Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Book Review: The Bell Jar

Arguably a semi-autobiographical read, 'The Bell Jar' provides an interesting perspective of life in the 1950s; living with mental health is a difficult thing to do, however during that time there was very little tolerance of whatever was deemed not normal. Esther being the main character, transfers from paper to the mind very well; there is a lovely realness surrounding her and her mental illness, her description of surviving everyday life is not only sad but also concerning. The simple but mundane tasks become impossible; on the surface Esther is lucky, having successfully secured an internship with a Fashion magazine, but in reality depression is not something that simply disappears without a fight; each day is a struggle. Esther is an interesting character; an unusual mind and way of depicting the world around her. Esther as a character was very successful. Not only was the portrayal of her mental illness believable, her behaviours felt real; hardly surprising considering the authors own issues with mental health. The idea of mental health transferred well into words and gave an accurate understanding of the feelings of loneliness and helplessness. There was something about Esther that resulted in feelings of concern and sympathy; you just wanted everything to work out for her, yet somehow knew that it couldn’t be so simple.

Sylvia Plath has a beautiful writing style; this book is full of metaphors and similes alongside some wonderful imagery through Esther's inner monologues. The main issue that I had with the storytelling is that although I understood that the story revolves around Esther and her take on the world, the other characters weren’t hugely developed and lacked individual voices. Every other character felt very similar, possibly because they were all described to the reader by an unwell Esther. The beginning and the end of the book were very cohesive, whereas the middle was all a bit strange and misunderstood, although this was the part where Esther’s illness began to overwhelm her everyday life more and more; therefore this is likely to be in correlation to her feelings creating a muddled understanding of the world. The middle part of the novel is a mess simply because Esther is becoming more ill and unable to process everyday life. This novel covers some difficult and often unmentioned topics, such as depression and suicide and so it is a rather painful read; this isn’t a book that I would recommend to someone already struggling with mental health as it does almost encourage suicide as an option in some of the pages, which personally I found uncomfortable. But that being said, this is an important read simply because it teaches the importance of treating mental illness in a humane way, something that the 1950s certainly didn’t, for example the electric shock treatments made me want to cry for Esther. Considering how short this novel is, it took a while to read as it wasn’t the easiest of books in terms of content.

After reading countless reviews referring to this novel as ‘flawless’, and a ‘masterpiece’ I feel as though there must be something wrong with me for not loving this novel that much. Sylvia Plath writes beautifully and I found it a 3 star simply based on that; however, I wasn’t comfortable with the way that this novel reads like a suicide note. As Esther become more ill, I genuinely felt frightened and so it was hard to enjoy this book; in fact, I’d argue that I didn’t enjoy it at all, although that does show how important it is to talk more openly about mental health. As it is semi-autobiographical, it does give the reader a rather intimate understanding of the authors personality and how she must have been feeling when writing this book; as such, that was made me even more uncomfortable reading this as she did indeed commit suicide. The novel is cynical, sarcastic, feminist and yet it is just so difficult to comprehend what you are reading that it is hard going, but the message is loud and clear and one that does need to be heard. I don’t regret reading this book but I doubt I’ll ever be able to face a re-read of it. I feel like if I hadn’t had any mental health issues myself, this book may have affected me less as I could feel what Esther felt. Plath has a unique way of speaking to the reader, through Esther you really feel what you are reading and it wasn’t particularly pleasant so it is disappointing that I didn’t love this as the writing style is compelling.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Monthly Playlist: July

Hello to July and to finally getting organised enough to write a blog post! At the minute I’m not really sure where I’m going with my blog; I love the blogging community and ultimately, I love writing and taking photos so it genuinely is something that I enjoy but at times I’m feeling like I simply am falling out of love with it. I’m a perfectionist and I’m always thinking that my content is shit, regardless of how much or how little effort I put into this blog. However, I work full time and I do enjoy blogging, I think I need to be less hard on myself and not constantly force creativity when it’s not naturally coming along. As always, this is a massive staple blog post and it’s one that I really love; I’m a nosy person and I feel like you can get to know a lot about someone by their musical tastes, so below are a range of songs, artists and genres in no particular order. I love music, it really helps me to relax and get into the zone for work, travel or even just a better mood. Are there any songs that have captured your heart at the moment?

1. Holiday - Green Day
2. One of the Drunks - Panic! At The Disco
3. Boom Clap - Charli XCX
4. Havana - Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug
5. Love Lies - Khalid & Normani
6. Échame La Culpa - Luis Fonsi & Demi Lovato
7. Wake Me Up When September Ends - Green Day
8. Dying In LA - Panic! At The Disco
9. Finders Keepers - Mabel (feat. Kojo Funds)
10. Reggaetón Lento - CNCO & Little Mix
11. The Overpass - Panic! At The Disco
12. It Ain’t Me - Kygo & Selena Gomez
13. Sorry Not Sorry - Demi Lovato
14. Fall For You - Bethan Leadley
15. Hot ‘N Cold - Katy Perry

Friday, 13 July 2018

Book Review: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep

I was recommended to read this book and in all honesty I wasn’t sure what to feel about it when the book was in my hands, there wasn’t anything that I found particularly appealing, although the title seemed interesting. It’s an unusual interpretation of life, part coming of age and part theology. Set in England, Grace and Tilly are ten years old during the Summer of 1976 which is historically remembered as the longest and hottest Summer seen in the country. The two girls occupy themselves for their Summer holidays by becoming detectives, determinedly questioning each of their neighbours in turns on the premise of being girl guides wanting to gain badges. There are a lot of characters in the book, some of which are odd, some are kind and some are funny; it’s a nice description of life down a typical suburban street but it is a long read; arguably because the heat of the Summer, this book seemed to go on and on forever. Once the characters had been established, the weather was exaggerated as a means of explaining why some characters were most unusually for themselves; the majority of us become unpleasant and irritable when the weather is unbearably hot and Joanna Cannon put that across very well; as well as how the range of characters interacted with each other, too.

The cover art isn't the most interesting, which was a little disappointing for me as I do love a beautiful cover, however the title 'The Trouble With Goats And Sheep' makes up for the plain blue cover with white accents. Having been recommended to me by a relative, I wasn't really sure what to expect; that said, they do usually recommend absolute gems to me. As much as the cover art isn't what I would usually like, there is something about the minimalist vibe that does appeal to me; the contents of the pages are left fairly open to interpretation as the cover gives nothing away and I like that. Surprises are always welcome. The main issue with this book is getting the head around the (what feels like) millions of characters, although as the book develops this becomes easier. Joanna Cannon handles having so many characters well; it never feels like two characters are the same and each narrative voice reads very differently to each of the others, not only due to the differences in age, gender or life experience; they genuinely seem very different in terms of opinion and sentence structure, which is the perfect an example of excellent writing. The writing style of this book is flawless.

In an ordinary street, where people live ordinary lives, is it such a surprise that the neighbours are hiding a collective secret? Likewise, is anyone without a secret? It is clear to reader fairly early on in the novel that there are secrets waiting to be exposed in the novel, secrets that two little girls are determined to get to the bottom of. The wonders of everyday life are spread out across the pages of this book, through each and every one of the characters. My personal favourites were the two ten year olds; Cannon managed to deliver the humour, lack of understanding and innocence that only children can have through their investigations and listening to adults whispering. The multiple characters alongside chapters alternating between 1967 (the past) and 1976 (the present) was a fantastic use of linguistic techniques to feed information through multiple timelines for the benefit of the reader. The multiple points of view was an excellent way of feeding clues through to the reader about the various goings on, but my favourite narrator was definitely Grace and seeing her character develop. She grows from a little girl, determined to boss her friend around, to still a little girl, but one who is learning the value of friendship and the differences between the people of society.

Overall, this book wasn’t a five star read for me. It was a nice read and well written, but it just didn’t have that little extra something to make it have the wow factor. However, it was a solid four star read; there is something beautiful about everyday life, but at the same time there as definitely something missing. I preferred the narrative voices of the children to the adults, not only because they have a beautiful way of seeing and understanding the world, but because of their instinctive thinking. Whereas the adults were all narrow minded and conditioned by each other to keep the secret, the children had a beautiful way of exploring and thinking outside of the box. There are so many reasons why I wish that I had loved this book more than I did; one of them being that I wanted more focus on the children, another being that the adults were all so unlikable. There are elements of this story that completely captured my heart and others that bored me; nothing to do with the writing style, which I really liked, more to do with the plot not having enough oomph to contain interest throughout the moments where events were sparse. This is a good read, one that I would recommend; I'm looking forward to reading more books by Joanna Cannon as she has a lovely way with words. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Book Review: Salt to the Sea

A fictional novel depicting a real event; during 1945, hundreds of thousands of civilians were desperate, destitute and sick of war. Running through East Prussia, attempting to avoid the wrath of soldiers from both sides, this book uses a multi person narrative to describe the event from all sides. Four young people, different nationalities and situations. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, headstrong, confident and a natural leader. Florian is Prussian, a mysterious man who is clearly attempting to slip through the net and is hiding a lot of secrets. Emilia is Polish, young, pregnant and alone - desperate to find safety and security in another country, outside of Eastern Europe. Alfred is German, a newly recruited sailor and a lover of Hitler’s regime. Each of them are boarding the ships across countries for their own reasons, but ultimately, each of them are determined to see the war end. Freedom from war is the ultimate dream for everyone in this novel. The text was laid out fairly easily, with the narrating characters name as the title of each chapter; to begin with, it was a little confusing as you need to engross yourself in the story to understand who is who. My favourite narrator was Joana; not only because she was incredibly astute and noticed even the littlest of details, but because she was genuinely caring. She was determined to help as many people as possible, regardless of their age, race or gender whilst attempting to stay alive herself.

As the novel developed, so did each of the narrators and their acquaintances; for example, Joana was with a group attempting to hide from soldiers in the forest and escape to the ports. Alongside her were a variety of others, an elderly man, a young blind girl, an orphaned little boy and a German lady who was convinced that everyone is a spy. Emilia was saved from a soldier by Florian, who instantly becomes her saviour, so she in turn shoots a solider in defence of Florian; the pair meet the other group on their travels and reluctantly tag along. Florian in particular is not at all comfortable in being within a group, although there are benefits to travelling in numbers. Alfred’s narrative differs a lot compared to the other three, mostly due to his being in letter form to a girl from home. Judging by the way that he describes his duties, he thinks a lot more of himself than anyone else does, including the girl he writes to; even in his letters to her, they’re always in his head. Arguably, this is a sign of mental illness. Not only talking to himself, about himself, but also convincing himself that the girl he is obsessed with returns his affections. Regardless of what each of them are internally suffering, the four young people are brought together entirely by the circumstance of war. Each of them has a secret, each of which is revealed after the plot begins to shape. From the first few pages, this book gripped me. The descriptions of their hunger, fear and determination made each situation that was thrust upon them so incredibly real and heartbreaking made this book an absolute page turner for me.

Each of the characters made their own sacrifices, for their own reasons, but Emilia was the biggest surprise of all. Three of them had good arguments for why they were fighting for freedom and their narrative wasn’t only interesting but allowed for information about ordinary people, how their lives had been devastated by war. The fourth narrative voice was so difficult to read at times, it was impossible to argue with their point of view, as it was just so wrong but understandably, it was an important part of why the war was ongoing and it also added another layer to the overall plot line. One of the reasons that this book was such a pleasurable read was that although it is historical fiction, it wasn’t overrun with facts or pushing history onto the reader. Yes, history had a massive part of the telling of this story and although it is ultimately fiction, this novel genuinely read as though it was truly real life although that is because of Sepetys’ beautiful variation of true events from a fictional standpoint. She mixed truth and fiction so seamlessly, if I didn’t know better when reading this book I could’ve easily believed that all of this novel was entirely factually accurate. Which is fantastic, really. That is exactly what you want when reading a historical novel, to feel as though you are there with the character, living, breathing and seeing everything that they are. As much as this novel was brutal, vicious and cruel at times, that is what made it so perfect as that is exactly what epitomises war.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book caught my attention. I’d been meaning to read it for months and kept getting distracted by other titles, which I don’t regret, but I do wish I’d given this more of a chance at an earlier point. I cannot fault the writing style of Ruta Sepetys in this novel at any point; the use of four young narrators worked beautifully as each of them had their own issues, their own past and future to fight for as well as the way that she used fact and fiction to depict a harsh reality of war using only words. I loved the short, sharp chapters and often change of narrator, it kept each situation fresh, alongside the excellently executed ending. One of the reasons why I loved this novel so much was the additional explanation of the real life event that this book represented by the author; the fact that she had researched and contacted various museums, relatives and survivors of such a horrific event truly made me understand how hard that time frame must have been. For a Young Adult novel, this is a very intense version of events, although it is also realistic which isn’t a bad thing. It’s important to remember the past and this kind of book does history justice. I read this book in around a day, I cried, I forgot to breathe but as I’ve said many times before, I love a book that makes me think. This was easily a 5 star read for me and I’d recommend it for mature young adults and above. It doesn’t read like a YA novel, so if that genre is not usually your thing, give this book a try as I promise it will be worth it.

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