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review 2018-07-03 03:58
A Clockwork Orange -- wow.
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

I'm now going to allow myself to see this film, now that I've read the entire book, including the redemption/change final chapter that was so gallingly removed from the US versions for so long. I've never seen Kubrick's film because I knew I wanted to read the book first. This is marked as "dystopia" and I'm having a bit of trouble differentiating it from regular old life.. Not sure what that says about me.

 

For some reason the entire time I read this - from the very first scene, I kept thinking "what if these were girls?," "What if Alex was an Alexa?" (or just a female Alex, actually.) Every section I saw both the way Burgess wrote it and then I'd sit back and wonder how it would be perceived if the narrator was female. Would this be a classic novel if Alex was a 17/18-year-old girl? And what would we think of the Ludovico technique if it was used on a girl? I mean, we do use this technique - not exactly, but some very similar techniques, for various reasons still (as troublesome as that is.) I'll let you all play that little gender game on your own, but I couldn't stop doing it (which is sort of maddening, actually.) 

 

I've only read two other books by Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers and A Dead Man in Deptford.) From what I've read, he could probably easily have written this with a female narrator - he was versatile. His introduction to this corrected American edition is pretty awesome all by itself, and he shares that this is not one of his favorite works.

 

I'm actually just sort of gobsmacked by this novel. I have no idea how much I liked or disliked it. I don't know that I felt like or dislike, but I'm really really glad to have read this story because it's just amazingly original -- despite having read many rip-offs, and the ethical questions are overwhelming. I'll be puzzling through them for quite some time, actually. 

 

I'm glad the final chapter was included in the version I bought (I'd been trying to buy it for a while and kept ending up w/ old copies that lacked the final metanoia.) I've had a period of life-change come from pure exhaustion myself. I wasn't murdering people, but I was not doing good things either. There is a point when the trouble to make trouble (for oneself or others) actually can just be too much. 

 

Oh, I have so many thoughts on this & I'm too beat to write more tonight. I wanted a place-holder b/c I finished another book too, and this needs to come before it in my blog.  I'll try to rent the film by next week, & maybe I'll amend this with a book/film review.

 

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review 2018-06-23 22:49
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

A tidbit I learned whilst reading was that much like the narrator, John Wheelwright, John Irving's mother never revealed the identity of his father to him. Apparently this book contains a lot of Irving's biography (well mixed with fiction) which may interest someone, but not really me.

 

The thought experiment: what would it take to make me a Christian? is interesting. And it plays out here in the form of one Owen Meany -- annoying prophetic child who knows, without any doubt, that he's an instrument of God. People who have zero doubt are often very irritating, as Owen can be. Owen hasn't arrived at his doubtless state without interrogating his faith or life, though. He's not full of faith because he refuses to see reality, in fact it's almost the opposite. He seems to have questioned and still believes his fate and purpose. I grew up in the Catholic church and never met a person like this until I was already quite the doubting Thomas. However, I can attest to how discombobulating strong faith can be in the face of endless questioning, and this is what Irving sets up so beautifully, comically and tragically for John and Owen.

 

Along the way we witness a friendship between two boys and young men that is so charming and graceful and appealing that it's hard not to be moved. The comic scenes are pure gold. (I both read and listened to the Christmas pageant scene many times. I bookmarked my audio copy there, and it made me laugh so hard tears rolled down my face, even when I already knew what was going to be said. It's a perfect scene.)

 

This novel is dense, full of little details, flies off on what seem like tangents, and more than once I wondered if there was an editor. Then in one fell swoop every single detail that seemed extraneous, silly or irritating falls into place. Details become symbols. Tangents find their meaning. The topsy-turvy struggle between faith and doubt gets an answer -- at least for John. But Owen's "gift" of faith to John is not without cost. John Wheelwright is bitter and confused and doesn't seem to know his own place in the world, though he's clear on Owen's. So even with an easy answer on the question of God, this novel shows how painful a life of faith can still be.

 

Please read this book if you haven't. I'll evangelize for John Irving's story of friendship, home and faith. Hang in through the unholy capitalization and irritation, your belief in the story will be rewarded.

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review 2018-06-20 06:40
Difficult
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

On various fronts. The overarching subject, the sense of hopelessness, helplessness and despair, the long-winded, meandering way the story is told (which is on par with the idea that it is a stream-of-conscience recount), and the purpose way in which this guy's obliviousness is made plain (and cringe-inducing) for the reader (and the teller).

 

Found it brilliant, at points boring and quite maddening.

 

Oh, and I leave it with a feeling akin to what Catcher in the Rye left me.

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review 2018-06-19 01:43
We -- a prototypical dystopian novel
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin,Clarence Brown

D-503, a true believer in the authoritarian future he finds himself in, has his faith in the structures of society shaken by love. <-- a quick and dirty recap of We, D-503's diary.

The world-building in these older dystopias is very different from today's, but you can draw a straight line from We (the first novel banned by Soviet censors in 1921) to a TV show I've only seen advertised in recent years about a dome over civilization, and of course everything in between. (The dome in We is described only as something between their society and what lies outside, and it's there so people aren't soiled by nature, not because people have ruined nature.)

 

D-503 sets out in his diary to show an unknown reader how glorious his mathematically logical "unfreedom" is. How happiness can only be found with the help of state doctrine, one that says freedom will lead to complete havoc and therefore ruin the beautiful order in their society, where even sex is organized by the state - lest the mess of personal, private love ruin everything.

 

It's easy to see how this could be attractive in the abstract, and how absurdly comical it is too. Can a perfect, ordered collective actually make someone happy? Can there be a perfectly ordered collective? The knowing me says of course not, but people always want to order things, to make them less complicated and more logical. Humanity is messy, and D-503 learns this when he falls in unsanctioned lust and love. Love is anarchy, both in the book and when I really think about it (which makes my brain hurt.) Love is the most illogical, but biologically imperative, thing humans do.

 

Zamyatin doesn't rail against the state as much as I expected. Instead he reveals through increasingly confused and unsure diary entries what it means to be an individual, one who exists not just as a cog in a wheel, but one who exists also for his own purposes, with his own ideals.

 

This is a deep work that can be seen on a variety of levels, but I found it most gratifying as a rumination on how complication and chaos are vital to living a full, satisfying life, despite how much we'd all like it to be otherwise with our lists and rules. To truly live, must we allow for some disorder, some illogic, some freedom?

 

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review 2018-06-06 03:14
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier -- Look out Jung & Freud. Du Maurier does it better.
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier,Sally Beauman

I've never read this before, nor have I seen the movie. Not sure how I missed the film, but I did. I was shocked at all the psychological twisty, rather deep and dark Freudian/Jungian stuff found in this novel. I mean, I knew it was a classic and sort of an intertext-something (I really should take a class on how to read a novel) to Jane Eyre, but I'm almost shocked at how affecting this novel was for me..

 

Oddly this is the second book in a row that seems to be a callback or response to another classic novel. I just finished a 2017 "response" (I'd call it) to the Great Gatsby (No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts), and today I read Rebecca which is certainly a fierce response or some better word to Jane Eyre. Both novels stand very firmly on their own. They didn't need the other books, but it's incredibly interesting to see how they respond to some of the material in the earlier classics. If I have the time, someday, I'm going to take a class on how to explain myself better about books. Back to Rebecca...

 

Normally a simpering woman who is dying for a man to just sweep her away from it all (no matter when it was written) would turn me off. The fact that she's afraid to trouble him or speak up to him makes sense, but also made me very sad for her at first. The genius is though I kept thinking "pack it up. Leave him," I felt connected to the nameless narrator through the novel as if I was the one in her position. I felt stuck. I felt nervous. I cringed along with her. I found my pulse quickening every time Mrs. Danvers came near. I was scared - literally scared while reading this in the middle of the day.

 

The dreams that begin and end the book are stunning in the way they set the mood and tell the truth when our narrator can't seem to tell herself the truth. Her daydreams are full of fanciful, childish nattering, but the dreams are the real thing. The juxtaposition of the truth in her dreams v the silliness of her daydreams is very telling and full of foreboding. Du Maurier writes very melodramatic plot without ever tipping into sentimental or soggy language so well that it's almost easy to miss how melodramatic the plot actually is. She's also a master of class and all those games people play, which is a callback to Jane Eyre, but so much of this is in the narrator's fearful mind that it's wildly different from the actual scenes in Jane Eyre. 

 

I also think the nameless narrator is a perfect way to add one more layer of her personality -- added to her hair, the way she dresses, all of her hiding, acquiescing, nail biting, her class and the way they met -- this is a well-built and very believable character. The daydreaming tops it off for me. She can't deal with her life and shunts all of her wishes and fears into fantasy.

 

One more thought is that these women - the two Mrs. de Winters - are like two sides of the same person, and in the end de Winter manages to kill them both (and they're both willing to let him.) Sure, the narrator is technically still alive, but it's just a slower/different form of death. There's a lot to say about that from the world of psychobabble, but I'll spare us all.

 

My final thought was "did Sylvia Plath love this novel?" I don't know, but in her late (mostly Ariel-era) poems, there's a lot  that has the feel (and some of the imagery) of this novel. I tried to do a quick search, but all I learned is that Agatha Christie wrote to du Maurier about the nameless narrator.

 

Anyway, I loved it. It moved me. I'm not sure what I learned but if I'd gotten a degree in psychoanalysis, I would have wanted to use this as some part of my dissertation: especially in the responses of women to the women in the novel. 

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