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.


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