Tag Archives: 1001

Light in August – Faulkner / The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway

The Fiction of Relationship course on Coursera is starting again 1 September this year, so I picked up steam to continue reading on the second part of the course, which has the following list of books: (I finished the first part of the course last year)

  • William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932)
  • Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1956)
  • Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace (1963)
  • J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999)
  • Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)

From all books in the list, I had been dreading William Faulkner the most. It was one of the reason that I got stuck on the first part of the course (ending with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf). But with much trepidation, I finally picked up Light in August.

Light in August by William Faulkner

light in august - faulkner

Light in August is largely a story of Joe Christmas, a person who thinks that he might be black. As you can guess from that sentence, much of the book is about racism, what it means to be white, and what it means to be black, in that area of the US at that period of time. I’m not familiar with what’s so called Southern literature, so I had little clues about what the society and the rules at the time are like. At the beginning of the book, I was quite confused about who was white and who was black — while in any other novels set in other period of time these might be inconsequential, in this book it DOES matter. People who are more familiar with the culture would pick up the clues pretty quickly (from the way people talk and how they interact, e.g. the whites and the blacks almost never interact unless absolutely necessary and their difference in classes would be clearly shown), but it really took me a while.

I read Faulkner’s short story before (Pantaloon in Black), but this is the first time I read his novel. From what I read, Light in August sounds like one of his most accessible novels. The style is stream of consciousness, which somewhat reminded me of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and the writing is amazing – there were many jaw-dropping moments for me, as I could not believe someone could come up with such brilliant sentences. Faulkner was a revelation to me. It is really worth it to push out of your comfort zone every once in a while, and opens new world.

Amongst the brilliance though, there were also many confusing passages. I can’t say I understood everything 100%, but it was a good experience (and lectures from Prof Weinstein helped a lot). I won’t be rushing to read more Faulkner soon, but I’m sure I will read more in the future.

Mee’s Rating: 4/5

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

the old man and the sea - hemingway

In similar fashion with Faulkner, I read both Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s short stories last year, but this is the first time I read Hemingway’s novel. The Old Man and the Sea is a novella of 99 pages, and it’s short and enjoyable enough for me to recommend it if you’ve never read Hemingway.

In similar fashion as Big Two-Hearted River, one of Hemingway’s most popular short stories I read last year, The Old Man and the Sea largely revolves around a man fishing. Fishing is something that is so far off from my world, that probably like a lot of you I wondered whether I would enjoy reading about it at all. I didn’t quite like Big Two-Hearted River — it was way too quiet and the type of story in which nothing is happening: a man goes fishing and reminisces about the time before the war. The Old Man and the Sea is a more happening story, though still has lots of fishing. This time in the sea. Also the fish is much bigger. I have not read Moby Dick, but I have an inkling that there are similarities, in that The Old Man is obsessed about catching the Big Fish and getting it home, in the similar fashion as Ahab obsessing about catching the whale. There is also the whole struggle between man and nature.

People mention how masculine Hemingway’s books are, and I somewhat agree, but was surprised to find a touch of much vulnerability and sensitivity in one of the characters in the book. The old man is poor and has nobody to care for him, but there is a boy who adores him and fetches food for him, and goes to him even though his parents disapprove. He cries when he sees the old man suffering. I was really touched by this boy character in the book, and felt like I saw the vulnerability and sensitivity of the author himself. Based on this, I will read more of Hemingway’s books in the future before deciding what I feel about his works. I’ve got Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises on my shelf.

Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5

The Rest of the First Half of 2014

I believe I’m getting my reading groove back. Not to the level of my highest record in 2009 with 57 books (I wasn’t working in the first half of the year then), but hopefully to a decent level, relatively decent, considering my meager record in the past few years.

I also intend to take more time in writing my thoughts again about the books I’ve read. I haven’t been doing very well on this, again in the past few years. I won’t do book-per-book review as religiously as before, but I realized how important it is to step back and formulate my thoughts about what I read, and write at least a little about them. Pause, step back, think, write, instead of reading reading reading like an unstoppable train (!?). No matter how much impression you get out of a book, no matter how you think you’d remember it forever, you do forget. At times I even have a hard time remembering books that I read in the same year.

So I will try to write more when I can, but when I can’t, I’ll have a quick rundown like this post. Here are the books that I’ve read in the first half of the year but have not got the spotlight:

Murder on the Orient Express — Agatha Christie

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Christie-Agatha-9780062073501

I’m never a fan of detective stories, and I’ve only read 2 Agatha Christie books in the past, way way back in Indonesia, when I was in high school. I remember liking them, but I was just never compelled to read more, even though there were tons of Christie’s books in my library, rows and rows of her black books.

I spotted Murder on the Orient Express on Kindle daily deal, and I was traveling in Turkey at the time, so it was the perfect time to devour this one. As you might know, the Orient Express was a long distance train running from London to Istanbul (discontinued in 2009). I can’t imagine the more perfect timing, reading it in Turkey, and possibly also on my flight back to London. I love how I really got all the geography references in the book (including Syria where the train started).

The story itself was quite enjoyable. There is a murder of course, then the train breaks down, leaving everyone trapped with a murderer. Hercule Poirot is on the case, having to weed the culprit out of the twelve passengers in the carriage. I could not guess the murderer, but I don’t read a lot of detective stories.

This is London — Miroslav Sasek

this-is-london-cover

This picture book by Czech M. Sasek was absolutely delightful. It was first published in 1959, and there’s a whole series done by the same author (This is Britain, This is Paris, This is Rome, This is New York, etc) which I’m keeping my eyes on. I absolutely adore the illustrations. Such a great classic.

Fun Home — Alison Bechdel

Fun home cover

Fun Home is an autobiography in graphic novel format (really, my favorite type of biography, and my favorite type of graphic novel), about how Alison deals with her father’s closeted homosexuality, and eventually her own.

This book is a good example of me forgetting, and it wasn’t even that long ago. I’d been wanting to read Fun Home forever, and finally did. I remember it as being quite dense and complex with lots of literary and philosophy references. I liked it, but wonder now if it’s because I felt like I had to, or because I really did.

Things Fall Apart — Chinua Achebe

things fall apart

I’d also been meaning to read Things Fall Apart for ages, and was glad when I finally got to it. There’s is always a kind of trepidation when facing a classic giant, as the book is often put forward as the epitome of African writing and colonialism, amongst many others. I was so relieved to find that I absolutely enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The central character of the story is Okonkwo, a revered man in a small village in Nigeria. He has three wives (and many children) living in three separate huts with his hut in the middle, at the entrance to the compound. He is very proud to the fact that he is a “self-made man”, that he gets to where he is by working hard, unlike his father who is poor and therefore he considers weak.

About half of the book tells of the day to day life of Okwonko, his family, and the people in his village. There’s a folktale quality to the book, and I felt like I was told a really good tale. You may be ready to judge Okwonko at the beginning (e.g. three wives, tough man persona), but soon you would start to see things from his perspective. By the end of the book, I really felt for him, and I’m not giving anything away, but let’s just say I was deeply, deeply sad and disturbed by the end of the book. The ending was very profound.

Oscar Wilde: The Complete Short Stories — Oscar Wilde

oscar wilde complete short stories

I read the Happy Prince and other stories (e.g. The Nightingale and the Rose, the Selfish Giant, etc) last year, and finally got to finish the entire collection in the book this year. I love them, I love them all. The more I read Oscar Wilde, the more my love is reaffirmed. No matter whether they are detective stories, fairy tales, more adult fairy tales, or a ghost story, I loved them all.

There’s one story titled The Portrait of Mr W. H. about the characters’ obsessive attempt to find out about the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (the Mr W. H.). It was the first time for me to hear about this dedication and I’m not even familiar with Shakespeare in general, and yet I was so engrossed in the story.

Thanks to the Hear, Read This! podcast (a monthly bookclub podcast) that gave me the push to finish this collection. A bit sad that there’s no more short stories of Oscar Wilde for me to read, but I really look forward to getting to Dorian Gray and his plays.

 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

GreatExpectations2012

I started reading Great Expectations back in late June 2013, by signing up to dailylit.com. That way a piece would be sent to my email every day, and I just needed to read that part for that day. If I stuck through it, I would get through Great Expectations in 229 installments – or 229 days.

And I did. Slightly quicker than that because there were days when I felt like reading more and I only needed to press a link in the email to get the next installment.

I did not think when I embarked on this project that I was going to get til the end, but I did. I think it was almost 7 months long, wow. I found out that now I could get through any thick classics by doing the same thing. Thank you dailylit!

I do believe that I probably wouldn’t finish GE if I read it the normal way. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but like most thick classics, there are parts that are interesting, and some parts that are simply boring, boring, boring, you’d-rather-do-anything-else-apart-from-reading boring. With this method, I only needed to read a small chunk every day, and made steady progress anyway. We read countless emails and web pages every day (or at least I do), why not treat this installment like any other email that I have to read? Also that way I was free to read other books the normal way, so it didn’t feel like I was hogging all my time to read this one thick classic.

So that is how I got through Great Expectations. I recommend this method if you have failed before by reading it the “normal way”.

I quite like the story, though at the end there are too many coincidences that made it a bit soap-opera like. Also I wish the boring parts could be abridged. There were a few events, usually somebody visiting somebody or a group of people visiting a group of people, and the description and conversation just went on and on. As I only read a few hundred words every day, this event could go on for something like a week or more, and induced internal comments like: Omg, are we still here? Can’t we just move on?

I watched the latest (2012) movie adaptation as soon as I finished the book – which was alright. I think everyone is pretty well cast. The only one that was a bit off was probably Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. I usually like her, but I picture Ms Havisham to be very skinny (and most people do, or she’s even described as so by Dickens), but HBC is a bit too.. buxom. I’d love to see the depiction by Gillian Anderson in the older GE movie.

Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (And More About Coursera Courses)

Jane Eyre

For the second week of reading in the Fiction of Relationship class, we are tackling Jane Eyre. Now I actually started Jane Eyre two years ago, and since then had been reading it on and off. I got stuck at 80% for a long time, and I finally finished it for the class. It’s not that I had specific problem with the book that it took me so long to finish it. I just had problem with the sheer length of it. It is very very LONG! My Vintage copy is 600 pages long. Reading it on Kindle too seems to take forever to move forward. I read pages and pages, and the percentage didn’t go up 1%!

The story itself I really like — a lot more than Pride and Prejudice for instance. Jane Eyre as a character is feisty and courageous. She is cast away as a child and goes through a lot of troubles growing up. The writing is brilliant, it’s almost hard to believe that someone could write that well.

I’m going to talk a bit about the structure of the book, so minor spoilers ahead.

Jane Eyre is roughly divided into three sections. First part for Jane growing up. Second part for Jane with Mr Rochester. Third part is when Jane leaves to become independent. So in short, pre-Rochester, mid-Rochester, and post-Rochester. My problem finishing it was that mainly I found the second part the most interesting, while the first and the third somewhat boring. Now I’m not usually the type of reader who longs for romance story, but honestly with Jane Eyre, it’s like everything dies when I entered the third part along with my desire to continue the book.

I think this is probably a common problem with reading a thick classic. There are interesting parts, and there are boring parts. The time when Jane was confronting Rochester and in deep inner conflict about doing the right thing was mighty interesting. I flew by it. But when it got into a slump, I just thought I would never get through it.

To conclude, Jane Eyre is an excellent literature for classes and book groups. There are a lot to discuss and talk about, layers upon layers, it might be never ending.

I still think the book is too long though…

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

I read Wuthering Heights quite a while ago and loved it. I heard that you either love Wuthering Heights and hate Jane Eyre or the other way around. I can see where this comment comes from, as the two books cannot be more different! It is somewhat mind-boggling that the Brontës are sisters.

The 2011 Movie

jane eyre 2011 movie

I watched the 2011 Jane Eyre movie with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. The movie makers seem to agree with me that the first and third part of the book are rather boring, since they cut them really short. In fact the ending felt really abrupt. It was pretty good movie though, and worth watching in my opinion.

I’ve been following Mia since The Kids Are All Right and I think she’s a little under appreciated as an actress (while Jennifer Lawrence is probably over-hyped — I don’t get how the whole world seems to get almost over obsessed with her). Mia fits her role well as “plain” Jane, while Michael Fassbender is great as Rochester. Fassbender is bit of hit and miss for me, but here he’s really perfect as rough rich Rochester. Approval from Mee!

More About the Courses

To share with you a bit about the reading in the Fiction of Relationship course, these are the books in the schedule:

Module One (all free on the Internet)
Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (1731)
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847)
Herman Melville’s Bartleby (1853) and Benito Cereno (1855)
Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “A Country Doctor” (1919)
Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (1927)

Module Two (have to buy)
William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932)
Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1956)
Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace (1963)
J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999)
Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)

Seemingly a bit mental, I joined another class on coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, that requires reading of the following:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales (Lucy Crane translation with Walter Crane illustrations)
  2. Carroll — Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems (Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse includes “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and “The Artist of the Beautiful” and his Twice-Told Tales includes “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”; The Portable Poe includes all the suggested Poe stories and poems
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star”
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles (not available for legal, free download)
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness (not available for legal, free download)
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother (This reading is somewhat longer than most of the others. You may want to begin it in advance.)

I’m positive that I won’t be able to go through all those (the Fantasy and Science Fiction one especially requires TONS of reading – I’ve checked the length of each), but the courses really pique my interest about reading some of the books mentioned.

If you’re inclined, you should be able to just check out the lecture videos, because they’re both excellent. I love both professors. They seem to be really passionate about teaching and the text, and you do get more understanding by listening to their discussions of the books / short stories. I got really inspired to read more, especially the classics. Most important of all, it’s all FREE! Thank you coursera :)

 

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I hadn’t finished a book in 2-3 months (don’t even mention how many I started and put aside to continue later). I went to Hay-On-Wye for Hay Festival last weekend and apparently our phones don’t work over there (at least not for O2!). No internet for 2-3 days, and I finished one book. Sensing desperate need to unplug. And yes I can see the irony of this post…

So to the book! Animal Farm is a fantastic little read and it probably resonates for most people even vaguely interested in politics or leadership. It is fascinating how relevant the content is until now. Orwell wrote this with Stalin and Russia in mind, but the book reminded me of North Korea – almost every aspect of it. A timeless fable of revolution goes wrong, which only proves that humans (pigs?) don’t change very much, sadly.

This is my first Orwell, can you believe it? I can’t wait to read more! I have 1984 ready on my shelf, so anytime now.

The whole literary atmosphere and the fact that I was able to finish a book kind of energized my reading life. Hope I can keep the momentum and finish more books. I am looking at novellas, short books, or even graphic novels and short stories. Something doable!

I am also currently enrolled in one of coursera.org free course on The Fiction of Relationship and starting Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost, which is a French classic that’s the first book in the syllabus and I never heard of prior to this, but it’s a short book and it’s free on Kindle, so who knows, it could be the next book I finish?!

I went to tons of literary/author events in May on top of Hay Festival, so lots of things in store. Hope to share them with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, happy reading, as always!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

fingersmith

Fingersmith was a really fun book to read from beginning to the end, though I thought it almost touched the borderline of being “wordy” (being 550 pages). The first twist (probably the biggest too) left me in a state of euphoria, as I got so excited that I did not see it coming at all. I love unpredictable book!

If I have to describe the book in two words, it’d be Lesbian Dickens (stealing that from a goodreads reviewer which I totally agree with). The style of writing is in the style of those novels written by real 19th century writers, but a couple of things gave it away, like the use of swear words (very rare, do not worry) and the fact that there’s lesbian relationship. I don’t think those ever appear in real Victorian novels. But that’s one of the fun things about it I guess! (I knew about the LGBT aspect before I started reading)

If there’s one thing that I did not quite like, it was the ending. It kept me from giving this book a perfect score unfortunately.

(Spoiler ahead, highlight to read)

I just thought the author took the easy way out: Kill all the obstacles! I had a really bad feeling once one of them started dying, and true enough the rest followed.

(end of spoiler)

sarah waters

This book though has set me firm to read more Sarah Waters books (Fingersmith is my first). I am currently looking forward to read either Tipping the Velvet or the Night Watch next. Probably not this year as I try to read just one book per author per year, but we’ll see!

In term of “fun”-ness level, I think it’s comparable with the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (also comparable in size).

Interesting fact: Fingersmith was beaten by Life of Pi for 2002 Booker Prize, and by Bel Canto (Ann Patchett) for 2002 Orange Prize (it got shortlisted for both prizes that year). I have to agree that Life of Pi is a probably better book, but I read mixed reviews for Bel Canto.

4.5 stars
(2002, 548 pp)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

the handmaid's tale

I don’t remember the last time I read a book that I totally did not want to put down. Probably Room, which I finished a couple of years ago in 7-8 hours plane ride, and I would say The Handmaid’s Tale is a better book (though completely different, so I don’t know why I made the comparison). Considering how long it takes for me to finish one book these days, I finished this one in a breeze! I spent a couple of weekends just reading for hours, which I also don’t remember the last time that happened.

I’ve read only read Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood before this one, which I wasn’t too impressed of. I’m still not sure if I like her writing style from reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I found it a bit… choppy at times. And it’s not like I’m a fan of dystopian stories, which seems to be the topic she embraces the most. I would really like to read Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin though. I also have Cat’s Eye somewhere in my piles.

All in all, I really liked The Handmaid’s Tale. The way it is written by revealing a little at a time made me want to read more more more and faster. Now I feel like reading another dystopian book, and I’m thinking of Orwell’s 1984. We’ll see.

4.5 stars
1985, 395 pp

sunny reading at kensington garden
Sunny day reading at Kensington garden

thehandmaidstale_movie
The Handmaid’s Tale, 1990, rating: 5/10

As always I could not resist a movie adaptation of a book I just read. Unfortunately the movie is such a silly rendition of a good book. It lacks all the suspense, subtleties, and claustrophobic feeling that the book does so well. You can safely skip this.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

alices-adventures-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glass-and-what-alice-found-thereYou might remember that I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandlast year and fell in love head over heels with it. It actually became one of my favorite books, ever!

Unfortunately I cannot say the same with Through the Looking-Glass. I’m not sure if it was the timing or if it’s really a less piece of work, but the magic I found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a bit lost in the sequel. It was still a pretty good read, but I did not love it as much.

I read the Vintage edition on the right which has both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, both with illustrations by John Tenniel-the original illustrator. I decided to wait a bit for the second book after reading the first one, hence the gap (they were actually published with 6 years gap anyway).

In Through the Looking-Glass I found that characters often appear and disappear too suddenly (literally–like poof!) which I don’t remember happening as much in the first book and kinda baffled me a little bit. I laughed reading the first one a lot more too. Lots more. The second book is probably supposed to be smarter because it integrates chess moves throughout the entire story, but I never have much interest in chess unfortunately!

What I found interesting was a few key events or characters that were taken from Through the Looking Glass and get adapted into the Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland, like:

alice live flowersalice live flowers

the garden of live flowers (John Tenniel’s illustration on the right)

bread and butterfly

bread-and-butterfly

tweedledee tweedledumtweedledee tweedledum

tweedledee and tweedledum (John Tenniel’s illustration on the right–as if you’re gonna get it wrong..)

mickey through mirroralice-emerging-from-the-looking-glass

and Mickey Mouse short where he goes through mirror and finds world on the other side of it is an obvious tribute to Through the Looking Glass!

My super favorite passage:

‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’
‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’” ~ p196

which I think so reflects the fast pace of our modern life.

4 stars
1871, 170pp

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayAs I entered the novel, a sense of familiarity quickly came to me: the distinctively British language, eloquence and subtlety. I knew I was in good hands, of someone who really knows what he’s doing. My first Ishiguro was When We Were Orphans (ridiculous plot, but again, delicious British style), my second being Never Let Me Go (clinical clean language, intriguing plot), and I have to agree with many people (and the Booker judges) that The Remains of the Day is the peak of his greatness.

Stevens is an old-fashioned butler who has been working his entire life at an old style English house (mansion to be exact, or castle? Anyway, it’s huge). Being a butler is not just his job, it’s his entire life. He has extreme pride for what he does, who he works for, and who he is for his profession. Because of his extreme, rather odd views of things, he is somewhat socially imbalanced, and that causes him to be caught in all kinds of interesting situations with the people around him.

The basic premise is not what I would call my kind of story as it deals with upper class society in a wealthy country, albeit it’s the butler who gets the spotlight. Having said that, I was totally absorbed into Stevens’ thoughts and life from beginning to the end. This is a book that is heavily based on characters rather than plot, and what a great characterization Ishiguro has done. Everything about Stevens is so believable, so well-developed. And the ending will surely take your breath away. It did mine. It was so tragic, so devastatingly heartbreaking.

Jess, my book fairy who passed me the book, described it as “pitch perfect” and I couldn’t agree more. What really stood out for me, apart from the language, was the technique. It felt like Ishiguro has painstakingly rewritten and edited the book, again and again, honing it to perfection. No word was wasted, no gesture was not meaningful, no speech was unnecessary. It was so clean, so lean, so articulate. Yes, it was pitch perfect!

As the basic story is not one that is close to my heart, it probably won’t end up as my favorite book of all time. (Maybe it will maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.) But as a novel, it is amazingly accomplished. Give me another Ishiguro’s anytime of the day. I’m sure I’ll end up reading all his books eventually. I would therefore give The Remains of the Day the perfect 5 stars. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Can you think of a book in which the basic story is not close to your heart but you think it works perfectly as a novel? What’s the next Ishiguro would you recommend? The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World, or A Pale View of Hills? Any that you feel strongly about from the three?

5 stars
1989, 258pp

First Line
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.

Memorable Passage
“There was, for instance, the question of cost. For even taking into account my employer’s generous offer to ‘foot the bill for the gas’, the costs of such a trip might still come to a surprising amount considering such matters as accommodation, meals and any small snacks I might partake of on my way. Then there was the question of what sorts of costume were appropriate on such a journey, and whether or not it was worth my while to invest in a new set of clothes.” ~ p10

Challenges/Projects
Read the Book, See the Movie, The Man Booker Prize, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Reading the World

Also reviewed by
Steph & Tony Investigate!
| Arukiyomi

The Film (1993)

remains of the day film

The film was nominated for 8 Oscars in 1994 for Best Actor, Actress, Costume, Art/Set Direction, Director, Picture, Music, and Writing. (too bad it didn’t win any. But their competitors of that year were Schindler’s List and The Piano. Tough competition!)

Stevens the butler was played by Anthony Hopkins beautifully, as well as Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton the housekeeper. The movie stayed very true to the book, it captured the mood very well, and the important scenes were played better than what I imagined while reading.

The setting in Darlington Hall was amazing. I got to see everything that was hard to imagine by myself: the summer house, dining room, kitchen, servants’ quarter, drawing room, library, etc. There were even a couple of nice extra touches that I don’t recall being mentioned in the book, like secret passages for the servants to go from room to room without being intrusive (so fun!) and the myriad of labeled bells connected to different rooms.

The Remains of the Day is a wonderful movie. Really well done. And for me the tragedy was even more apparent than in the book. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The-Unbearable-Lightness-of-BeingPrior to reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being I was never quite sure what the book was about. It seemed to be one of those books that is hard to summarize. I would describe it as a book on relationships and sexual escapades with the backdrop of Czech politics. Main characters are Tomas the womanizer doctor, Tereza the naive country girl, and Sabina the free-thinker artist. The three of them make some kind of a love triangle with a twist. Who Tomas loves is really Tereza, but he also sleeps with Sabina even though he knows it tortures Teresa (hence tortures him too in a way). Sabina knows about Tomas and Tereza but doesn’t mind.

But really I just barely scratched the surface of what is in the book. There are many philosophical musings about love, life, relationship, politics, and the world. My did I enjoy them. The book is so so rich with ideas that I was in awe through and through!

The writing wasn’t exactly fantastic. The excessive parentheses especially annoyed me. Makes you wonder if they really came from Kundera himself in the original language. The book is translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim, who is an award-winning translator. So I guess it was already in the best hand as far as translation goes. It also drove me a bit crazy when it talked about kitsch for several chapters. A few checks into dictionary and wikipedia didn’t get me very far. I’m still not sure if I understood.

milan kunderaBut again, the ideas! How original! How thoughtful! How mind-bending! Anybody who could make politics seem so sexy must have exceptional talent! I chose to see the real strength of the book rather than the weakness–which now seems to be even less important. Boy oh boy how happy I was to finally try Kundera, who solidly earned his place on my favorite authors list. He must watch out because I’m going to go through his back catalogue!

I’d highly recommend the book for people who question lots of things in life, for those who experienced turmoil in their own country and might be forced to leave, or just those who enjoy discussions of out-of-the-box ideas. I enjoyed The Unbearable Lightness of Being immensely that I couldn’t give it anything other than

5 stars
1984, 304 pp

First line
The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!

Memorable Quotes

“Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.” ~ p46

“She had come to him to escape her mother’s world, a world where all bodies were equal. She had come to him to make her body unique, irreplaceable. But he too, had drawn an equal sign between her and the rest of them: he kissed them all alike, stroked them alike, made no absolutely no distinction between Tereza’s body and the other bodies.” ~ p54

“Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has his family, colleagues, and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood.” ~ p71

“What we have not chosen we cannot consider either our merit or our failure.” ~ p85

“The  goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is. The thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us.” ~ p119

“The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. … The novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.” ~ p215

“Attaching love to sex is one of the most bizarre ideas the Creator ever had.” ~ p231

Project
Read the Book See the Movie, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Reading the World

Also reviewed by
bibliojunkie | arukiyomi | Mad Bibliophile | Save Ophelia

The Movie (1988)

The-Unbearable-Lightness-of-Being-movieThe movie is played by Daniel Day-Lewis (of the Butcher in Gangs of New York) as Tomas and Juliette Binoche (who I knew from Catherine Earnshaw of the 1992 Wuthering Heights) as Tereza.

I thought Tereza was well-played, showing grace, youth, and innocence. But my gosh did I have problem with Tomas character in the film. I guess the main problem was, I did not find Day-Lewis sexy, so the whole Casanova thing he was meaning to pull did not work. The continuous smug smile on his face annoyed me as hell.

But you can kind of tell from the structure of the book, that a movie adaptation was not going to work well. The major (and the most crucial) portion of the book lies in the narrator and his philosophical musings, not the plot. Cinematic is great for showing plot and characters, but not deep inner thoughts.

With a bag of skepticism before going in though, I thought the film was somewhat decent for its ambition (it’s nominated for 1989 Oscar for Best Cinematography and Best Writing for Screenplay Based on Material from another Medium). It’s watchable, even if only for setting and lifestyle of the time and place. But it’s skipable for the non-fan of the book.

Rating: 7/10

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...