With a new film adaptation (starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin) having hit the screen this year, it seemed like the right time to dive back into my pile of Daphne du Maurier books and pick up My Cousin Rachel. It tells a story of a young man by the name of Philip Ashley in what may or may not be Georgian/early Victorian times (Du Maurier never specifies the time period). His cousin and father figure, Ambrose, travels abroad to recover from an illness, only to unexpectedly marry “cousin Rachel” and pass away shortly afterwards. In his last letter to his nephew, Ambrose implies that Rachel has poisoned him, leaving Philip devastated and out for revenge. However, when she shows up at his door in Cornwall, Philip begins to have doubts:
Did Rachel murder his cousin or is she an innocent woman?
I first became aware of Noelle Stevenson through Tumblr, about five years ago. At the time, she had gained an online following for the comics she drew about movies she’d watched (Thor, The Lord of the Rings, X-Men) and general fandom experiences, like this one. She was funny and relatable, but what kept me coming back were her comments on the depiction of female characters and general misogyny in the comics industry. For example, she drew this comic about her experiences with “self-appointed gatekeepers” who make many would-be comic readers feel unwelcome. Stevenson also started the Hawkey Initiative, where she pointed out the trend of unrealistic and sexist “strong female character” poses in superhero comics and suggested that they could be fixed by replacing the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing. She invited artists to send in their creations, and the results were both hilarious and deeply uncomfortable,
At twenty-five years old, Stevenson is now working as an industry professional, and in 2015 her popular web comic Nimona was published by HarperTeen.
I’m very pleased to say that there is not a single boobs-and-butt panel to be found.
As some of you may know, I had only one new year’s resolution for 2017: I aim to read no books by or about straight white men this year.
I have two reasons for this: I want to broaden my own horizons as a reader, and I want to draw attention to books and/or authors that the readers of my blog(s) may not have heard of or may have wanted learn more about. I specifically want to focus on writers of colour and the LGBTQ community, and I have already bought a ton of books in preparation for this project.
So there you have it.
No Straight White Dudes In 2017.
Willesden is the setting of both this book and Smith’s debut novel, “White Teeth.”
(I wish my rating system allowed for a more nuanced rating, like 3.5 stars. This book is flawed, but still really great. More on that later.)
A couple of chapters into NW, I had a revelation. “Mrs Dalloway! If On Beauty was a modern take on Howards End, then this must be Zadie Smith’s spin on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway! I’ve got the ‘hook’ for my review!” One quick Google search later, I sank back into my seat. Turns out the rest of the world had had that same idea when the book first came out in 2012, and that Smith had actually discussed Woolf as a direct influence on her book:
I was just trying to find a way to be adventurous and do something new in the writing while still holding on to the things that I can do well, [...] So [Virginia Woolf is] just a good example of a forward-thinking and yet consistently humane writer, and just a great female modernist. An old inspiration returned to me at the right moment.
Well. So much for my spark of brilliance.
Major plot spoiler towards the end of the review.
Painting by Jan Matejko Stańczyk.
The trickster is an archetype that appeared in the myths of many different cultures and is still popular with writers today. These characters are rule-breakers and agents of chaos; they are often animals (e.g. foxes, crows, coyotes), travellers, or even shapeshifters able to cross boundaries between worlds. For this reason they sometimes function as a guide or messenger, like the Greek god Hermes. Characteristically, the trickster is clever and creative. They generally lie to obtain sex, food, or just to get out of something they don’t want to do, using their wit to outsmart of the Man/the Establishment/the gods/what have you.
Since they are so unpredictable and paradoxical, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what the perfect definition of a trickster is. As Lewis Hyde puts it in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art:
[The] best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found – sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.
Now that National Novel Writing Month has officially kicked off, I thought it might be nice to take a look at a novel that started out as a NaNoWriMo project and later became an international bestseller. In 2011 Erin Morgenstern wrote in her NaNo pep talk:
The circus was my variation on the wise and ancient NaNo wisdom: when in doubt, just add ninjas. I had this plodding, Edward Gorey-esque thing with mysterious figures in fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. I got tremendously bored with it because nothing was happening so I sent the otherwise boring characters to a circus. And it worked. I ended up tossing that beginning and focusing purely on the circus. An imaginary location I created out of desperation expanded and changed and became its own story over many non-November months of revisions and more revisions and now it is all grown-up and book-shaped and published and bestselling. And it all started with NaNoWriMo.
Brilliant. Bring on the metaphorical ninjas! Read more
Still from Young Goethe in Love (2010). Note how Goethe is wearing the iconic Werther costume.
The Sorrows of Young Werther is one of those novels that I had encountered a number of times in my assigned reading for university, but never found the time to read myself. By the time I finally decided to fill in this gap in my literary knowledge, I already knew that the protagonist was basically the quintessential Romantic hero – emotional, artistic, and, of course, desperately in love with a girl he can never have – which meant that this could only end in tears (and probably death).
Werther did not disappoint in that regard… But maybe I kind of wanted it to.
Looking to read some spooky books to get into the spirit of the holiday? I have some suggestions for you!
Reading List: Haunted Houses
Reading List: Scary Short Stories
Reading List: Monster Books of Monsters
Picture Credit: Huffington Post.
When I was a little girl, Matilda was my hero. I read the book until it started to fall apart, I had listened to the audio book so many times that I could recite entire paragraphs with the exact intonation the narrator used, and I would watch the movie any time I caught it on TV. Mara Wilson, the girl who played Matilda, was not as scruffy as I had always imagined the character to look when I read the book (too sweet, especially with that ribbon in her perfectly combed hair), but I still sighed with relief every time she got her happy ending.
(I also cried a lot when I listened to the West End cast recording of the Matilda musical for the first time, but that’s a story for another time.)
Years later, Mara Wilson rushed back into my world. She had a hilarious cameo on The Nostalgia Critic’s review of A Simple Wish, became a recurring guest star on Welcome to Night Vale as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, and before I knew it I was scrolling through her Facebook feed, laughing at her posts. She’s funny! I’m so glad she’s funny! I found myself wondering why she had disappeared from the public eye all those years ago. One minute she was a star, and the next she was gone. What happened?