Nana – Emile Zola

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nana zola

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Nana is alive. Nana is this character who has a furious, quick temper that made all her unfiltered thoughts come through, and a temperament very similar to a child who suffers greedy tantrums. She is this horribly manipulative woman, who is incapable of self reflection and cruel in the way that only a selfish person can be (a person who cares only for themselves). It is just this quality that makes Nana act as she does, and Nana who she is.

At the same time, I wanted this cruel woman to triumph, she was the pinnacle of this high class prostitution world, directly before the fall of the second empire in France. The world itself is a character as vivid as Nana, and is bought to life by Nana.

We can see how the coming collapse of the French regime is shown through the final collapse of the world Nana belonged to, and of Nana herself.

This novel is a wonderful depiction of those niche, unique subcultures that seem to belong to a specific epoch in time that are often bought to an end by war, as though they are bubbles in time which inevitably must end.

The culture of this world is so rich and vivid that I felt intimately a part of it. It expresses what it means to be a prostitute in this time, captures what it means to love and live as one.

Nana is depicted as the fly which rises up from the lower class and filthies the upper elite; this novel explores the dislikable protagonist. Meet her lovers, meet her friends, meet her men. Nana is a star.

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Lord of the Flies – William Golding

classics, survivalist

 

To the next person who reads this book:

This book was good from the outset. We are introduced to the story: Schoolboys from a plane wreck, alone on an island. There are no adults.

How they organise themselves in their new environment is the next test they are faced with. They have food, water, but they don’t have meat.

A chief is voted on. Ralph – whose character-struggles are at once admirable – is the main character of this story. I was stricken by his courage, wisdom and sense of fairness.

The conch, found at the bottom of the lagoon, is a constant symbol of law and order – the rules they create themselves are the only things keeping them from savagery.

How they descend slowly into savage beasts is haunting, the beast of the land is in them all.

By far the scariest thing about this story is how like a game survival becomes. Even death has a place in this tribal game of chiefs and thrones.

keeping the fire going is their only hope. If they forget about why they need the fire going, they forget their hope of being rescued.

Golding builds a fabulous tension, and as readers, we are really made to reflect on the sinister cruelty of human nature when given the chance, though at the same time, the characters, they are just boys – they are just children. A thought-provoking juxtaposition.

Land of the Green Plums – Herta Muller

historical

Source: Amazon

 

 

 

When we don’t speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.

 

To the next person who reads this book:

 

The Land of the Green Plums introduces us first to Lola who lives in the same small room with the narrator.

Living in a totalitarian Romania during Ceausescu’s reign, Lola is an example of the oppression of the people by the regime.

Living a strange, private, and sometimes dark existence, Lola is found dead, hanging from the narrator’s belt, in the wardrobe of their small room. She has supposedly committed suicide; an act that is abhorred and despised as a crime.

No one can leave the country, books are banned, and there is no freedom of expression. The fear and paranoia can be felt in every page turn. The sadness and desperation is captured in every detail.

It is the detail in this novel which really captures life in Romania at this time. The reader feels present at all times.

Muller writes in a vivid, descriptive way which stays in the mind long after the book has been put down.

Nail clippers, and grass are themes that play out throughout the novel for conformity and the mowing down of expression of thought and feeling.

Moving out of the poor provincial life into the city, the characters seek to escape Ceausescu’s influence, but life in the city is much the same.

The relationships in this novel are captured intimately: the marks of the regime are present in every characters life, down to the smallest detail.

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

mystery
tsh

Source: Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Set on an American college campus, this novel is about the lead up to, and aftermath of committing murder. Tartt focuses on the moral question of planning to kill someone and then going through with it. More than that, this novel explores the darker side of deciding to kill someone who is a friend.

Richard is something of an unreliable narrator – he is a compulsive liar. Driven by the desire to escape the dreary, suburban life of his childhood home, Richard enrolls at New England College because he likes the picture on the brochure.

There, he meets five very clever students who take small classes with a professor who calls what they are doing play rather than work. Studying Greek classics, they exist in a world of their own, ideologically separate from the ‘real’ or current world the novel is set in.

Henry is a genius. There is a lovely depth to Camilla’s character, she is intelligent, but not without a kind ‘softness’. Bunny is a ‘good sport’ often loud and rude, though not unlikable. Charles is somewhat unpredictable but open, and kind. Francis is rich and irritable at times.

These characters do not listen to the news, nor do they watch TV, they are almost completely out of touch with current events, and modernity.

They are described, by others, as occult-like and near frightening. This adds further to the mystery of their lives.

I still have questions about the motives of these characters, and I have read it a countless amount of times.

I ask myself why I care so much about these characters, when they are killers. But this is the point of the book: it asks us a moral question about murder.

Brilliant and completely immersive, I was absorbed from the starting point:

Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside of literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

 

 

 

The Glass Bead Game – Herman Hesse

classics

AmazonImage source: Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Set in remote Castalia in the twenty-third century, Joseph knecht becomes the Magister Ludi. We follow Knecht from childhood throughout the course of his life.

I liked this book because of its eastern influence – we imagine a monastery, a minimal existence in which meditation is practiced three times a day.

The idea of belonging to a scholarly, monk-like society is very appealing – the culture of Castalia is described so well I think it is what drew me to the book.

This novel deals constantly with themes of a ‘spiritual awakening,’ as well as that of a student growing into master, the two being one, with a shared fate.

Interesting is the decline of this world and its need to be balanced with the mainstream society which funds it existence.

A complete world set in the future, at a time where war is a thing of the past an politics and mainstream society are seen as conquest and the struggle for power.

But the Castalian world is not without its own sinister implications: It is a world primarily of assimilation, integration and conformity.

This force of conformity comes from the ‘Order’, as the novel explores what it means to become apart of it. The existence of the order is dependent on the willingness of the people to assimilate, which for me, felt almost similar to totalitarian rule.

Favourite tales from this story were those centred around the music master, and the hermit who taught Joseph to understand the rules of I Ching.

Hesse has a wonderfully accurate way of describing; he details this world in such a way that as a reader, I was gifted with several personal revelations.

At the End of Joseph’s tale is a collection of his works. Poetry from his childhood, which as a Castalian, was his first rebellion, and three lives – stories where one writes of a certain epoch by imagining they are characters immersed in the time period. Even these speak of the main themes that run through out the entire novel; the cycle from student to master and spiritual awakenings.

This novel had an end that was unpredictable, but satisfying, in that it was so wonderfully orchestrated it couldn’t have ended in any other way.

The Beach – Alex Garland

psychological thriller, travel

Amazonimage source: Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

 

When protagonist Richard is travelling in Thailand, he learns of a mysterious ‘beach’ which is rumoured to be the last destination left untouched by the tourists. With French couple Etienne and Francoise, Richard sets out to discover if the island where the supposed beach exists is real or not.

Garland’s The Beach was an instant adventure. I was instantly immersed in backpacker culture – it was about the culture of backpackers, rather than the country. Garland draws attention to the fact that essentially there is no difference between ‘tourists’ and ‘travellers’ though travellers continually seek a more genuine experience than tourists.

This point is reinforced even in the way that the characters in the novel seek out ‘the beach’ – which is supposedly untouched by tourists – but in reality, has nothing to do with Vietnamese culture – it is essentially just a community of westerners who live in isolation from the rest of society.

But the island – when Richard finds it – is an adventure. While the colours of it are rich and beautiful,  this is juxtaposed with the hallucinations Richard begins to have and the more sinister implications of the power politics on the island which come to the fore; where its inhabitants are endlessly concerned about preserving it as a secret.

Richard’s character unsettles – he is unpredictable in ways that made me uncertain of whether or not his next actions could be trusted. This, I think, was what made this novel so compelling – it wasn’t just the protagonist that was unpredictable, but the entire direction of the plot.

 

Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

classics
15827137

Source: Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

Notes from the Underground: I wanted to know what the underground was.

At once I was drawn in by the tone of the narrator. This was an interesting character. The story is about how the narrator : –

missed life through decaying morally in a corner, not having sufficient means, losing the habit of living, and carefully cultivating [his] anger underground.

It soon became clear that the ‘underground’ was a place the narrator lived, not literally speaking, after falling out of the grooves of society and forgetting what it meant to live and to be human.

This novel is about the anti-hero. It makes the point  that we can hardly live as people without our books, without our books telling us who we are and how we should be.

Important to this character is the anger and spitefulness he has grown, or ‘cultivated’ – which is more harmful to him than it is the other he directs it at. More importantly, he lets it, out of spite.

The question that leads this novel to the end is the question of why and how this narrator who has forgotten what it is to live, love and feel happiness; whose existence is the underground; got to be the way he was.  The Underground is the place a person exists in when they cease being  a social being, conforming to social standards, or caring for themselves as human beings.

In many ways – this is what depression does to us. And there is no doubt that the narrator is not suffering from a great ‘mental pain.’

 

 

 

Chocolates for Breakfast – Pamela Moore

coming of age

 

Image: Title page art by Carter Kegelman. Designed by Michael Correy. Amazon

 

To the next person who reads this book:

In this coming-of-age story, Courtney sets out to experience all she can as she becomes a ”woman” – but seems haunted by a certain “ugliness” in all that she does.

We follow Courtney through love affairs, family drama and cocktail parties as she splits her time between her parents homes in New York and Los Angelos.

This novel is written with a certain charm – a charm which lives in the descriptions of its  intriguing characters and settings. Particularly memorable in this respect are our introductions to the boarding school where Courtney lives, and her best friend, Janet.

But at the end of this book – I felt deeply affected by the ‘about the author’ section, which reveals the parallels between protagonist Courtney Farrell and author Pamela Moore.

As well as Chocolates for Breakfast Moore wrote four other novels – though none were as successful as her first. The “ugliness” Courtney speaks of in the novel seems to have been something that also haunted Pamela Moore, who, unlike Courtney, didn’t survive the ugliness.

Read the book – then read about Pamela Moore. It’s influence when it was published in 1956 was far reaching – so it shouldn’t be forgotten now. This is a story that, like Emma Straub puts it in the foreword:-

is the very best kind of story – a tale of imagined sophistication, of New York City apartments, of Hollywood has-beens, of family tragedy, of beatnik intellectuals, of private school crushes, and of time traversed through fiction.

It deserves to be read.