Saturday, 12 December 2015

Book #55

Woman Much Missed by Thomas Hardy


After the death of his wife Emma, a grief-stricken Hardy wrote some of the best verse of his career. Moving and evocative, it ranks among the greatest elegiac poetry in the language. 

I have never been able to fault Hardy. Having spent immeasurable hours since my teenage years reading his masterpieces and coming away mesmerised every single time, I've always meant to immerse myself in his poetry. After realising my serious lack of capability in grasping poetry, I worried I wouldn't be able to appreciate the verse of my hero. Luckily, Hardy has astounded me yet again.

He writes this selection as a grief-ridden husband who has lost his wife. This struck a chord with me for personal reasons, and probably has added to my appreciation. His words are beautiful, mournful, and haunting, with his remorse resounding through each of them like a strike to the heart.

For the first time, I found myself understanding rhythm, symbolism, and meaning in poetry. I'm unsure whether this is due to my deep knowledge of Hardy's prose, the way I could relate to the verse, or simply the poet's skill. Nevertheless, this is the first poetic installment of the Little Black Classics range that I have absolutely adored.

Thank you, Mr Hardy.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Book #54

Rape: a Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates

Teena Maguire should not have tried to shortcut her way home that Fourth of July. Not after midnight, not through Rocky Point Park. Not the way she was dressed in a tank top, denim cutoffs, and high-heeled sandals. Not with her twelve-year-old daughter Bethie. Not with packs of local guys running loose on hormones, rage, and alcohol. A victim of gang rape, left for dead in the park boathouse, the once vivacious Teena can now only regret that she has survived. 

A crippling disappointment. I expected this book to be so much more than what it was; I expected to be disgusted, up in arms, uncomfortable, and enthralled. Instead, the detached narration and underdeveloped characters gave me a complete lack of passion for the unfolding events and plunged me into utter boredom. 

Oates gives us an incomprehensible crime, patronised with stereotypical characters, predictable plotlines, and a failure to justify the title of the novel by underplaying the entire thread. Although there truly were some disturbing and painful scenes, these were dulled by the rest of the novel. 

I was particularly disappointed in the way Oates portrayed her female characters; each of them inept, bland, and with no other person in the world to turn to. Even her female prosecutor was given to us as totally useless, with Teena herself being shown as nothing but a victim. I'd like to think there was method in this madness, but I certainly couldn't see it, and I was left feeling completely infuriated. A touch of back-story and development here would have worked wonders.

Yes, it's incredibly open to interpretation, but my interpretation of this novel leaves it lacking power. We need to write about female suffering the same way it's experienced in reality: hard-hitting, life-changing, impactful grit. There's so much education to be done in understanding these types of crime, and what their survivors experience. This piece of piss does nothing for us.  

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Book #53

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.

I was really looking forward to this having previously read Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and thoroughly enjoying them. I enjoyed Stardust, just not with the same magical fervour I experienced with the other two

Gaiman writes his prose with his usual eloquent simplicity, creating the world of Faerie on our protagonist's back door step, as though each of us, if we knew where to look, could step into fantastic lands and have the same other-worldly experiences as Tristran. He's a magical storyteller, and his skill doesn't falter here in creating a world of wonder.

I had issues with the characters, most of all Tristran. He seemed to traverse his way through Faerie as though on a high dose of diazepam, with nothing impacting him greatly, nor affecting his feelings in any way. He was calm until the last, and this irked me. I wanted to know far more about him; he was only half-mortal, and I wanted to see him have some Matilda-style discovering of how he differed from the bland children of Wall. Nothing. When his father broke the news to him of his parentage (and Daddy's pre-marital accident with the lady of violet eyes and cat-like ears), we didn't get to witness the exchange, nor were we treated to Tristran's reaction, or his father's choice of words. It was little things such as this that I missed, and desperately needed; some sort of human side to the oddities I was shown.

The other characters were incredibly interesting, but also lacked backstory and development. Little hairy man, what are you and what's the story with the bag? Witches, I love you, I am in awe of you, but please tell me about that place beyond the mirror. If this book were 600 pages long with all these details, it would be far, far better. Maybe I'm greedy.

I was also really disappointed in the finale, but I feel I may have already gone to far into spoiler territory to comment fully on this. The decisions made, and reasonings behind them were weak, I felt disappointed at the lack of danger which had been repeatedly implied, and maybe happy ever after just isn't my thing at all.

Nevertheless, I liked it, despite being entirely prepared to love it. It's very Gaiman, and it's very magical. I'd absolutely recommend, but please try The Ocean at the End of the Lane if you're looking for something spectacular.