Sunday, 27 February 2011

Book #18

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Weary of academic study, an eminent scholar turns to magic and makes a deal with the Devil. Mephistopheles will serve him and give him whatever he wants, but after twenty-four years Faustus must keep his side of the bargain.

This was a challenge, and I loved it. It's a Renaissance play and was written with obvious Shakespearean qualities - blank verse with iambic pentameter - and I was happy to work hard to read and understand what was going on. I think it's what I really needed to get myself back into serious reading. It's a set book for my university course, but it was also one I had been dying to read for some time. Two birds, one stone, etc. Christopher Marlowe was friends with Shakespeare, which attracted me to him. I also read about his heretic comments and his strange death, which made me even more eager to read this play.

Faustus is an intellectual who feels that although he has studied medicine and philosophy he finds it all a bit of a bore and is looking for something different, something more out there. For this reason, he decides to dabble in black magic and become as close to a God as he can possibly be. This backfires a bit, and he indulges in twenty-four years of pointless conjuring, only to have his soul dragged to hell by Lucifer after his time is up. During this time, he becomes something almost like a court jester – entertaining the rich, and becoming even less of a God than he was in the first instance.

He comes close to saving himself many times, but ends up falling into the same cycles of having doubts about the contract, being persuaded otherwise by the powers of darkness, and then convincing himself to see through his agreement with Lucifer.

I think Marlowe is subtly expressing his opinions of the church in this piece. Faustus had anti-religious feeling, and I believe this may have been the way Marlowe was feeling at the time also. There are many rumours of his unorthodox opinions, and this was one of them. The concept of belief and unbelief is rife throughout the entire play, with Lucifer and various devils appearing on stage, but God never making a single appearance throughout.

I felt the characters to be quite allegorical, with each one representing an abstract idea - such as one of the seven deadly sins. Although this made most characters slightly flat, I enjoyed it all the same.

There are so many things I'd love to talk about in depth, but I'd really like to save myself for my analytic essay on this work. However, I'd definitely recommend this one to someone who likes a challenge. It gets easier to understand the more you read, and it becomes enthralling. Marlowe’s points about religion and society are interesting; the whole thing has a breathless feeling to it. I’d ask you to try it.

18 / 72 books. 25% done!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Book #17

No Mean City by Alexander McArthur

First published in 1935, No Mean City is the story of Johnnie Stark, son of a violent father and a downtrodden mother, the 'Razor King' of Glasgow's pre-war slum underworld, the Gorbals.

This book primarily deals with the poverty in the slums of pre-war Glasgow. I found it to be quite horrendous in places, particularly in the gang mentalities and how difficult it was for people to get into an education or a career which would be good enough to allow them to escape the slums. It made me wonder whether I would be able to better myself in such a situation, and the answer was - probably not.

The lives of all of the inhabitants of this novel just seem so incredibly depressing, and filled with violence and hardship. Very few people have ambitions; many are content to just soldier on with what they have been given.

I didn't find this to be well written, but I think it overcomes this with its brutal and frank social observations.

This is definitely worth a look, particularly if you are familiar with the Glasgow area. I found it interesting to be reading about streets and places I know with a historical slant placed on them, and I also enjoyed the use of Glasgow slang to project pieces of realism. It's harrowing in places, and definitely cutting edge, but I’d recommend it.

17 / 72 books. 24% done!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Book #16

Misery by Stephen King

After a car crash, writer Paul Sheldon is saved by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. She brings him home, splints his mangled legs, and all he has to do in return is write a very special book, one all about her favourite character. Because if he doesn't, if he is bad, she will be cross - very cross.

I loved this. I thought it was amazing, and to coin an over-used book review phrase - I couldn't put it down.

Every element of it is engrossing, and every single moment is tense and claustrophobic. I had to bury it under a pile of clothes one night before I went to bed, just in case Annie Wilkes jumped out of the book with an axe. King made me so afraid of her; she is the devil himself, but also a picture of what human beings are capable of.

King's descriptions and imagery are incredibly vivid and do a lot to make the plot more disturbing. It seems so realistic and awful that you can't help but rapidly turn pages.

I really enjoyed King's nods at what it's like to be a writer, and the ironies he inserted into Paul's ordeal. Annie chops off various parts of his body when he complains about writing; his book turns out to be his best one yet, his masterpiece. Not only this, but the manuscript becomes integral to his survival, and ultimately, his escape.

This is definitely not for the squeamish. I am of the opinion that the torture scenes described in the book are a lot more brutal than anything that can be displayed on screen. It’s absolutely not for the faint hearted, but I’d recommend it to anyone. My love for Stephen King is growing bigger and bigger, and I have a few more of his novels on my bookshelves awaiting my perusal!

16 / 72 books. 22% done!