Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review of "North and South"

As I'm a student with limited funds, buying all of my (literally hundreds over the course of my degree) books can rack up to become quite expensive. So, every year I take a trip down to an incredible secondhand bookshop in a small seaside town called Bognor Regis. This shop is genuinely my favourite place in the world - I could spend hours there. It's called The Paperback Exchange and works on the basis of you bringing books in to the store to buy secondhand books at a reduced rate. The prices are so crazy I've even got a couple of Shakespeare's in here for 20p! Books are rated on their quality, and I think this copy of North and South cost me about £1.20, but compared to the £7.99 it costs new, and the £2.81 it costs as a minimum on Amazon, this was a complete bargain! You can grab a copy yourself for £5.99 here

Over the last couple of years, I've read a fair amount of 19th Century fiction, some good (Wuthering Heights is still in my top ten) and some bad (Mansfield Park, I'm looking at you), but I have to say that North and South fits into the former category. It does something which most 19th Century authors seem to fail to do: create a believable heroine. It's also a book which I've found incredibly relevant to the modern woman, and feminist, as well to evaluating the way in which business owners currently see their employees.

Margaret Hale, the protagonist of the novel, has been living in high society in London with an aunt for a number of years. However, as her cousin Edith gets married and moves away, Margaret returns to her home in the idyllic country Hamlet of Helstone with her mother and father. Her father, a parson, begins to entertain doubts in his faith, which force him to give up his position in the village. Out of shame, and a lack of necessity for living there anymore, the family move to Milton, an industrial town in the North. Here, Margaret must learn a great deal about herself, as the town strikes her with many a tragedy. Class and gender become intractably embroiled as she becomes more and more integrated with the rough society of Milton.

Margaret Hale is truly an inspiring female character for the 19th Century novel. Unlike other "feminist" novels *cough* Coelebs (I think I still have nightmares about that one), North and South really examines what it means to be an independent woman. Margaret shows extreme strength of mind and body, at times proving that she is as powerful, if not more powerful, than several men in the novel, especially her father. She makes her own mind up as to who she will not marry, and does not let her decision be swayed by wanting motherhood or protection for the future. She also bears the greatest weight of emotional stress in the novel, as everyone seems to use her as a dumping ground for all of their problems. However, she does not faint and cry like Fanny or Edith would, but keeps going and gets done what is necessary to get done. Moreover, she engages with the class structure in an incredibly unique way. It is ultimately Margaret who ends the strike, by obstructing the path of the debris flung at Mr Thornton, and Margaret who leads to the working men being given luncheon by Mr Thornton. All in all, she is a powerful voice for change: her voice will be heard, she does have power over her own mind, and most importantly, she will not engage with the stereotypes of the woman of sensibility.

Have you read it? What did you think?


Friday, 21 November 2014

Review of "The Catcher in the Rye"

Everything's been crazy manic at the moment, but I've managed to scrape together enough time to read a bit of this almost every day. I pretty much chose to read this because I'd heard of it, assumed it was something that would educate me, and felt as though I probably ought to read it as a lit student. Let's be real, everyone has a whole stack of books that fit into that category - most of which we'll never quite get round to reading (who knows, A Tale of Two Cities might happen some day!). Anyway, I picked out this quote because it really highlights just how distressing/depressing I found the entire book. I realise that there is a purpose behind this tone, however, it didn't make it any cheerier!

Holden Caulfield is a schoolboy who comes from a rich family, yet can't seem to find his place at school. He fails all of his classes, doesn't have any friends and is generally disillusioned with the entire concept of what he ought to be doing as a schoolboy. When he is  forced to leave the school he learns that, although he now controls his own actions to a greater extent, he still doesn't want to cohere to societal expectations. The novel tracks his actions over the couple of days after he leaves school, and leaves readers questioning their own almost drone-like adherence to rules and expectations.

The novel is written in an almost conversational manner. The reader is constantly aware, through devices such as repetition, that it is a vaguely exhausted child narrating the text. Through his eyes, you really get a new understanding of the capitalist driven world in which we live. Money is everything here - he only achieves the freedom he is able to have because of his stack of cash he has with him. Adults are seemingly oblivious to his existence - he is the example of someone who has "fallen through the cracks". 

Have you read it? Did you enjoy it?


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Review of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle"

First thing first, I'm aware that the picture of this book is of startlingly appalling quality. However, as England has become a seat of darkness already this Winter, there's only a very small time period in which decent photos can be taken. As I'm really conscious at the moment of how long it's been since I've written something (over a week, whoops) I really wanted to get this out today, so we'll have to deal with the poor quality picture. Hey, at least it matches the battered copy my student loans graced me with right? 

Anyway, let's talk about the play. Although I should have already read some Brecht, my general lack of motivation (aka laziness) as a first-year student meant that I *cough* overlooked reading Mother Courage and Her Children. So, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is really my first experience of reading Brecht. I have to say, I massively enjoyed it. If you haven't read any, or really feel like reading something that will make you ask questions about modern life this play is brilliant.The quotation above is just a small sample of thought-provoking and often terrifyingly accurate analyses of modern life that the play contains.

The play itself tells you what's going to happen within the prologue, so I can't really spoiler anything, The Caucasian chalk circle, as narrated by Brecht, is a circle which is drawn around an infant when there is a dispute over who the mother is. The two women in question are asked to tug on the infant - whoever pulls him out of the circle hardest and fastest is the legitimate mother. However, there is a twist. Although the judge of the action states these rules, the real mother is in fact the one who lets go - she cares about the child enough to choose his safety over her emotional attachment to him.

The plot follows the story of Grusha, a servant girl working for a governor and his wife. There is a revolt in the city they live in. The governor is killed and the wife, in her haste to save her dresses, runs away and forgets their infant son, Michael. Grusha runs away with the baby, pursued by soldiers who want to kill him. She eventually reaches her brother's house, but her safety is not secured there....

The second half of the plot sees Azdak, a simple man, become a judge during a revolution. Almost like a Robin Hood-esque character, he has a distorted sense of justice, which for once doesn't help the rich and powerful!

There's so many things that could be said about this play that I'll just never be able to articulate. So, I'll just give a brief account on my thoughts, There is a really interesting interplay between the role of women in capitalist society and commodities. Grusha herself is set up to be a commodity from the start: she is a servant, whose sole worth in the mind of her employer is her ability to follow instructions and perform certain tasks with accuracy. She is then further commodified in her ability (or lack thereof) to produce milk for the infant. She views her breast as something that exists to produce milk, but it sadly serves as a reminder to the reader that she is unable to mother the baby on a physical as well as an emotional level. 

There are many provocative moments in the play. I'm not going to bore you, but some of the most potent aspects I found were the connection between the exchange of money and sexual acts/sexual presence, and the idealist understanding of socialist principles. 

What did you guys think? Have you read it?

Love and Light

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Review of 'The Bird In a Cage'

Firstly, I'm aware this picture is of a horrendous quality, however, as England appears to be entering some kind of Dark Age (and not of the literary variety), our lights have to be on from about 4pm onwards. The sheen makes me want to cry, but hey ho, summer's only seven months away ....

Anyway, as you're all probably aware, I read quite a number of 16th and 17th plays and poems as part of my uni course (have a look at what I think about this period in literature generally here). The Bird In a Cage is a play about a girl named Eugenia whose father, a Duke, imprisons her in a tower in order to preserve her chastity. He wants her to marry a Prince in Florence and doesn't want the potential for this to happen to be destroyed by a wayward suitor getting his wicked way with her. Unfortunately, all of Eugenia's ladies, some of whom already have suitors, are locked away in the tower with her. Philenzo, Eugenia's lover, hatches a plan to secure her hand in marriage. Disguised as Rolliardo, he challenges the Duke: he gets to marry Eugenia if he manages to get past the Duke's defenses surrounding Eugenia. The quotation above encapsulates the Duke's response. 

This play is filled with many conventions of 17th Century humour that is still relevant and funny today. My personal favourite is the scene during which Morello attempts to get access to the tower by dressing up as a woman. This reminded me of the introduction of the Dame in many modern pantomimes. You can almost envision Morello giving the audience a cheeky wink as he swishes his skirts across the stage to try and entrap the guards. Although the following scene in which the guards attempt to "check" his gender appears a bit rapacious, it is clearly intended to be delivered with a great deal of humour.

The Duke's decision to lock Eugenia up in the castle offers an interesting insight into the role of women, and the relationship between women and money. Just as one would lock up one's money in a modern bank, the Duke locks up his most prized possession so that no thieves can access her. It appears as though Eugenia is the Duke's only child. In this respect, his entire wealth rests on her shoulders. In order to create a successful marriage in monetary terms, the Duke needs her to marry whilst she is a virgin. Thus, a daughter's virginity assumes an almost physical value. Without it, a woman is subject to marrying a much poorer man, as no man high up in society is likely to agree to marrying a woman who has been "used". I think every woman or girl reading this play can feel a sense of accomplishment when Philenzo manages to breach the tower and Eugenia can be united with the man she loves, rather than the man her father wants her to love. 

Any comments/questions are always welcome

Love and Light
Steph x

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review of "The Irish Promise"*

It's taken me far far too long to read and review this book, but never fear, my flu has (I hope?!) evaporated, so I'm back to reading and blogging with a bit more frequency. Anyway, I loved this book. Choc Lit kindly gave me a copy of this which comes out this month, so you should all keep an eye out for it! Full of mystery, romance and incredibly unexpected plot twists, this book shocked me in more than one way.

The Irish Promise is set in relatively rural Ireland. In a small village, foreigners are hardly welcome, which is one of the reasons why Ella Rinaldi has such a tough time at school. Outcast by four awful tormentors - Jay, Mel, Spook and Daniel - she clings to any hope of acceptance. That's what makes the Halloween prank SO easy - but, how does one accept the lifelong consequences of such a night? One goes looking for revenge ....

Bullying is an important issue that is currently gaining a lot of wider awareness. The flashbacks to Ella's 14 year old diary really allow the reader to get into the mindset of this victimised child. You begin to get a glimpse of how utterly terrifying it is to face a school bully, which is something I think many adults need to remember. 

When I first started reading this it reminded me of the TV series Revenge, which I just love. Anything that gives a sense of justice and karma is a bit of a winner. When Ella comes back to the town of her bullies under the name Rachel Ford seeking revenge at a school reunion the reader gets a glimpse into the lives of the adult bullies as well as herself. This brought a whole new level to the plot. I don't think I've hated a character as much as the pervy, adulterous, unempathetic Jay in a long time. And it's always great to have a character which you feel justified in utterly detesting.

Finally, this book made me laugh, revel in the karmic justice Rachel goes about enacting, and cry. It's been a long time any book has done that. 

Steph x