Through A Glass Darkly- Jostein Gaarder

through a glass darkly

This is genuinely one of those sorts of books that just stays with you forever. If I could have my way I would give it to everyone to read but, alas, my funds won’t quite stretch that far. There are many books that deal with the heavy subject of how people deal with death but Gaarder’s writing is so beautifully poignant that I really think this is a stand out interpretation of a theme.

It is the story of a girl called Cecilia who is terminally ill with cancer and is hovering between life and death. She is so weakened by it that she can’t do much more than spend her days in bed, listening as life goes on around her. Understandably she feels angry and bitter about this and demands a lot from her family, including a pair of skis for Christmas. During this period an angel called Ariel visits her and sits on her window ledge and invites Cecilia to ask any questions about life, humanity and death that she might have.

It is at this point that the novel really begins to be excellent. Gaarder has such a fantastic grasp of philosophy that the conversations between Ariel and Cecilia are really engaging and thought provoking. I’ve never found myself thinking about the meaning of life as much as when I was reading this book. If done badly this could have the horrible effect of making you feel maudlin and depressed, or put you of with its mushy sentimentality. This book does neither of those things, in fact I found it’s frankness really appealing. Yes some of the ideas explored by Cecilia and Ariel might have benefited from being explored more thoroughly, but then Cecilia is not supposed to be a mature adult and this book is probably aimed at more of a young adult audience. What it does is invite the reader to think for themselves, and nothing prevents you from progressing further with an idea that is written about for yourself.

This novel is, undoubtedly, written with religious philosophy in mind. The title is taken from a quote in The Bible and Cecilia and her family are religious; so this is part of how she understands her existence. I personally really enjoyed this, as Gaarder really explained his points without sounding overtly preachy. That aside, If you’ve read “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green and enjoyed it, I really think you’ll be impressed by “Through a Glass Darkly”. In my opinion, it might even be better.

The Lifeboat- Charlotte Rogan

the lifeboat

“It is 1914, and Europe is on the brink of war. When a magnificent ocean liner suffers a mysterious explosion en route to New York City, Henry Winter manages to secure a place in a lifeboat for his new wife Grace. But the survivors quickly realize the boat is over capacity and could sink at any moment. For any to live, some must die.”

This was a very intriguing read. I actually picked this book up because  there was a buy one get one half price offer. I had already found one book, so my only priority was “does it have a sticker on it?” The problem with these kind of deals is usually that they lure in you in by offering one book that you really want in the deal, then force you choose from a less than stellar selection of other books. I’ll admit I kind of thought this was the case with “The Lifeboat”.  I also always slightly wary about books which are featured in things like “The Waterstones Book Club” (which this one is) but I’m starting to accept that this may just be a silly prejudice I need to get over, as it appears to be preventing me from reading some really brilliant books!

Anyway, I tentatively started reading “The Lifeboat”, then found myself hooked. Rogan very cleverly allocates one day to each chapter, which tricked my mind into thinking I was covering a lot more ground than I was because it was so fast paced. As a result I found myself constantly thinking “I’ll just read one more day”over and over again. In addition to this, each chapter seemed to open up more mysteries than the previous one, until the weight of them seemed to be the real reason the lifeboat is riding low in the water. This meant I had to keep reading to see if any of these mysteries would be solved. Rogan’s sense of scene is also amazing, she gets across the isolation of being alone at sea whilst also managing to portray the cloying claustrophobia of being trapped on a tiny lifeboat with complete strangers, seeming to prove that “alone, together” is not as oxymoronic as you’d first think.

The book is written entirely from the point of view of Grace Winter, a woman who was travelling first class on board the ship. As all the action is seen from Grace’s point of view this heightens the sense of mystery, as the reader almost becomes a co-conspirator in her private speculations and is completely excluded from the thoughts and reasoning of any of the other passengers. From the very beginning I was suspicious about what Grace’s agenda was. This was a feeling that was built upon as the novel progressed and she began to seem an ambiguous ,almost calculating protagonist.

It was very interesting to read a novel with a narrator I didn’t fully trust. I think it’s so easy to get swept along and accept everything the narrative voice tells us without question, and the thing is…I did want to trust Grace because she seemed nice. I think this is one of the things Rogan was trying to explore, from the very beginning it is clear that brutality is what has saved the people in the lifeboat, i.e. they got in the boat at the expense of others. You push this aside, however, because individually  all the characters seem nice. The reality is, thought, that they do not try to save anyone except themselves and as weaker members die the communal sense of relief is at times quite shocking. Rogan really strips away the niceties and tries to expose human nature at it’s most base. We all like to think that at times of real crisis we would act heroically, but what Rogan exposes is that for every 1 hero, there are hundreds of people who literally abandon ship and save themselves.

I really enjoyed this book, one of the quotes of “praise” in the front of the book states that it is “a thought provoking debut about life, death and survival…morally complex and devastatingly intense” and I think this sums it up better than I can! Perhaps what makes Grace so abstruse is that she has an unashamed sense of self preservation,at the expense of all others. It’s really hard to explain this without giving any spoilers, so I need you to go and read this book to find out what I mean. Be prepared though, almost nothing is resolved in this book. It’s like a can of worms which leaves you with more questions than it does answers! 

My Favourite Jane Austen Novel

My favourite Jane Austen novel

It probably comes as no surprise that this week’s “Friday’s Favourite” is the Great One herself, Jane Austen! What came as a surprise to me, however, is how hard it is to think of something to say about Jane Austen that hasn’t already been said. Read more

Will The Real Mr Darcy Please Stand Up?

When I say Mr Darcy, what, or who, do you think of? You’ve probably got a pretty specific image in your head right now as you read this. Is it:

Colin Firth, and a certain lake?

mr darcy1

maybe, Matthew MacFayden?

mr darcy2

Or even this guy?

this guy

Maybe you picture none of these men, you are probably still imagining someone tall, dark, handsome (and rich) though, am I right? That’s the way I think most of us probably imagine him, I know I do anyway. What struck me when I was re-reading the book recently, however, was just how little Austen actually says about what Darcy looks like.

When he is first introduced, for example, Austen offers only a basic, stock description.The room is drawn to his “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mein”. There is no mention of specifics, no chiselled jawline, powerful thighs, masterful stare or even fashionably high collar points.

In fact, almost as soon as she offers us this lacklustre description Austen undermines it by stating “his manners gave a disgust” and proceeds to destroy any good impression his ‘noble mein’ might have afforded him. He is discovered to be “proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased”, not even his mammoth wealth, Austen seems to suggest, can save him from being, well, a bit of a prat.

If we are to take Mr Darcy’s introductory description, he’s not even as good as Mr Bingley, and he certainly isn’t a man who could inspire fan clubs all over the world. So far, so not the Mr Darcy we know and love. The truth is that the Mr Darcy of Austen’s novel is shrouded in mystery. If anything Austen builds a picture of a conceited, arrogant man who is full of flaws, hardly a dashing hero. In fact, he’s altogether far too human if you ask me.

So how have we built such a clear picture of Mr Darcy in our minds when Austen herself is so vague? I think this might just be the key, maybe it’s because because Austen is vague. Every time she doesn’t describe his features, or his clothes, or what he’s thinking, it makes us imagine him. Then, because we aren’t clouded by the unavoidable knowledge that he has a hunchback, or a peg leg, or even just blonde hair, we can build up a picture of our own perfect man, which makes him far more dear to us than any written description could.

Perhaps it’s Austen’s masterstroke, or maybe she just didn’t like describing people, either way it allows us to constantly reimagine Mr Darcy. He can be Colin Firth, or Matthew MacFayden, or any of the 17 other actors IMDB.com lists as having played him. Even better than that, it allows Mr Darcy to be all for you, and that’s why we love him so much!

How do you imagine Mr. Darcy? Have film adaptations changed the way you see him?

Happy 200th Birthday Pride and Prejudice!

p&p

Ok, I’m going to have to ask you to indulge me a bit here. I love Pride and Prejudice, I wrote part of my masters dissertation on this novel. I have read this novel, forwards, backwards, upside down and sideways. If I understood any foreign language enough, I’d try to read a translation of this novel! Seriously guys, I think I qualify for fan-girl status! So when I realised that today is the 20oth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice I knew that there was nothing else I wanted to write a post about, even better, I discovered a whole cohort of other bloggers who wanted to do the same thing, so without further ado, I would like to add my contribution the the “Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Blog Hop”

jane austen blog hop

 

All Marriages are Not Created Equally,

aka Don’t Let Me End Up Married to Mr Collins

pride and prejudiceJane Austen is, with good reason, considered the master of the romance novel. In her six published novels all the various guises of love and marriage are explored, both of which are prerequisites for a good romance. I believe, however, that it is in “Pride and Prejudice” that her genius for this genre is truly realised. It is in this novel, more than any of the others, that marriage (and getting married) becomes the primary theme and concern: its famous opening lines “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” serve to immediately highlight this. These are possibly amongst the most famous first lines in the history of literature and it is part of Austen’s genius, in my opinion, that she manages to capture so perfectly the core of her novel’s focus in one sentence.

 

For me, “Pride and Prejudice” works as a good example of the marriage plot because itlizzy and darcy is wholly invested in discovering the perfect marriage. Its main focus, as a result, is in finding a satisfactory way to bring Lizzy and Darcy together. What makes it even more special, and probably factors in its enduring popularity, is that Austen’s novel is so much more complicated than the basic boy meets girl chick-flick style plot we have become used to. Pride and Prejudice is as much a comment on the obsession with marriage as it is a love-story.  It exposes all the wrong reasons for marriage before showing the us how much potential marriage has, when the reasons for it are right. We believe that Lizzy and Darcy love each other, not because we are told at the very beginning that this is the case, but because the plot gradually progresses towards this revelation. Swept up in watching Lizzy’s movement towards recognising her own feelings, we are  drawn into, and invest in, her marriage to Darcy. As a result, in this novel, marriage feels like a natural progression and not an end.

One of the key factors in this is Austen’s creation of the wonderful, eliz and darcyffervescent, Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy is independent enough to resist the more practical aspects of her society in order to marry the man she loves but not so lost to any sense of propriety that she can disregard it completely, as Lydia does by eloping with Wickham. By offering her readers such differing reasons for marrying Austen steps away from simply getting her heroine married, and instead seems to directly ask us the question “On what basis should a marriage go forward?” Simply getting married is not the object in “Pride and Prejudice”, for she shows by  examples, such as Lydia and Wickham, Charlotte and Mr Collins, that there are many inducements to enter the state, other than love and compatibility. Instead she is more concerned with finding the right match, and how to be sure once you think you’ve found it. The ultimate goal for Lizzy is to find her own identity and act in a way that is best for her and her future happiness. She doesn’t marry Mr. Darcy because she has to, she marries him because ,boy oh boy, does she want to.

Perhaps one of the reasons this novel has endured for two hundred years is because Austen taps into something that everyone understands, and is still relevant today, how to find it is all, health, wealthy, happiness and love. The circumstances we face may be different but ultimately everyone still wants a cocktail of all this and “Pride and Prejudice”, after all these years, still shows us one of the most perfect examples of it in Lizzy and Darcy.

miss bennet

Maybe you’ve read Pride and Prejudice to shreds, like me, or maybe you’ve never read it. Either way why don’t you make 2013 the year you discover, or rediscover, this novel?

Then come back and tell me all about it!!

Even better, if this has just whetted your appetite don’t forget to check back all week for more Pride & Prejudice related posts. Or why don’t you check out the rest of the “Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Blog Hop”

Friday’s Favourite: Gangster Squad

gangster squad

This weeks “Friday’s Favourite” is Gangster Squad. Let me tell you something, my brother and I never want to see the same film, ever. This causes major stress in our family and usually ends up with one, or both, of us flouncing dramatically from the room in a huff. He likes films along the lines of The Expendables, or anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it…and, well, I just don’t. So when we both wanted to see this film I knew that something miraculous had just happened. For this reason alone, it would warrant a place on “Friday’s Favourite”.

Anyway, we went to see it this week and it was SO good. The script was a winner for me, it was speckled with some really clever dialogue and just enough period slang to set the scene but not overkill it. I’ve said previously this is one of my pet peeves in any historical drama, there’s either not enough or too much. Gangster Squad had the perfect amount, in my opinion. There was a perfect balance between action and detail and the gore level was also not as bad as I was expecting. Yes there’s a couple of squeamish scenes, but they are relevant rather than just stuck in so Sean Penn (who is brilliant) can run around killing people. I would actually go as far as to say I was surprised by the restraint from gratuitous gore in this film. Gangster Squad also taught me some things about American history that I didn’t know before, which is always nice. I didn’t realise how “new” L.A was, for example, or that it had Gangsters. I knew about Gangsters (Thanks Bugsy Malone), but I didn’t know they ever got to L.A, so it gets points for that!

roxy

And, the costumes, can we please have a moment of silence to reflect on Emma Stone’s wardrobe in this film! Everything she wore went straight to my mental wish-list. I’ve heard that her red dress, which is in all the promo posters, was based on Jessica Rabbit, and I can totally see it. I just wish I had the occasions and the resources to dress myself like this. The men aren’t too shabby either, there’s something effortlessly stylish about a man in spats hunting down a King Pin, also in spats. Have you seen this film, or are you going to see it? If you have, what did you think? What’s your “Friday’s Favourite” this week?

I’ll leave you with this little treat, which I enjoyed, and seemed appropriate considering the theme of this “Friday’s Favourite”.

gangsters