2.5 The Lonely Londoners is a small novel that is really made up of several short stories about different West Indians who come to London in search of...more2.5 The Lonely Londoners is a small novel that is really made up of several short stories about different West Indians who come to London in search of employment and with dreams of a better life. I think Selvon captures a sense of loneliness in these characters as he shows what it's like to be miles away from anyone who cares about you in a city full of white people who automatically believe you're a criminal. I love London, but I can easily see how it's the kind of city that can be exhilarating or sad depending on the circumstances it finds you in.
This story is set in the 1950s, a time when Britain opened its doors to all citizens of British colonies and invited them to come to the country without needing a visa. At this time, there were more jobs available in Britain than could be filled and these employment opportunities were advertised to many West Indians. In response, thousands accepted the invitation only to discover that they were not being welcomed with open arms when they arrived. The vast majority were young men who came alone, often with the intention of finding a home and a steady job so they could send for their family later.
The main problem with The Lonely Londoners for me was that it needed to be about double the size and perhaps focus on less characters. Though this latter may not have been a problem if the book was longer and allowed room to fully explore each individual's story. As it was, I felt like I read four prologues, they were all missing something, they seemed incomplete. I understand the necessity to tell a few different stories because not every immigrant during this time would have had the same experience, but none of the stories were told fully enough to properly engage me with any of the characters. Like I said, four prologues.
Another thing I disliked was the narrative voice. I'm sure this won't bother some people and I know why the author did it - to make it sound authentically like a West Indian speaking English when they are not that familiar with the language - but it bothered me because the novel is written in third person. If it had been written in first person it would make sense for the narrator to speak/think in this way: "He had was to get up from a nice warm bed and meet a fellar that he didn't even know."
The narrative voice aside, if someone had presented me with this and told me it was a prologue to a novel then I would be interested in reading the rest. On it's own, though, I think it is lacking. The one thing I can say for definite that it did do was communicate the promise in the title of loneliness. There is something very sad about being alone and Selvon's characters are on their own in an unfamiliar world that doesn't want them.(less)
When your country is at war with another, or perhaps many others, you are aware of the risk to human life. You know soldiers will die, you know that s...moreWhen your country is at war with another, or perhaps many others, you are aware of the risk to human life. You know soldiers will die, you know that some of these may be people you know or even your loved ones. But, though the civilians at home worry about those who are away fighting for their country, they rarely see themselves as part of the war. The threat to them seems far away, almost unreal. So when the occupying forces marched into the Bosnian village where S. lived, her immediate reaction is not of panic. She is mildly annoyed for having been woken up, but she still has faith in the human capacity for reason and she believes that if she surrenders her jewellry and valuables without making a fuss, then no one will do her any harm. In other words, she is naive.
The civilians are captured and taken away to work camps, one for men and one for women. But deep within the female camp is the room that every prisoner dreads - the women's room. A room where women become objects to be used by the soldiers, a room of pain and despair where all hope dies and a person is forced to become empty. Being empty in your mind, abandoning your body at will, this is the only way to survive. Drakulic shows the extent of human depravity in one of the most disturbing accounts of captivity during wartime. Her use of the first letter in place of the women's names is important in understanding the ability to dehumanize the enemy, they become things and not people. It is repulsive, scary and sad.
But the author, in my opinion, never slips over into the gratuitous because her focus is on S.'s inner turmoil. It is not just about the sexual abuse, the beatings and cruelty, it's about the effect this has on the victims, how they retreat inside themselves and the lengths they go to in order to keep their sanity in a world gone mad. Not only that, but she even looks at what it's like to be a soldier blindly following orders, dehumanizing yourself to find the ability to commit atrocities during war. It's easy to have enemies and it's easy to hate, but what does it take to make you someone who can torture another human being? What must they become in your mind? What must you become?
When showing the crimes men commit towards women, when showing a group of male soldiers laughing at a woman's pain, it becomes so easy to delve into misandry. You hate the Serbian soldiers, you hate the things they do to the women. But this is only partly a gender issue. Drakulic wants to tell the many untold stories of women during the Bosnian war (there are an estimated 60,000+ rape victims), she wants us to know about the suffering they faced because of their gender. But, for the author, humanity has one common enemy regardless of your race, religion or gender... and that is war. War makes us all something other than human, it allows those with the power to become monstrous and it allows those without it to be seen as vermin.
Though the author chose to focus on the Bosnian war and particularly the way women were treated during this war, the backbone of this story is universally applicable. She expertly tells a story about some of the vilest, most horrific things that can happen to a human being, she captures humanity at it's best and worst, showing exactly what we are capable of - both the good and the bad.(less)
I am currently working my way through the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and decided to read Buchan's short mystery/spy novel because...moreI am currently working my way through the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and decided to read Buchan's short mystery/spy novel because it seemed like a quick and easy option to take me a step closer to maybe one day completing the list. I never imagined it would be such a painfully boring slog.
Some books made the big list because they are actually good, some because they are (or were) scandalous, some because they are so far away from pretty much everything else that's been written, and some because they kick-started something or opened up a new type of genre and/or storytelling. I believe The Thirty-Nine Steps falls into this last category. It arguably introduced the world to the "spy" genre and has resulted in many attempted imitations over the years since its publication in 1915. But in terms of plot, writing and characters it just seems to me to have very little to offer. It may be one of the first of its kind, but many other authors have bettered the genre, in my opinion. I would use John le Carré as a prime example.
The novel begins with the bored Richard Hannay who is determined to give London just one more day to hold his interest before he leaves for a more exciting alternative abroad. Richard, however, gets way more than he bargained for when a new American acquaintance is murdered in Hannay's flat just a few days after the pair meet. Realising he is now likely the main target of the group who assassinated his new friend, and realising he will be the police force's main suspect for the murder, Richard takes off on the run around Scotland.
Richard is given very little characterization or development, he has no personality and the novel focuses on what happens to him, instead of who he is, why he acts in a particular way, or what he cares about - apart from the desire to avoid capture by the police or the assassins. Though he is being chased by two groups who either want to kill him or lock him up, I got no sense of his fear, desperation or urgency. The novel lacked emotion and I felt like I could be reading a cold, uncaring police report of events, rather than a first-hand account of them. This whole mess seemed like a little inconvenience in Richard Hannay's life, not something that was a real danger to him.
Most of all, it was boring. The conclusion wasn't satisfying enough to be worth putting up with the sequence of boring events for. I think this review says a lot about the novel's plot: "He runs around in the fields. A lot. He hides in this field. He hides in that field. Some shadowy figures close in, and off he goes, running again." An excellent and accurate summary, in my opinion.(less)
My expectations were so low that I actually didn't mind Moby-Dick at all. The middle is the slowest part with the descriptions of ship life and whalin...moreMy expectations were so low that I actually didn't mind Moby-Dick at all. The middle is the slowest part with the descriptions of ship life and whaling hurting my head quite a bit, but I enjoyed the characters and (most of the time) being inside Ishmael's mind. It's a densely-written novel so be prepared.(less)