Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wuthering Heights

Keeping with the theme for trying to read broadly, and reading the classics to improve my own writing, I decided to read Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

I didn’t have an expectations when I began reading Wuthering Heights, except that I had heard people talk it being a great love story. I don’t know why people consider it a great love story - it certainly is a fantastic story, but it’s not a romance!

I think it is a novel of despair and redemption. There are a lot of ‘what ifs’ raised during the reading of it. I remember hearing someone saying that if Heathcliff had not left the kitchen when Catherine said that she couldn’t lower herself to marry him, and actually heard how much she loved him, it would have turned out very differently. Certainly, there would not have been so much despair and redemption if Heathcliff had married Catherine. However, he still seemed set on bringing Earnshaw down. He may have done that anyway. Also, Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s personalities were such that they would have caused a lot of trouble for everyone if they teamed up.

The narration of the story is very interesting, going from Mr Lockwood to Mrs Dean, and even Cathy and Heathcliff’s house-keeper have a role in narrating. They all tell the story consistently, and stay true to things like Joseph’s accent. It wasn’t very believable that each would narrate in the same way.

I considered Mrs Dean to be very culpable in the events. She was always helping couples meet, which caused everything to go wrong in the first place. If she had not conspired with the young people, but been faithful to her masters in each circumstance, things could have turned out very differently.

Bronte was able to create fantastic, unique characters. Even the setting was a character, in a way - the lonely moors, the isolation, the cold. Heathcliff’s character is one of the most unique and interesting characters that I have ever discovered in a novel. Is he evil, or a product of his circumstances? I think he is evil. Certainly, his circumstances were horrible - tortured and loving a woman who he couldn’t have. But many people and characters have experienced those things. It is the way he reacts, and systematically goes about bringing down everyone that he hates. He takes everything off them and makes them miserable, and drives them to death. All for revenge. He doesn’t need the money, and in fact, when he finally succeeds in owning everything and controlling everyone, there’s nothing left for him to do but go crazy and kill himself. I don’t feel any pity for Heathcliff.

I think it was a very satisfying story, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and good prevailed over evil in the end. The weather and the landscape all seem to contribute to the good feeling at the end of the novel, as well. Spring, new growth, warmth, and the beginning of new happiness.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stella Makes Good

I was lucky enough to get the chance to read and review an uncorrected proof copy of Lisa Heidke's new novel "Stella Makes Good", soon to be published by Allen & Unwin.
   Blurb: Stella Sparks is on good terms with her ex-husband, Terry, despite the fact he left her for another woman. Stella's philosophical - the marriage had run its course, they remain friends and the wellbeing of their kids is central to both of them.
   Stella's two closest friends, Carly and Jesse, envy her togetherness and wish they could emulate it. Jesse's husband, Steve, is a control freak who's driving her crazy, but she has two small children and can't see a way out. Carly, meanwhile, suspects her husband is having an affair and isn't sure what to do about it.
   Stella's life takes a distinctly upward turn when she meets a handsome, apparently single - no ring, anyway - father at her son's school speech night. For Carly and Jesse, however, the search for happiness and fulfilment proves more elusive ..
   With a healthy dose of humour and romance 'Stella Makes Good' is about the games we play, the secrets we keep, the unpredictable nature of life and the importance of female friendship.

This was a really smooth, easy read. A light-hearted escape. The characters came alive through their thoughts and dialogue. The issues they dealt with will resonate with many Australian women, whether they are married with children or not.
   Each of the women was very unique. Carly really annoyed me. She was very superficial. She seemed to associate lust with love, and if the sex wasn't wild then there was no love. She also thought that she needed to be a stay-home mother for her teenage children, as if they wouldn't survive (and probably be better rounded people) if she went back to work. She also encouraged Jesse, the most troubled character, to have some 'freedom and adventure', when what Jesse needed most was 'respect and stability'. Carly also became very worried that her son was gay, which is very politically incorrect.
   Jesse was the most interesting character. She was almost crippled by her husband's emotional domestic violence. But she had such inspiring moments of strength and courage that this saved her from being insipid.
   Stella (I'm not sure what she made good, or that she even had to make good) is the balanced character, or at least appears that way to her friends. She is actually fairly scared of a new relationship. But she is very generous, conscientious and the friend that everyone wants to have. She is independent, and she accepts her teenage children for who they are. I liked her a lot.
   The change in tense used in the novel was interesting - the story was written in first person when Stella was the central narrator. Then a more removed third-person narrator took over when either of the other women was the central character of a particular section.
   The story was mainly driven by dialogue and thought. There was minimal descriptions offered, and I struggled to visualise the characters, they were just blurry outlines in my mind, except for June, Stella's mother-in-law who is very vivid. Because of the lack of description, there were a few awkward places where time seemed to jump: one moment they were in the car talking, and the next minute they were entering the hospital ward in the same conversation. There were a couple of other places where time seemed to be wrong, such as the story was supposed to be set around the end of January and start of February, but one of the children was talking about exams.
   The only other criticism I have is that there are too many modern references that the book is going to date very quickly. It refers to current movies and TV series, current video games and social media games. I don't think they're necessary - they just annoyed me, like Lisa was trying to prove that she was up-to-date enough to know that these things are around. They are not important to the story. The main characters acknowledge that they are not up to speed with everything their kids are into - it should probably just have vague references to what the kids are up to, since their activities are not central.
   Overall, great read. Look out for this book in January 2012.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cross Stitch

It has been a while since I have read a book that I couldn't put down. Diana Gabaldon's Cross Stitch was that book. It was on the book list from the book club that I was in last year. Otherwise, I never would have picked it up.
   Then, I find out that under another edition, this book is also called Outlander, and is part of the Outlander series. I am torn. I could spend a good few months just reading these books. But my aim is to read widely, and to read classics. I have decided that I will be putting this book back in my book shelf to pick up in years to come, when I can dedicated months to reading the whole series.

Historical romance, fantasy, chic lit ... whatever genre you choose, it was a page turner.
   I don't think that the writing is particularly fantastic, but the pace of the story is great, and it wasn't predictable. Also, the main character, Claire Randall, is not the perfect woman that so many romance novels contain. She is older, she is not particularly thin, but is very curvy. She is confident about her professional - she's a nurse.
   There are two lovers in this book - the first husband, and then the second husband after she's travelled back in time. I didn't really feel the relationship or the chemistry between Claire and her first husband. But the new husband is certainly the typical good looking, muscular and sensitive hero from typical romance novels. You can't help but fall in love with him yourself.
   I don't want to spoil too much with this one, and there aren't any issues to analyses. The book is a pure get-away. Don't think, just enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye

Continuing with my aim to try to catch up on classics that I haven't read, and to improve my own writing by reading literature instead of pop, I recently finished The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
   I can see why this book is on the reading list for so many teenagers in the USA. It reminded me a lot of The Bell Jar, but a male version. The voice was much more powerful in this book that in The Bell Jar. But I was just as bored reading this book as the other.
   I dislike teenage angst a lot - maybe because I had a lot of it, and got over it, that I just want to scream at these teenagers to get over themselves too.

   Both Holden Caulfield and the main female character in The Bell Jar become mentally ill. Holden goes on and on about being depressed. He recognises it, which is odd for someone who's mentally ill - usually they deny anything is wrong with them.
   The book is based over about 48 hours. Holden doesn't develop over that time, but he does deteriorate. He is always going on about people being 'phony', and seems to want to connect with someone. This seems to be a combination of immaturity and mental illness. He thinks everyone is phony, to the point of over doing it. He doesn't seem capable of being open to the intimacy that he wants, and mistakes someone reaching out to him as a sexual advance, or vice versa.
   His little sister, Pheobe, is someone he admires and loves greatly. She is also his link to his earlier, happier life. He wants to be a child, and being with her reminds him of the years gone by. She doesn't recognise that he is not well, but is probably the ultimate reason why he gets help.
   I'm glad this was a short book, but I really didn't have much time for Holden. He bored me, annoyed me, and the lack of anything actually happening made be want to put the book down.