Friday, 30 January 2015

Review of "The Yellow Wallpaper"

This is probably the most boring-looking quotation I've ever headed one of my reviews with - I hope! BUT, in terms of this short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and published in 1892, it is darkly sinister. If you're a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, or gothic texts that deal with horror in subtle ways (think less Frankenstein and more 'The Raven'), then this one is a great quick read that will play on your mind for days.

The narrator, who is never truly named in the text, and her husband John move to a new house after their wedding. Despite her protestations to sleep in another room, he insists that they sleep in the upstairs room with the yellow wallpaper. The narrator is ill and thus spends a great deal of time in the room. She notices that the legs of the bed seem to have been gnawed at, and it looks as though frantic attempts have been made to rip the yellow wallpaper off. Soon she notices that within the pattern of the wallpaper is a woman, but why is she there?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was deeply engaged in social and political questions concerning the place of women at the time of writing this novel. The narrator exposes some deeply troubling social tensions and issues for an American woman of the late 1800s. Her illness is typically feminine, and keeps her in a room behind barred windows. *SPOILER ALERT* Just as the woman in the wall-paper is trapped by bars in the pattern, so is the narrator - as the narrator begins to become more and more obsessed with unravelling (so to speak) the wallpaper, so her and the woman in the wallpaper became more and more enmeshed. Eventually the reader is left asking who is who, and ultimately does it matter? These women have both been imprisoned by the societal constructs surrounding them, and neither can truly escape. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Review of Getting The Picture*

So, a little email from Dean Street Press brightened my day (let's face it, week), when they offered me the chance to review one of their new releases. I'm so thankful they did as Getting The Picture, which you can buy here, did not disappoint. Written entirely in letters, notes, emails and answering machine messages, this book is full of touching reminisces of a life that once was, or could have been. I personally love authors who toy a little with your feelings, getting you to turn this way and that in terms of who you trust - believe me (oh the irony), this book does test you a bit.

Martin Morris, a retired pornographer, moves into Pilgrim House and is delighted at the prospect of getting to know his ex-lover, Mo's, husband. Having always imagined that she would not leave her husband for him because this husband was a wonderful person full of positive characteristics, he is somewhat perturbed to meet the grumpy, obsessive George. The book centres around letters from Martin to the dearly missed Mo, but features communication from different residents to one another, the care workers and George's family. 

This is only going to be short, as I think over-analysing this book would take away from some of it's charm. At first reminding me of 'The Notebook' (one of my top favourite films), it really explores what it's like to grow old and feel unfulfilled in your love life. The manner of writing which the author develops here really allows for a multiplicity of perspectives to be displayed, whilst the true identity of the character is somewhat concealed - after all, if you're writing a letter to someone you are presenting them with a version of your life that you want them to see. All the little snippets of information the reader gets build up until all of them start to come together and you really start 'Getting the Picture'. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in romance who's getting bored of the cliched boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back narrative.

What do you think of books that are written in non-conventional forms?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Review of "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Currently it feels like I'm drowning in a sea of paper (and believe me, my room looks like it!) as essay season is peaking, but will be drawing to a close in the next couple of weeks, so I'll definitely be posting a lot more frequently then. This quote was one of a whole plethora that I could have chosen from for their piercing realism, but I feel as though this has a lot to say about how people act in our modern world. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God really made me think about how people act towards one another, and how we all need to come a long way before equality on any level is achieved.

Janie, a young girl with a chequered family history, is brought up by her grandmother. Encouraged to marry a man soon, so that her future does not become the same as her mother's past, Janie marries a man she does not love. However, Jody is just around the corner, tempting her with the thought of freedom, and the ability to escape to a new town run by coloured folk. Can she bear the thought of staying trapped by her husband's expectations of a mundane life for the pair of them? You had better read it to find out ...

This text dealt with a lot of issues that are still relevant today, despite being published back in 1937. Stop reading here if you don't want any spoilers. I think perhaps the most interesting part of the novel, and point that Hurston appears to wish to convey is that capitalism and racism are bound up within one another. When Janie and Jody move to the new town there is no mayor, so Jody becomes appointed as one. After this, he begins to increasingly place distance between him & Janie and the rest of the people in the town, looking down upon them as inferior beings. It is when this has occurred that racial issues are reinscribed to the town whilst everyone is a member of the same, or a similar race, Janie suddenly resembles the Queen of England, and Jody gains the air of a white man. Here the reader really gets a feel of how race and capitalism are linked: Jody's need to gain more possessions and improve labour output for the town requires him to treat the other town members as though he is superior to them, which makes them see him as a racially 'othered' figure.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Review of "A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle"

The quotation above pretty much describes my current mood: "I am not so much drunk, as tired - dead done". The first few days back at uni have been exhausting - meal prepping, unpacking, going to lectures and seminars, going to the gym, and trying to fit in time for some actual uni work and reading as well! I'm currently sat in bed with a toasty mug of green tea, in some new fluffy PJs hoping that tomorrow is less hectic. 

As you've probably already guessed, this book isn't the easiest in the world to read. It's in fact a long poem written in vernacular Scottish - imagine coming across a drunk Scottish farmer in a rural area and you've just about got the gist of it. Oh, and get that farmer to translate the odd Russian poem into Scots dialect here and there. The entire text is purposefully de-anglocentric, as MacDiarmid was calling for a Scottish Renaissance in terms of literature. To move away from the static resonance to English literature in Scottish fiction was most definitely the way forward in his eyes.

I have to say, this wasn't a book I would necessarily read if I didn't have to. Having said that, it's really the only text by a Scottish author that I've ever read which defies English literature, and stands up in opposition to it. The whole notion that Scottish people do not have a language of their own, which pervades the entire poem, really pointed out to me something which I'd never thought about before. Moreover, if you want to read some fantastic imagery concerning thistles (a bit niche, but hey ho), then check it out!

Have you read it? What did you think?