i don’t like the framing of an abuse survivor story as a suspense/thriller story. I don’t have a problem with the subject matter, it’s the way it’s do...morei don’t like the framing of an abuse survivor story as a suspense/thriller story. I don’t have a problem with the subject matter, it’s the way it’s done.
i feel sort of very guilty for not liking this book. Though it’s a work of fiction, the author has a note at the end letting us know that it’s semi-autobiographical pretty autobiographical. This annoyed me, though to be fair, I believe she is doing it because she believes this will offer young readers hope in their recovery.
The author frames the story more as a whodunit? With the ‘it' being childhood sexual abuse and not murder. I didn’t like the feel that this book has suspense/psychological thriller film written into it. I didn’t like the too loud echoes of things like a ghosty voice repeating “I’ll never tell-ell-“ mixed with the stalking and the not so mysterious mystery of who is her abuser. The stalking is also a bit much for this small book that's already taken on many subjects and feels like more of an manipulative device that points to a focus on outside tension that ends up overshadowing the interior story. the stalking takes us away from kendra's emotional space of feeling unsafe because of her abuse, and allows us (and her) to only look at her current danger. this annoys me because it misses the emotional experience. the book implies that if she was not being stalked, she would be/feel safe and okay, she would be free from the trauma. if only it worked this way. i am not wanting to downplay the terrors of being stalked. i am saying more, it's a different book. too many subjects here shifted the focus away from any of them resonating in a real way with me.
the excessive focus on the who and not on the what is a big part of what frustrated me. the other focus is on the silencing of the survivor (stalker and memory focus on silencing). Though I believe that silencing is a very important issue, I felt that the way it’s shown in this story feels so oversimplified, partly because in the story the abuser saying “I’ll kill you if you tell” is repeated so much that the other spaces of silencing end up being silenced. And it’s not that this isn’t often part of the story, it’s just that it’d be more interesting to me if it was more subtle and layered and complicated. the author gives us the impression that the only reason kendra is struggling to tell her story of sexual abuse is because of the abuser's threats. i don't think it's that simple, though that is a big piece. oversimplification to this degree, and this kind of misdirect gets me pretty upset.
And it’s that the “don’t tell” and the “who” end up taking the place of the substance of the abuse and the affect of the abuse on Kendra, instead of being elements of the traumatic experience. And it’s that, for me, the way it’s done, and the use of these elements as substitutions for the whole, remind me of a tense movie geared to a kind of superficial pleasure in the terror of tension, and avoid the real depth and complication of this kind of story, as well as allowing the reader a way to avoid what it’s really about. The way this plays out feels to me like the substance is being minimized.
I’m conflicted around the portrayal of cutting. I don’t like it when self destructive behavior is portrayed in either extreme-I don’t like the shaming take at all, and am sick of people who can’t understand/emphasize with this impulse to such a degree that they feel the need to denigrate people who struggle with this. There’s enough shame around the abuse without adding more shame on someone for how they are dealing with it.
I am not into the romanticizing of self destructive behaviors either. People do self destructive behaviors because they are hurting so much and they don’t yet know other ways to handle this. Hurting this much is not romantic. (hurting this much is also not your fault and not a sign of weakness or stupidity.) There is nothing in the book on shifting away from cutting, not even a few sentences about what kendra might do instead (and kendra’s an artist-so idea n. 1, go make blood paintings! With paint. Or paint/draw red markings on your body. Or rub an ice cube on your wrist. Or …). I think if you are struggling with cutting (or thinking of giving this to a friend or student or client who is…) you might consider waiting on reading this. I haven’t cut in a really really long time, but when I read it, it was more than a thought. the author is pretty defensive of cutting and though I understand where that comes from, I don’t like reading defensive.
I like her showing that cutting can help and where the impulses can be coming from (to try to help people who just don’t get it but want to and need to understand it at least a little, for example, it’s important for our emts and emergency doctors to have a better understanding of cutting so they stop doing ignorant and cruel things like refusing to stitch up young girls. This does not teach a cutter to stop. It only adds more shame and more reasons to hide and not seek connection.), so showing the rush like an drug or lover and and the deadening of overwhelming emotional pain is a good thing…but I want something to balance this out I guess.
I don’t like the way recovery is shown as romantic love and solving external mystery and voila, done! the oversimplification of everything really annoyed me. Kendra’s feelings are not complex or ambivalent.
I want to see more books about these subjects, so I hate to rate it under 3. But me, I didn’t really like it. I’d like to see it written as a story that doesn’t need the trappings of a suspense thriller. This is part of what I disliked in Room by Emma Donoghue. Both books take trauma stories about women and sort of pretty it up and slick it up and put into an acceptable format (mystery/suspense) and both say that they want to help people understand trauma, but both are so terribly oversimplified and unrealistic from where I’m sitting, …oh, grrr…
What I did really like-the portrayal of love between two girls in high school is really well done. it’s tough to find good stories about girls in romantic relationships with other girls in young adult stories. I like how the focus is on their relationship, and not so much on struggling to define or accept their sexuality. It’s not that sexuality is not an issue, it’s just that the relationship is central here, and the sexuality is a part of that, not overshadowing it.
I really like the parts where Kendra is making art. I like watching people put their insides on the outside, watching the form that it takes on the page. It annoyed me that kendra had to be brilliantly talented. but I liked the way that Kendra rejected the technically skilled but emotionally empty style of art she was being aggressively taught by her professional artist mother in favor of making art that is an honest expression of herself, art that’s real even when it’s so dark people might not want to look at it. I like the message that honesty and one’s own voice are valid and valuable and even if not beautiful in a traditional sense, beautiful in a meaningful sense. Beautiful in a this might really touch someone way.
Sometimes it wears me out, this idea that showing our skills and smarts is more important than showing who we are. I mean, our skills and smarts are part of who we are, but we are also our tears and struggles. We are not one thing or the other. Smart women and girls hurt too. Smart women and girls make unwise choices too. I am tired of so much hiding. A part of me says, no wait- roll your sleeves back down. I don’t want to. I won’t. (less)
There are times when I feel that something must be wrong with me because I can’t always answer what appears to be a simple question with an equally si...moreThere are times when I feel that something must be wrong with me because I can’t always answer what appears to be a simple question with an equally simple answer. Reading this book, I smiled to myself around this, and felt validated and vindicated that this is not truly a flaw.
written in the 1940s, I love the feel of it, the way it is both delicate and head-on in its rendering of both innocent and serious things. and I love the way that the narrator, Cassandra, expresses conflicting emotions, the way that she relates her experience to characters in books she has read, the way that she changes her mind, and is complicated in her thoughts and feelings in a way that feels very real to me, that she sometimes thinks she knows why she is acting a certain way, only to see later after something else occurs and she becomes more self aware (and this often through journaling, which I relate to, too), that it was really something else. I love this shifting of her perspective. I love her imaginativeness. The entire world is alive and possessing feelings to her. She weaves her own story with the stories of books she loves. I love the way her mind works. I love that she is aware of conflicting impulses within herself.
This is something very special about the book to me, to have this narrator who feels so honest and in the process of understanding herself, and having this awareness of how she sometimes feels like she knows something about herself only to realize later that it looks quite different.
And this seems to me to be one of the main themes of the book, the way that perception is so often limited and pieces are missing and how this affects our idea of reality, and the way that reality and the people in it, including ourselves, are more layered and complicated than can be contained in the kind of one sentence summation that the world often asks of us. This view of a more layered complicated reality leaves room for us to surprise ourselves and to be surprised by others.
As much as this book has a feel of naivete that the author even plays with, having one of the characters accuse the narrator of being “consciously naïve” (and even he decides later that she is charming), the narrator and the book are in many ways much deeper and wiser than they may appear at first glance. I think this is intentional.
One thing this book is about going deeper, and the complexity that is there. It’s about learning to know ourselves and others more clearly and it’s about growing up. It’s about making choices about the kind of person we will choose to be, given awareness of the kind of person we are. Though Cassandra is literally growing up, I believe the book is speaking too about the kind of growing up we all do all throughout our lives. The way we are reimagining our view to the past and shifting our understanding of ourselves and others. (less)
There’s a moment in the book that really spoke to me.
Ista is speaking to a man who has a demon riding him (high fantasy novel) but not controlling him...moreThere’s a moment in the book that really spoke to me.
Ista is speaking to a man who has a demon riding him (high fantasy novel) but not controlling him. he could use the demon's powers for his wishes, though with the danger of the demon eventually taking him over and eating him up from the inside. demon-eaten...so anyway, ista says to him , ‘never never never use these powers to magick liss’, the girl he loves to glamour/bespell/betray her into loving him.
at first he just thinks it's a joke. and ista says something in explanation along the lines of, if liss ever finds out that you did this to her, she will not only lose her trust in you, but she will lose her trust in herself, in her own ability to trust her own thoughts and feelings. she will doubt herself and she will drive herself mad questioning everything she thinks and feels. and this distrust of self you will cause her will be so much worse and crueller and more disabling than if you cut off both her legs.
and i felt the truth of this. i felt how close this is to my experience. (though I’m uncomfortable with this last bit too, with the comparing of pains, and the sort of cavalier attitude towards cutting off of her legs. I am taking this to mean that the emotional trauma of distrusting oneself is of a different kind of devastating and one that people tend to minimize and ignore because they are more concerned with the kind of physical trauma people tend to believe is always the worst thing)
And I felt how this loss in the ability to trust myself is underneath everything and it's like something eating me up from the inside. And this feels so significant and how this is itself a big piece of understanding trauma.
And I was thinking about how many traumatized people often have experiences in mental health settings (psychiatrists, hospitals etc.) in which our own ability to have faith in our own perceptions of reality is assaulted by the people we go to for help and comfort and support.
many people don’t want to witness the histories of those who have been severely traumatized. And many easily dismiss the testimony as faulty by virtue of it’s very extreme horror as being false, unreal, made-up. And the content is also often dismissed by virtue of the otherness of the mental states of the speakers…and yet, it is essential to restore trust in one’s own self to heal, and I believe that a big help to this healing can be the trust that others place in my abilities to trust myself.
people often look at the difficulty with trauma as being the traumatized person’s loss of/difficulty with trust in others. and this is true. but sometimes this can obscure the other pieces. it's not the big picture of why i don't feel safe. I don't feel safe not only because of the bad people and the bad things they did to me, but because I don't always completely trust myself to keep myself safe anymore.
And I’m writing all this because it made me want to say something around how I think it’s an important thing for people to understand when interacting with survivors.
Okay, so, um, what did I think of the book? I wanted to really like this book because I really like the theme of it never being too late for redemption. and i loved the last book i read by lois mcmaster bujold. perhaps my expectations were too high.
The heroine is a 40 year old woman, named ista, who has spent most of her life (before the book starts, this is in the curse of chalion) under a curse which I just realized I can’t say what I want about that because I will give something away of that book. Okay, I can say that when this book begins, she sees herself as having barely had a life, and the life she did have, she has a great regret, a secret shame, a big mistake she is sick with guilt over it.
and she is fearful that she is too old to begin learning to live. I love that it’s about her finding her way back into life after a long period of death-in-life. This is similar to the curse of chalion, this theme of returning from the metaphoric underworld. the book has such a feeling of tenseness and dread that I didn’t like it as much, and it feels very drawn out to me, and there is much more of a plot focus that doesn’t allow as much emphasis on character as I’d like.
Though Ista is changing, the story concerns itself mostly with what is happening externally. And what is happening externally is much more to do with demons and magic and magical problems that feels to me like it takes over in a way that made the characters less rich and more doers of action, and much less as having much going on and shifting inside. their connections feel weak to me. though the characters themselves are cool. Still, I think if you like high fantasy and horror (I guess non traditional horror, but all this demon possession made me cringe!) and have more patience than i do lately, then I think it’s a good book. Though, read The Curse of Chalion first.(less)
this isn't working for me. it's hard for me to tell what it'd be like for someone else. it's made me really angry.
one thing i didn't like is the focus...morethis isn't working for me. it's hard for me to tell what it'd be like for someone else. it's made me really angry.
one thing i didn't like is the focus is only on mindfulness meditation through focusing on the breath/breathing, which doesn't work for me. i had hoped and expected that since the book is expressly written for people with anxiety, fear and panic, he'd take the time to show some other ways to focus and get grounded and reconnected to the body and the present since focusing on the breath causes me (and i've read that this is not uncommon with others struggling with ptsd and trauma) to panic worse. i'm pretty disappointed with it. i remember too that best parts in it he was quoting from jon kabbat. i wish i could remember what the quotes were.
he also does this thing that annoys me, and i think it's a shaming and crazymaking fake clever tactic, where he gives this title to the book, but then tells the reader that we are awfully silly because mindfulness can't help us be less anxious because to try to be less anxious makes us incapable of becoming less anxious. so he tells us that we need to go into our mindfulness meditation practice with no hopes or ideas around feeling less anxious. this really gets to me. i'm not that stupid. if i could stop being anxious just because i knew it was wise, i wouldn't be reading this stupid humiliating book.
despite the philosophical aspect that i understand and even agree with (i mean, that it's true in a different sense that our fighting our fear isn't helpful and therefore we need to find ways to learn how to not resist but this is a different subject), i resent him using the title to give us false hopes and then making fun of the reader for having them, if that makes any sense.
he is also telling you that all this will only help if you start a practice of i think like an hour a day? and he tells you you have to have a room dedicated to only your practice and you need to completely redecorate the room...it's very much not in steps, and i didn't feel he had much empathy for terror. i think when he uses the word anxiety he means something more like maybe stress? i don't know, it made me pretty mad. mad!
i tend to have a default reaction to fight the nightmares in my life. i mean that i act as if i can somehow make them untrue if i try hard enough. one...morei tend to have a default reaction to fight the nightmares in my life. i mean that i act as if i can somehow make them untrue if i try hard enough. one of the motifs of this book is the split between our wish to remember and our wish to forget. my experience with this book is tied up in the beautiful dying while i was reading it, (for an idea of what the beautiful looks like, not herand one of the themes of the book is loss, as well as identity, memory and feelings of dislocation due to exile.
the author doesn’t fight reality. she is in pain, she is devastated by her pain, but she looks at, she explores it, she takes it apart and attempts to put it back again. she talks about it in a lot of different ways. i think that’s part of what she is saying, that it’s the running away from the things in life that hurt that take away more than what we fear has been taken if we look at it. this is something i’m struggling with and i move around it and the novel moves around too. i wish i knew the word, it’s not circular and it’s not linear, things return, they shift, it’s more like life really feels to me. change isn’t usually linear, not really, not exactly. maybe eventually, when looked at in a bigger picture way.
one day it’s me saying “no no no- it’s a mistake. it’s not true. i can make this not be true if i …” and the next day i might be being with her death, curled up in bed and crying and “i miss you so much, beautiful. remember when…”. and then i am back to the “if i cook your favorite food, you’ll smell it, you won’t be able to resist, you will be with me again.” and then the next day i’m writing a review and writing that you are dead partly as a way to make it more real (or is this really another attempt to make you alive again) and stop myself from denying the truth and falling into that kind of avoidance that’s ends up being about avoiding everything and me being less alive and makes me not able to even be with my memories of you. i have no wisdom around death. i’m missing so much that this insightful book is about because i keep taking it back to me and her not being here anymore. but one thing i think i am getting from the book and from the beautiful is the idea that it’s not about making the pain/loss go away. it’s about finding a way to be with it.
i like that about this book, i thought the word was elliptical, but when i looked it up it looks like i’m misremembering the meaning. i’m saying it anyway, because the sound of it at least is right and i’m in a kind of grumpy mood.
the novel is not a traditional style linear plot narrative. it’s fragmented like the author is saying that the feelings of the exile are fragmented. she is constructing a narrative out of disorientation and loss and it’s real, it’s a mirror to her experience which is fragmented and shifting and fractured, of a reality that no longer has the kind of solidity and coherence and linear order, a reality that takes on the feeling of not being fully awake, and where the past is layered on the present in a surreal and disorienting way.
she is attempting to establish connections when her system of connections has been taken away. one aspect she focuses on is language, and how her very language has been taken away, changed, broken, used as a political purposes to split the people in her country, (and then her country not longer exists) and so she is losing the foundation or solid ground in so many ways. it’s like when you feel like you are unmoored and then something happens and suddenly you’re even more unmoored. another anchor taken away.
i think part of the non traditional non linear narrative style too, is that she can’t wait till she stops feeling and thinking in a fragmented way to tell her story. i’ve been waiting for my mind to think differently before i speak more. that maybe going through the fragmented style writing is a way through. i don’t know. i know that silence isn’t working for me. i know that feeling of dislocation too well. a voice in my mind has cried out since i can remember “i want to go home” and then, “there is no home”.
i love how she shows how connected our sense of home is to our sense of identity. i wish i could convey the beauty and insight of this book, the intelligence and heart of it. i want to reread it when i can focus on it more. i am aware that i am not talented at choosing what to read when, and am about to go on a spree (“shopping or killing?”) neither, comfort reading.
i love how she is about embracing pain, and not denying it. and that it’s okay. that she doesn’t have to hide it, or pretend it’s not there. it’s a very unusual message i believe, that pain is okay and yet how strange, really, that we all act as if happiness is the natural state to be in given the world we live in. i’m not saying that i think we should all be sad, more that why do we feel ashamed or like we are failing when we feel sadness in response to sad things in life.
i think she is saying that we can maybe be less afraid of these feelings, of believing that experiencing these feelings is indulgent or crazy, but that they are human and natural and that moving through them is part of what makes us real and strong. i don’t know.
the book is filled with references to different museum exhibits the narrator goes to about memory, identity, loss. we learn in the last section that there really is a museum called the museum of unconditional surrender in berlin. it’s the site of german capitulation and formerly maintained by the soviet union. it’s an exibition of a place that is a document of a germany that no longer exists owned by a soviet union that no longer exists. it’s a mirror for the exile narrator.
part of having and losing a home is losing references, anchors, symbols, routines, language, losing things that we take for granted, that we think have no meaning, losing the way we shape and store and interpret things. all these little details that seem unimportant and how when we lose them, we are stripped of reference points, how unmooring this is to our sense of identity. how our identity is partly in reference to external things, cultural things and shared things and the way these things come together to create meaning and a sense of belonging and place. a sense of being in relation.
and one more thing. this is a novel. i am so annoyed with reviewers calling this a memoir, and if i was in a different place i’d like to think i could make a great argument why this is just so wrong and not okay. as it is, i’ll just say that this author has lost so much control of so much of her life, and i don’t believe that writers get to control the way we interpret their work, but they do get to have a choice about the form.
she explicitly calls this book a novel in her introduction, and i think it’s the least we can do is believe her that she knows and is capable of choosing what form of book she is writing. i am not saying it’s not partly autobiographical, neither is she. this is a fucking novel, though, so stop calling it a memoir because you’re making me seriously grumpy. and okay, here’s one idea, she’s talking about memory and identity and the way that sometimes real life and individual life can feel like a fiction, an echo, unanchored in time and space and there’s an intermingling of stories here and fuck, i can’t argue this.
she’s a smart woman and if she wanted this to be a memoir, she’d call it a memoir.
the narrators friend says to her (repeatedly) that they (the exiles) are all museum exhibits of a space and time, a culture and shared experience/reality that no longer exists. in a different way this is true of all of us.
So the coolest thing about this book is the hero, Cazaril. This is a high fantasy novel with a hero who is 35 and feels and looks older, and when the...moreSo the coolest thing about this book is the hero, Cazaril. This is a high fantasy novel with a hero who is 35 and feels and looks older, and when the book begins, he’s already been betrayed and sold into slavery and tortured and believed to be dead. He is wounded physically and emotionally. He’s not feeling quite the thing.
So Cazaril is a character who is metaphorically returning from the land of the dead, having had terrible and secret torture experiences and feeling ill at ease in the land of the living, and uncertain of his place in it. Cazaril is struggling to have a clear sense of who he is, and struggles to create meaning …all while trying to just get through the day and not think about it….because he partly believes what he’s been tortured and shamed into believing- that he is nothing, worthless, even monstrous. And I can’t quite put it into words, but Cazaril is /good/ in a deep fundamental way that is inspiring and hopeful.
There’s a sadness to the book, but in a good real way that is mixed with funny too, and really sweet in a way that I found nurturing and comforting.
Another thing that really interested me was the way the book explored spiritual questions. There’s a religious and magical system that involves 5 gods (daughter, son, mother, father and the bastard) and questions of how spiritual power works, what powers there is, and how if there are gods, how can they use those powers. There’s an exploration of fate and free will and sacrifice and loyalty.
The characters are well drawn and complex. Though the protagonist is a male, there are two strong female characters that play big roles in the novel. There is a lot of saving and being saved by and saving oneself, all entwined in a way that’s layered and shows how it takes courage to open yourself to another to allow yourself to take some of their light, even as it takes courage to give someone some of your own light.
sophy is a meddlesome heroine, and reminds me of Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain). i am usually not comfortable with the kind of chaos tha...moresophy is a meddlesome heroine, and reminds me of Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain). i am usually not comfortable with the kind of chaos that comes of meddlesomeness and i am also usually ambivalent about the belief that it's okay to use any kind of clever deceit and lie so long as what is "right" comes out in the end. in a story, this can be very entertaining, but i find i have trouble relating to books and films as a fiction, and begin to imagine myself sometimes too involved and wondering if i really feel it's okay all these lies...and then, i have to say oh, shut up to myself as it makes this sort of thing no fun at all...and and anyway, that is part of why i am comparing sophy to amelie. i find them both lovable and i am on her side and not struggling so much with her way, i am mostly caught up with her.
i really like this one. i think it's one of the strongest and funniest by heyer that i've read and one of my favorites. mostly, it made me very happy.
i'm struggling to rate it because there is a scene that is anti-semitic and it was painful to read and it makes me feel some guilt and discomfort with my joy in this book. it's only a small part of the book (a chapter maybe), but if i hadn't been expecting it, i think it would've upset me a lot more. as it was i had to put the book down for awhile.
i don't want to give the wrong impression, sophy is not really like amelie. sophy is much more experienced and comfortable socially, for example. i thought of amelie because she shares with sophy her inquisitiveness, her spiritedness, and her way of getting involved in other's people's stories and moving things around in their lives that is a strange mixture of fascinating and terrible for me to witness. sophy is a strong female who doesn't do things the way that others tell her she should do them. she fights gender stereotypes. and i like it that she is close to a female friend as well, not just surrounded by male admirers, she is appreciated by and interested in female friendships too. sophy is brave, independent, spirited, capable, opinionated, straightforward, and willing to be wrong.
this willingness or her being okay with or risking being wrong i think is very important, as it strikes so at the heart of the admonitions to "be a good girl" and sets up an interesting dynamic where she can surprise people by saying things along the lines of "yeah, well i know it was ill-done, but i was really angry at you and what did you expect!" i love that she is saying something like, i can handle knowingly doing something wrong/making a mistake and acknowledging it and i am saying to you that it's not okay what you did to me, and when you do i am going to react to it. don't expect that i won't react. don't expect me to be so busy being a good girl/woman that i don't break the rules and steal your horses and say things that i know will piss you off...
When I finished this book I felt breathless and haunted. I needed to do something to get back into myself as I was drowning in the feelings of disloca...moreWhen I finished this book I felt breathless and haunted. I needed to do something to get back into myself as I was drowning in the feelings of dislocation and isolation and terror that the book captures so well.
Jessamy spends a lot of time in a liminal space hanging out with her doppelganger, trying to delineate her identity, which to her feels stretched and lost.
I think a central theme is the Imagination and how it’s this breathtaking beautiful and creative force and coping skill that can help us navigate and survive and create beautiful new spaces for ourselves, and how on the other side of that…it can tip into this terrifying destructive force and take away everything of love and comfort.
This book is about identity, specifically the feelings of fractured and fragmented identity, and not feeling like we belong or are anchored anywhere. Jessamy is struggling to understand who she is and what is really real and what does real even mean anyway... She is half Nigerian and half British, and doesn’t feel that she can be both, feels like she is stretched and outside both, so belonging to neither (and not to herself either by extension) and her identity is more that of an outsider. Helen Oyeyemi plays with the theme of fragmentation of identity through the motif of doubling.
She captures the terrifying vertiginous feeling of loss and disconnection from self. That out of control, right on the edge of and falling fast feeling of being about to lose an anchor in shared reality and tumbling into the lands we call madness.
This feeling of uncertainty where reality and the imagination bleed into each other, where one’s fears and hopes and dreams come so alive the world itself stretches its boundaries. and this is pretty fucking exciting until you realize that it cannot be controlled and you are even more alienated and isolated than you were before you found this particular magic that is imagination.
oyeyemi ties these themes in with fairy tales and folklore.
jessamy is 8 years old and annotates her own books when the authors do cruel things to the good characters. She says the ones she’s had to revise the most so far are A Little Princess and Little Women.
I love that jessamy can still love the book, and just find that it is somehow fundamentally wrong to so misuse a good character and so she changes it. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that this was also meant to be a reflection oyeyemi is making of herself as the author, as jessamy wonders how an author can do bad things to a good character, and the reader is aware that oyeyemi is doing bad things to jessamy, a good character. this feels to me like partly a comment on the way we try to split off bad from good, another layer to the doubling shadow motif.
I think she is speaking to the way we can flatten things, maybe as children do, or maybe as all sometimes wish things could be? I mean, wouldn’t it be easier if it was true that good people are all good and only do good things and only have good things happen to them? Like if we are a good, kind sort of person that means we never get out of control feelings of terror and rage and destructive impulses?
I think that this is part of what jessamy is fighting in her revising of her books. Jessamy really doesn’t like to see her own flaws, or what she construes to be flaws. I can relate to this, and am beginning to think that part of the thing is, is not to somehow make myself perfect and destroy every flaw…but maybe it’s more that I need to be aware of my flaws, and be friends with them. Maybe that’s the way to keep the destructive flaws from being out of control? And maybe it’s just okay to have some fucking flaws!
I am not so sure on this one, but I know the entire perfection thing, it’s really very dull and impossible. I think that we can’t really be who we are, in the kind of fullness of it, the wholeness of it, until we can incorporate the parts of ourselves that we think are our flaws, our shadows, the parts we’ve cut off and bespelled to sleep (she plays a lot with the sleeping beauty fairy tale) with the parts of ourselves that we like…I think that this is part of what she is talking about here.
the way that the ending is handled (not so much what happens but the way) is the least best thing about this book.
The emotional truths explored here are so real, so raw, so true. The way she captures the pain of feeling lost to oneself is brilliant and touching. The sense of dislocation identity and the beauty and terror of the imagination resonates a lot with me.
Reading this book feels to me like reading the magic that Helen oyeyemi created for herself to bring herself back into a place of communication and connection with other people and the world. It has that feel of something created that healed her as she wrote it. She wrote a kind of spell, an incantation to transform herself, to bring herself back from a place of isolation and madness. And it feels like it worked. (less)
This book has me twirling about my room, smiling and laughing. I think it’s the most I’ve been drawn into another world in a long time. I don’t want t...moreThis book has me twirling about my room, smiling and laughing. I think it’s the most I’ve been drawn into another world in a long time. I don’t want to leave. It has a way of connecting to hope and dreams, a way of feeling soothing and nurturing, and even if some of it is focused on details of their clothing (which are gorgeous and fun to imagine dressing up in!) and appearance, there is too quite a lot of substance.
Leonie and Justin are both hurt and internally isolated complex characters who are experiencing joy and fear at being recognized for who they are in a complete and true way.
These Old Shades has exquisite and very funny dialogue; and complex, flawed, intriguing characters.
I really like the hero, Justin, who we are told is such a rake, a demon, but who acts for the most part in kindness, and yet, we like him more for the feeling we have that he is changing, redeeming himself, and being redeemed by his love, and not a selfish love, though …um, complicated.
And I think it’s interesting the idea of how part of what transforms him is being /seen/ differently, when Leonie sees him as a hero, when she adores him, and looks upon him with love and gratitude, after everyone else only expects him to behave poorly, it is her vision of him that has the power to transform him, that affects how he acts, and how he can imagine his own self… I like the way Heyer plays with this idea of identity in relation to recognition and expectation.
I also really like that the female heroine, Leonie, isn’t only beautiful and witty and charming, but she is charming for her cheekiness, for being disarmingly honest and not following the rules, for being herself.
I like that she is perceived as good and feminine even in her interests and behaviors that are not considered all that feminine. I like this message that supports a young girl or really any aged woman in not following all the rules, not conforming to social rules and ideas of what it means to be a pretty and feminine and “good” girl. And indeed that supports that same in quality of not conforming to gender roles in men. It is Leonie’s mischievous air, it is her playfulness, her cheek, her honesty, and it is above all, I think, her radiant and passionate vitality that make her so lovable.
I felt echoes of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (one of my favorites). This could possibly be only my own relatively limited exposure to period drama, but I think that there is something in the style of dialogue, the style of humor is what makes me think of it, some of the same turns of phrase, the same teasing banter, (and like a play, Heyer tells her story mostly through dialogue), a similar question of a baby of mysterious origins (though no handbag and no terminus), the same way that it’s a lot of drama that has a romance(s) at the centre, but it’s more interested in the /way/ it’s all done.
This is my first time reading Heyer, and maybe even my first time reading a romance novel. I didn’t know what to expect, but it is so diverting as they might say…it is such pure fun. The historical drama takes place in Regency England and in France. We even get to see the court at Versailles! It has a great gothic romantic feel to it.
There are themes of redemption, revenge, love, and a fun gender play.
I feel like I went to a party. I didn’t expect to know anyone there, and wasn’t sure how I’d be received or if I’d relate to the people. And to my surprise and joy I met people I recognised and was welcomed with kindness and warmth and twinkling mischievous good humor. I made new friends. This is a party I intend to return to. Another book by Heyer now please! (less)
I didn’t pick a good time to read this, and so read the first half in tiny pieces because it was too intense and often overwhelming to me and I was al...moreI didn’t pick a good time to read this, and so read the first half in tiny pieces because it was too intense and often overwhelming to me and I was already feeling overwhelmed. There are also bits that felt too detailed, and a bit dull, though I understand the reason for the focus on all details…
Today I read the second half straight through; and it made a big difference, this is a book that really needs to be read like this, it has a way of building in intensity, flowing. I felt much more emotionally connected to the story, the characters and engaged with the themes and I fell in love in love with it today.
This book is written in a beautiful poetic and sensual voice, and has a lot of insight. It deals with themes of trauma, loss, longing, death, love and redemption, and hope. It is more than anything about finding hope in the deepest nightmares. It’s about finding life amid the ruins, but it is also about honoring the dead, honoring the ruins, singing a lullaby to the dead as we engage ourselves and ground ourselves in life in the present.
It captures the experience of being a survivor, and the experience of having lost someone with acuity and insight. The main character is a survivor of the holocaust, the man who rescues him in surviving the death of his wife. This book really captures the inner landscapes of loss, and how traumatic loss can involve losing our ability to stay in the world. A lot of the book is about the falling terror frozen isolation being reached and transformed into a place of relatedness, grounded in physical and temporal and sensual reality; of returning to the land of the living and not being pulled into the land of death, and not to forget either.
She shows trauma and loss can consume our sense of our self and our very understanding of the world and the ways we perceive everything. She shows us reminders of need to take in new things as way to not be consumed with the devastation of the past; to actively make a present, to find sources through which to reenter the world. To remember, but not to only remember. Learning and being attentive to new words, new languages, the beauty of the world, a sensual kind of academia, new experiences, new relationships that open up the dark world and let in light. Ultimately though, the hope that transforms in the book, is located mostly in other people.
I like the way she captures in poetic and insightful language the pain of silence, of not feeling safe, of not feeling safe enough to even give voice to the pain. And then that the pain becomes secrets and layers of secrets, silence, shame, loss…unnamed things that grow and are more powerful for that silence. She shows how gaining a language to speak of something helps us out of the frozen spaces. That to fashion a narrative, even a broken narrative, is to find a way to incorporate extreme experiences. I like the way she compares the ocean and salt and water and earth to destruction and rebirth in emotional cycles as well as physical.
She celebrates art and language and music as a witness; write to save yourself…give words, make meaning, create a way through. (less)
i think that jack is meant to sort-of represent the reader (though this does make me wonder why are the readers being treated like children? and why a...morei think that jack is meant to sort-of represent the reader (though this does make me wonder why are the readers being treated like children? and why are we being given a version of an extreme abuse story (subject matter referred to by the author as "meaty") in a way that is so easy for us to take (we're talking way more than a spoonful of sugar) and how is it of artistic and literary merit to use a five year old narrator as a way to exploit trauma to give the reader a cheap thrill and a false belief of understanding something in that way you understand something you look at for a few minutes with your hands covering your eyes? because i don't see much artistic or literary merit in that.
back to jack as a door. so if jack is a door, he is a door that doesn't enter into ma's mind. he is a door into a voyeuristic position, not a doorway into understanding the impact of this situation on ma at all. and not only not understanding the impact, but misunderstanding the impact.
i think that using a child narrator for a book with this subject matter allows the reader to not have to really think about and feel about what we are really reading/talking about. and what we are not thinking about is years of imprisonment and torture and rape and rape and rape.
jack doesn't understand it, so we are excused from understanding it too. jack minimises it (because he doesn't understand it, and because ma [who has no name, because all her identity is pretty much the-one-who-is-raped-and-raped-and raped-and-we-pretend-she's-not-because-we-are-pretending-it's-an-artistic-and-feminist-agenda-about-not-limiting-her-fucking-identity-to-rape-victim-instead-limit-her-identity-to-ma-by-not-acknowledging-the-realities--and-impact-of-being-chronically-raped and the-one-who-is-jack's-mother and who wants to call her such a long fucking name as the first one! let's go with the two letter name] ( breathe) ma protects jack by smothering her howls and a million other ways that she hides the reality of their situation though you know what, i think he's not a terribly sensitive kid not to pick up on the wrongness but that is another subject entirely and i will let this go!), so the reader is implicitly being given persmission to minismise along with him. the reader is encouraged not to think about the responsibility of reading about this kind of subject or to think about the ways in which we might be complicit. the reader is off the hook. oh, thank you! you mean i can play this sort of background tension (doom doom doom!) of torture porn background with cute child games foreground and get an adrenaline rush and think this claustrophobic feeling that i'm feeling is what it's like to be ma. oh, i get it now. i'm a sick pup, but this is not my cup 'o kibble.
and hey, you know what? you don't want to limit her identity to rape victim/survivor? then fucking flesh out her character. and stop acting like being a rape victim is a bad word. you have to first be victim to become a survivor. you don't get to skip that part and come crashing through with guns blazing like in the movies. it's not her fucking fault she was raped, don't make her think it is by making victim into a bad word, too. fuck.
yeah, back to the narrating. jack speaks instead of her. he chooses what we see and hear of her. that is part of what it means to be silenced. he is, in a way, an ideal censor, for we can't blame him for the omissions we'd blame an adult for, and yet he omits much the same content as we find omitted when we read what adults write about other survivors...he omits what most people don't want to hear a victim/survivor say. and that is to say the thing that scares the reader most, the way it feels, the things that shift and move and scream and howl and die and live inside, the way it replays over and over, the way it feels.
he protects us from her words, her cries, her howls, her screams, her self expression about the impact of the violence of her experiences on her. we don't feel what it's like to be ma outside of her role as a mother. she is being silenced around her trauma.
and all throughout, it's like we know in a background way she is being raped and raped and raped, but we as readers are given an out. we don't need to really feel it. we don't really need to think about it.
i think that this ends up acting like/being just another rape myth. rape becomes an empty and emptied word. and the reader can comfortably focus on what a great mother ma is, and how resilient she is. and one of the implications is that being raped and raped and raped isn't really so bad, isn't the kind of visceral torturous and haunting experience it's make it out to be and the reader might fear it to be, because look at the beauty that can come out of it, if you just allow it to! (always look on the bright side da da da!)
i found this to be another angle on victim blaming. not blaming ma for being raped, but blaming rape survivors for the extent of their post traumatic stress. blaming the victims for the way they experience their trauma after it is over can be just as harmful as blaming women explicitly for the rape itself.
and if this is not at least significantly ma's story, then, to me, i don't understand how this is any way respectful to the female victims/survivors. oh, wait, now i understand, it's uncool to have the heart and it's too time consuming to have things like moral concerns when you've got literary ones. what were all those other writers (i mean fools) thinking!? (less)