Week 45: The Great Gatsby

the famous Gatsby

Out of the books that I have read for this project, this is one of the most frequently referenced. Every time I hear something mentioned about the 1920s or the Jazz Age this name crops up. I remember one particular episode of Greek where I had literally no idea what they were referencing until I Googled. Some classics just keep popping up in other forms of media, which makes knowing your classics even more vital. Another such book that I’ve come across is George du Maurier’s Trilby, which I also considered for this week. However, the incentive of only 140 pages made GG win. Talking of GG, Gossip Girl is another tv-series that seems to correspond with this novel – one only has to Google those two names together and see the magic happen. How ironic that at the time of the original release of the book it did not raise much interest?

In the book the famous one is the idea of Gatsby. He is not the protagonist and it takes a few chapters to even get him on the actual page. The idea of him precedes the physical character which got me thinking about the effect some people have on us. These people just have an air about them, something that lets us know they are larger than their dimensions would allow us to believe. They seem to be more intelligent, stronger, more charming, more successful, just more of anything. Something that we will never be yet endlessly wish we were. In some cases, it is a conscious effort that people exploit in order to get what they want from the people they know are under their influence. Yet sometimes the person with power can be completely oblivious to it. Maybe it is not about them, but us, which reminds me of artists and movie stars who we idolise. Why do we have a need to fill a person with unrealistic expectations and characteristics? Is it to motivate us to be better, to reach their level of being? Is it to feel sorry for ourselves? To justify that we never tried, because why would we with someone like that around? What these questions really are about is self-identification. We form opinions about ourselves according to other people, prone to disappointment when reality does not mix well with fantasy.

after five years

Gatsby and Daisy. Daisy and Gatsby. The two undercover lovers that are the envy of the novel in their devotion and pure emotion, yet they are also doomed, as they should be. They seem to have a visible connection and clearly time has had no effect, at least on Gatsby. Daisy, on the other hand, has tried to build a life, which then leads me to question the weight of one’s past in relationships. What does it matter if Daisy loved Tom in the past if she loves Gatsby now? It was a part of her life and she made her choices, but is now ready to be with Gatsby and says it out loud. We should not be defined by our past, but work to mould ourselves around it to reach a place where it is something we are okay with, especially since there is nothing we can do to change it. Then again, all Gatsby has to refer to is the past and this is what he cannot escape and he tries to reconstruct the past in the present which is impossible. The future is the only thing we have control over, even if this particular novel does not offer one to these star crossed lovers.

One part that I really got into was the part where Tom and Gatsby start talking about their connections to Daisy. Both men seem to know what Daisy thinks and feels and how she is going to act. What annoyed me in this scene is the assumption that any of us could ever know another person fully. Even in the closest relationship possible, there is no way of knowing what is actually going on in someone else’s head. We see what we want to see and interpret the information according to our own whims and desires. What is left is a disappointed person who does not realise what went wrong. We can only ask.

– Jatta –

Posted in November 2014 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Week 44: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

on meeting Alice

No, I’m not cheating, I actually have never read this week’s book before. That I can remember….I bet my mother read this to me as a child, and has wonderful memories of it being my favourite story and now I have crushed all that (luckily, I don’t think she reads this). Anyway, my first encounter with this story was the 1950s Disney version, of which I remember only a few scenes. The basic story, of a girl who discovers a world that is wonderfully weird, is a connecting point to many other pieces of writing This is what happens with any kind of classic story, and this one is so wonderfully versatile, one can make it applicable to many situations. Not having read such an inspirational and well-known book (especially as an English lit student) makes me cringe every time that I see a reference to it because I know the full magic of it is lost on me. Luckily the error has now been corrected.

Alice is at the same time endearing and infuriating, with her strict attachment to manners instead of rationality and her complete acceptance of everything that she comes across. She kind of reminded me of H in Imagine Me & You with her lists of questions (why don’t we have desert after breakfast since we have it after lunch and dinner?). The thirst for knowledge and the courage to try things without too much consideration for the consequences make Alice a person I wish I was sometimes. Again I find myself humble before a character significantly younger than me. What makes me feel better is that the said character was produced by a person wiser and older than me.

whose story?

In the end, the story seems like a very simple one; a girl falls asleep and has a vivid dream and wakes up to tell her sister all about it. The story is enjoyable in that simple form but you can also dive deeper to find additional layers of meaning, just like with any other good story. The idea of preserving the power of imagination is wonderful and very difficult to achieve in real life. In the end of the book, Alice’s sister imagines a future for Alice, where she keeps her imagination and, best of all, shares it. The feeling of optimism lasts as long as the page and then grim reality of my own reading of the story creeps in. I cannot let go. I cannot imagine myself shrinking down and shooting up and being okay with it. I’m unable to picture myself careless – or brave, depending on how you see it – enough to eat or drink something only because there’s a label that instructs me so. If I was falling down a rabbit hole, I would not be thinking about who is going to feed my cat. After considering all this, I wonder if the story is lost on me. As an adult, can I access Wonderland? Am I mad enough? If I was to give my own imagination free reigns, I would imagine Alice as a mental patient, with her incessant rambling of a world only she knows. My mind feels compelled to justify her insanity just because I cannot find a way to access. Seeing Alice flow so freely across different planes makes me jealous of my own limits. In a world where everything has to make sense either through science, religion, common sense or some unsaid yet commanding rule book, it would be nice to escape into a world where irrationality is the master. And this is why we have literature.

– Jatta –

Posted in November 2014 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Week 43: The Jane Austen Book Club

books = babies

Remember the seaguls from Finding Nemo, with their nasal voices repeating mine mine mine? Yep, that’s how most book fanatics think of their favourite books and authors, and certainly in this novel, that’s how the majority of the book club members feel about Austen. Their connection to the words tied together by a person who died over a century before they were even born demonstrates the type of irrational, yet unbreakable bond. The symptoms of this well known disease include possessiveness, aggressiveness, hostility towards anyone who has come across the same material after you. Because what you had was special and there is no way they could possibly understand the beauty, the immaculate expertise of the Author with a capital A that has come to set an impossible example against whom all others will be measured. This work of literature transcends, inhabits a corner of your mind with an unrelenting grip, forcing you to re-mould yourself around the newly found information. This book, this work of literature has changed the way you see the world and yourself in it and therefore anyone who attacks, critisises and/or diminishes its value is essentially attacking you.

The idea of Grigg not having read Pride and Prejudice, let alone anything else by Austen, is clearly bothering certain members of the book club. What is that about? Obviously it does not make sense for someone to disregard a novel that means so much to the other members (and myself) but where does that instant disbelief stem from? Do we think there is something wrong with the person because they don’t share our interests? Do we start to question the force of the novel to ourselves after having seen it in the nonchalant light of a person only just picking up the book? This would then lead us further into a dark loop of questioning the actual book, its influence on our lives, its actual meaning etc etc. Does it really hinder our own enjoyment of the book just because someone else looks at it with disinterest? This whole process reminds me of the moment when you show the picture of your new crush to your friends and all they can respond with is: “in the end, the most important thing is that you like him/her”. Screw them, I think, as I bury myself under the duvet with my battered copy of P&P, hiding away from the judgement of the wider world.

 

sorry I’m not sorry

I need to vent a little. I probably have done this in the past, excuse me if I cannot remember what I wrote almost a year ago. But honestly, what annoys me are two things and I’m about to lose it now.

First topic of grievance: So, during the library dinner, one rather close minded author desides to explain why he has not read Austen’s books: “I don’t read much women’s stuff. I like a good plot.” By this point, my already frustrated mind receives an extra kick and I want to reach into the page and strangle this particularly ignorant person. The hierachy we impose on books is unfair and unnecessary. What we deem ‘chick lit’ or ‘funny but not to be take seriously’ can sometimes reveal itself as the most insightful and well worded piece of literature we’ve come across in a while. What this particular example excemplify is the wider attitude of literature by women supposedly only for women without much meaning or depth, while the works of men carry the real weight of literary importance. Well, for those still harbouring this misconception, I bow before Prudie to answer for me: “Austen can plot like a son of a bitch”.

Second point I need to air: Maybe this one is not so much a grievance but a point I want to revisit with rather pointy and unpolished words. I assessed the issue of movie adaptations earlier in in the year and I need to do it again, because yet again I am reading a novel that I have seen the movie adaptation of previously. The movie is very good, with excellent actors and good plot, however, after reading the book I realise how much a little variation from the original can do to the characters. What I am talking about is changing the ages of ALL characters, the fact that they felt it necessary to make the older women a decade younger for the film. I especially felt the change in the relationship between Grigg and Jocelyn. Their age difference feels less of an obstacle in the book, since it is in the 40-50 range than in the movie where it is somewhere in the 30-40 range (although to me, Grigg in the movie seemed to be in his late twenties). Why that is? First of all, depicting relationships between older women and younger men is always tricky because of the unnecessary stigma still attached to ‘cougars’. That point aside, I think it is necessary to question why they had to be made younger in the first place? They could not find actresses to fit the parts (bitch please!)? They thought the story would gain more meaning (it doesn’t)? They thought it would please a larger audience and be more relatable to the age range that watches said movies (a possibility, however misguided)? Nevertheless, those points aside, both the book and the movie work much like twins: the closer you compare, the more you notice the differences instead of the similarities. But I guess it does not matter, as they are both enjoyable.

– Jatta –

Posted in October 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 42: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

keeping busy

When we come across something that we just cannot face, we find something to distract ourselves. It is so easy to get lost in an infinite cat and baby loop on YouTube when what you are really meant to do is reading for tomorrow’s seminar. You can find a million ways to distract yourself from going to the gym or taking care of those three day old dishes. These seem like relatively mild offences and are usually easily fixed with a little self discipline and sensitive time management. However, there are emotional blocks that cannot be fixed with shrugging one’s shoulders and a promise to do better next time.

What Oskar is doing is working out his grief with a project. The key, the Blacks, constantly reminding himself of the raison d’etres that control his life, all it is a distraction. Distraction does not necessarily have to be a negative word here, although in many a situation it carries with it the unflattering connotations of laziness and inability to focus. What Oskar needs and what we all need at some point is a task we can immerse ourselves in, to build structure in a world that somehow seems out of focus. To him, the mystery surrounding the key works as a pathway to this – relatively – new world without his father in it. Sometimes all you need to do is find something to hold onto through the storm. There is land waiting and you might get there bruised and battered, but if you have managed to hold onto to something meaningful, you will be alright.

the List of Blacks

It is only possible in the mind of a nine year old to go through everyone called Black in the area in order to find a the next piece to the puzzle. The ratio of time and effort used compared to the possible value gained seems completely logical to Oskar which makes me wonder at the lengths he is willing to go to in order to complete this haphazard mission. Then again, I suppose it is only haphazard in the mind of a cynical wannabe adult. The improbability of finding a clue that would clarify the mystery surrounding the key does not seem to cross Oskar’s mind and he seems more than willing to spend a large chunk of time on this mission. The determination speaks of the amount of grief to be sure, but there is also a hint towards the kind of person he is growing up to be (if he were real that is…really need to stop viewing fictional characters as real people). What I mean to say is that something that I can take away from this book is the strength and commitment Oskar personifies and the fire that he has in his own goal.

What the list also demonstrates is the various nature of connections. How we meet people and who do we invite into our lives is a precarious business. The person with all the answers you are looking for can appear on the first try or you might end up searching for them for months and even years. Also, we have to consider the worst alternative: what if we never find that person? What if we find them but they can only give us sky pieces when all you need to complete your puzzle are the corner pieces? Can you rely on other people to provide you with answers to your own issues? Obviously in Oskar’s case, it is simple: either you know about his father and the key or you don’t. In the larger scheme of things, what does this simple answer mean? The key is not the whole issue and unveiling this particular mystery is not going to help Oskar to get his father back or to fill the empty pages of the novel with explanatory words. But they can tell him no, they can provide something into the picture, they can give him pieces that do not fit, to show him the wrong direction in order to find the right one. So therefore even if none of those people can raise the lid of the silver platter and offer him the answer he wants, they mean something. Everything happens for a reason and people enter into our lives at that precise moment because that is what was meant to happen. Oskar needed those people to deal with his own grief and they were there to offer that help, some of them without even realising it. The List, even in its ridiculous and incredible state, actually mean something more than what meets the eye.

– Jatta –

Posted in October 2014 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 41: Bared To You

50 shades and other stories

So I originally thought that this book was published before 50 Shades. After a Google search I find that I am wrong. Why did I think so? Because this book makes 50 Shades look like the twisted, abusive story that it is. Before I dive in further, I should say that yes I have read all three 50-books and there was some really good parts in there. However, this book beats the other one (pun very much intended). The relationship depicted in this week’s novel is intense, possessive and a little bit scary. However, I believe Eva and Gideon have a much healthier relationship compared to Anastasia and Christian. The biggest difference can be felt in the two female leads.

From what I remember of Anastasia (never a promising sign if you cannot remember a character even after three books…), she is the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. Not that I am in any way stating that being a virgin is in  wrong or anything like that, but it is refreshing to be able to read about a sexually independent and experienced woman like Eva who is not being scorned, punished or in any way demeaned by her sexual past. Yes, she likes sex, she even initiates it, with full knowledge of the stuff she is propositioning. That is empowering and reassuring to the women out there, tired of being asked about their “status”, their “number” and having ignorant people make assumptions about them based on those few details. Then again, being a virgin is something people like to judge women – and also men – about, so it seems no matter what we do, it is always wrong. So which is better? Neither. What I am trying to say is that it is rare to see a female character be so explicitly sexual and not receive a punishment on paper for it.

friends, exes and other potentials

What is about the best friend characters? Somehow they have to be close enough to the main character and yet there is always something wrong with them that they cannot be seen as a threat to the main couple. For example, in Disney films, almost all princesses have some sort of a best friend/confidante. However, this confidante is almost always some kind of an animal or otherwise incompatible suitor and therefore he is left out of the quest for the princesses heart. The same thing happened in Twilight, with Jacob. I mean at least Bella considered him for a while, but never seriously, because she just had to have Edward. In the same way that Eva just has to have Gideon. I understand the need to remove obstacles from the path of the OTP of the book and it does emphasise the connection of the two main characters.

It all comes down to type. In the beginning of this book Eva’s best friend is described as so good looking that it is a wonder why Eva doesn’t just jump his bones. Later on she comments on how some people who are generally thought of as attractive can seem ordinary to some in the same way as some people who are deemed less appealing by some can really knock someone else’s socks off. Obviously in books, especially these kinds of books, the main characters have to be appealing to as wide an audience as possible for it to serve it’s main purpose as a fantasy. However, they still retain their notion of specific attraction. The main pair seem to be only attracted to each other, with their history unimportant and brushed aside. How important is history? Can you honestly say that the people who came before your “one and only” were as trivial as this novel seems to suggest? I know no one wants to talk about exes on the first date, but to say that they never meant anything? The people we meet shape who we become, no matter if we like it or not. To completely erase them is to erase a part of us and how can you be with someone if you cannot deal with your past? This is the point where I realise that what I am obsessing over are a bunch of characters in a fictional book that has very little to do with real, every day life. All of this demonstrates just how well the education system can screw with your brain, because you lose sight of what is interpretation and what is imagination.

english

– Jatta –

Posted in October 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 40: A Long Way Down

who’s the best at being the worst?

Comparisons are never good, especially when we start to measure our lives against some other person’s life and come out of it feeling defeated. At university, this happens regularly. I hear someone just scored a very important internship that will probably make their career and I feel like crap about not having applied myself. In this week’s novel, the reasons for the four characters to be on the roof on that New Year’s Eve, are compared and examined. JJ is the first to succumb to the obvious conclusion: lying. In order to feel better about his situation, he invents a disease that would justify his willingness to end his life. He struggles under the comparison, thinking that he is not “bad” enough to be there, when in reality one cannot compare lives.

Why should I feel bad about myself because I didn’t apply for an intership? As much as it’s bombarded to us to take the opportunity now when we can, it is not always possible due to life situations. In the same way, for JJ his situation felt just as bad as Maureen’s, Martin’s or Jess’s, when he placed it in the context of his life. The only comparison you can do is within yourself. A healthy comparison makes you want to accomplish something greater, to push yourself towards something you know you can achieve. A negative one makes you think that you are not worthy of your own emotions, that you are not allowed to feel the way you do. In today’s world where we are all fueled with comparative adjectives just waiting to turn into superlatives, it is hard – but necessary – to pull oneself out of the race.

layered truths

There a different layers of lying. Bending the truth to make an ugly situation seem better. Twisting our words to make ourselves believe in something we wish was real. Lying to protect, to shield ourselves or someone else. This book is full of lies. Maureen lies to herself about Matty. JJ lies about his real reason to be on the roof. They all lie to the newspapers about seeing the Angel. Why do we feel the need to lie? What are the situations that makes lying okay? When is it okay to believe a lie, willingly, knowing that the truth is within reach?

The truth is a scary thing. It forces us to deal with emotions and situations we don’t believe we are ready for. It forces us to face ourselves, in the bright light, #nofilter. There is no going back once the truth is out, you cannot take it back. However, it is also liberating, soothing and exhilarating. Everything is out in the open, no more secrets, no more wondering about, imagining things, trying to figure a puzzle with only a few corner pieces. It is a lot like jumping from the infamous roof; you won’t know how it really feels until you are already in the air. The scariness comes from not knowing whether you remembered to put on your parachute.

these four randomers

I have often wondered how the people we surround ourselves with come into our life. Some are there before we even realise, like parents and siblings and other extended family. However, it does not mean that they will stay there, unless you work for it. Friends are even trickier. It may be easy to find potentials, with school, hobbies and other places full of people who are supposed to have something in common with you. Some of those people latch themselves onto you and before you know it, it’s years later and you could not imagine your life without them. Maureen, Martin, JJ and Jess were brought together by a shared desparation on one New Year’s Eve. Nothing more, which becomes evident as the novel progresses. But somehow they stick together. What happened? What is that magical glue that makes them crave each other’s company? And it is not something they agree on or even admit among themselves. First it is only for Valentine’s Day, then the 90th Day celebration and by the end of the novel, they agree on 6 month check up. Small dozes of shared life. I believe that things happen for a reason and that the people in our lives are there because they are meant to. Even as a work of fiction, this novel can show us the real life lesson of that the people who are meant to be in your life you meet at random and they are not always the people you thought you needed.

– Jatta –

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Week 39: 26a

the best of the best?

On the cover of this week’s book, there are bright, black letters informing me that this novel is the “winner of the orange prize for new writers” as well as “shortlisted for the whitbread first novel award”. As I compare this book with another one that is not decorated with any such accolades, something inside me demands that I pick this one. Why? Why do we have to make comparisons on books? Part of me understands the need to recognise those who work hard to produce works of literature that should be widely known. But what are the criteria? What makes this one better from another? Literature, like any other form of art, is highly subjective and what works for someone may not even raise emotions in someone else. According to one article the criteria for the orange prize are potential, ambition and the sheer class of writing. So what does this really mean? Those words surely apply to this week’s novel, but also to so many others I have read.

What is this need to stand out? Why do we need something to be the best? So we can compare our own writing to the works of the “greatest” writers of history and give up before we even get started because of fear? Do prizes help with raising the standards of writing or in crushing them? Do we need a carrot in front of us to be able to produce something worthy of reading? The questions form an infinite loop with no way out. However, I feel secure in thinking that if one truly enjoys writing, they are not doing it for the prizes. Of course one may dream of them, but they are not the driving force. In the end, it should be about having something to say and being brave enough to put it in print.

 

connection

What dominates the lives of the twins, Georgia and Bessi, is their mutual dependance on each other. The bonds between twins, especially identical ones, have been researched and yet they continue to puzzle us who are not privy to said connection. Some twins separated at birth seems to create similar lives without knowledge of each other, feeding into the notion that twins truly are one person split into two bodies. However, in this novel it is not about separation but togetherness.

The symbiosis that the twins share is more than just physical characteristics or matching clothes. It runs deeper, in their minds, souls and ways of thinking. They seek comfort from each other and regard each other as their closest friend. That made me think about other kinds of connections. Even those of us who do not have a twin, may share a deep, personal link with a close friend, a family member or a partner. What are these bonds about? It is said that humans are pack animals which would explain the need for someone who understands and supports us. Sometimes I think it is about knowing that there is someone who misses you when you are gone, someone who will be worried if they don’t hear from you. Realising that there is a person, or people, who want you in their life is astouding. I stand by the saying that no man is an island. Even those islands who swear by their independece need a few others to make a nice archipelago. Problems arise when the connection devours the individual. We need others to surround us with warmth and security, but this all means nothing if we don’t have that within ourselves first.

she said it better than I even could

For those who feel lost and confused, here’s an extract that made me stop:

Maybe a little bit happy, that’s how she’d felt. Aside from feeling lost. As new countries, new beginnings, always give the sensation of being lost, of blindness. You step into a boat after midnight and the waves take you out. You drift. The horizon is everywhere and the morning never comes. Not until something inside is quietly shattered and it feels like relief. Then the lights come on, and you can see what has happened.

(26a by Diana Evans, Vintage Books London, 2006, p. 26)

– Jatta –

Posted in September 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment