National Book Lovers Day

In keeping with the date I have decided to dedicate this post to my favourite book of all time. I can hardly contain my excitement in getting to talk about The Great Gatsby yet again. I’ve got to say that it was a pretty close battle between The Great Gatsby and Gone Girl but I feel that Gatsby has more of a lasting impact. I can still quote it despite it being years since I last read it (though it is one of the only books I’ve ever read multiple times) and it’s hands down better written – Sorry Flynn!

The Great Gatsby

The Plot: The Great Gatsby is set in New York in the roaring 20s. It’s the era of prohibition but no one obeys the rules. There’s excessive drinking, the most extravagant parties you can possibly imagine and an element of dream-like romance to tie it all up.

The Characters: Let me begin with the almost completely aloof narrator. We never know a great deal about Nick Caraway, nor do we care. The story isn’t really about him, it’s about his observations. He’s a bystander, a fly on the wall if you will, taking note of all the drama that seems to just twirl in the air around these glamorous New Yorkers.

Then there’s Gatsby himself. He’s a man on money and a man of passion. Utterly smitten with Daisy he’s equally in love with his dreams. His persona is charming and you can’t help but feel empathy for any man who strives for something so hard.

Daisy herself is a pretty young flower, pure and sweet and innocent. I can’t help but equally fall in love with her spirit. She may seem flakey but I have a feeling she’s acting the part set out for her by society. After all, she makes the insightful comment concerning her daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Last but not least is Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. Playing the part of dominant husband and pro sportsman Tom at first appears to be the perfect husband. However, there is a darker side to him and as Shakespeare said ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’…

Language: This book is so full of passion. Perhaps it’s the affect of the American Dream but everything in this novel reads as if through rose tinted glasses. “The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.” Lines like this make me truly believe in the beauty of life. This brings me on to my fourth a final section, the quotes, (which is really just me emphasising how much I adore Fitzgerald’s writing).

Quotes: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past..”

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

“Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

“So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star.”

“It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

I simply cannot get over the beauty of these words. I am in awe of F Scott Fitzgerald’s talent and I hope and I dream that one day just maybe I might be at least semi capable of creating poetic prose like his. 

 

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The Grownup – Gillian Flynn

This book isn’t quite what I expected. ‘The Grownup’ is written by Gillian Flynn and was published as a stand alone short story just last year, in the November of 2015. Realising it was written by the same author as Gone Girl, a book I believe I’ll be in love with until the end of my days, I bought it immediately without even pausing to read the blurb. As it turns out, I should have read the blurb. This isn’t a typical Flynn-esque domestic thriller like Gone Girl.

‘The Grownup’ is an interesting concoction of horror, psychological thriller and damn right weird. It opens with an explanation as to how the main character, who remains unnamed throughout the text, ends up working as a psychic-come-hooker. Hoping to break through into the ‘spiritual cleansing’ business, she makes a home visit to new client Susan Burke. Ready to sprinkle her lavender water around as a part of her con – from which she hopes to earn $2,000 – she enters Carterhook Manor. However, upon entering she finds that the house is full of noises an uncanny goings on. She too believes it is haunted…

The Grownup

For me this book had too many twists in too short a space of time. Had the story been longer (but yes I understand it’s called a short story for a reason) then I think Flynn would have had more time to execute her plot twists better. The last ten pages seem to completely undo everything and then undo everything again, leaving you with no time for the dust to settle before the story is over. I understand it’s meant to have a shock factor, that that’s the point, but I don’t think it works. I don’t like open endings so I certainly don’t like books that leave you just hanging there, dazed and confused.

My guess is that Flynn – or more likely Flynn’s publishers – wanted to have a new book out in quick succession of the film Gone Girl to make a little extra $$$. To do this they printed an old text, a short story that was originally published as part of an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin, as a stand alone piece.

Perhaps it’s just that this story shows signs of underdeveloped writing that I didn’t particularly like. I was expecting something comparable to Gone Girl but given this was written a long time before, before Flynn had a chance to hone both her writing and her story-telling ability, then I’m not surprised it is subpar. Expectation can be a dangerous thing.

The work of a good book is to still be thinking about it hours, days or even weeks after you’ve finished it, but perhaps not if all you’re thinking is ‘what the hell was that all about?’

Gone Girl

I know I’ve already talked about this novel but I just can’t seem to help myself in giving it its own post. It’s just that good. It reached me on so many levels.

Gone Girl came out in 2012 and somehow it slipped under the radar until David Fincher directed a film adaptation, then of course everybody went to see it and started reading the book. Of course you already know all this. The thing I don’t understand is how no one discovered it sooner.

gone-girl

Gone Girl is the novel I wish I could write. I wish heartily that I was as talented as Gillian Flynn. Not only does it have likeable and intriguing characters but it has a thoroughly developed plot and interesting setting. But what I think I love most about it is the writing style and the slow development of the plot through the form of Amy’s diary, which fall alternately been chapters on Nick’s story. We learn from her so many things about her relationship and her life through this diary and then BANG, we find out she’s been lying to us, that its all a fabrication meant  to incriminate Nick. I don’t know about you but I never saw that coming! Never before have I been successfully tricked like that. After the twist the novel continues with Amy in hiding and Nick undergoing a police investigation, and it keeps the alternating structure, which I just adore.

I also think Gillian Flynn totally understands the female mind. She was spot on with her description of ‘cool girl’, I think it’s something every young woman can relate to, and I respect her for creating a character who wants to do something about this image stereotype – though Amy kind of went overboard.

gone-girl-teaser-posters-slice

Gone Girl opens with Amy describing her life in New York, running through the motions of how she met Nick and what an amazing life they had together before she was made to move to a small town in Missouri with him in order to be close to Nick’s elderly mother. For some reason I’ve always been hooked by books set in America. Everything from The Great Gatsby to The Lucky One (please don’t judge me for the trashy read – North Carolina sounds beautiful) has inspired me. I suppose it’s because you’re reading about a culture so very different from our own when somehow you expect it to be quite similar. I imagine New York to be like London but after reading several book set there I realise I am very wrong, and I imagine North Carthage, Missouri, to be like any suburban little English town, and again,  I’m completely mistaken. I’ve come to the realisation that not only are all these places completely alien to anywhere you’d find in England, but they all sound kind of better. In England it’s always raining, grey and miserable (I can hear the rain pattering on the roof and the wind blowing a gale as I write this) but in America the sun is always shining, you can eat al fresco, people have balconies they can use, the rivers shine, the people smile and the New York streets are alive. Maybe it’s just me – the grass is always greener on the other side and all – but I love reading novels set in beautiful or exciting places.

new-york-city

Then there’s the characters. I’m not going to argue that Nick is likeable, but he’s so genuine, so believable – I know hundreds of Nick Dunn’s – he’s the type of guy I can imagine a lot of people ending up with, myself included, someone who’s pretty average, someone who seems great at first, attractive and witty, and then slowly disappoints you.

On the flip slide, Amy I completely adore. I know I shouldn’t because she’s calculating and vindictive – and lets not forget she murdered someone – but I want to be her. I truly admire her organisational skills and her ability to think so far ahead. She was planning what she did to Nick for a whole year. To create all these fake diary entries, to buy a car and keep it at a public car park, to befriend the pregnant neighbour and do little good deeds around the neighbourhood so everybody loved her, to fake a fear of blood – it was so utterly well thought out. And I’m not condoning framing your husband for your murder or anything but at least she had her reasons. She wanted to teach her lay-about, disappointment of a husband a lesson, and it worked, didn’t it? By the end of the novel he realised he needed to make more of an effort, though I’m not sure Amy needed to go to such extremes. And it was a shame about Desi, he seemed nice, albeit a little wet and needy.

Gone Girl - 2014

Another thing I loved about this novel is that the whole marriage-gone-sour thing is so understandable. Nick looses his job, Amy loses hers, they move house to somewhere Amy hates, she is unhappy, she takes it out on him, he looses all ambition, he has a wife who dislikes him, and he is unhappy, so he finds comfort elsewhere. The marriage becomes a disaster. It could happen to anyone – and does every day. I love the fact that such a disturbing thriller has such a ‘normal’ backdrop. And this story is a true thriller, it’s deliciously creepy and sinister. That’s something else I love about it. I admit that I’m intrigued by dark writing and this definitely falls into that category.

This is, without a doubt, the novel I enjoyed most last year – and the film’s great too – so I’m making it my number one book of the year. Gone Girl is a must-read!

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Hello, me again! So after perusing my bookshelf for the next book to begin I noticed something alarming – I’d missed On the Road off of my last post! I knew I was bound to forget a few but I feel awful for missing such a classic, so here’s its own little post:

I read On the Road on a recommendation from a friend. He said to me, “it’s a whirlwind of American culture”, and having been in love with The Great Gatsby, although of course that’s set approximately two decades earlier in the roaring 20s, I felt I was in the mood for a little more of the rolling jazz age and took it on.

On The Road Cover

At first I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed. It seemed to me like an awful lot of fuss had been made about a book with absolutely no characterisation and very poor plot development. It raced along at such a pace that I hardly had time to process what was happening before Sal Paradise, the protagonist, was suddenly in a new town meeting a totally new bunch of people. My friend had described it as a ‘whirlwind’ but I felt it was more of a ‘stampede’. Sal spends the entire book galavanting around America accompanied by his best mate Dean Moriarty, hitchhiking with a great variety of different characters, sleeping in dodgy places, meeting new people, and drinking more than you’d think humanly possible. I mean, prohibition was over so why not I guess, but I think they took things to the extreme here.

After my initial disappointment, however, I decided to do a little research on the novel and discovered that it is totally biopic. I think it’s a case of not translating well. It’s a ‘you had to be there’ kind of thing, and somehow I don’t think the medium of fiction could possibly do it justice. If you were adventuring around with Kerouac and his mates I’m sure it was an absolute blast but reading about it on paper is just a bit of a let down.

It can be said, however, that I have a new-found respect for the novel upon learning this. It was written in a very short space of time (in fact Kerouac is known to have attached several pieces of paper together, making one long page so he wouldn’t have to pause to change the sheet in his typewriter – I think you can see it in a museum somewhere) and all the characters are people he knew and travelled with in real life. When you take into consideration that it is all authentic – from what he can remember in his intoxicated state anyway – then you realise the true power behind it. (N.B Kerouac died from cirrhosis of the liver so I’m guessing he definitely did over-do it with the drinking). On reflection, I’m not surprised there’s next to no characterisation and that the plot seems to run along at a million miles per hour. It was never meant to be the next award-winner with elegant descriptions and a steady Aristotelian plot structure. It wasn’t really meant to be a novel, just a memoir of his experiences. So maybe he’s not a great author but his devotion to writing is incredible and his passion comes straight from the soul.

Kerouac Manuscript

So after a little reflection I can say that I really enjoyed this novel. You just have to know a bit about it to truly appreciate its brilliance.

I’m now tempted to watch the 2012 film adaptation but Kristen Stewart is cast in the role of Mary Lou and I’m not sure I can bring myself to sit through that. (If I ever get round to it I’ll let you know what I think). It’s a shame all previous plans to make the movie fell through, it deserved a good, rustic 60s or 70s film. Maybe someone will make an epic remake in a couple of years to make up for it. Hint hint Hollywood.

On The Road Movie

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife is American author Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel and my God is it moving. From beginning to end it’s a whirlwind of emotion.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The story revolves around protagonist Henry DeTamble, a time traveller, only it’s not as glamorous as all that. Henry suffers from a genetic disorder and has spent his entire life being unable to control when he time travels. Some things trigger it directly such a stress but usually he travels to a time in his own past, naked and unable to return until his body makes him travel again. He is taught the ropes by an older version of himself, how to pick locks, self defence and pick pocketing, and on one slightly weird occasion even has sex with himself.

He meets Clare Abshire when he is in his late 20s but she’s known him since she was a young child as he spends the later years of his life travelling back to this time. On one of these visits he gives Clare a list of dates so she can know to expect him and leave out clothes for him. Their relationship begins here. Come her 18th birthday she has sex with him for the first time and they eventually marry.

Wife

Their relationship blossoms and Clare becomes pregnant but undergoes several miscarriages as her unborn foetus has inherited the same genetic disorder as Henry, making it travel out of her body and die. After several miscarriages Henry and Clare begin to fight over the possibility of having any more children. Henry gets a vasectomy but during a night a younger Henry time travels to see Clare she becomes pregnant again and nine months later baby girl Alba is born. Their daughter has the same genetic disorder but she has some control over when she travels.

Henry time travels to a school field trip of Alba’s and discovers that he dies when she is just five. During his last year alive Henry travels to a freezing Chicago where he is unable to find shelter and suffers from hypothermia and frostbite, resulting in the amputation of his feet. Without the means to escape it is clear he will not last many more time travels and in 2006 Henry travels to the woods where he is accidentally shot by Clare’s brother, a scene previously foreshadowed. Henry returns to the present and dies in Clare’s arms.

After Henry’s death Clare finds a letter instructing her to ‘stop waiting’ for him but she struggles to come to terms with this. She spends her life hoping he will visit and in the last scene in the book, with Clare aged 82 and Henry aged 43, she is waiting for him.

And it is these moments in the novel that have such an impact on the reader. Clare’s endless waiting and the shared knowledge between Henry and the reader that he is dying, the hurt it will cause Clare and Alba, bring the reader to tears. Imagine knowing you’re going to die. Imagine the impact it would have on your family. And then imagine endlessly waiting to see someone you loved one last time.

The novel has such an interesting concept that I was hooked from the beginning and the characterisation is so good you really feel like you’re on a journey with these characters. Some plot points are a little confusing and weird and sometimes it is difficult to follow the time travelling. One minute Henry is 40 and Clare is 5 but it’s being told from Clare’s point of view and in the next scene Henry is 30 and Clare is 29 and it’s all from Henry’s point of view. It’s a little hard to follow at times but the story laid out apart from these minor details that it more than makes up for it. And then the sad ending. Expected but I still cried and I’d say you were a tad heartless if you didn’t. Overall, a wonderful story with a very moving plot structure.

 Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife has also been made into a very successful motion picture and captures novel’s essence very well. I don’t believe any film is as good as the book but this is a very good adaptation and well worth a watch.

The Great Gatsby

This novel I read about a year ago and it has been on my mind ever since. In fairness it’s been pretty hard to escape it whether you’re a fan or not with Leo on the side of buses and the trailer repeating on TV. I’m not afraid to admit it though; I am a massive fan of the book.

Having seen the old film with Robert Redford and the new film I believe they both offer such different things. The old film captures the subtlety and sophistication in the novel but Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation goes all out and fully depicts the craze and vibrancy of the era. No matter what you thought when you finished the book, I think it’s important to appreciate both films in their own way as they differ such a lot.

Image

The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald is set in the roaring 20s when a young man, Nick Carraway, decides to try his hand at the bond business and moves to West Egg, just outside New York. His cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan live just across the bay, in fact he can see a blinking green light at the end of her dock from the end of his garden and from his neighbour’s also. After going round to Daisy for dinner, where he is introduced to female golfer Jordan Baker, it soon becomes apparent that Tom is having an affair.

A few days later Nick is introduced to Myrtle at the garage where her husband works. She gets on a train and meets them at Tom’s apartment in the city. A typical 20s house party takes place and Nick finds himself very drunk. The evening ends in Myrtle being punched in the nose by Tom. Things didn’t exactly go to plan.

Days later Nick receives an invite to one of his neighbour’s parties. The thing is, people aren’t invited to Gatsby’s parties. They just arrive. They are filled with the colours and vibrancy of a man with a lot of wealth and no cares for the prohibition of alcohol. They’re daring and raucous and usually end in the early hours of the morning, though stragglers have been known to linger for days! Gatsby introduces himself to Nick at his party and they immediately hit it off. It seems Jordan Baker knows Gatsby as well and he asks a favour of her. She is to ask Nick to invite Daisy for tea. It seems a small favour until Nick discovers that Gatsby and she have history and Gatsby wishes to bridge the gap of the last 5 years.

From this point on the novel is a whirlwind of love and passion, romance and quarrels which eventually ends in tragedy.

The real flame in this novel is the gorgeously poetic writing and the depths of the characters. Daisy is superficial and shallow, yet has the most interesting outbursts of world-weary knowledge, such as when she is explaining to Nick that she hopes her daughter will be ‘a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’ She is feminine and often connoted with the colour white and flowers. Gatsby on the other hand, is left mysterious and intriguing. He has this great ability for optimism and seems to believe that the past can be relived.

I love the characters in this novel and the poetic writing style and the way it builds to an unpredictable and climatic ending. It also has such moral messages and sad thoughts throughout it for a novel set in a time when everybody seemed careless. In fact, no-one was careless at all. Except perhaps Daisy…