This was not a new story for me, having previously watched both the Peter Finch/Virginia McKenna and Brian Brown/Helen Morse film versions when I wasThis was not a new story for me, having previously watched both the Peter Finch/Virginia McKenna and Brian Brown/Helen Morse film versions when I was a young girl. Yet I found it interesting how perceptions change as one gets older. When revisiting a known work either through re-reading or by comparing a book to its film, one tends to notice additional elements that might have been previously missed in the initial reading or viewing.
For example, the more recent Brian Brown film version, retains the narration of Jean Paget’s lawyer, Noel Strachan. As a young girl watching the film, I disregarded the romanticized elements of Noel’s narration, which is readily apparent when reading through Shute’s novel. No matter the harsh conditions Jean faces throughout her story, she still makes a striking presence through her quiet strength and beauty. Shute manages Noel’s narration well. Whatever romantic sentiments that Noel hints at over the course of the novel are tastefully done, and never leave the reader feeling burdened with scenes of unnecessary and potentially awkward romantic interactions. Unlike Simenon’s Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, the reader never develops the sense that Noel has an obsession filled with self-loathing and loneliness. Instead, Noel has a quiet wistfulness that does not impede his role as the kind and attentive confidant and friend n his various interactions with Jean.
Joe Harman’s characterization is rather interesting. When comparing Jean to Joe, Jean is arguably the stronger of the two in regards to personal growth and adaptability, even though both are survivors. Though Jean has a kind of internal social awkwardness amongst her peers, Joe’s awkwardness tends to manifest outwardly whenever he is outside of his native outback. Yet as Noel himself notes, as a couple, both will support each other well. Their relationship pairs well with the sense of Willstown’s own continued growth into a town that’s like Alice.
All in all, A Town Like Alice is an excellent tale of war, adventure, romance and growth. The story is supported by its strong, visual narration, which translates well to film. ...more
My feelings for Spark’s novel are mixed. Considering the story by itself, it is thematically rich. Brodie takes the idea of the teacher’s guiding roleMy feelings for Spark’s novel are mixed. Considering the story by itself, it is thematically rich. Brodie takes the idea of the teacher’s guiding role in student lives to an extreme—moulding her girls in her own image, planting within each student of her special set one specific quality inherently reflective of Brodie herself. Each student thus becomes a split-self of sorts, their real selves and these imposed selves battling it out as they age and mature. In this sense, the novel is fascinating to read. The choice to split the narration, giving the reader the ability to see how the Brodie set turn out from their own various perspectives was a good decision on Spark’s part.
However, how Spark tells this story is quite frustrating. Even though the novel is only a mere 100 pages, it feels more like 500. To the novel’s merit, Spark accurately achieves recreating a conversational oral tone to her storytelling. However, the novel’s storyteller style is not one that is told traditionally in sequential order. For example, sometimes when you ask a young child or teenager to retell a story orally, the “excited” raconteur will start with the end, then give some details about the beginning, followed by some additional scattered details that happened in the middle—unable to retell the sequential order of events. As well, sometimes in the retelling, thoughts are not verbalized in complete sentences. That is, the storyteller will think the beginning of an event in his head, forgetting to say it orally, and verbalize the end of this event—confusing the listener who might not have a complete frame of reference of what’s being said. This truly describes the reading experience of Spark’s novel. The story’s told back and forth, with a repetition of events already described, though the second or third or fourth time around, with more detail. This kind of storytelling is distracting and detracts from the overall reading experience and the ability to analyze these characters in a traditional, focused way. Spark’s novel is a true postmodern work.
As a side note: After seeing two versions of the story on film, I was glad to finally read the original work. Seeing a film before reading the book on which it’s based, often biases the reader, and both films are quite different from the book. Interestingly, Muriel Spark was said to prefer the film, which I found to be least like her book, the version starring Geraldine McEwan. ...more
In my readings I’ve come across the name of Barbara Pym and have been wanting to read her work. A Glass of Blessings is actually a good place to startIn my readings I’ve come across the name of Barbara Pym and have been wanting to read her work. A Glass of Blessings is actually a good place to start. Pym’s novel is a social commentary that brings out various subtle ironies found in personal relationships between spouses and amongst friends and acquaintances. Pym doesn’t shy away from awkward situations. Instead, she focuses on them, closely examining small details—body language, thought and space—which actually provide more insight into a character’s make-up than from what they actually say.
Thus, A Glass of Blessings is a story driven more by characterization than by plot—Pym’s characteristic style. For the modern day reader, the novel’s protagonist, Wilmet, at times can seem overwhelmingly naive and pedantic. For someone who has traveled abroad and did her bit during WWII, Wilmet is not necessarily world wise, which is quite surprising given her previous experiences. She is very close-minded about certain subjects, which in turn affects how she perceives or fails to perceive the people around her. What immediately seemed obvious to me as a reader at the beginning of the novel, takes Wilmet the entire course of the novel to finally begin to understand. Even then, I somehow don’t feel that she has really grasped a full understanding of what’s happening around her. Pym’s use of irony and how it’s pitted against Wilmet, is shockingly uncomfortable to read. Yet despite the biting sarcasm underlying Wilmet’s story, there is some recognizable truth in how she is portrayed. All in all, A Glass of Blessings is a quite a good work. ...more
Baldwin’s novel masterfully describes the utter helplessness man feels when he cannot begin to face his self-identity and the ultimate loneliness thatBaldwin’s novel masterfully describes the utter helplessness man feels when he cannot begin to face his self-identity and the ultimate loneliness that results from this failure. David’s helplessness and resulting loneliness are only exacerbated by the realization that he can’t possibly help Giovanni, the person who most needs his help, someone just as lost and lonely as he is. This novel serves as David’s personal confession, chronicling his attempt to atone for past failures through a self-inflicted penance.
For a man so confined and closed up when in the company of others, David’s story is remarkably candid and frank. He pores out his soul here, detailing his fall from a state of grace, his loss of innocence—not so much for his failure to come to terms with his self-identity, but how this failure has affected and corrupted the lives of others. Giovanni’s room becomes a symbol for this—an outward manifestation of the effects of David’s corrupted soul. David’s story is honestly told; and the truth expressed is hauntingly poignant.
It is rare for an author to express such a deep reflection of conflicting emotions in a way that feels true to life. Stefan Zweig does this well, as does Henry James and Thomas Hardy. With this novel, I can easily place James Baldwin on the same list. ...more
Du Maurier’s novel is difficult to classify. I almost want to identify it as a young adult novel, since many of the novel’s main characters are underDu Maurier’s novel is difficult to classify. I almost want to identify it as a young adult novel, since many of the novel’s main characters are under the age of twenty. Even the various adults who appear and disappear throughout the novel are childlike in appearance and action. At times, the reader feels as if the children are the ones in charge here, since they seem to have the most dominant presence.
Of the the seven or so du Maurier novels I’ve so far read, this is by far the wackiest in regard to plot. The Americans have seized the UK to form a union in order to preserve the economic stability of the two countries—the USUK. The novel is focused on one small Cornish town’s efforts to thwart and expel these unwelcome invaders. In truth, this isn’t one of du Maurier’s best novels. The progression of the story is very much like du Maurier’s description of Mad’s driving skills:
[...]they swerved out of the lane at the top of the hill and on to the main road, taking the corner like the driver of a bob-sleigh at St. Moritz.[...] It was clear, fortunately for the bob-sleigh team, until they reached the bottom of the hill, when Mad, with great presence of mind, slammed her foot on the break and brought her craft to a halt almost immediately beneath a road-block that barred further progress.
The story accelerates at full tilt, hurtling wildly before careening to a sudden stop at the end with a few casualties dispersed here and there along the way. Because the story is told in such a brusk manner, not enough detail is given regarding the reasons that lead up to this invasion or what’s to happen afterwards. Like the Poldrea townsfolk, the reader is just as baffled and confused by the sudden turn of events. Truly, the novel is one a wild ride.
That said, there are some absolutely priceless moments interspersed throughout. It is du Maurier after all. The descriptions of Mad and her brood of adopted boys are wonderfully and unabashedly vivid. Reading this novel really is like watching a film. It’s the best part of this book. Here are a few gems:
The middle boys also had bunks, but their room was larger than the little boys’ lair, and it had a distinctive smell. This was due to the wired-off portion, containing a very ancient grey squirrel which, Sam had decided, could no longer fend for itself. The squirrel had shared the bedroom with him and Andy for several weeks. Discarded nut-shells scattered the floor.
The thing was, Mad’s cakes were terribly hit or miss, generally miss, and the net result, as Pa used to say, was like molten lead. Her one or two successes had gone to her head, but usually the effect upon everybody’s digestion was damaging to the extreme and the cakes had to be crumbled up the next day and given to the birds. [...] ‘I think it’s going to be all right,’ sad Mad later, inspecting her creation, which, on emerging from the oven and being turned out of its tin, looked like a semi-inflated, khaki coloured balloon and exuded a curious smell of burnt almonds and bitter chocolate. ‘It’s risen, anyway. They don’t always.’
An interaction between an American captain, the blond, curly-haired six year-old cherub Colin and three year-old Ben, who’s being taught to learn how to speak by Colin: ‘Want your picture taken, honey?’ [Colin] said in an American accent, and pressing a button let fly a wriggling snake on a spring that leapt into the air and hit the captain in the eye. ‘Fuck off,’ said Ben, clapping his hands.
‘The Jesus talk was much better than a think-in,’ insisted Colin, trying to pull away Terry’s crutch, ‘because afterwards we had to act scenes from Jesus’ life. The others did loaves and fishes, and went round the class pretending to give each other bread. I thought that was silly. I took my ruler and lashed out at them all, and when Miss Birkett asked what I was doing and said it wasn’t right to be rough, I said I was Jesus whipping the money lenders in the Temple. Mrs. Hubbard went away after that. She said she had to go on to another school. Miss Birkett gave me a star, all the same.’
As a final note, in all of her books, du Maurier describes situations honestly and unabashedly. Some moments in her books are quite uncomfortable to read. But one thing I am glad about this novel is that du Maurier doesn’t shirk away from blame and culpability. Some of the characters in this novel do commit horrible acts. Though these acts seem to be generally praised by the majority, there are a few characters who do maintain a conscience throughout, and the sense of guilt is slowly spread and felt, even including the culprit.
Overall, Rule Britannia is a very strange read, yet it’s wildly engaging. ...more
Patrick White penned a very strange tale, a tale I think would fair better through a second reading. First time round, I found it rather deceptive. ItPatrick White penned a very strange tale, a tale I think would fair better through a second reading. First time round, I found it rather deceptive. It’s a psychological tale, yet the thoughts and feelings of these characters seem distanced, almost intangible. Like the landscape Voss is traversing, the writing itself is stark and hazy.
The characters seem to be plagued with imaginary ideals. Voss and Laura seem to love each other to the point where they’re symbolically meeting across the void; yet I couldn’t help but wonder as I was reading, whether if ever they met again in person, would they be disappointed in each other. As a pair in the midst of society, they were socially awkward—Laura finding him somewhat repulsive and Voss generally tolerant of her presence, not really caring one way or the other whether Laura was there or not, his mind focused on something else. In that respect, I found the novel somewhat disappointing. Yet, I suppose it does in a way support the Christ-like imagery White incorporates into his tale. When viewing the story in this light, Laura assumes a role akin to Mary Magdalene—by becoming a devoted and faithful disciple to Voss’s beliefs.
This is a very brutal tale, yet it’s honest. The writing is purely sensory, very much like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. When reading Conrad’s novel, the reader feels the darkness and heat Marlow experiences on that river in the Congo. Reading Conrad’s novel was slow, painful torture. When reading White’s novel, I felt as if I was reliving that same experience. The action complements the harsh aridness of the Australian desert Voss’s men traverse. Everything they experience, the reader senses as well. Reading this novel during some of the hottest days of summer, I felt as if I was suffocating with them. Even by novel’s end, there is no real sense of relief. Though one kind of suffering may be over, another still prevails—desolation...emptiness...a forced sense of acceptance. Yet, I think this is the perfect ending for this book; it’s not something White could have written any other way. ...more