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.
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.
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.
“Grief is the thing with feathers,” eh? I see what you did there.
Read me, he said.
Just because the title grabbed me? I don’t think so. Have you seen my list of books to read? Who wrote you?
I’ve never heard that name before.
I’m his first book.
Crow is an immaculate conception, a virgin birth (not that Max Porter is a virgin, although he might be, you never know).
I’ve never heard of you and I have no idea what you are. I bought three books this week that I want to read – forget it.
I can’t. I am crushed by the weight of all the books I haven’t read. Go away.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Knock. Knock.
But I’m really short. Look at me. You could finish me this afternoon if you wanted to.
Rat-a-tat-tat. BANG. BANG.
FINE. (I throw my twenty-euro bill on the counter like it has personally offended me.)
No need for that kind of violence.
Books v. Cigarettes is the second volume of essays written by George Orwell in Penguin’s Great Ideas series that I’ve read – the first one being Some Thoughts On the Common Toad (review here). Between the two, Books v. Cigarettes is easily the superior selection. As you would expect of Orwell, there is some talk of politics and totalitarianism, but he also writes about working at a bookstore and his time as a young boy at St Cyprian’s school for boys. …That said, the essay about his school days still ends up being about class differences, snobbery, and indoctrination, because of course it does. Orwell has a lot of feelings about social mobility, you guys.
Slade House initially seems like a typical horror story: an old house that is located in a place it cannot possibly be, strange disappearances, and a pair of mysterious twins with a horrible secret. However, since this is a horror story written by David Mitchell, there is more to Slade House than meets the eye at first. If you are at all familiar with his work, you know that all of his novels are connected in some way. There is an overlapping mythology, including recurring characters and concepts. Slade House takes place in this shared universe as well; you could even say that it is a missing intermezzo to 2014′s The Bone Clocks. As some of you may remember, I had some issues with that one; it was too long, too baggy, too confusing. Thankfully, it seems that Mitchell has learned from these mistakes; Slade House shines exactly where The Bone Clocks struggled – but it’s not quite there yet.
Gone With The Wind poster.
As a relatively new Discworld fan, I am still getting to know Pratchett’s world and the way the series operates, but after nine books I can say that I have noticed a recurring theme: Pratchett loves to take an invention/development from our own world and introduce it to the Discworld, often with hilarious results that reflect our own response back to us. Sometimes these books tie in wonderfully with the overarching plot of its respective subseries (like Men At Arms – review coming soon!), but they can also be little more than amusing filler (like Soul Music – review here).
Moving Pictures falls in the second category: witty and quotable, but ultimately skippable.
Jamie Parker as Harry.
I read my first Harry Potter book when I was ten years old, and made my brother take me to the store with him to buy the second one the moment I finished it. When I was eleven, I wrote my first work of literary criticism on the series – which basically means that I looked up the meanings of the characters’ names and listed them all like a very dorky IMDB trivia page. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the first book I read entirely in English because my family was on holiday in the US when it came out and I refused to wait until the translation came out. While I was still in the middle of reading it, I left my copy on the roof of our car, and we drove off without anyone realising that I had forgotten to take it inside. I then yelled frantically at my parents until they stopped on the side of the road and let me look for it – and there it was, battered but still intact and, most importantly, still readable. The last book came out the same summer I moved across the country to study comparative literature. I remember travelling to the next town over that morning so I could be the first in line when the store opened. I giddily read the first lines while waiting for the bus back home, alone on a bench in the morning sun. I wrote my BA thesis on power, morality, and responsibility in the Harry Potter series (and got an 8.5/10 for it, thank you very much). I own a Gryffindor tie (even though I consider myself to be a Ravenclaw), a Time Turner, and a replica of Harry’s wand. Two days ago, I got my first and only tattoo – a small Deathly Hallows symbol on my wrist.
And I really wish J.K. Rowling would just stop already.
(Note: This review is full of gigantic spoilers.)