave role can be called cushy), and the horrors of the passage on the ship to The UK, once she has been kidnapped. When she is sent to the plantations after her capture, she at first feels isolated, but is eventually accepted into the slave culture, and the details of this culture are minutely written about, although obviously with the usual reversals due to the nature of the story.
It wasn't just the lives of the slaves that were described in great detail, also the way the slave owning race, in this case the Blaks, justified their inhumane treatment of human beings was noted in great detail, and although reversed, I'm sure similar justifications were prevalent in the not too distant past, and do bring home how once power and superiority is achieved, it's perpetuated through totally made up 'facts' and 'science' :
"Needless to say, Craniofaecia Anthropometry proves that the negro is biologically superior to the other two types. Indeed, while the negro belongs to the genus known as 'mankind', the mongolo and caucosi belong to a broader definition of 'humankind', which ranges from the fully evolved species 'mankind' to the lesser evolved species classified as 'neo-primate'."
Using this as a basis, the passage goes on to expound the horribly familiar ideas that skull shape and formation shows a lack of mental development, pain is not felt in the same way, and compares them to animals rather than humans, finishing with the idea that by enslaving the Europeans they are in fact being saved and given a better life.
Unfortunately, although the detail and horror in this book are all too real, I did have a slight problem with it. There wasn't really much of an original story involved. I was gripped by it, and I enjoyed it. The author evokes the atmosphere and brutality of life as both a slave and a slave owner brilliantly, but this is nothing that hasn't been done before. The reversal from Europeans to Africans as slaves is a really clever idea, and it could so easily have been that way round, but I just wasn't sure what I felt about it. On one hand, I thought it could be a fantastic way of showing how power corrupts humanity, whatever colour or creed you are. I like to think this is what was being aimed at, but at times the role reversal and all the name changes and switches just felt too gimmicky, and seemed to overtake the story. And, at least for me, this is borne out by the fact that I finished this about a month ago, and I've had to rack my brains to remember the story, but I can remember all the details about the reversing of circumstances easily.
All in all, not as good as it could have been in my opinion, but still a good insight into slavery and the effect it had on both the slaves and slave owners, so still worth a read. And the idea itself was an intriguing one, even if it overtook the story a bit.
Monday, 14 September 2009
The first part of the book deals with the blossoming relationship between Henry and Laura, their lives and their families, and eventually their marriage and relatively happy life in Memphis. Although the ominous tone of the book is present in this section, it is less apparent here. It is when Henry decides to give up his job and move his family out to a ramshackle farm on the delta that the story takes the downward turn that is prevalent at the very start of the story. The culture shock of moving from civilised Memphis to a farm with no comforts at all is hard on Laura, and a lot of the story is concerned with her unhappiness at this, but also her obedience to her husband (mostly), although she does have moments of defiance, and the insights she gains, and therefore that we gain also, into the different ways the couple see their lives.
The story is told through alternating narratives, from Henry and Jamie, the two brothers, Laura, Henry's wife, and Hap and Florence a coloured couple who are tenants on Henry's farm, and Ronsel, their eldest son. The first few pages set the tone for the rest of the book. The Mcallan brothers are burying their father, who we are told has been murdered, and that he is despised by all his family. During Laura's first chapter she says
"My father in law was murdered because I was born plain rather than pretty.That's one possible beginning. There are others: because Henry saved Jamie from drowning in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Because Pappy sold the land that should have been Henry's. Because Jamie flew one too many bombing missions during the war. Because a negro name Ronsel Jackson shone too brightly. Because a man neglected his wife, and a father betrayed his son, and a mother exacted vengeance. I suppose the beginning depends on who is telling the story. No doubt others would start somewhere different, but they'd still wind up at the same place in the end."
This short passage says so much about the story I had to include it, as well as the fact that it's just lovely writing, and a good example of the tone of the book. The inevitability of what will happen is made clear from the start of the book and the ominous tone continues and the tension builds as the story continues. The different characters mentioned all get their turn to speak, and between them they all manage to tell the complete story. Henry and Jamie speak about what is happening to them, as do the Jackson family, although these points of view are very opposed to each other and it is Laura's chapters that tie the whole thing together and Laura who fills in the blanks that the other characters don't say.
The opposition of viewpoint between the Mcallans and Jacksons is what makes this story. We see the same events from the racist, superior viewpoint of mainly Henry Mcallan, but also Jamie to a lesser extent, and the accepting, reluctantly subservient view from the Jacksons, mainly Florence. Her chapters are enlightening, showing how they just get on with their lives and keep their heads down, despite the injustice of the way they are treated. This all changes with the return of Ronsel from the war however, where he has been treated equally, and struggles to settle to life as a coloured person in Mississippi. Jamie, also just returned from Europe, becomes friendly with Ronsel and this friendship angers his extremely bigoted and racist father, leading to the horrific but inevitable conclusion.
Surprisingly, for the subject matter, I did feel sympathy for all the characters in the story, probably because because they all had a distinct voice, I could see why they acted the way they did, and what led them to have their faults and viewpoints. The exception to this would be pappy, the murdered father, but he never got to speak, his actions were only told through other people, but still I don't think I could have felt any sympathy or empathy with him under any circumstances. The Mcallans did move on from the horrific events on the farm quickly, and this jolted me, but that this sort of social injustice was rife is the whole point of the story.
I could waffle on for ages about this book, but I think I'll stop now because if I say any more I might give something away, and then there would be no need to read it, and I really think you should read this book. It's brilliant. And anyone that doesn't put their hand to their mouth at the conclusion is just heartless and has no soul!
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Friday, 24 July 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
Thursday, 16 July 2009
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Thursday, 9 July 2009
- The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (frightens me, but I WILL read this year)
- Midnights Children, Salman Rushdie (same as above)
- The Book Thief, Markus Zuzak (Too much hype, worried it won't live up to it)
- Atonement, Ian McEwan (no discernible reason)
- Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh (just not sure about this)
- Chocolat, Joanne Harris (no idea why I keep putting this off)
- Brideshead Revisited ( I know nothing about it, but my mum says I should read it, even though she hates it)
Until the last few days this post would also have included To Kill a Mockingbird, but I did eventually pick that up and am three quarters through it and loving it. I really do want to read all these books but for whatever reason I keep putting them off. Maybe I should just move them to the top of the pile and read them before I read anything else. But that's never going to happen, if only because I keep buying more books and my Library Pile is quite substantial at the moment and they need to be read too!