Saturday, September 16, 2017

Before Everything by Victoria Redel | Book Review


Take a moment to think about your old friends. The ones you have known the longest; the ones who have seen various versions of ‘you’ (even the editions you’d rather forget). What do they look like? Are they still the same smiling, frizzy-haired children or have they grown greyer and wiser beside you? 

The ‘old friends’ in ‘Before Everything’ are the latter. Victoria Redel has presented a group of female friends in a refreshingly honest story about the trials and tribulations of female friendship: the petty rivalries, the tender care, the bitchy comments, the constant comparisons. However, these are not friends preparing for marriage, thinking about babies, or worrying about their careers – these are friends who are watching their beloved friend dying of cancer.

Anna is beautiful. Everyone who meets her remembers her auburn curls and radiant smile, however, her nurse is unable to picture her as anything but frail, sick and slowly dying. She has amassed a crowd of friends who fill the house she once shared with her children (now grown and creating their own families) and sort of ex-husband Reuben. They bring food, endless piles of food, laughter and memories as they try to convince Anna to keep fighting the cancer. 

She sees how everyone tries to keep the room bright and festive. The lustrous silver and gold of them. She sees the fear on all the faces. But she’s not frightened. She’s finally free of the looping dread. Now she will stop eating. When she was alone with the nurse, she begged the woman to help her die. “I can’t,” the nurse said. “It’s not legal. But you can stop eating. It will move things along. That’s a choice you can make.” Yes, she will stop. Now, here is the party. She will keep this a party. After tonight she knows she won’t make it out of this living room again.

There is a natural tendency for a reader, like this one, who has grown up on the saccharine endings of Hollywood films to hope for a happy ending. Somehow the cancer will disappear, Anna will revive and continue loving her friends and family. This isn’t hinted at by Bedel, it isn’t offered as a potential cliff-hanger or plot device – it’s just a natural human reaction to want to deny death eventually will have a starring role in all of our lives. No, this is a story of love, of friendship and ultimately of death: a death which is surrounded by love (although Anna’s nurse gently reminds the reader – having this many friends and family at the end is rare). A death which will remind you to make memories whilst you can. 

You may not want to read certain parts in public though; there is a real chance you will cry whilst reading it.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

York | Autumn 2017

There is something about York. With its windy, cobbled streets and endless independent coffee shops -- the city somehow manages to have a cosy feel to it. I spent three years here at university and everytime I come back I find something new to love about it. Confession: I am a fairly awkward public photographer and only really feel comfortable taking photos when I have someone with me -- I need to work on that or learn to put up with the grumbling!


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Howards End | Book Review

E.M. Forster is credited as being Zadie Smith’s favourite author; Zadie Smith is my favourite author; it was sort of inevitable that I would enjoy E.M. Forster’s writing. I chose ‘Howard’s End’ because of this - not because I thought the plot sounded interesting or the cover was pretty (sorry, I know I shouldn’t but I definitely buy books based on their covers). I resisted the temptation to Google the plot throughout (this was a lot harder than it sounds) and it was an oddly satisfying way to read a novel - continually asking myself is this a romance, is this a tragedy, what is this?!!?! 

First published in 1910, the novel opens with the hurried engagement of Helen Schlegel to Paul Wilcox. Helen is staying at the Wilcoxes family home, Howards End, after she met them travelling in Germany with her sister Margaret. The engagement is over as quickly as it began, however, the two families are inextricably tied to one another. The Schlegels enjoy cultural pursuits whilst the Wilcoxes enjoy accumulating property and amassing imperialistic wealth. Meanwhile, the impoverished Bast family loiter in the background of these two families as they interact with one another. The three different families are fascinated and repulsed by their differences in equal measure. The novel traces their interactions with one another, exploring whether these social strata can ever peacefully co-exist.

A star-studded adaptation of Forster’s novel is in the works and it’s not surprising. I was struck by the similarities between 1910 London and 2017 London. The theme of housing, property accumulation and economic divides is as pertinent today as it was then. Whilst there are some elements of the novel that belong distinctly in that time period (Forster’s take on women’s suffrage, for instance) there is also a timeless quality to it which makes it an interesting read. My only complaint is that the novel focuses primarily on the dependable and ever-so-slightly predictable Margaret, keeping the more revolutionary characters at the fringes of the narrative. I guess telling the novel from Helen’s perspective would have been a bit much for a 1910 audience!


Friday, June 9, 2017

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven | Review

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places - Ernest Hemingway.

Violet and Finch are broken.

Finch is an outcast. He shuns the popular students at school for his various personas depending on his mood. He routinely disappears, people take it as typical behaviour and stop questioning it. His father is abusive, his mother is depressive, his counsellor tries to connect with him but Finch isn’t interested. He doesn’t want to love anyone, until he meets Violet.

Violet survived a car crash which killed her older sister. The grief forces her to withdraw from her friends and boyfriend. She walks or cycles everywhere, she will not get in a car again. The words which once spilled from her mind have gone: she cannot write. The two meet at the top of their school’s bell tower, both of them are contemplating suicide.

In some ways, it is your typical young adult novel. They are intelligent, quirky, well-read individuals who quote Virginia Woolf at one another (without actually reading her work in full…I wondered what message that was supposed to send about literature? That it can be picked apart and remain intact?) There is a charm to the story, though. It encourages you to look more closely at the ordinary and mundane elements of our lives: the people and places that have become the backdrop to our inward lives.

I am not convinced, however, that its management of the theme of suicide is entirely responsible. Whilst the numbers for numerous suicide and depression helplines have been added at the back of the novel, the characters didn’t receive much support in the novel. The school counsellor consoles themselves / the reader that they did all that they could….although I probably could have done a whole lot more. Nobody cared that a teenager disappeared for weeks on end. Nobody. Not their family, their educators, their girlfriend, their friends…they all took it as typical behaviour. It all just felt a bit heavy handed and I am not convinced that including helpline numbers will convince suicidal people that there is someone who cares about them when this character went unnoticed and uncared for.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My full name is Cadence Sinclair Eastman.

I live in Burlington, Vermont, with Mummy and three dogs.

I am nearly eighteen.

I own a well-used library card and not much else, though it is true I live in a grand house full of expensive, useless objects.

I used to be blond, but now my hair is black.

I used to be strong, but now I am weak.

I used to be pretty, but now I look sick.

It is true I suffer migraines since my accident.

It is true I do not suffer fools.

I like a twist of meaning. You see? Suffer migraines. Do not suffer fools. The word means almost the same as it did in the previous sentence, but not quite.


You could say it means endure, but that's not exactly right.

My story starts before the accident. June of the summer I was fifteen, my father ran off with some woman he loved more than us.

'We Were Liars' grabs you from the very start. Told from the perspective of Cadence Eastman, it is the story of childhood summers spent in idyllic surroundings. There is a problem, though. Cadence has an accident which obliterates her memory of one summer. She doesn't remember the hospital treatments following her accident however hard she tries. Her mother stopped telling her what had happened as it kept upsetting her so there is nothing left for Cadence to do but remember it herself.

The novel is Cadence's attempt to piece the puzzle back together: the summers leading up to the accident, her growing love for her cousin's friend, her grandfather's stronghold on her mother and aunts. Something happened during the summer of the accident, that much she knows, but nobody will tell her exactly what happened. It is an enthralling read -- perfect as the weather warms up for summer!


Monday, April 17, 2017

To My Wife by Oscar Wilde

I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.

For if of these fallen petals

One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.

And when wind and winter harden

All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lush Haul

I feel like when people say 'haul', it's tons and tons of stuff. Except, this isn't freebies and I am definitely on a budget!I decided to treat myself to some bits and pieces recently -- I love a bubble bath. It's the perfect way to destress and unwind. There's something about being in water that I find so soothing. But anyway, here are some bits I bought recently from Lush. In total they came to around £25.

Products listed from top to bottom: bath melt | bath bomb | milky bath bar | flamingo bubble wand | windmill bubble wand


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ireland | February 2017

I spent a few days in Ireland during February half term, mostly visiting family. I did however pop into Glendalough, whilst driving through Wicklow. It was a fairly cold and misty day, however, it was still beautiful there. I will have to come back when the sun is shining!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Paris | February 2017

It was freezing. However, this provided the perfect enjoy an Angelina 'Afrique' Hot Chocolate. I realised that I have forgotten 99.9% of my school French -- but that I really want to learn it again. I'd love to be able to listen in on conversations at the boulangerie or salon de the! We were only there for 24 hours really (once you factor in travelling time) so it has left me wishing I was still there...and planning a return trip to France ASAP!

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