Books I Will Never Review

Okay, I admit – I’ve completely stolen the idea for this list from Doug Walker a.k.a. the Nostalgia Critic, (check him out by the way, he’s fabulous http://www.thatguywiththeglasses.com) when he posted a video of films/shows he would never review and why. Unlike the marvellous Mr Walker, I’m not sure I can come up with his usual eleven off the top of my head without doing some series expansion, so we’ll just have to see how many I can think of as we go…

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

levente_szabo_jane_eyre

(The awesome picture is from the great Re-covered Books section from http://www.thefoxisblack.com, it’s the first Jane Eyre cover I’ve really liked).

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”

I really love Jane Eyre, I truly do. In fact,  far too much to look at it with anything approaching impartiality. Unfortunately, this book is so part and parcel of my development as a person – particularly as a decision-making moral agent of my own destiny. It came at precisely the right time in my life to slap me into awareness and it was the first adult novel which really spoke to me as a person. This is my comfort-read, and as far as I’m concerned it is beyond reproach; thus, I will never review it. Maybe I’ll review some of the televison/film adaptations – but I just can’t look at Jane Eyre that way.

2. Any of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone

(Yes, dear American friends it is The Philosopher’s Stone, not The Sorcerer’s Stone).

“Nitwit, oddment, blubber tweak!”

Similar reasons to Jane Eyre, really – they mean far too much for me. If Jane Eyre was the first adult novel which I could relate to, then the Harry Potter books were the first books full stop. Aside from opening up the wonder of the wizarding world to me, it also started me on the path which I’m on. Without Harry Potter, I don’t know if I would have read so widely – been so prepared to give pretty much anything a chance, I wouldn’t have decided that English was for me (speaking as someone in the middle of an English and French degree, that means a lot) and that stories are amongst the best things which you can create, (as an aspirant writer/director, that means a helluva lot more). Without Harry Potter, I’m not sure if morally and politically I’d be the person I am today. Not only is J.K. Rowling my childhood, she is an integral part of my past, present and future too, hopefully. I can’t put a value on the books which gave me all that, could you?

3. Any (sort of) of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

the horse and his boy

This isn’t so much a nostalgia thing, as down to the fact that the books are so inter-linked I’d probably have to review all seven in one post. Which would be very time-consuming and frankly a bit boring. (Did I mention that I’m a student? I have a lot of stuff to do!) I might write a general post on all of them, with some background and notes on cultural impact etc – or a review on The Horse and His Boy, the least-connected to the main story and incidentally, my favourite – but I won’t be embarking on an epic task anytime soon.

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

4. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein

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This absolutely nothing to do with nostalgia. I really, really, really don’t like these books. I read the first one and God it was boring! Tolkein did not know when to stop with the description! “And then Bilbo was brought this, from this place, made from this, made by this species, who ate this for breakfast…” Gah! I won’t review these because then that would mean that I would have to read them!

“One ring to rule them all…”

5. Pamela by Samuel Richardson

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This is partially to do with the fact that it really does depend upon which edition you read which version of the story you get; sure the basic plot-line is the same, but the nuances aren’t. For instance in earlier editions, Mr B’s sexual harassment was far more overt than the ones which Richardson later revised. There are so many editions overseen by Richardson, his daughter, some Victorians and modern editions which cherry-pick from the first two that it would be a nightmare just deciding which one was the “true” Pamela that is really representative of what it was meant to be.

“Be sure don’t let people’s telling you, you are pretty, puff you up; for you did not make yourself, and so can have no praise due to you for it. It is virtue and goodness only, that make the true beauty.”

Oh and the content and tone get plain silly and exasperating after about the mid-point in the story, which means there would get to a point in any review I do on the subject in which the whole thing would degenerate into meaningless jabbering and harrumphing.

So these are the books which I will never review. Nothing reviewing, don’t ask – I’m not doing! (Have a nice day now all y’all).

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The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter

Oh Angela, it’s been a while…

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I haven’t reviewed any Angela Carter for quite some time, and I haven’t reviewed any since I began to write half-decent, lengthier reviews. And now now it’s time for me to stop saying “review” and just do it. Evelyn is a man. More specifically, an Englishman moving to America just in time for the mother of all Civil Wars to break out; militant feminists, child religious crusaders,  oft-referred to but barely seen”blacks” and God knows who else fight, not only to survive, but to come out on top afterwards. In the midst of all this, Evelyn starts the road-trip of a lifetime that will see him go from a man in New York to a woman in California.

I love Angela Carter. I really do. That’s why The Passion of New Eve makes me sad. It’s mesmerizing and meaningful stuff in places, but in others it’s just stodgy and silly. It represents Angela Carter at the height of her thing for the trinity of myth, allegory and metaphor, before she would go to a more pared-back and streamlined approach in The Bloody Chamber. Take the scenes in which Evelyn is taken to the underground desert city of Beulah, and is has to take part in a ritual before being forcibly turned into a woman – with a view to making her pregnant with her own child, using the seed procured from him before the operations. (Don’t ask). In fact, forget just the ritual – let’s look at the whole Beulah section. It’s generally just silly. I get that it’s partly a satire on the feminist strand of the Mother Goddess cult – which was enjoying a resurgence at the time, – and partly uber-indoctrinated cyber-Amazons preparing for war; but the dialogue and the symbolism are very difficult to take seriously, the dialogue especially clunks a lot in this section – as they all appear to speak in concepts, not in sentences. As for the satire… It goes on too long and takes itself a little too seriously for that angle to really cut ice.

Dialogue generally is a major issue in this book, more than any other Carter novel it clunks like hell generally. Carter herself acknowledged that it wasn’t her strongest point, largely leaving dialogue out of The Bloody Chamber, and she did improve infinitely later on – Wise Children is a masterpiece in voices – and even when she did have the odd clunk in the future it would never be quite this bad. (If I say “the new century”, fans of Nights at the Circus will know precisely what I mean). As I said before, many of the characters – not just in Beulah, but apparently across America – speak in concepts and ideologies. This is a direct consequence of Carter being at the height of her allegorical phase, as Eve(lyn) travels through America she encounters characters that aren’t so much characters as representations of systems of thought and speechify accordingly. Zero the misogynist, impotent poet that insists his “wives” growl and bark instead of speak, anyone? In the tradition of road trip movies, some of these encounters do get a tad repetitive.

However, there are things in this book which are incredibly well done. I love the first act in New York, and how the scene is built up and set there – there are some beautiful moments of characterisation as well as description, as Evelyn’s less than healthy relationship with Leilah – a dancer – is established and explored in a subtle and sensible manner; he isn’t the Big Bad Wolf, he’s just a man programmed to think and react in a certain way. Also, I really do like Leilah as a character – she’s a charismatic cocktail of innocence and experience that leaves a very big impression on the reader from first to last. I’m also very fond of the cinema motif, and the running references to old Hollywood and the actress “Tristessa” which just underline the themes of illusion and gender-perception; and there is a marvellous set-piece which goes from echoing Sunset Blvd to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. And I don’t think all the road-trip stuff is always too repetitive, the child crusaders make for a nice rhythm-breaker, with the leader being a strangely uncanny foreshadowing of George. W. Bush…

The Passion of New Eve is Gulliver’s Travels on LSD. In America. Yeah, in places it’s silly and it probably needed a re-draft or two, but it’s still worth the read – it’s probably one of the best descriptions of New York that I’ve ever read. Because when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad it’s absolutely awful I’m going to give this one a 2.5/3 out of 5 – maybe I’m too young to get some of the references, but sometimes it just falls flat. And good books shouldn’t have a sell-by date.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

… Or “Why I don’t envy Baz Lurhmann.”

Gatsby_1925_jacketYes, this is a shameless cash-in on the up-coming (admittedly, awesome-looking) Baz Lurhmann film but hey, nothing that brings a new audience to this great story can be all that bad. Touch wood.

I’ll admit my immediate reaction when I heard that Baz Lurhmann was to direct the first big-screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby since the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version was something along the lines of: “Arrgh! But, but, he was responsible for Moulin Rouge! Why would you do that?!” For the record, I have more than reconciled myself with the choice of director (he did have a career before Moulin Rouge, and damn… Those ads look amazing). The other main problem, not just for me but for everyone who loves this book, is that pretty much everyone has their own version of The Great Gatsby in their heads; everyone knows how they’d do such-and-such a scene and with who. The inner frustrated director in most readers will be prepared to hate any adaptation done by someone else who dared to get in there before they did, (because they totally were going to make that film). So what is it about this book which inspires both such cultish blind devotion to it and outright hostility towards anyone who might wish to touch it?

Our narrator and reader-substitute in this story is Nick Carraway; a relatively blank-slate from old money in the Mid-West come to make his fortune on the stock-market in New York. With a view to saving cash, he moves to the small peninsula of West Egg – the less-legitimate of the two “Eggs” in the book – and soon  realises that his next-door neighbour is rather less then ordinary. He doesn’t only realise this through the fabulously decadent and meretricious parties which Jay Gatsby throws every week, despite not engaging in them at all himself. He mainly realises it when he seems him staring across the bay at East Egg, more specifically at the green light at the end of the jetty belonging to Nick’s married cousin, Daisy. Beyond that, there is very little I can say that won’t give away anything to do with the plot, aside from that the emerging tale is one of thwarted hopes and dreams, class, money, love and one of the last true idealists of fiction standing against the world.

I love the characters in this book. Not from a point of view of affection, as such – they’re mostly fairly abhorrent characters in their own ways – but more from a technical standpoint. Every character, no matter how walk on their role may be, is given due time and attention and are developed verbally, visually and as a function of the story. You could probably write a thesis on the supporting characters in The Great Gatsby and still get a first. As far as the main quintet is done (Gatsby, Nick, Jordan, Daisy and her husband, Tom) none of them are two-dimensional which could have so easily happened with both Tom and Gatsby, with the first as a philandering villain and the second as a knight in shining limo;all of them have a degree of ambiguity, even Nick whose reliability as a narrator is something which we’re occasionally called upon to question. Although as much as I love Nick* (and yes, I do – I think he’s sweet) and the character development he gets somewhat unusually for a theoretically tabula rasa device, it’s Gatsby who is the key to this book.

Let’s face it, like with Villette, the affection the reader has for this book is usually in direct correlation with that they have for the main character. Jay Gatsby is essentially Don Quixote in spats, and yet there is always this feel of the con-man conjurer about him; he’s too fantastic to be true, his lies are too obvious and badly-made. But for all that he is pure idealism and with surprising sense of innocence and vulnerability behind it; he feels like one of the few characters in fiction who acts like he belongs in the fictional world, a more fictional world than the one which he inhabits. It almost feels as though he has gone through fairy tales and literature and Onegin-like has underlined and made annotations on desirable character-traits and tried to assimilate them into his own personality. Compared to some of the other characters, he comes across as an otherworldly innocent, but it’s heavily hinted that the source of his wealth is illegal and that he’s done some less than chivalric things in his life to reach his current  position. See, this is how good the characterisation is: Fitzgerald has me writing about Gatsby like he’s a real person. Gah! 

The story’s well-written and concise, alternating between the witty and satirical, and the bittersweet and lyrical in the prose. I would say that chapter one can be a bit hard-going if you’re less than at your focused best, but stick with it – once Fitzgerald gets into his stride he rewards your loyalty by the champagne-bucketful. It is a novella and the chapters are knitted together very tightly, so I would recommend reading it in as few sittings as possible and paying it full attention – it’s not exactly something that you can just dip in and out of. As for your concentration, almost literally everything is relevant either to plot or theme in some way as well as there being a couple of blink and you’ll miss it, and at least one character death you’d miss if you were semi-skimming the book.

So, that’s The Great Gatsby – read it or regret it. The world which Fitzgerald conjures is so vivid, both palpable and dreamlike at the same time, that it’s little wonder that people who love it get so truly possessive and attached to “their” Gatsby. So Baz, good luck mate – better you than me.

*For the record, I completely ship Nick and Gatsby. Go Natsby!