One Day: A Cinematic Disappointment

When I read One Day by David Nicholls I was sceptical it could be made into a film worth seeing. I was right to be sceptical; this film in no way captured the beauty of the book.

One Day

I think the problem is two fold. Firstly, it really comes down to time. Nicholls spends 435 pages, perhaps 10 hours depending on your reading speed, telling you all the ins and outs of Em and Dex’s magical friendship and the film has to condense this into 108 minutes. Purely mathematically, that’s pretty impossible. The result is a film that moves far too quickly, misses far too much out and doesn’t have time to really explore their relationship. The whole point of the book is how a relationship changes over time – 20 years to be exact – so without the aid of time I don’t see how this can even hope to be achieved.

The second issue is casting. Anne Hathaway is a wonderful actress but she’s not who I imagined as Em. I wanted someone a little less self-pitying. Emma Morley is supposed to be tough even in times of sadness and Anne Hathaway just can’t pull this off with her little doe-eyed, lost puppy face. Sorry but it’s true. However, the even bigger problem here is Jim Sturgess. He’s not attractive or suave or endearing. He’s none of the things Dexter Mayhew is supposed to be. And I know the film keeps leaping years ahead and he’s supposed to age but he looks like a completely different person in every scene.

On top of all this they seem to have gotten all the minor parts wrong too. Why does Ian look like a crazy person? Why were Sylvie and Callum given absolutely no personalities? I saw the film yesterday and I can’t even remember what either of them looked like. They’re pretty key characters and the film didn’t do them justice. I think the only character I really liked was Alison played by Patricia Clarkson – shame she died so early on really.

I should have listened to my gut and not watched this film. It brought to life about a quarter of a really good story, badly. Over and out –

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Apologies everyone but I finished this a while ago and it’s taken me ages to get around to writing a review!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood took FOREVER to get through (about 5 weeks to be precise). I’m going to blame that mainly on my dissertation, but one thing I will say is that this book is difficult to read. You have to sit down fully prepared for a coarse subject matter and for me the last thing I felt like doing at the end of a long day was sitting down to oppression, corporal punishment and an appalling lack of human rights.

The Handmaid's Tale

This novel tells the story of a young woman, Offred (Of Fred, as in belonging to her commander, Fred). Society has transitioned around her and there is no escape. Through flashbacks we learn her old life was a domestic one, complete with boyfriend Luke and daughter, but now her family has been taken from her and she is made to act as a concubine for the wealthy men, the commanders, in the hope of giving them children. Fertility rates have declined rapidly due to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and problems with contraception. There are very few woman left able to bear children. Those who have proven they are able through previous conception are the handmaids, the concubines like Offred. They are made to dress in flowing red gowns and headpieces to disguise their sexuality and given extremely limited freedoms. Their diets are controlled and smoking, drinking and the use of any other substances is banned. They have regular health screenings and do little other than perform routine tasks for the household. Their existence has one purpose: to procreate.

This novel is creative but it’s not innovative. Atwood uses only laws and beliefs known to exist in certain cultures around the globe. The novel depicts Gilead as a homophobic nation, the women are made to cover their skin with long gowns and winged hats and are not allowed to leave the house without permission and the chaperoning of another handmaid. The novel explores the class system – the women dress in coloured gowns depending on their position in society – and the power of political extremism. No one breaks the rules through fear of death, those who do find themselves swinging from ‘the wall’. The leadership have eyes and nothing escapes their notice. The novel incorporates ceremonies and rituals not too dissimilar from those in some far corners of the world and then there’s ‘The Red Centre’, the camp created to re-educate these women. Through the medium of fiction Atwood has merged some of the worst violations of human rights imaginable into one nation. The result? Something scarily a little too close to reality.

Although The Handmaid’s Tale was written in 1985, I am about to discuss Saudi Arabia today. I realise there is a flaw in this plan but I doubt much has changed (for the worse anyway) in the last 31 years and will therefore plough ignorantly on. In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to leave the house unaccompanied, they must be escorted by a guardian (known as a Mahram) wherever they go. Saudi women are banned from driving, opening bank accounts without their husband’s permission and from wearing any clothing or make up that enhances their beauty. In fact most women wear abayas (long black cloaks) and headscarfs. Their faces need not necessarily be covered but this is to the chagrin of some hardliners. Saudi women risk criminal charges should they spend time with any male outside of their family and reading uncensored material is banned. It’s not too hard to see where Atwood may have gotten some of her extremist ideas from. The Handmaid’s Tale may exaggerate some of these beliefs – in the novel the handmaids are not allowed to read at all and all reading material is said to have been destroyed – but they are very much present in today’s society.

The Handmaid's Tale

I praise Margaret Atwood for the ingenuity of this novel. She has uniquely combined some of the world’s most major flaws and also predicted some of the issues the world would face in this rapidly-changing modern era.

Now enough of the mechanics of the novel and down to the nitty-gritty.

The Handmaid’s Tale is excellently written. The language is eloquent without standing out as being pretentious and the plot is well paced. My one issue with the structure of the novel is that it is very segmented. Each section (I say section because it is structured with chapters within chapters) is typically only 3 or 4 pages long, which can become jarring if you are tempted to only read a couple of pages before putting it down like I am. In fact, I think this style encourages you to only read a few of pages before replacing it on coffee table , and whereas on the one hand this can make it disjointed, it also allows you time to stop and think. And that’s what this novel really wants you to do: think. It is aware of its power and its message. Without wishing to sound like an A Level student I need to mention metafiction. This novel is very self-aware. Every few pages there is some reference to writing or the knowledge of a reader. There are a lot of direct addresses, and although this is usually something I like as narrows the gap between reader and text, coming from a character so alien, I found it a little uncomfortable.

The Handmaid's Tale

Now to the ending. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I wanted a little more. I thought the final section with Professor Pieixoto was a clever way to tie loose strands together but I wanted a more definitive answer. I suppose I’m just the kind of person who is never happy with anything that even hints at an open ending. I imagine most readers would have been satisfied, but I wanted to understand how society had changed since the last mention of Offred. I was eager to know more, but I suppose that’s just how this novel functions – it gives you snippets of information until you have a whole picture. From the very first page you are thrown into the deep end and have to wait for things to unravel – it’s like you can hear the little clicks in your brain as you read and learn about Gilead. That’s why I wasn’t totally convinced by the end; I wanted the clicks to keep coming, I wanted the story to continue. I wanted more, and that must be the sign of a very good book.

Over and out –

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Having just finished my degree I wanted a trashy read for a change and found myself picking up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes in a charity shop. I’d seen the trailer at the cinema for the film adaptation and thought it might be an interesting read, something outside of my comfort zone. I’m never usually a fan of this genre; I’ve steered well clear of My Sister’s Keeper, The Fault in Our Stars and other such things because frankly I find them too depressing. The thing that made me try Me Before You was that I liked their casting choices for the film (Sam Claflin as Will and Emilia Clarke as Lou) and I always like to read a book before I see the movie. (Has anyone seen the film? What do you think?)

Me Before You

I suppose this book was exactly what I was expecting. It has that dreadful sense of impending doom from the very first page. A sad ending is obviously to be expected due to genre conventions if nothing else, but this made it difficult to read. I hardly wanted to finish this novel because I wanted to delay the grief I would inevitably feel at the end. So I cannot tell you it is one of those books you won’t be able to put down. I put it down many times, often for days at a time, because I didn’t want the sadness to get any closer. However, that’s really my issue with this genre of novel.

What I enjoyed most was the continuous flow of the narrative. Although at times predictable, I liked that the plot took the shape of one long undulating journey. The steady unfolding of Will and Louisa’s personalities and the slow progression of their relationship meant growing to love them both, and adoring them together. Despite being predominantly in Louisa’s head it was equally easy to sympathise with Will and his condition. I can see why this novel has been so popular. It’s rare to see such thorough character development in this type of ‘easy-read’ novel.

Me Before You

It is by no means a literary masterpiece. In fact there were numerous occasions where I paused and thought ‘what a ridiculous metaphor’ or ‘why would anyone write that?’ Here are a few examples:

The castle baked in the high heat of summer, the ground cracked
and the grass wispy, like the last hairs on the head of a balding man.

There was a definite waft of large haddock in the atmosphere. 

I understand Moyes is attempting humour here but she didn’t quite pull it off for me. In fact it made me feel a lot better about my own writing.

That being said, not all great novels are brilliantly written. I would recommend Me Before You to anyone who’s after a good story, not a good novel.

Over and out –

Writing a Dissertation on Fairy Tales

I’ll admit now (rather guiltily) that I’ve had over a month away from the blog, and it literally feels like forever. Initially I chose to have a break because the deadline for my dissertation was quickly approaching, then I moved back home and decided to continue the break whilst I job hunted. Then other things took over. I’ve had family visit and really got into my running – beat my personal best today (yay!) Now for the important stuff.

Dissertation

Writing a dissertation was easily the most time consuming and stressful part of my whole degree, in fact, of my whole academic experience thus far. I don’t know about other Universities or subjects outside of Literature but this was my experience:

The first step is choosing a topic. Most University tutors warn you to only opt in for a dissertation if there is a topic you are extremely passionate about. Maybe you want the chance to take something you’ve studied before further or maybe you want to work a subject into your degree that isn’t already available. This is good advice: I didn’t follow it. I chose to write a dissertation just because I felt like it would ‘complete’ my degree, for want of a better word. I did it because lots of other people did it and because that’s what I thought third year was meant to be about.

As it turned out I did find a topic, but it wasn’t the topic I initially planned for. I’m a big Angela Carter fan and studying at UEA opened up a world of resources that other students across the country wouldn’t have access to. Then I realise just how many people had written criticism about Carter’s work. I decided there was probably nothing original I could say about The Bloody Chamber and so moved towards a dissertation about the canonical tales. Yes, there’s loads written about them too, but when you consider the number of tales the Grimm Brothers wrote alone, let alone Perrault, Basile and those in The Arabian Nights, I was sure I could find an original angle to explore a unique grouping of canonical tales. I can’t say fairy tales have always been a passion of mine, in truth they’ve only really been on the periphery of my knowledge, but through this process I have discovered a new interest (and thank God for that – imagine setting out to write a research paper on a topic you soon found you hated!)

The next thing to mention is that no one prepares you for the amount of research involved. Okay, I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, being a Literature student I’m pretty used to a hefty reading pile, but wow. I spent pretty much all of my Christmas break and then another 6 weeks at Uni reading critical books cover to cover before putting pen on paper.

When I did start writing I started with Chapter 1. If essay writing has taught me anything over the years it’s to write the Introduction last, else you don’t know what you’re introducing. After I’d completed both my chapters (only a couple of weeks before the deadline) I received feedback that the argument got lost along the way. This took DAYS of rewriting to sort out. Then I had to write a conclusion – and I still to this day don’t really understand what a conclusion is meant to say. It’s a waste of words to repeat yourself but you shouldn’t include any new information. Hmmm.

The next problem was the word count. Who knew that 8,800 words could be so, so short? I believe most undergrad dissertations are 10,000 words and I’m sure that would have been far easier to cope with. Overall I probably had to cut about 1,500-2,000 words and that’s tough. It feels as though you’re deleting good content that could be scoring you marks.

In the last couple of days before the thing was due I must have reread all 8,766 words about 7 times. I’m definitely not a fan of proofreading my own work and this was exhausting.

Then there was the printing fiasco (not a particularly interesting story so I’ll leave that out but it’s safe to say that technology is not my friend.)

On reflection, I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. It’s nice to have a bound piece of work to be proud of. It’s nice to think 3 months’ work can be compiled into a real something, not an essay or snippet of analysis, but what is essentially a chapter of an academic text. Just be warned if you’re thinking of writing one in your third year – there will be break downs, there will crying and sleepless nights – that just goes with the territory.

The Garden, Part II

Read the first part here.

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my chair, a straw hat firmly atop my head to keep the sunlight at bay. Sparrows flutter in and out of their nest and bees hop from one milky buttercup to the next, but that’s not what holds my attention. There are voices on the breeze. One the jagged tones of a man’s speech, the other a woman’s, bright as a dropped gem. Some of the words blend together, a myriad of textures overlapping. I uncross my legs and lean forwards.

“Why would you do it?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

A door slams and the words are pinched from the air. I turn back to the swallows. The life of a bird must be so easy. I envy them and their simplicity.

Watch this space for the next instalment.

The Girl on the Train and Why Audiobooks are Awful

Apologies for the not-so-snappy title everyone.

Anyone who knows me knows I live a very long way from where I go to University at UEA in Norwich. Because of this every few months I find myself having to drive 300 miles across the country. Usually I’d just listen to music but a few weeks ago (yes I know I’m a little late with this post) I found myself with a problem: I don’t own any CDs, I don’t pay for a subscription to Spotify of Apple Music, and I was planning on driving through the night so the radio would be unthinkably awful. For this reason I decided to download the free trial of Audible and have a go at listening to an audiobook. With the Audible free trial you get one free book and I chose The Girl on the Train. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read ever since the reviews compared it to Gone Girl (my favourite book EVER) and I saw this as a great opportunity.

night driving

That was were the greatness ceased. Perhaps this wasn’t the best choice for an audiobook since the narration comes from three different female voices, but I found it quite confusing. Although driving hundreds of miles on the motorway is an almost mindless task, there are times when you have to concentrate – junctions, roundabouts, the M25 in general and times of tricky overtaking – and during these moments it is impossible to follow the audio. For The Girl on the Train this was crucial since I frequently missed the name at the beginning telling me who’s perspective the chapter was in – and when the book was knew to me I couldn’t work it out either.

If you were literally sat doing nothing at all and could solely concentrate on the book then an audiobook would be great – but then why not just read?

The Girl on the Train

The story blended into a nonsensical mess and I lost interest in it. Needless to say, I never finished the audiobook of The Girl on the Train. However, from the reviews I’ve read and from my brief experience with it, I don’t think I’ll be attempting the paperback either. The three female voices are all similarly unlikeable – particularly the alcoholic (I don’t remember her name) None were gripping and parts of the story revolved around completely irrational behaviour. I wouldn’t recommend The Girl on the Train and I’d advise you to steer clear of the audiobook as a substitute for reading. If you want to read, just read.

P.S The fact that S J Watson’s recommendation is featured on the front cover doesn’t fill me with confidence. Find my review of his book Before I Go To Sleep here.

Fairy Tales: Disney v History

I thought I’d push the boat out and write a rather controversial post for a change.

Everyone seems to be more in love with Disney than ever right now. Remakes are being made left, right and centre (Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast), and let’s face it, no-one ever really got over the hype that is ‘Frozen’ – the animated musical inspired by the story of ‘The Snow Queen’ written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Frozen Anna and Elsa

Everyone loves Disney. Everyone except me. I was never a fan of the movies (or books) as a child and I’m not a fan now. As a child cartoons just bored me – so it’s not just Disney I don’t care for, it’s Pixar and the rest of children’s films too. I remember playing a child-appropriate version of Trivial Pursuit at a friends house once when I was probably about 8 or 9. Loads of the questions where about Disney movies and I didn’t have a clue.

I’ll admit that I never truly understood this before studying the fairy tale for my dissertation, but Disney is ruining them. If you strip away the blood and gore; the sexual references; the cannibalism; the incest, you don’t have a story left. These tales are based around these frightful acts and since when did they ever do children any harm anyway? Don’t children and teenagers spend all day playing violent video games? Why do children need to be spared from these things and given happy musical songs instead? Surely children are too young to really understand concepts like incest and so it goes over their heads anyway. As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, ‘I do not think I was harmed by the horror in the fairytale setting, out of whatever dark beliefs and practices of the past it may have come.’

Fairy tales were never intended for children. These improvised tales were a formed part of the salon culture in Paris and then later over dinner in bourgeois households in Germany; they were shared amongst adults for entertainment purposes. I do not understand why Disney feel the need to strip them of their original concepts and fill them with happy-clappy musical numbers in order to make them child friendly. They’re essentially not the same stories. I suppose that’s why I can excuse something like ‘Frozen’. It’s not given the same name. It’s not pretending to be ‘The Snow Queen’ in the same way that the 1991 ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is pretending to be ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with added talking teacups.

Beauty and the Beast

There’s nothing wrong with change and nothing wrong with adaptation but most Disney films have barely any resemblance to the canonical tales. Charles Perrault, Giambattista Basile, Hans Christian Andersen, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (amongst so many others) would be turning in their graves if they knew what Disney had done to their stories.

The Garden

I push open the gate, the white paint flaking off in chunks, and walk into the garden. I remember when the lawn used to be freshly trimmed, now it’s an overgrown haven for voles and mice. They scurry about beneath the foliage, the leaves trembling as they pass. Birds nest in the trees overhead. When they hatch I will watch as the mother regurgitates food for them. When they are strong enough I will watch as they make their first attempts at flight. I watch everything from my garden chair. It’s a deck chair really, one of those pink and white stripe ones meant for the beach, but I make the rules here. This is my safe place. This is my sanctuary. This is my Eden.

Seasonal Creativity – My Writing

Apparently seasonal creativity is a thing. Artists – of all descriptions – apparently have periods of creativity that align with the seasons. Productivity increases in certain months and lessens in others. It’s different for everyone when these peaks are, and I suppose it depends on what kind of material you are trying to produce (I’m just assuming here that gothic literature for example would come easier in the depths of winter with a blustering storm outside your window).

Seasons

For me writing comes more naturally when I’m happy and my happiness is undoubtably greater in summer months. I love feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, having longer lighter evenings to spend with friends, day trips to wonderful places like the Valley of the Rocks etc. Being cold and damp from the rain all the time (I live in the UK, it’s always raining) isn’t a pleasant experience.

Now that Spring is finally upon us – which incidentally coincides with me finishing my degree- I’m ready to begin writing again. I haven’t exactly taken a break but everything I’ve been doing has been for coursework and my dissertation. Now, with the evenings getting longer and a big bank of spare time coming up, I want to start writing for me again.

It may be ambitious but I want to write something longer. I want to write a novel, maybe a novella, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll keep you all posted! xoxo

My Under-appreciated Favourites

I suppose this is really just an excuse to write again about some of my favourite books but let’s just ignore that and pretend this is all totally new content.

I believe there’s a lot of books out there that deserve far more credit than they get. Perhaps people have a vendetta against classic texts, perhaps people just have very different tastes to mine, I don’t know, but here’s a list of books I think are under-appreciated.

Just to put things into perspective, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, a bunch of Agatha Christie novels, along with just about all the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games novels score 4 or above on Goodreads. Don’t get me wrong, these are good books – particularly Philip Pullman’s novels – but they not jaw-droppingly amazing and I think my list deserves to beat them.

Without anymore chitchat from me, here’s my list:

Wuthering Heights – 3.8

Wuthering Heights is the best book written by the Brontës. Having read Jane Eyre (which scored 4.08 on Goodreads) and sort of liked it I wanted to embark on another similar book. Wuthering Heights is in no way similar. It’s better. It’s dark and completely unexpected. In a way it tells the story of forbidden love, but there’s so much more too it than that. In this story nothing seems to run smoothly, and although at times that makes it heartbreaking, it also makes it different; it makes it powerful. What’s more, the writing is beautiful: ‘He is more myself than I am. Whatever our two souls are made of, his and mine are the same.’

Wuthering Heights

On The Road – 3.79

This is a novel that I didn’t particularly like at first; it was only with hindsight that I realised how good this novel really was. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t score as well as a lot of other travel fiction on Goodreads. To truly realise the magic of this novel you have to understand the context in which it was written. So you don’t have to jump to the Wikipedia page I’ll explain now: Jack Kerouac was a great traveller, he was not a writer. On The Road simply encapsulates his travelling experiences in a novel – perhaps not the best written novel but what better medium to document his life. His writing method is also something to note: Kerouac wrote the novel is one go. He even taped bits of paper together so he wouldn’t have to interrupt the flow of his writing by stopping to load his typewriter with a new sheet. To me that’s pretty impressive.

For the full post on On The Road click here.

On The Road

One Day – 3.75

One Day is the only book I’ve ever wanted to start again immediately after finishing it. For me, 3.75 is a really low score for such a moving and intense novel. The characters are believable and likeable and lovely. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed this novel so much but I really did. I suppose I see it as a novel that really represents life. It’s a romance but it’s not a typical romance; it’s not kissing in the rain and soppy words, it’s real. Relationships have their ups and downs and this novel truly represents the rollercoaster that is life like no other book I’ve ever read.

For the full post on One Day click here.

One Day

Until next time and happy reading! xoxo