Like Being Killed – Ellen Miller

drama


To the next person who reads this book:

Like Being Killed explores the life and thoughts of a junky.

This novel disturbs in a way that its content is sometimes repulsive – and therefore uncomfortable – to read, but in the kind of repulsive way that doesn’t allow you to stop reading.

I read this after someone mentioned it in connection with another title I enjoyed: The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. The two novels were nothing alike – though perhaps they share a similar attention to detail and description.

Both worlds seem real in some way; both are vividly painted.

In some ways, I found this story superficial. At its core, it seemed flawed. The relationship between the two women seemed at first to be lacking some depth. But this fact is almost redeemed by what the relationship develops into – the story and its end both provided a satisfying depth I didn’t think Like Being Killed had.

But from the outset, it was interesting, almost engrossing – the detail was, as I’ve already mentioned, disturbing. Shit seems to be a major theme throughout – which seemed also to parallel the themes of life and death, and how protagonist Ilyana Meyerovitch sees herself and junkies as, in society.

One of the novels key messages is that the life we live is a choice we make.

On the surface, this novel provides some insight into how low life can get living with a heroin addiction.

What I enjoyed about this novel was its structure – the time frame is not chronological, and jumps between a kind of before and after.

It describes a unique drug culture, too, which adds to the believability of the world the novel operates in.

Sometimes I found protagonist Ilyana to be dislikeable – too involved in her own problems to empathise with those around her – and this was one of her flaws, as a person, and a part of her character arc.

Ilyana’s Jewish heritage is described with wonderful detail, and so are her junky friends.

Read this if you want to journey into a world where the characters and places are described with a kind of detail that makes them multidimensional, and real.

Like Being Killed is filled with allusions – and provokes some thought, too.

★ ★ ★

 

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The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror

 

To the next person who reads this book:

We are introduced, first, to the house. ‘No live organism can continue for long to exist soley under conditions of absolute reality,’ it begins.

Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stnoe of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Welcome to Hill House: the first novel I have read that left me feeling genuinely scared; it was a creeping sense of fear – the kind that slowly  settles over you like a shadow casting nearer without your noticing. When you do, the fear is gripping and hard to shake.

This fear lingered. Even when I wasn’t reading The Haunting of Hill House, I was thinking about it.

The juxtaposition between the first sunny morning of protagonist Eleanour’s arrival to the house and the dark, mysterious inner rooms of the house is incredibly effective.

Three people, Eleanour, Theodora and Luke come to the house upon invitation from Dr. John Montague, Doctor of Philosophy. But what he wants  to study in the house is far from what his doctorate might suggest.

None of the three guests are aware of the reasons why they have been invited to the house, but each have their own reasons for accepting the invitation.

What I like most about this novel was whether or not Hill House was haunted by the dead, or the living – of which does the title refer?

Eleanour is an unreliable narrator, it is hard to trust what of her narration has been warped by her own strange version of reality.

She has spent the majority of her young life friendless and estranged – being introduced into the social setting of Hill House, Eleanour comes accross as slightly neorotic and strange.

The story tracks the slow unravelling of Eleanour in the hosue – but whether it is of a supernatural nature or not is uncertain.

 

 

 

The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

classics, Pschological horror

To the next person who reads this book:

The Bird’s Nest is one of Jackson’s earlier works. It came before The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The Bird’s Nest introduces us first to Elizabeth Richmond, who lives with her outspoken Aunt, works at a desk in a museum and, otherwise leads an uneventful life.

But the more I think of her, the more interesting she becomes: she at once comes across as lacking in some way – of self, or personality. She leads a quiet life of routine and habit, diligently going to work every day, then coming home to Aunt Morgen, where she eats dinner with Aunt Morgen and never interrupts Aunt Morgen to speak.

Elizabeth also appears to have no friends. It’s rather like she is living a life that is ‘good’ and ‘well-behaved’ – seeming not to have any wants or desires (or if she ever did, they have long been forgotten or supressed). Her life, much like her work at the museum, seems very methodical and vacant.

Elizabeth’s quiet existence is disrupted by the affliction of terrible headaches and backaches, along with mysterious notes being left on her desk at work, and the following of some unexplained events. The headaches, after reaching a point of severity  prompt a visit to a doctor, which then eventuates in Elizabeth’s seeing a psychologist, where we find that Elizabeth’s body hosts three other personalities…

The awakening of these personalities seem at first terrifying, particularly in the way that Betsy keeps asking if she can open her eyes.

The revealing of each new personality tells us something more of Elizabeth’s life – and how she came to exist in the way that she does.

Jackson is especially clever in the way that she shows how these different personalities interact, not just with one another, but also with Aunt Morgen and Doctor Wright (Elizabeth’s doctor), which I especially enjoyed.

Also interesting was the question of identity, and who we are. In the war between the personalities inside Elizabeth’s body, we are made to think about what actually makes us who we are inside, and who we would be, if say, another personality suddenly gained consciousness over our lives while we remained unconscious to this fact.

Would who we are, or who we were, be dead? Do we cease to be? For me, this was an interesting question. It is a strange thought to imagine my body walking around with someone else living, acting, thinking, and being on my behalf.

Nana – Emile Zola

Uncategorized

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.

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.’