Archive for : July, 2014

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The Hours: A Novel by Michael Cunningham – A Review

You have probably heard of The Hours: A Novel before – either because of the famous 2002 Oscar-winning movie (featuring the wonderful Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julian Moore), or the original 1998 book that both The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Either way, this is one of those novels you should definitely not miss out on because it is excellently written: so sweet, so beautiful and so postmodern that it’s almost inadmissible for a book lover not to have read it. And if you have ever loved Virginia Woolf, consider this novel one of the most stunning tributes to her work.

Michael Cunningham writes about women in this book – and he does it wonderfully, with the same level of understanding and grace Woolf herself did back in her time. There is something very Woolf-esque about the entire book (beyond the actual characters themselves) that will make you think reincarnation is actually possible and that Woolf actually returned to us mortals in the shape of Cunningham.

The book features three main characters, all inspired in one way or another by Virginia Woolf. The first one is Woolf herself as she was writing Mrs. Dalloway. The second one is Mrs. Brown, the wife of a WWI veteran who is reading the same novel. And the third one is Clarissa Vaughan, a modern bisexual woman planning a party for her husband who is ill of a disease related to AIDS. Clarissa is actually a modern version of Mrs. Dalloway herself and if you have read both Woolf’s book and this one, you will understand why the two characters are so intertwined.

Behind the characters themselves, Cunningham also manages to nail a narrative technique that has been coined by Woolf herself and by her fellow generation writer James Joyce – the stream of consciousness. When using this technique, words and thoughts flow very naturally as if there was no actual filter between these thoughts and the actual narrator.

One day is enough to see the life of a person – this is what both Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf believed and Mrs. Dalloway, as well as its younger sister, The Hours, are focused precisely on showing just how greatly revealing 24 hours can be when it comes to trying to understand people.

The themes surrounding The Hours are also very much similar to the themes approached by Virginia Woolf herself. Mental illness is one of them and even if Virginia Woolf may not have clearly or explicitly approached this issue, it is definitely dominant of her work and career (as she was known to be bi-polar, alternating mania and depression).

LGBT is another interesting theme approached by Cunningham as well and which is strongly connected to Woolf. Again, Virginia Woolf may not have explicitly mentioned lesbianism in her work, but at a closer look, her interest in exploring sexuality and LGBT matters can become quite obvious.

The Hours is suitable for a lot of readers out there. It can be a marvelous read for anyone who likes Woolf and who “misses” her. It can be a great read for someone interested in exploring mental illness and depression as well. It can be very good for someone who simply loves Meryl Streep, as she does an amazing job at bringing to life Cunningham’s character. Or it can be a good ready for just any woman out there – because, this is a book about womanhood, femininity and slightly about feminism too.

 

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The Bell by Iris Murdoch – A Review

Iris Murdoch is not a name you can easily ignore, and even if you haven’t read anything of her books it’s quite likely that you’ll have heard her name at least once. The Times included her on a list of the most important writers from 1945 onwards – and not without reason. Murdoch writes about the things that affect us as people the most: love, good and evil, sex and religion. The best thing about her is that she never overdoes any of these themes and they come naturally in her books.

Murdoch’s novels are always very complex and they somehow manage to touch upon all the themes mentioned above without actually giving an answer for them – or at least not a clear one. As a reader with a book written by her in your hands, you will have to draw your own conclusions and this is one of the things that make this author so widely appreciated among critics and readers alike.

The Bell is a story centered on Dora Greenfield and her relationship with her husband, Paul. At the beginning of the novel, she leaves him but she returns to him shortly after. The catalyst of her leaving, as well as of her return to her husband is fear. Their relationship will not work this time either, but in between the moment of her return and the moment of her final depart, a lot of things happen.

When Dora comes back to her husband the first time, she finds him settled in a small lay community near the Imber Abbey. This is when the first hint at the ambivalent relationship between sex and religion is introduced: the abbey’s bell is said to have been cursed by a priest when he found out of a nun’s love affair. There’s further scandal as the leader of the community appears to have had a homosexual relationship with a 14 year old boy. Somehow, Murdoch introduces these side stories in a very natural way which adds complexity to an otherwise simple story (a naïve, young girl falling in love with an older artist who proves to be abusive and manipulative).

With all these hard-hitting themes filling the entire novel, one would be tempted to think that reading Iris Murdoch will feel a lot like reading Finnegan’s Wake or Dostoyevsky, for that matter. And yet, it is a book that will be funny, sad and overwhelmingly true at the same time – a book that will make you wonder and ask, a book that will leave you thirsty for more of its kind.

The Bell is definitely a book that sticks with you and the fact that more than 2,000 readers on Goodreads have rated it with an overall rating of almost 4/5 stars shows that it is a book you could fall in love with. Iris Murdoch writes about homosexuality, about pedophilia, about fear, about religion, about religious communities and their flaws and about so many other things by blending them all with one very simple story. It’s act of a genius. If you have never read Murdoch before, it is quite likely that this book will get you hooked on her for a long time. You would not be the first one to dedicate your time to reading everything she has ever written!

 

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The Diviners by Margaret Laurence – A Review

The Diviners is an epic novel written by Margaret Laurence. It is a well-written, powerful story that follows an independent woman who, despite all of her luck thus far in life, refuses to stop searching for true love. She has many setbacks, but for Morag these things only make her push harder to get what it is that she truly wants in life. The book hooks you from the first page and doesn’t back down.

Morag Gunn is the main character. She grew up on a Canadian prairie which put her in a world that seemed far from reality. She wants to find love, and although she learns how to deal with being alone and all of the emotions that comes with it, she cannot ignore that empty space in her heart. Eventually Gunn is able to find that life that she always wanted to have – but along the way there are a great many obstacles that try to stand in the way of her finding the true love she so strongly desires to find.

This is an old book that was written and published in 1974. The book earned an award that year, the Governor General Award for Fiction, and since then it has become considered a classic, a must-read for young adults.

The Diviners was so popular that it even became a TV show, airing in 1993 on CBS television. Anne Wheeler adapted the made-for-TV version of the book and it starred Tom Jackson and Sonja Smits as Morag. The book is one that has been repeatedly banned in high schools by religious groups which consider it obscene and blasphemous.

This book is an exciting 494 pages. It is well-written and puts you right in the middle of the scenes that are taking place. Many say that it is the best book written by Laurence during her many years of writing. The role of Morag Gunn is one that many people can relate to. She is courageous, she is determined, and no matter what comes her way, she is apt at finding the love she has never before had.

The book starts off compelling and finishes in the same manner – you can really get to know Morag with each sentence that you read.

 

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Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing – A Review

Few Canadian writers (and even fewer female Canadian writers) have managed to become as well-known and popular both with readers and critics as Margaret Atwood. Surfacing is one of her most famous novels and even if you have never read anything by her before,  it will probably make you want to read more of her books.

In fact, Surfacing is a novel that complements the author’s collection of poems Power Politics. It is a book about identity: feminist identity, British identity, personal identity and the complexity of identity as a general notion.

The main character has no name, which definitely adds to the generality of this theme – we all have our own identity, after all and we can all relate in one way or another to the search that the main character embarks on. In search of her childhood home, the female character travels by car back to Quebec, along with her boyfriend Joe and a married couple, Anna and David. Another character also enters the scene – an American called Malmstrom. Interestingly enough, the only character without a name is the actual main character and the narrator, which definitely hints at the idea that she is a universal person and that any woman could be in her place.

Language plays an extremely important role in the understanding of the book. When the main character is angry, she cannot speak. At one stage, she even vows to never teach her child any kind of language, as she believes that she can get away from words just as she gets away from society itself. By the end of the book though, she regains her language, reflecting that she has regained her place in society and is no longer alienated.

Alienation is one of the book’s strongest themes and it can be looked at from many points of view. On the one hand, the main character feels alienated from society and she seems to be representative of women in general, as Atwood underlines the fact that all women have been alienated from society for a long time. It is actually not surprising that Margaret Atwood should put forward such ideas, since the theme of feminism is generally present in all of her work.

The search for power is extremely poignant as well. As a child, the narrator has been confined to fit into certain religious and gender roles that have “drained” her of all her power. In her search for her childhood home, she believes that alienating herself from society will help her regain her power and her identity as well.

Last, but not least, a very interesting motif is that of the Americans “invading” Canada and changing it. This motif is very poignant in Malmstrom’s presence and even his name is a representative of his entire nation.

The book is full of symbolism, something Atwood clearly has a way with. For instance, Anna always wears makeup on her husband’s request – and for Atwood, this is a clear sign of the general subjugation of women.

Surfacing is definitely suitable for someone who resonates with feminist ideals, but for other types of readers as well. It is a book for anyone who wants to think about the concept of identity and other thought-provoking ideas. Margaret Atwood can really make you think.