Sunday, 25 June 2017

Book #29

A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert

With pathos and humour, Flaubert imagines the unexamined life of a servant girl. 

Un coeur simple.

Like our wonderful protagonist, this is a simple story that holds so much more than you initially realise. The prose is quite stark, yet has something gorgeous about it; it’s reserved in much the same way as (our ironically named) Félicité, who keeps all of her heartbreak and woe to herself, living life very much in solitary as the servant of a household. She doesn’t let her sadness take away from her duties, and used religion and small tokens to remind her of everything that was important to her.

Flaubert explores Félicité’s bleak existence, one which would have garnered absolutely no interest otherwise, and one which could quite easily be considered dull. Yet Félicité’s life on display by him is so interesting, her history painful yet glorious, and Flaubert plants an important idea in our heads - everyone is important, and no matter how small a story, they all have meaning.

This was absolutely wonderful, and I feel Flaubert’s skill transcends translation. Madame Bovary was a work of art for me, but this is a smaller, more profound piece. I feel utterly humbled to have read this woman’s story. A simple heart is a momentous heart.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Book #28

IT by Stephen King

The story follows the exploits of seven children as they are terrorized by an eponymous being, which exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. "It" primarily appears in the form of a clown in order to attract its preferred prey of young children. The novel is told through narratives alternating between two time periods, and is largely told in the third-person omniscient mode. It deals with themes which would eventually become King staples: the power of memory, childhood trauma, and the ugliness lurking behind a façade of traditional small-town values.
I’ve decided books don’t really scare me. Put the scenes on film, with some creepy atmosphere-building music on, and I will jump out of my skin. It didn’t scare me. Really, it wasn’t scary.

Having quickly come to terms with this fact a mere less than fifty pages in, the book began to read as more of a character study, as a commentary on childhood, on trust, and on the power of friendship. I fell in love with these kids, and the depth to the characters is exquisite in allowing this.

King works magic, travelling from the 50s to the 80s, and back again. We see the kids conquer It as eleven year olds, and then see them return 27 years later to carry it out all over again. The juxtaposition of them both young and old, was glorious, and seeing how they had changed (or in most cases, how they hadn’t) was wonderful.

Using children as the protagonists here was important. We forget how different they are to us; how they can cope with so much more than we can, simply due to their power of imagination; how time works differently for them; how responsibilities and worries, although smaller, take on a different feel. In It, King shows us how the power of children and their imaginations were enough to conquer the demon lurking in Derry, the one the adults couldn’t see, smell, or even imagine.

As an exploration into the wonders of childhood, and with the addition of some really good commentary on racism and homophobia at that time, it’s great. The sheer length of it, however, is way too much. There were a colossal number of unnecessary elements or subplots here, some grossly long paragraphs about things that had no relevance. Although I enjoyed the depth of the characters, and the explanations of how It had attacked in the past, I felt it could have been cut down immensely, and found myself dragging myself into it just so I could get to the end.  

In the end, I imagine we’re all the same; what we’re afraid of most is having no one there to face terror with.