Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

 "All I could do was to offer you an opin­ion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fic­tion; and that, as you will see, leaves the great prob­lem of the true na­ture of woman and the true na­ture of fic­tion un­solved"

I know that Virginia Woolf is considered to be one of the most amazing authors and yet I find her almost impossible to read. Not because the sentiments here aren't spot on - they are. Sadly, women face many of the same issues today as when it was first published in 1929, many still struggle for financial independence, we grapple with inequity of earnings and the glass ceiling. That being said, I feel she could have got to the point in about half the number of pages and still conveyed the same message. Her meandering style never fails to drive this reader to distraction and long for a fast forward button - terrible to admit I know.

Money, freedom and education are necessary to facilitate women's voices to be heard and to record their view of history. There I've basically summarised the essay in a sentence. Throughout history circumstance and social convention have contributed to the empty shelves concerned with the history of women, and let's hope that has changed at least. For this at the very least, we should be grateful for Woolf's contribution.
For who could argue with making the most of the opportunities that have been so hard won for us?

As the author suggests, "A thou­sand pens are ready to sug­gest what you should do and what ef­fect you will have. My own sug­ges­tion is a lit­tle fan­tas­tic, I admit; I pre­fer, there­fore, to put it in the form of fic­tion" and as an avid reader myself, I can't help but agree.

5 out of 5 for the notions, despite the long path to get there.

Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

"Gumbel talked. He talked of the marriage ceremonies of octopuses, of the rites intricately consummated in the submarine green grottos of the Indian Ocean. Given a total of sixteen arms, how many permutations and combinations of caresses?"

When sifting through the many and varied tomes on the 1001 novels list, the synopsis of this Aldous Huxley novel sounded suitably mad cap and intriguing. Just the kind of thing that would appeal to me, pneumatic trousers no less. I'd like to say that promise was realised, and yet that was not to be the case. Despite the blurb pointing to boundless hilarity I was lucky to raise a wry smile, well if I'm honest probably my face moved to some kind of mild smile around four times at its content.

Admittedly, life has been distracting me from my reading. Adventures far more delightful than the content of this novel and a much needed respite from the past two years cursed by a Voldemort-like figure of misery, have impeded my reading progress somewhat. Nevertheless I persevered, albeit at a snail's pace. Possibly a snail with a limp.

On Monday, I was sitting on a plane to the nation's capital- a rather quick flight - and finally the end seemed nigh. I began to fly through this novel and even raise the odd smirk. A rather delightful passenger sat next to me (he was reading a far better book) and commented on his disbelief that I was actually reading at the speed the pages were turning. Indeed I was flying though the text, desperately seeking some kind of humorous interlude that I really never found. The novel has this rather condescending tone and yet, at the same time, makes fun of the intelligentsia. It made me wonder, to whom it would appeal. It screams " look at me I'm clever and speak Latin and French" and despite the fact I could understand those quotes, I felt a very real sense of disconnect. Possibly the only times I felt entertained was when the topic turned to sex - or possibly that's just where my head's at currently. Perhaps that also extends to the fact that the facts of life don't change, whereas economic and social circumstances do and contribute to our appreciation of satire.

When everything is going well and your heart is light, perhaps the cynicism of this novel isn't the best reading selection. I wonder if I read it last year, whether I would rate it more highly? Probably.

 3 out of 5 - I'm just not in the mood for this old hay.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler

"A shudder went through her naked body, transmitting itself to him and almost depriving him of his senses."

At last, the antidote for the last dreary death obsessed novel I read was  this short novella, dripping with lust, unfulfilled and all consuming. Our hero and his wife make the usual mistake of being just a little too honest about times where they may have been tempted to stray. That utterance once voiced lends an air of unease and jealousy. Such a trap for young players. 

In this frame of mind, Doctor Fridolin heads out for a house call and proceeds to experience an unusual evening. SPOILER ALERT - He spurns the unwanted advances of a daughter grieving her father, is bewitched by a young lady of the night and crashes one hell of an eyes wide shut style gathering. Damn, I've said too much.
The writing is exquisite and oozes longing tinged with guilt and transgression.
Eighty eight pages of heady delight that hint at the power of desire and the attraction  of infidelity.

5 out of 5  lingering looks lead to strange places.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

"Sara is newly dead, Pauline Boty is long dead, Simon Aguilera's wife is long dead, and Ishmael is improbably very much alive."

I had been counting down to the day when this novel arrived in my letter box and I feel I was sadly mistaken. Certainly a novel about ageing, dying and decay was not really the perfect antidote for yet another birthday. I may have rebelled in spectacular fashion to countermand its influence.
My reading journey was a rocky one, short snippets of misery that seemed somewhat interminable, which is perplexing given the many endings posited within. It felt like being on the phone to my mother when she is telling a never ending tale concerned with people, names and places which are completely unfamiliar to me.
Stylistically it is well fashioned and yet it just didn't gel with me. Old age, I'm not ready for you yet. Perhaps this is something I need to re-read later, much...much...much later.

I'm guessing my mother will like it.

 4 out of 5 times getting old is not a happy place to be.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

"Today's child is growing up absurd, because he lives in two worlds, and neither of them inclines him to grow up"

How to review this one? I'm not really sure. It is perhaps best summarised as a kind of visual poetry accompanied by some interesting commentary. First published in 1967 and revised in 1996, this one has some "bottle age" and yet some of the concepts are still relevant today. The visuals are impressive and it makes for an intriguing time capsule.

4 out of 5 images a go go.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Night by Elie Wiesel

“One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.”

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, for this harrowing account of his time in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Wiesel's book is as horrific as it is brilliant. There's a tendency sometimes to be overwhelmed by the horrors of war and push them aside in the too hard to deal with basket. This personal account is so immediate, no fifteen year old should have to experience such things and yet he did. What is even more disturbing is the fact that we have such visceral accounts and yet, as a human race, we learn nothing and horrific treatment of other cultures, races and religions carries on even in these times when we think we've progressed.
When our rights are stripped away, when we live in a culture of fear, horrific events become the norm and we revert to animalistic survival mode. That is not the mark of an enlightened, educated, society. That is the stuff of pure nightmare.
Night  is 126 pages of pure nightmare and shows just how quickly civilisation can disappear and an ordinary life full of aspirations can reduce to something inconceivable.

5 out of 5. I don't feel any glib comment is warranted here. This is a reminder that our grip on an ordinary life is a tenuous one, and that there are those who would take it away because they don't realise theat we are all human being first and foremost.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

This Census-Taker by China MiƩville

"That first night alone with my father I sat in the kitchen without hope".

This is a very unusual novella that seems almost cinematic in scope. It begins with vivid movement and  despite its meagre size, the book brings a sense of energy, reminiscent of the child running down the hill -  the tale's opening.
That sense of movement is at the centre of this story's pull and feeds into the reader's sense of unease and confusion. It is rare to experience such a tasty little morsel and it is a rather different one. Go on, grab yourself a copy and see for yourself.

5 out of 5 good things come in small packages.