Wednesday 30 March 2011

The Classics Circuit - Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have to admit to total ignorance of what the Lost Generation actually was, until I started to do some research as background to reading Tender is the Night . I’ve read a fair amount of English literature over the years, but not so much American. Pretty much the only author I’d read from this generation is Eliot, because he’s also classed as English Literature. Following on from this tour, many of the Lost Generation will join the ever-expanding TBR list. People who have participated in, or been keeping up with the tour (or who are just more educated about American literature than I am, which is not hard. English literature, I’m great at. American, not so much...) will know all about it, so I won’t reiterate, but just say thanks to  Rebecca for giving me the chance to learn about it, as well as to finally read a book that’s been sat on the shelf for literally years!
The idea that stuck with me as I read the novel , was that many of the writers of this generation had left America, in pursuit of artistic freedom and new experiences. To me, the word ‘lost’ in particular implies something in transmission, waiting to be found, to define itself. The generation who fought in the war were often either physically lost, through death or injury, or else lost in the new structure of society. Tender is the Night  felt like it was lost, drifting, trying to find its way home... There is a lot of power in the fragmented style of the novel, and, for the first time in almost three years, I finished the book and immediately wanted to go back and read it again, as I know that there was a lot that I missed. It also immediately threw me back to an excruciating course on Modernism that I took at university - just to give you an idea, Ulysses and The Waste Land were required reading. I don’t know too much about American literature, and because of this Modernism, primarily a European movement, with its emphasis on finding new forms of expression, and discussion of the change and breakdown of society and social structures, was the thing that immediately leapt to mind when thinking about the post – war years. Despite being part of this specific American generation of writers, Tender is the Night fits well into the Modernist tradition, particularly for it’s’ denial of previously accepted absolute truths such as love and marriage, and emphasis on the temporary nature of everything, from money, to love, to sanity itself.
Previous to reading this, my only experience of Fitzgerald was of falling in love with The Great Gatsby while at college. When I first started Tender is the Night , I was worried that the Gatsby love was just a fling, brought on by my first experiences of a proper academic library, combined with my first forays into the world of literature proper, but after a while I realised that, no, I actually just love Fitzgerald’s style.
Tender is the Night was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel, and it reads as if it were a goodbye. It is, as many people have noted, basically an autobiography of the Fitzgerald marriage – Zelda Fitzgerald was hospitalised with schizophrenia, just as Nicole Diver is in the book, and Fitzgerald himself had problems with alcohol, as does Dick Diver.
It focuses on Dick Diver, a psychiatrist, and his wife Nicole, whom he first meets as a schizophrenia patient at a clinic in Zurich. Their relationship is the crux of the novel, and is expanded through the people that they surround themselves with. It shows very clearly, the almost bipolar extremities of the Divers’ relationship. In the beginning, Dick feels that he can protect Nicole; from the world, her past, herself. She needs holding together, and he is the one to do that. However, throughout the novel the dynamic of the relationship changes. Dick has affairs, most especially with Rosemary Hoyt, an actress, and Nicole, to some extent, allows this, but as the story progresses, and Nicole regains her sanity and strength, the dynamic changes, as she becomes the one to leave him. A lot happens during the course of the novel, but at the same time, not much: a duel, a murder, incest, affairs, marital breakdown, police brutality, and mental illness, are all part of its makeup, but still the story remains down to earth, rather than sensational, detached from reality, while all the time having a feeling of truth and relatibility about it.
I personally loved the way that the fragmented structure and style related to the cycles of sanity and insanity in the story. It begins in a coherent manner,  told through the eyes of Rosemary Hoyt, an actress, whom the Divers take into their ‘set’, and it is her impression of them that we’re first given. The second part of the novel jumps back in time to tell the story of Dick and Nicole, and Nicole’s breakdown becomes apparent in the breaking down of sentences and though patterns towards the end of the second part. As the book begins, Nicole is fragile, and unable to differentiate the real from the false , but as she manages to find her sanity, and break free from Dick, he descends increasingly into alcoholism and depression. One of the things that I really enjoyed, was that despite the central character being male, I really felt like the women won out in the end. Tender is the Night  seemed to me to be a book which showed the strength of women. One of my favourite passages was fairly early on in the book:
“Their difference from so many American women, lay in the fact that they were all happy to exist in a man’s world – they preserved their individuality through men and not by opposition to them” p45
At this point in history, where a woman’s role was fairly much still defined by men, especially if she was married, Fitzgerald is granting his women the privilege of existing within a male dominated world, but as individuals, rather than just as ‘wives’. The central story of the novel is Nicole’s regaining of her identity, and independence. At the end of the novel, Nicole is the strong, victorious one, and Dick, whose brilliance as a doctor is gone on and on about, throughout the story, fades into obscurity. The last lines of the novel are:
"in any case, he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another”p274
A few things I disliked, just to even it up, were how shallow most of the characters were, although I do appreciate that this is part of the society Fitzgerald is trying to represent. I also was annoyed by the fact that Nicole only left Dick in the end, because there was another man around who she knew loved her, and not because she had actually gained any real independence or ability to be her own person. That may just be the slightly ranty feminist in me coming out, though.
I often feel that many other bloggers think and process what they are reading much more than I do. Like, my brain got me through 3 years of university, and then just gave up and died. Reading Tender is the Night made me feel like it had come alive again. I actually immersed myself in it, I read slowly, trying to take in every single word (I’m usually a terrible skimmer!), I revelled in all the natural scenery; the sea, the mountains, the vivid imagery, and I loved every single second, from about page 40 onwards.
Having read Booksploring’s  review of Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me The Waltz, I think that this will have to be my next read!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Affinity Readalong: Post 1

I'm reading this book as part of Andi's Affinity Readalong
Because I signed up for the Classics Circuit Lost Generation Tour, and got all absorbed in Tender is the Night, I didn't think I'd finish the first two parts of Affinity in time - I still hadn't started it by Friday night, and had to work all day Saturday! But it says a lot for the characters and atmosphere Sarah Waters has created, that I've not only hit the deadline, but can't wait to find out more!

I've had this book on my shelf for around 3 years. I read The Night Watch, fell in love with it, bought this, and never read it, until now. So far, I'm in love with it! It took a little while to get into it, because at the beginning, it's very jumpy, and it isn't always easy to tell who is talking. Also, the beginning is full of references and allusions to events, without really explaining anything, but after Margaret Prior started to visit Selina Dawes, it really started to become engrossing.

I love the prison setting, and it's really interesting to find out the kinds of things people would be sent to prison for in this period (4 years for procuring an abortion...?!). Also, it reminds me (in tone, and content) a lot of many of Sarah Rayne's books, which I adore. At the moment, I'm most interested to find out how much of the spiritualism side of things, is actually just tricks, and the details of what happened to get Selina put in jail. I'm also keen to know Margaret's story in full, rather than as hints and mystery. At the moment, I'm concentrating so much more on the story, so I'll be able to comment much more fully on the style, and dissect the book more, when I finish, which will probably be in about a day! This book is awesome!!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild

Yay, the writing bug is back! :-) It feels like ages since I last reviewed anything, so last night I sat down and wrote this, and I'm sooooo glad I did. The sun is shining, I'm excited about reviewing books again, all is right with the world. So, this is the latest update on my Noel Streatfeild Challenge. I'm having a lot of fun with this so far, and really enjoying starting to read some of her books that I haven't before! The copy of A Vicarage Family which I got from the library was a mega old one, first borrowed in the 1970s. Interestingly, it was borrowed consistently throughout the '70s and '80s, but then only three times between 1993 and 2011. I guess it's representative of the decline in Streatfeild's popularity... and it's a shame. Anyway, on to the review!

A Vicarage Family is the first part of Noel Streafeild's autobiography. She says that she has changed the names, because it is only the truth as she remembers it, and acknowledges that it may not be the truth as it actually was. It follows the Strangeway family - the father is a vicar, and the novel documents the childhood of the Strangeway children, Isabel, Victoria (Noel), Louise, Dick, and their cousin, John.

I really enjoyed the novel. I've enjoyed all of Streatfeild's work, so far, but I liked this on a different level. Victoria is instantly recognisable as the awkward middle child, who just doesn't seem to be able to get anything right, and whose attitude and problems with authority are constantly causing her to get into trouble. In her, I can see where Streatfeild got the ability to create such characters as Jane Winter (one of my favourites..) in The Painted Garden : children who feel untalented and unloved, and so become products of an environment where their siblings are constantly favoured and prioritised above them. 

The book had all of her usual charm and comfortable feeling about it, but it was much more gritty than I'm used to - for the first time, the First World War actually left its mark on the book, rather than just passing over or around it. Even books like When the Siren Wailed, which is ostensibly about the war, didn't really feel like they engaged with it as much as this novel did, and for me, that took it to a completely different level.

Having read this, I'm starting to see similarities to different parts of all her other novels, and maybe it's the authentic touch of reality which is what I love about Streatfeild. Her books often feel like my own childhood. The book was published in 1963, well after the success of Ballet Shoes, etc, so in some ways I suppose it can be seen as a kind of explanation of her children's books.

I'm starting to think the first book I read when embarking on this challenge, should have been a biography of Streafeild. When I was at university,a  few professors used to tell us that for every new author we read, we should read a biography, as understanding the author's life experiences and their historical period, often helps to better understand their work. I really wish I had enough hours in the day to be able to fit in reading a biography of every author I read, especially the ones I love, but realisitically, given my huuuuuuuge TBR pile, plus the fact that I do have a job, and a life outside of reading a blogging (ish, anyway!), a house to clean, and friends who expect me to at least vaguely keep in touch with them, it's not going to happen. So, for the moment at least, I'm stuck with reading author bio's on Goodreads and Wikipedia, and from the introductions in books. Reading A Vicarage Family helped give me at least a little bit of insight into Noel Streatfeild, and what caused her to write in the way that she did. I am planning to read the other 2 installments of her autobiography, as and when the library get them in for me, and I'm also planning to read a biography, just to see if somebody else's view of her life even slightly tallies up with her own!

Rating: ****
(I've decided I give out too many 5 star ratings, so I'm stopping. Unless they actually are earth-stoppingly good. This was great, but the earth kept turning....)

Monday 21 March 2011

Monday Spotlight 2: Anastasia, At Your Service by Lois Lowry

As a teenager, I read a lot of Lois Lowry. Nobody else I knew did. Mind you, not many of my friends at that age actually read much at all! But despite this, I've never read The Giver, which is the Lowry book which appparently is some kind of a rite of passage for loads of other people. Since I've been thinking about books I want to reread for the spotlight on childhood favourites, I'm starting to think I should expand it to include books I should have read as a child, but never got around to, such as The Giver, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, among others.

Anyway, as you may have seen, I was bought an awesome load of books by my boyfriend for our anniversary, which included 3 of the 'Anastasia' books I loved as a twelve and thirteen years old, and which, I must admit, I've not seen anywhere pretty much since then.
As with the Famous Five last week, Anastasia, At Your Service didnt' disappoint me with the reread. The book was funny and engaging - I will actually admit to giggling a little while reading it.

Anastasia Krupnik (best surname ever by the way) is twelve. Her family have just moved, and she is bored, and needs a job to supplement her allowance. What she really wants to do, is be a companion to a rich old lady, so she writes up a resume, and, with help from her parents, (who never laugh at her!) puts it up in all the places she thinks rich old ladies hang out. This lead to a rich old lady, Mrs. Bellingham, hiring her as a maid (oh, the crossing of wires! Hilarity...) where she meets her grandaughter, Daphne, and makes her first friend.

The things that happen in the book - Anastasia and Daphne plotting to get their revenge on Daphne's grandmother for giving her a doll (shock, horror!) for her birthday, Anastasia's little brother, Sam, falling out a window and ending up in hospital - are all fairly routine things, which really could happen to anyone. When I was twelve, Anastasia's life could easily have been my life. I schemed with my friends like she schemes with Daphne, I talked to my family in the same way as she does hers (convinced I absolutely couldn't survive on the amount of pocket money I got, why did my parents never listen to me, etc, etc, etc), and I tried, and failed dismally, to be 'grown up'. Rereading this book made me remember so many things I'd forgotten about being twelve.

It has a simplicity that I think is lacking in a lot of teenage fiction today, but also which probably stems from the time at which it was published (1982). Nowadays, I can't see many parents letting their twelve year old out on their own until 9pm without a mobile phone, at the very least! The Anastasia books are similar, in tone and content, to The Babysitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin, which were my all-consuming passion between ages 11 - 14, and which I'm hoping to get hold of to reread. Unfortunately, '80s YA seems to be totally out at the moment, making it really hard to get hold of. I could kick myself, as at one point, I had pretty much the entire series that I'd collected from library sales and charity shops, but I passed them on to my sister who was a bit too young for them at the time, and they were all offloaded to some other friend of the family. Now I just wish I'd hung onto them - kept them in a cupboard or something. But I suppose if I start thinking like this, I'll never get rid of another book, ever, and then my house will be overrun...

To conclude, Anastasia, At Your Service is still as simple, funny, and true as I remember it being. I loved rereading it, and now I've got to get hold of the rest of the series!

Friday 18 March 2011


Recently, I've been totally terrible at actually writing and posting reviews of all the many books I've been reading. I will get around to it, I promise, just not sure when... I am reading a lot, and really getting excited about things, but writing isn't one of them at the moment. I'm sure it will be again soon.

So to make up for that, I wanted to share a pretty photo I took. I've been on a year long book buying ban since the beginning of February, and I'm doing well so far. So to reward me, for our anniversary, my fiance gave me a £10 limit and bought me some books, and I think I did pretty well for the money! Here's what I got:

From top to bottom:
  • The BFG by Roald Dahl - I've recently started a project to re-read all my favourite books throughout my childhood and teenage years, and had to get this when I found it while searching in a charity shop.
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi - Since reading Persepolis, I've got really interested in literature about Iran, and as this is a memoir about the reading of books, and censorship, both things I'm really interested in, it was another 'had to have'.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett - I had this on order from the library, but there are about 300 reserves on it, so the chances of me getting it before next year were minimal. Buying it just seemed to make sense. 
  • Rabble Starkey by Lois Lowry - For the re-reading project. I used to have a copy of this I bought from the library for about 10p, but it's been lost or given away or nicked by one of my siblings, so now I have another one!
  • Anastasia At Your Service by Lois Lowry - Again another one I loved as a kid. This (and the other two I got) are just books I'd totally forgotten about, and when I found them today I went into a little bit of a squealy fit (no, I'm not proud..) and had to have them. It helped that they were only 99p each!
  • Anastasia Has the Answers by Lois Lowry
  • Anastasia's Chosen Career by Lois Lowry
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett - I've been hearing and reading really good things about this for ages now, and it's a really nice copy. I'm definitely excited to read it!
Now I just have to find shelf space for them, wish me luck!! 

Wednesday 16 March 2011

The Three Musketeers Readalong : Part 1

I've wanted to read this book for a long time, so when I found out about the readalong, I had to join in! As a child, I remember watching loads of adaptations of The Three Musketeers. In the first 29 chapters, though, everything I remember happening in the animated children's series, has already happened, so I'm really interested to see what happens next!

When I started reading, I really didn't think I was going to like the characters at all. D'Artagnan in particular, came across as a bit of a self-important, oversensitive child, and all of them really, seemed overly ready to draw their swords for the smallest percieved insult. Within about ten minutes of being in Paris, D'Artagnan managed to offend, and thus end up engaged to duel, each of the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. When they are attacked by the Cardinal's guards, D'Artagnan steps up to help the musketeers, after which they take him on as their protege, and somewhere along the line, I started to like him. His self-importance became determination, oversensitivity, romanticism, and the desire to duel with everyone has turned into a really quite touching bravery, and desire to defend and protect his friends. I do feel that so far, a lot of the time, D'Artagnan comes across as a boy, pretending to be a man.

I've only been reading this two chapters a day, and to be honest, I think that's probably what's keeping it fresh for me. There have been days when I've wanted to read lots more than two, and equally days where the two have seemed like an impossible chore, although there have definitely been less of these! The only other Dumas book I've read is The Count of Monte Cristo, which is an absolutely huge, beast of a book. I really enjoyed it, but I (and my sister) both did manage to skip a fair few chapters in the middle where not much was happening, and pcik it up again at the end, not having missed much. So far with The Three Musketeers, I'm wanting to stick with it all the way through, for the most part.

Like a lot of people, though, I'm finding it hard to get to grips with the terrible lack of morals the musketeers have. It's equally hard to balance this lack of morals, with the kind of religious scenes which run through the book. The chapter about Aramis' thesis was the one I found hardest to get through, so far.  I do feel, though, that the novel is much more about the characters than the setting, and, for me, the two haven't really connected yet. It may sound like a silly thing to say about a novel that's so specifically French, but to me, the setting just hasn't really come alive. Thankfully, the adventure side of the story totally makes up for any of the things which are lacking.

I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens in the last half of the book!

Monday 14 March 2011

Monday Spotlight: Enid Blyton

When organising my bookshelves this past weekend, I started unearthing some books I adored as a child. Obviously, this led to me being sat cross legged on the floor for a fair few hours in raptures, remembering more and more books I couldn't possibly live without as a child. Hence, a new weekly feature. Each week, I'll talk about a book or author I loved as a child, and ask for other people's favourites and opinions. Despite the fact that I read a LOT as a child, I still feel there was lots I missed out on! Basically, this just gives me a kind of validation to read children's books! I'll try to post on Monday, or as close to it as I can, every week.

So, for the first week, the queen of children's books when I was around 8: Enid Blyton. Because writing about Blyton is such a task (she's estimated to have published about 800 books over a 40 year period - that's 20 books a year!) I'm going to break it down by series. First series, The Famous Five. And my absolute favourite of all was Five Go Off in a Caravan.

The first thing that struck me, on my re-read, was how sexist the books are! Anne's (the youngest) biggest excitement about being allowed to go on a caravan holiday by themselves, is that she'll have two caravans to clean 'all by herself'. Her mother then says that of course George (another girl) must help her, and probably the boys will too, which Anne answers by saying that the boys wouldn't know how to cook or clean anyway!This made me slightly angry. My parents are Catholics, and have always been slightly 'traditional' about gender roles in the home, but as kids my brothers were taught to cook and clean up after themselves, and household chores were always evenly distributed, regardless of gender.

Aside from teaching children that women's roles are in the home, which, to be fair, they pretty much were at the time the book was written, I actually loved this as much as I remembered.
It had all the suspense I remembered, and if the characters were slightly two-dimensional, it was more reassuring than annoying. I loved the fact that the children were always eating, and running around outside, and basically doing all the things I remember doing as a kid. Also, it has a circus in it, which can really only be a plus.

Basically, the Famous Five - George (Georgina), her dog, Timmy, and cousins, Julian, Dick, and Anne, go on holiday (by themselves!) in caravans, and end up discovering the hidey hole of a couple of theives. Of course with much plotting, hiding, drama, and drinking of ginger beer along the way. I always liked The Famous Five more than the Secret Seven, as they were always doing things I wanted to do as a child. I think wish fulfillment is a huge part of children's literature, and I'm looking forward to re-reading more of my Enid Blyton favourites.

How did other people feel about Blyton as children? Any favourites?

Out of curiosity, does anybody know what poltical correctness has changed Dick's name to in the reprinted editions? As they've changed all the children's names in The Magic Faraway Tree, I assume they've done the same with this...

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Fairytale Feature - Disney & Rapunzel: Why did it take so long?!

I'm not going to talk about the poem this month, I just like poetry, and so thought I'd start off every feature with a poem!

By Louis Untermeyer
Let down your hair,
That cloudy-gold lure,
The delicate snare,
That holds me secure,
Delight and despair
War with me now—
Let down your hair.

Shake out each curl
Swiftly, and be
Like Spring, a wild girl
With her hair flying free.
Bury me there,
And be buried with me...
Let down your hair!

This months’ feature was meant to be on Little Red Riding Hood, but I went to see Tangled at the weekend, so I figured I could do Rapunzel instead.

I’m a huge fan of classic Disney, by which I mean all of the films from Snow White, up until around about The Lion King/Hercules kind of time. I’d pretty much given up on them after such horrific films as Tarzan and Brother Bear, when The Princess and the Frog came along and restored my faith. For a while, at the beginning of Tangled, I was wavering again, but then there was an absolutely brilliant ensemble song in a pub, and all my worries disappeared out of the window. The fiancé and I were having a conversation this morning about why on earth Disney hadn’t done a version of Rapunzel years ago, when they were in their making damsel in distress films era. Having read the original (I say original, more on the history lesson later!) Brothers Grimm story, I can kind of see how it needed to be heavily adapted for children.
The idea of innocence is a strong one in most Disney films. The problem is that fairytales in their original forms, weren’t intended for children. They prevalently have themes of violence, repression, and sexual tension and liberation. As they are usually tales of growing up and self discovery, this isn’t really surprising, but for the most part, they have had to be heavily edited and rearranged to become the children’s medium that they are today.
Although the original tale of Rapunzel stems from the first Brothers Grimm collection, the story is based on a French tale, Persinette, by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (loooong name!).  Limited funds, and its’ unavailability online mean I haven’t yet been able to read this, but I hope I will in the future. Other versions of the tale include Giambattista Basile’s Petrosinella, and a 10th Century Persian fairytale called Rudaba.
The basic plot of the Grimm’s Rapunzel is as follows. A couple live next door to an enchantress (as you do...). The woman is pregnant and is craving the flowers she sees in the enchantress’s garden. She tells her husband that if she cannot have some of this flower (named rampion, or rapunzel), she will die, and he is so worried that he climbs the wall to get her some. Of course, the enchantress catches him, and makes him promise to give her the child when it’s born, in return for all the flowers he wants. The girl is beautiful, and when she is twelve, the witch (named Mother Gothol), locks her up in a tower. Rapunzel has really long blonde hair, with which she pulls the witch up into the tower. One day a prince is passing by, hears Rapunzel singing, and falls in love with her. He waits by the tower, and seeing how the witch gets up, tricks Rapunzel into doing the same. He asks her to marry him, and she agrees, saying she’ll weave a ladder and when it’s finished they will escape together. Unfortunately before that happens, she accidentally lets slip to the witch that she’s been having a man up in her tower. The witch is furious, cuts off Rapunzel’s hair, and forces her live in a desert. When the prince comes back, the witch pulls him up into the tower with Rapunzel’s hair. On hearing what’s happened to her, the prince despairingly flings himself out of the tower, where thorns pierce his eyes and blind him. He then wanders the earth for ages, lamenting his lost love. Eventually he wanders to the desert where Rapunzel is living with her twin babies. Apparently the original edit talks about the ‘tightening of her dress’ as a reference to pregnancy, but as that’s been removed from my edition, I was totally blindsided by the arrival of babies...Anyway! Her voice draws him to her, and his sight is restored by her tears. They go back to his kingdom and live happily ever after. The end.
Tangled is much lighter, and accompanied, of course, by many spontaneous bursts of song. When the queen is giving birth to Rapunzel, she is about to die, so soldiers are sent out to find a magic flower than heals you and keeps you young. Unfortunately, Mother Gothol, a less scary than usually in Disney films old witch, is trying to keep the flower for herself, so she can be eternally young. As she runs away from the soldiers, she accidentally leaves the flower exposed. The flower saves the queen, and that baby inherits the magical properties of the flower in her golden hair. Mother Gothol discovers that as soon as the hair is cut, it loses its’ magical power, so she steals the child and hides her in a tower. The king and queen are distraught, and every year on Rapunzel’s birthday, they release flying lanterns, hoping one day she’ll return to them. Rapunzel sees the lanterns out of her window and wants nothing more than to go and see them, having no idea who she really is. Her ‘mother’ refuses to let her, in a (fairly epic) song about how mother knows best. While running away from some guards, notorious thief Flynn Rider ends up in Rapunzel’s tower, and Rapunzel (through means of bribery) gets him to take her to the lanterns. Basically the rest of the film goes as you would expect of a Disney film. I loved it, especially that it’s her kingdom that they go to live happily ever after in.
Rapunzel in the film is the very picture of innocence – all big eyes, long blonde hair, and floaty dresses, and the fact that her magic hair preserves youth is a very strong metaphor: keeping her locked in the tower, away from the world, means she will never become corrupted. She will never know who she really is, and thus never want to live her own life, always being content to stay home, taking care of ‘mother’.  The major thing that Disney have done with the film, is to give Mother Gothol a motive for keeping Rapunzel locked in a tower, which is never allowed her in the Grimm’s’ version. Because it’s for children, there must be a reason behind everything that happens, while in the original version, the enchantress takes and keeps the child for no reason other than because she can. Her dramatic actions in the story seem to be merely prompted by jealousy, selfishness, and a desire to keep Rapunzel innocent, and stop her from growing up, the film gives her a clear motive for wanting to keep Rapunzel close. Having said that, Disney films, and this one’s no different, often contain so much innocence that it can make the audience disbelieving. But then, fairytales in general require a state of suspended disbelief in order to read them at all.
The thing that I liked about both versions, is that they both very clearly believe in the redeeming power of love. I know that this is really cliché and makes a lot of people feel quite sick, but in both versions, the man is saved by the tears of Rapunzel,(at which point I started furiously whispering in Rhys’ ear ‘Pokémon tears will bring him back to life!’ – first Pokémon movie, anyone?) and they go on to live happily ever after. I did enjoy that the character of Flynn wasn’t a prince, though. I also loved that the characters were so accepting of each other, and the love story unfurled so naturally. While the Grimm’s’ Rapunzel never develops much of a character, Disney’s Rapunzel has tonnes of it, and is a great role model for kids (although not so much with the using frying pans as weapons..). She overcomes her fears, stands up for herself and others, and follows her dreams all the way. She is also not afraid to sacrifice herself for love. Far from the slightly pathetic Disney heroines of the past, I really felt that Tangled managed to accommodate the best of both worlds, still keeping the traditional Disney love story and happy ever after, while having a strong female lead.
The fairy tale adaptation as a genre has come a long way in recent years. It feels to me slightly like it’s going around in a big circle. The originals are often slightly terrifying, exposing characters to horrible, and often violent events, making people trade their children for some salad..and not even always having happy endings. Adaptations, especially those for children, often remove all the violence, and nasty bits – it’s the really spineless versions of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella etc I’m thinking of now (though don’t get me wrong, all films I love), but now they are again becoming stories with true backbones, with strong morals and messages for children. Although not quite reverting to the harsh reality of many of the originals, they are getting closer. From a feminist point of view (being that yesterday was International Women’s Day), many of the reworkings of stories such as Rapunzel, now have much stronger females than the originals, and women who stand up for, and ultimately save, themselves, can only be a good thing.
For me, a lot of Rapunzel is basically locking up childhood in a tower in the hopes that it’ll never turn into a screaming, hormonal adolescent, or even worse, a proper grownup who can think for themselves, and this begs the question, is the preservation of innocence even a valid pursuit anymore? Given the kind of stuff a lot of kids are watching nowadays from a very young age, is there any point in trying to soften the fairytale? Or could you just give kids the original, straight out the book? Even if it didn’t have the happy ever after...
Any thoughts?
Some other versions of the Rapunzel Story
·         The Wild – Sara Durst
·         Out of the Wild – Sara Durst
·         The Tower Room – Adele Geras
·         The Stone Cage – Nicholas Stuart erHerce TheGray
·         Rapunzel’s Revenge- Shannon Hale
·         Letters from Rapunzel – Sara Holmes
·         Zel – Donna Jo Napoli

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Drama Challenge & Random Acts of Kindness

In the interests of the continual broadening of my literary horizons (for what reason, I don't know, but there we go!) I've decided I should read more drama. It helps that my wonderful fiance works in a theatre, so we tend to get free tickets to thing... Anyway! Trying to find somewhere to start, I stumbled on the list of Tony Award Winners. So as not to overwhelm myself, (and my already 70 strong challenge reading list!)I've decided to start by picking just one winner from every decade between 1948 and 2011, so my reading list will be as follows:

  • Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller (1948)
  • The Cocktail Party - T.S. Eliot (1950)
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - Tom Stoppard (1968)
  • Borstal Boy - Frank McMahon (1970)
  • Children of a Lesser God - Mark Medoff (1980)
  • Dancing at Lughnasa - Brian Friel (1992)
  • Proof - David Auburn (2001)
Once I've read them all, I'll go back and read more. I'm also going to try to see as many of them as possible, which will be interesting, as I'm totally broke. But I have a nice smile, a charming fiance, and the ability to find cheap deals on the internet! Wish me luck!
Full list of winners is here.

Also, I'd just like to mention an awesome thing I've come across recently:
Random Acts of Kindness hosted by Booksoulmates is amazing. Basically you just sign up your book wishlist, and then can access the wishlists of everyone else who's signed up and can gift people books, and people will hopefully do the same for you! I really really love this idea, and have already gifted a book, and managed to not even break my buying ban!

Monday 7 March 2011

The Sunday Salon (a day late) – Feeling Displaced...

Sunday Salon is actually my favourite part of the week, blogwise. I’m annoyed that I can’t participate on a Sunday, due to library closure, and thus not being able to access the internet, so here it is, a day late!
Lately lots of people have been posting about being stuck in ruts, or feeling like blogging and reading are becoming a chore instead of being fun. While blogging is still huge fun for me, I am having (yet another) moment where I’m feeling really unsettled, both with reading, and in my personal life. We relocated to another part of the country in December, and for the first time in my life, I’m not living around the corner from my family. Also, outside of work, I’ve not yet met a lot of people, so I think that’s a big part of the uneasy kind of feeling I’ve been having lately. It’s kind of a ‘there’s loads of things I should be doing, but I don’t really want to do any of them’ sort of thing...
Reading wise, my concentration levels have been totally rubbish lately. I’ve got about six books on the go, and have been having a hard time getting into any of them. Excepting The Three Musketeers, which I was expecting to find really difficult, but am actually really loving. I’m only reading two chapters a day of it,though, so I don’t know that it really counts.
I read a great short story  yesterday (thanks to!) and I’m thinking that maybe now’s the time to do a bit of short story, essay, and poetry reading, just to get my head back in the zone. I think I might have taken on a bit too much....
Having said that, I’ve started another challenge, to read more plays. Lists and details will be on their way later this week, along with my first Fairytale Feature!
Some of my reviews are going up on Goodreads at the moment, rather than here, to limit double posting. This is mostly for the stuff that I feel is a ‘lighter read’. Like Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, which I absolutely LOVED! (she’s coming to my local library in a couple of weeks, how excited am I????!)
Also this week, the first World Book Night in the UK. A million books were given away by booklovers throughout the UK, and I got one! Courtesy of the lovely Lyndsey @ teadevotee, I am now the proud owner of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. The whole idea behind the night is that you read the book and then pass it on, which I will probably do via a giveaway on this blog, so watch out!
All in all, a pretty good week last week! Hoping for a better one (and some loss of the unsettled feeling please!) this week.
Hope everyone had a great World Book Day!!

Friday 4 March 2011

Review: The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

Cohen the Barbarian. He's been a legend in his own lifetime.
He can remember the good old days of high adventure, when being a Hero meant one didn't have to worry about aching backs and lawyers and civilization. But these days, he can't always remember just where he put his teeth...So now, with his ancient (yet still trusty) sword and new walking stick in hand, Cohen gathers a group of his old -- very old -- friends to embark on one final quest. He's going to climb the highest mountain of Discworld and meet the gods.It's time the Last Hero in the world returns what the first hero stole. Trouble is, that'll mean the end of the world, if no one stops him in time.

Synopsis from Goodreads

Until recently, I though I'd read all of Terry Pratchett's books. Then I discovered there are actually a few that I don't remember, so may possibly not have read. This, being all graphicy and illustrated (beautifully, I may add), I though I'd read it for the Graphic Novel Challenge, although I'm not sure it counts, as the story isn't actually told through the pictures, but they definately enhance it! Also, it was big enough to not fit in my bag, so I'm counting it!
Basically, this is a story about heroes and Gods and the end of the world. But the thing I love about Terry Pratchett is that he takes such huge events as death, religion, and even the Post Office, and just makes them really really funny.
If it hadn't been for its' huge format, meaning I couldn't physically take it out of the house, I would probably have finished this within a couple of days. I loved the fact that it was a book that you could read and completely absorb and understand, without really having to pay attention to it at all. Pratchett's storytelling style is also very similar to my dads, which I love. When we were kids, my dad used to tell us 'made up stories', that went on for days at a time, and eventually went on to have sequel after sequel, and become series, and they were always very 'and then this happened, and then something else happened', but the something else would always be very bizarre, and they were always hilariously funny. It always felt a bit accidental, and Pratchett's writing is the same, so it kind of felt like he took over when I felt I was 'too old' to listen to bedtime stories anymore.
What else can I say? The man's a genius.

Rating: *****

Thursday 3 March 2011

Review: Apple Bough & When the Siren Wailed

Apple Bough  was my absolute favourite book for a while, when I was around 8. I used to borrow it from my school library over and over again, until they made me let somebody else have a turn. It is the most comforting, reassuring book I can think of, and rereading it didn't disappoint me.
Apple Bough is a big, old house, with an overgrown garden. The kind of house that's a bit dilapidated, a bit the worse for wear, kind of like the threadbare teddy you've had forever, whose ear is falling off because you cuddled him too much. It is home to the Forum children: Myra, Sebastian, Wolfgang, and Ethel, and their parents. When Sebastian is eight, he gets noticed as a child prodigy violinist, and all of the children have to go on tour with him. Apple Bough is sold, and the children become 'world citizens'.
Basically, the book is about children who want a home. The obstacle to this is that all of the younger children are extraordinarily talented: Sebastian a violinist, Wolfgang an actor and wannabe writer of pop songs, and Ethel a dancer. What Streatfeild does so well here, as in so much of her work, is to present the plight of the child who believes herself to be completely untalented and worthless.
There's a huge wish fulfilment quality in Streatfeild's work, and the endings are almost always happy. Of the novels that I've read so far, the ones that I adore the most are the ones with the most fantastically impossible happy endings; the kind of endings you always want in reality, and only ever get in books. This is still one of my absolute favourite books, ever.

Rating: *****

When the Siren Wailed

I thought that I hadn't read this book, but when I got about half way through, I realised that I had. And there's a reason why I didn't remember it. It's the first Noel Streatfeild book I've read that was only OK. It's set in the Second World War, and if I'm honest, the central characters, Laura, Andy and Tim Clarke, reminded me a lot of the children from Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I do want to just point out that I totally love Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but the children in it, as they do here, feel a bit like caricatures. There was no central character to immediately fall in love with, and for me that was a huge loss to the story.
This book had none of the comfort and charm of Apple Bough, and, reading it directly after the other, that bothered me. For me, the major charm of Streatfeild's work is the satisfaction of children who have big dreams, managing to find a way to make them come true, and that was missing here. I've read a lot of literature, both now and as a kid, about the war, and while it's always been a subject that's interested me, and I do feel it's particularly important for kids to learn about the things that happened then, 8 year old me wishes that Noel Streatfeild, for me the queen of safe, comforting, uplifting and inspiring books which make children feel they can do anything, hadn't ventured into this kind of subject.

Rating: ***

Tuesday 1 March 2011

February Round-up

In about a week, I'll have done a month of my year long book buying ban, and this is honestly the longest I've ever been without buying books - it's starting to take its' toll. I was actually walking around Waterstones yesterday holding a pile of books, and kept going to grab my fiance and show him all the books I'm going to buy in eleven months and a week. He had to physically prise the books out of my hands and drag me out of there. It's quite pathetic really...

I have to say that I've allowed myself a loophole in this whole thing, which is I'm allowed to swap one book per month. So this month I have acquired:

- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
- Apple Bough by Noel Streatfeild (swapped in Jan but didn't arrive till early Feb)
And I've read: 3 books I borrowed from my family, eleven books I borrowed from the library, one book I won from Goodreads, one from Readitswapit, and 3 from my TBR pile. Total = 18 books. Not bad, for the shortest month of the year!

I've started reading The Three Musketeers for the readalong I'm participating in. It's quite engrossing, but I'm not getting too far with it, as I've also started The Age of Innocence, which I'm loving, and have Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, and an Esther Freud (who I totally love!) book, The Wild, that I haven't read yet staring at me! I also have to start Affinity  at some point, for that readalong, and went a bit nuts at the library, meaning I now have to read Binu and the Great Wall for my Canongate Myth Challenge, and Bill Bryson's Shakespeare, as well as listening to Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, read by the ever amazing Tony Robinson, with my fiance. And all before they are due back...
And thus, March begins!

I've also finally put up my Booklovers Project List!! Yay!