Monday, 28 February 2011

Devouring: Love Hearts Cake

This weekend I just had to bake. I spent the whole of Thursday collecting the ingredients, was too lazy to do it on Friday, and so on Saturday I knew I just had to bite the bullet and MAKE THE DAMN CAKE! I am so glad I did:
Isn't it so beautiful?! It's a vanilla cake, mainly because people are always requesting that I make chocolate cupcakes, and, to be perfectly honest, I actually am not such a huge fan of the chocolate cake, or at least not so much as I am of vanilla cakes. Also, I have never actually found a chocolate cake recipe that is that great, whereas the recipe for this is the greatest ever! This is actually a relatively good photo of what was an extremely lopsided cake because, you know, I'm far too lazy to bother with any of that cutting cakes so they're actually flat on their tops and so make a completely straight cake crap! So, it may look pretty good from the top, but it is, in fact, a complete mess from almost any other angle! That's not what's important though, the important thing is what it tastes like! And let me tell you, it tastes so so so good. I wish I could share it with you all, but sadly, I can't (a fact which I am secretly happy about...) To give you a better idea of how good the cake tastes, here's what it looks like on the inside:
Doesn't it just look amazing?! This is only my second three-tier cake, and they have both turned out fabulously. I think this is probably because The Magnolia Bakery is magic. The cake recipe comes straight out of The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook (it's the one for the Vanilla Birthday Cake, and it works every time- I've made lots of delicious cupcakes from it too) and I always use the icing (or frosting, whatever floats your boat) recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. SO Amazing! Honestly. And then, obviously, I just studded the top with Love Hearts, ostensibly because I had a lot of them hanging around, and, to put it bluntly, I wanted to get rid of them. Into the stomachs of my family mwahahahaha!

So there you have it. I'm not the prettiest cake maker, but I do make things that I definitely want to eat, which is all that really matters in the end! I might just have to go and have another slice now in fact... mmmmm, cake!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Devouring Books: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I don't quite know how to describe this book, or at least how to describe it without sounding like a gibbering idiot. Now, I don't often consider what I write to be gibbering (I'm not the greatest writer in the world, but I don't think I'm too bad) but compared to what Nicole Krauss has created with this book, I just gibber all the time. The History of Love broke my heart a little bit, and then broke it even more when I realised that nothing I ever do will be as good as this book. So that was kind of depressing, but does tend to be the way I think about things (for example: I find Radiohead depressing not because of the tone or whatever of their songs, but because I will never be that talented. True story.) but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book one iota. I enjoyed the crap out of this book, to put it indelicately.

I definitely don't want to ruin this book for you, because there are lots of delicate little twists and turns of the plot that are each surprising and moving and just ugh! make me want to hug the book and soak in its goodness. I am, therefore, going to keep this review relatively brief, especially to prevent me from saying embarrassing things like I did in the sentence just before. So, anyway, there are basically three little threads to the narrative that all connect together in some subtle, and some not so subtle ways, so that by the end you're pretty sure that you know what's happened, but you still can't quite grasp it, kind of in the way that Leo Gursky (our hero, if you like) can't quite grasp hold of reality and look it in the face. Apart from Leo (who dominates one part of the narrative) there is also Alma Singer, a 14 year old girl who is trying to make her mother happy again after her father's death, something which she is too ill-equipped and ill-informed to do. The third thread interwoven into the story involves Zvi Litvinoff, author of The History of Love, a book that connects all three in various ways.

That's about all I want to tell you about the plot, except that it all comes together beautifully in a kind of Paul Auster-esque way, in that I got the same little jolts of excitement that I get when things correlate with other things that I got when I was reading The New York Trilogy (also an incredible book!) I have just realised that last sentence makes no sense at all, but it might if you read the book/s. Then again, it might never make sense! But anyway, the way this book is written is so beautiful, I could just cry. Stories about love make me teary generally anyway, but the lost love aspects of this story are so tragic and sad (although not overwrought, or in fact intensely focused on, which almost makes it more emotional), and it is all just so beautifully written. I clearly don't have the words to express how beautifully it is written, but suffice to say, if you read the book, you will get all the answers you are looking for and more.

The History of Love is a book with lots of narrators, and while this could make the book kind of chaotic and crazy, it really all stays so cohesive and clear that it is really just sensational. I am actually going to make myself stop here, before I say some things that we'll all regret, mostly because they'll just leave you feeling cold once you've read this book, and also because they will ruin this book. Which I really really don't want to do to you! Suffice to say, I think this book rocks big time, and I really really think you should read it. Deal? Deal.

Revisiting Films... Little Miss Sunshine

I love Little Miss Sunshine so so much because, to put it mildly, it is the smartest comedy of recent years (smart as in, Judd Apatow has been nowhere near it), and one that celebrates the weirdo without completely mocking them. It is, therefore, entirely perfect for me, a self-confessed weirdo who doesn't really think that's anything to be ashamed of. On the contrary, being strange is so much better than being like everyone else, because you see things differently and don't feel the pressure to conform or be perfect. Because, let's face it, that's never going to happen! Every single character in this film is weird in one way or another, and I love them all for it. And so I love this film.

The flimsy basis for this film is that our youngest family member, Olive (Abigail Breslin) has a place in a beauty contest that, for various reasons the entire family have to go to (Grandpa [Alan Arkin] wants to go because he has been coaching her, Mum Sheryl [Toni Collette] can't drive a stick so Dad Richard [Greg Kinnear] also has to go, and they of course have to take son Dwayne [Paul Dano] and delicate Uncle Frank [Steve Carrell] because he has just tried to kill himself.) Phew, got all that? Good. Now, I call the beauty contest a flimsy basis not because it doesn't make any sense (although, in all honesty, from the very start this does not look like the kind of family that goes in for beauty contests) but because, as in so many road films, it is not the destination or the pretext that really matters, it's the journey, and what it teaches them about themselves and each other. In this case, that's a lot.

My favourite characters (apart from Grandpa who, is so brilliant onscreen but would be kind of terrifying to know in real life!) in this film have to be Frank and Dwayne- they are clearly the smartest two characters (but not in an unpleasant or arrogant way) and I think have the best insight into life. There is one scene between them, on a pier, that really cements their importance to the film (and, I suppose, to my life). To be honest, though, there are things to love in all of these characters, even Richard, who comes across for most of the film as a complete asshat. He redeems himself by staying cool in front of a cop, and for his shenanigans at the end (you'll have to watch to find out!)

Watching this film again last night, I was reminded again how creepy beauty pageants really are. Apart from their horrible sexist-ness, and the fact that everyone associated with them always seems to go 'Omg, every little girl wants to be a beauty queen!' (Um, I didn't. I wanted to be a whole lot of things, but none of those included beauty queen), the little girls who are dressed up and made up and ahhhh, fake tanned, just kind of terrify me! It is in this atmosphere, however, that the Hoover family seem most normal- they have not subscribed to this crazy pageant world (even Olive seems mainly uncomfortable with it) and this means they look like fish out of water, which is only a good thing in such an insane situation (with, correct me if I'm wrong, a host who totally seems like a paedophile! Seriously, it can't just be me who thinks this!) Anyway, I love that this is a place where the Hoovers don't fit in, and I think that it endears them to the audience just that little bit more, especially with the dancing. But I'll say no more about that!

I basically just love Little Miss Sunshine because, by presenting characters that are just a little unhinged, they make me feel more normal (kind of backwards logic, I know, but we've already established my oddness!) Or rather, that it's ok to be weird, because there will always be people around who love me anyway and will support me through anything, which I think is the lesson best learned by Olive throughout this film, that will, fictionally speaking, serve her well later on in life. You've gotta be who you've gotta be guys! Also, you've gotta watch this film, because I clearly don't have a bad word to say about it!

Another Little Miss Sunshine! Just because I can :)

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. You can view the touring blog list at Mailbox Monday blog for the upcoming months. 

I know, it's Sunday. But, whatever! I do like to tell everyone about the totally exciting new books that came into my house this week :), and apparently I like to do it as early as possible! I didn't actually go to any charity shops this week, which is unbelievably sad, but I did go to the library, and to, and I think we all know what that means!

So, new books I got this week were:

From the Library
Clark Gable: A Biography by Warren G Harris- My plan was, read this biography and write about it on Sunday as a lovely little pre-Oscar piece. This is SO not going to happen now, but I tried for you guys, don't say I didn't! I have read the first chapter, however, and it is extremely well-written so far, so its prospects look good- I might do a post-Oscar post about it instead!

The Children's Book by A S Byatt- I don't know what I've heard about AS Byatt, or why I think that she's amazing in my brain, but I apparently do, so when I saw this book in the library I just had to take it out. The synopsis on the back sounds really really good too, like a fable about lost innocence and lack of belief in your parents etc, so I hopefully won't be disappointed by it! Although, I suppose I can't really be disappointed by it since I don't even know where my ideas about AS Byatt come from!

From my Own Pocket
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- A book that, I'm pretty sure I'm going to read sooner rather than later. I keep stumbling across reviews and amazing things being said about it that I decided to just go for it and buy this book. When it arrived, however, the recommending quote thingy on the front said it is 'in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye', which has put me off it ever so slightly! Still, I am quite excited to read it, and it hopefully won't be too Holden-y (read: annoying).

So, these are the books that have come into my life this week. How about you? Any books that you got for some reason that you can't distinguish? Let me know below!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Revisiting films... Little Women

I think it would probably be really easy to be really snide and dismissive of this film version of Little Women (the one with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder, rather than that one from the 1930s), but I genuinely just adore this film as much as if it was one I had watched every weekend when I was younger. But it's not (that was Liar Liar, which, due to over-exposure, I now haven't watched for years!) In fact, I first watched it about 2 years ago, where, having not read Good Wives at that point, I was obviously shocked and horrified by the end of things. But I'll get to that later. All in good time.

I think a good basis for my love for Little Women lies in the casting of the film- who would make a better Marmee than Susan Sarandon, tirelessly battling to make her girls not have to merely conform to the expectations of the society of the day? And I can hardly think of a better Jo than Winona Ryder, despite all the suggestions that she's ugly because, let's face it, Winona Ryder ain't bad looking. What she is is an extremely good actress, which she brings into full force when she pretty much embodies the Jo that was in my brain when I read the novel (something which I also have done a lot). Kirsten Dunst is also a really good Amy, always my least favourite sister, and she proves yet again that she is the luckiest child ever, having got into close proximity with Brad Pitt and, in this film, Christian Bale. Ahhh, Laurie! Little Women is also the reason that I refuse to think of Christian Bale as the ogre-like crazy man that the media makes him out to be, and, despite incidents like this, he can still do no wrong, because he will always be Laurie!

So yes, the first half of the film is completely lovely, and, although a few parts of the book are left out, it is still pretty representative of it and it's loveliness on the whole. Marmee teaches the girls that the world is going to be unfair to them because they are women, and there is a whole feminist undertone to the film that just tips it over the edge and makes it truly wonderful. The first time I saw this, in fact, I was learning about Emerson and Thoreau in one of my English units, so the fact that they live in Concord, and go skating on Walden Pond was really exceedingly cool to me (because I am so sad!) As versed as I was in the novel, though, I expected it to end at the second Christmas, where Beth gets her piano and their father comes home. But how wrong I was!

When I first watched the film I got annoyed. I got seriously angry, in fact at the endings for Laurie, Amy and Jo. AND, oh my God, for Beth. This was not the way I thought things would happen in my head, and therefore they were not the way things should have happened at all! In my infinite stupidity, I thought that the producers or whatever has made all these things up, and so they should be completely ignored. I was assured by Frances, purveyor of the film and fellow Bale/Laurie lover that this was, in fact, what happened in the next part of Little Women. So, I read Good Wives, and realised that actually, the second half of the film was pretty faithful, and that I should probably shut up about it. The book, in fact, as books tend to do, added a greater amount of detail to the story, and so made it more plausible that things really would turn out this way. I can't say that I'm not still disappointed (although, with each subsequent viewing it makes more and more sense to me) but I at least appreciate that they didn't completely make it up, just to ruin Little Women for me!

One of my favourite moments in the film comes when Jo is living in New York, trying to join in a conversation dominated by a group of men about whether women should be allowed to vote or not. What she says makes me want Jo to be my friend so so badly,
Jo: I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.
Mr Mayer: You should have been a lawyer, Miss March!
Jo: I should have been a great many things, Mr Mayer.
First of all, how good is Jo's argument?! The lovely, lovely feminist that she is! Apart from that though, this exchange is also tinged with sadness, as you really consider all the great things Jo could have been allowed to do had she just been born with something else in her underpants, and it also recalls the only time I get annoyed with Laurie in the film (apart from the crazy facial hair he grows) where he is extremely reluctant to go to college, whereas Jo is dying to go. It seems completely illogical that someone who has no interest in higher learning should basically have to go to college, when someone else who would benefit so greatly from it, and dreams of going there also, is barred completely from going. How would this ever make any sense?! The stupid past...

But yes. Feminism, childhood and Susan Sarandon- do films get a lot better than Little Women? No, they get a tiny bit better, but this really has to be up there with some of my very favourite films. I do just love it so! Tell me below in the comments if you hate the various character endings, either in Good Wives (or, I think in America Little Women and Good Wives are all in one book, no?) or in the film. It surely can't just be me, right?!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Revisiting Books... East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This book is so big, it's difficult to review it in any coherent way. Mostly, I just want to squeal things and jump up and down a bit, and thrust a copy of the book in your hands and send you away for four days (which is how long it took me to get through this behemoth), and have you come back to me equally squealing and excited by this masterpiece of a novel. So, everyone has their orders now, right? Come back to me in four days...

But really. Trying to be sensible about this, I am honestly in love with this novel. I remember reading it when I was clearly too young, and it felt kind of disordered to me, but in revisiting it, I realise that everything fits together so perfectly, the real and the fictional combined so seamlessly that it is an absolute joy to read. In the end, each story is relatively simple, but they are all integrated so well as to make one massive, complex (but not complicated) story that really gets to the heart of humanity, God, knowledge, families- almost everything you can think of is included within it. Before I re-read this novel, I would have said The Grapes of Wrath was my favourite Steinbeck novel. Now I'm not so sure.

There is a point in this novel when Steinbeck says that all novels, in fact, all stories, are about the struggle between good and evil. I think that this is especially true of this novel, but in a different way than it might otherwise be approached. The characters in this novel, almost without exception, have to battle the good and evil that is within themselves, in order to move on with their lives, or to try and live in the best way they know how. This is, I think, especially true of Adam and Cal, and if there are pure examples of good and evil characters in the novel, then they come in the forms of Lee and Cathy respectively, but even they may not be said to either be ultimately good or ultimately evil. In this, then, Steinbeck so accurately reflects human nature, understanding that it is almost impossible for any one person to be wholly good or wholly evil. There is a hell of a lot more to us than just that.

I do especially love the little family anecdotes that Steinbeck includes in the novel, including a few guest appearances from his childhood self that, inserted wrongly could be really awful, but actually work really well. I also can't get over how well he allows his grandfather to integrate with his fictional heroes, perhaps because, being pretty young when his grandfather died, he became something of a fictional hero to him also. Steinbeck has long been my favourite author, and he just repeatedly shocks, surprises, and does things differently throughout the course of this novel. If there were 600 more pages, I would be so incredibly happy that I would dance around a fair bit and also set you some more reading (you haven't forgotten that already have you..?)

This is perhaps the first review I've written on here that doesn't really give anything away about the novel (so, yay! for that) but hopefully it will still convince you to read it! Or maybe even revisit it if you're ready to have your mind blown all over again. I have the film all ready to watch, but I have learnt in the process of writing this that it focuses only on the second part of the novel, ie on the Aron and Cal story, rather than the entire thing. I'm not going to lie, this scares me, since they may have just made into a love-triangle style film rather than being at all faithful to the book. It could be a disaster of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof proportions. I'm preparing myself for the worst, but hoping for the best. But I'm not holding my breath... Either way, expect a review of it in a few days!

Update: By the looks of things, Lee is not even a character in the film. I'm pretty sure that means it loses already...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

I have actually been excited about this weeks top ten for quite a long time (longer than it would perhaps be prudent for me to admit...), mainly because I thought 'Hey! The Broke and the Bookish are doing a top ten tuesday almost specifically for my blog, because I write about books AND movies!' Alas, it wasn't too long before I realised that this is Oscar week... but that still doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for this week's list!

Top Ten Book to Movie Adaptations

1. Fight Club- It's just so awesome. I saw the film before I read the book (the blasphemy!) but when I did finally get round to reading it I was really surprised (and pleased) at how similar the two were. When a book is that good, you just don't want to change it all that much!

2. Lord of the Rings- Because, ok, the books are pretty awesome, but the films are similarly amazing AND they missed out like all the bloody songs (which, in the end, I had to start skipping in the books anyway, or I would have gone completely insane). Also, Aragorn was about a thousand times hotter than any man I could have imagined, and may have accidentally set off my beard obsession...

3. True Blood- I know, it's a TV programme, but HBO series are more like really really long films anyway. Also, this programme is so spectacularly better than the books that it really deserves its place on my list. 

4. Angels in America- I guess, since Angels in America is a play, this shouldn't really count because it was always intended to be performed. Nonetheless, I just love the play and the mini-series so much that I can basically put it into any list ever. And this definitely counts. You can check out my review of the play here

5. Gone With the Wind- I know that the film misses out lots of things (extra children, stuff like that) but I saw it before I read the book, and I just love it so very very much. It also hold special Christmastime memories for me, whereas the book has memories of the gorgeous summer afternoons where I read it in the garden. Basically, they're both just the greatest (racism and love of slavery aside, of course).

6. Chocolat- Any film with Johnny Depp in is pretty much going to be a winner for me. This, however, I love in spite of Johnny (since he's only in it for about 17 minutes in total). It's just so sweet (haha) and lovely, and makes me want to be a chocolatier in the french countryside. The book has much the same effect on me.

7. Tess of the D'Urbervilles- I normally avoid BBC costume dramas like the plague, because I just can't deal with them! Nonetheless, I decided it would be a good idea to watch Tess, and it really was. I was so unbelievably moved by this that I wanted to jump inside the screen and save Tess really badly. It was also doubly good, since it made me return to a book that I had read far too young to understand it, and I really really loved it the second time around.

8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest- So faithful to the book (which is completely amazing, see here) but with the added bonus of the inspired casting of Jack Nicholson as McMurphy. Find me a better actor for that role, and I'll drop down dead, because Nicholson is completely perfect, as he so often is (see here, for instance). Heartbreakingly wonderful.

9. The Green Mile- Another sobfest that, doesn't necessarily go as deep as the book, but definitely still has the same emotional depths, and made me cry equal amounts. A really great cast (Tom Hanks could be in everything if I was a casting director) and still a spectacular story.

10. Brokeback Mountain- The short story is good, but the film just takes the book and runs with it, across mountains and rivers, and takes risks where the story doesn't. Having said that, however, it still does stick really closely to the book, and doesn't take too many liberties with it. The casting here is also inspired, and I can't watch it without sighing and considering all the great things we could have seen from Heath Ledger, since he was capable of so much. (You can find my review of the film here.)

So, that's my top ten. Do you have any book to movie adaptations that you love? Or, on a similar note, ones you can't stand? (I, for one, can't deal with the Harry Potter films, although I know that's an unpopular thing to say!) Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Devouring TV: You Don't Know Jack

I might have already mentioned just how much I love and adore Al Pacino once or twice (and then a whole load more times) but this HBO TV movie really just tipped me over the edge into basically wanting to worship him and bear many many children for him. I just watched it and thought, what a brave role for him to take on; almost as brave as the actions undertaken by the real Dr Jack Kevorkian who has become somewhat of a personal hero for me, and for the countless people just begging to be allowed to die rather than live on in unendurable agony.

Euthanasia is kind of a no-brainer issue for me, so upon watching this film, I was kind of behind Jack from the very beginning. My main hope for the film, however, is that people who think euthanasia is the most awful thing ever (probably except for abortion) would reconsider their ideas and realise that, the far kinder thing to do to a person in agony is to allow them to die with dignity, rather than continue to suffer. This is a viewpoint that is consistently reinforced by the film, as you see families struggling with the deaths of their loved ones but knowing it is the better option for them, and an attorney that, rather than focusing on whether what Jack is doing is right or not, is just out to get him no matter what, by the end of the film.

The deaths that Jack contributed towards are awful. Not in severity, or painfulness or anything like that, but just in how heartrending they are to watch. The first death takes place in a camper van, and when the suffering woman says goodbye to her husband just before she dies, I cried like a baby. To be in so much pain that death is a better option than the life you are living is so incomprehensible to most of us, that it is difficult to know how anyone can judge these people, or especially Jack, for helping them get rid of the pain. I, for one, would not be so arrogant as to tell these people that what they were feeling is not bad enough for them to want to die, and I don't think anyone else should.

Jack, it has to be said, is not presented as a wholly perfect person in the film, but rather as a kind of distant man who rarely lets people see what he is really thinking. This is not necessarily a flaw, however, but rather a gift for him as an angel of mercy, as it allows him to give those who are suffering the strength to go through with their own deaths without his getting emotional or freaking out about his role in proceedings. This is not to say that he doesn't have a heart or a soul, however, and one of the most emotional moments of the whole film is when he finally opens himself up to his sidekick Janet Good (Susan Sarandon) and tells her what it was like to watch his mother die, feeling helpless and useless when all she really wanted was to die. This is an amazing moment, as you see where Jack gets his inner strength and resolve from, personally pledging that nobody will have to die like his mother did. He is an incredibly brave man, even if nobody else sees him as such.

Much of what Jack does in the movie is to make the very idea of euthanasia open to public debate, and hopefully to get people to understand why he is doing it, and to agree with his reasons. As this is a true life story, this is perhaps something we really should be thinking about and debating, whether between ourselves, or in the courts. If you want my two cents, I think it all really comes down to choice. We have so much choice in this world, where we live, where we work, what crap we buy, what car we drive and so on. But it seems that choice is limited to a consumerist sphere only, and when faced with something actually important, like whether or not we live or die, we just seem to accept that choosing death is not something that we are allowed to think about. Now, I understand the whole sanctity of life argument, but what about when you can no longer see your life as sacred, since you can't move or walk or even swallow and are in constant pain? Should you have to go on living under such circumstances, even when you have no idea how to get through another day? I can't really see any intrinsic worth in being made to do that, but I guess the courts, in most places in the world can. So good for them.

So, basically, subject matter, good; Al Pacino, amazing as ever; authority, bad. How about you? Have you seen this spectacular TV movie? Do you have any thoughts on euthanasia (don't be afraid to argue with me, I love changing people's minds... erm, I mean, debating...)? Tell me all about it in the comments.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. You can view the touring blog list at Mailbox Monday blog for the upcoming months. 

I'm trying not to do too many of these blog hop thingys because I like to just keep to the movies and the books and all. However, I think this one is really adorable, so I definitely want to be part of it! Sadly, I am a poor person, so these lists may be brief, but they will never be boring. Probably. Anyway, I just like the idea of welcoming new books into my home, because, let's face it, what deserves a warm welcome more than a new book?

So, new books this week are:
The History of Love-Nicole Krauss: I have heard so many good things about this book, and also about the author in general that I just had to snap this up when I found it in a charity shop this week. I think I'm probably going to read this pretty soon because it's nice and short, and might be something nice to read while I'm (still) struggling through Walden. Also, it cost 35p, so if it's bad then... I can't really say I mind!

A Man in Full-Tom Wolfe: I bought this mainly because I'm a compulsive book buyer, but also because I read Bonfire of the Vanities and adored it desperately and enduringly. It's so wonderfully satiric! Therefore, I'm expecting great things from this book, that will probably fail to live up to my expectations and I'll be sad forever! Or something slightly less dramatic, I'm not going to be that concerned for the 50p it cost me (Yeah, that's right. I spent 85p on books this week, beat that!)

And there you have it! Did you make any naughty/amazing/both book purchases this week?

Revisiting Books... One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest is a book that, once read, doesn't easily escape you. I had only read it once before, and was almost scared to read it again, in case the reality didn't match up with my memory of it the first time round. I shouldn't have been worried. Everything was just as fraught and tense and completely amazing as I remembered it. I still loved McMurphy and the Chief, still hated Nurse Ratched and the establishment, and still wanted there to be more to the book once it was finished. To me, that's the mark of a really great story.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest basically chronicles the activities in a mental hospital in Oregon, which is ruled by a tyrannical nurse and her evil little helpers (these helpers are black, and the 'n' word is used to describe them more than once in the book. Which, I don't much appreciate, BUT no matter what race they were, their actions would still be evil. So I'm going to let this one slide for now). Things just move along within the ward, as narrated by Chief Bromden, a man who doesn't seem that mentally ill, but who does have delusions mostly based around the idea he is being spied on, which is quite ironic considering that he does most of the spying, as he pretends to be deaf and dumb when, in fact, he doesn't have any problems in this regard. He is, however, a sublime narrator,
"I been silent so long now it's gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It's still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it's the truth even if it didn't happen."
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is, essentially, the story of Chief Bromden's return to sanity, which is entirely down to the influence of Randle P McMurphy, a man who is not at all mentally ill, but rather is larger than life, with the kind of personality that can light up an entire room and just make everyone feel so much better. This, however, turns out to be both a blessing and a curse, as McMurphy helps the Chief to find the beauty in life after twenty years, for instance; but also has the burden of the other men's expectations on him, even when he feels that there is nothing else he can do for them. When he finally attacks Nurse Ratched, he seems to feel like he absolutely has to because
"we were the ones making him do it. It wasn't the nurse that was forcing him, it was our need that was making him push himself slowly up from sitting..."
and it is this perhaps more than anything else that contributes to McMurphy's mental deterioration (that is not complete, but is there) in the novel.

One thing that Kesey highlights very clearly is the state of psychological treatment in America in the early 1960s. It is clear that he raises a protest in this novel, utilising his characters very well to make a really strong statements on the things that the entire establishment were doing wrong. McMurphy, predictably, is the voice of reason on this issue, and it is almost touching to hear his protest against ECT, which does sound like a completely barbaric treatment, "Didn't the public raise Cain about it?" he asks, clearly forgetting that the public doesn't care about things it can easily ignore. It is also true that, while Nurse Ratched is partially to blame for the way things are on the ward, there is something more fundamentally rotten at the heart of the whole system that the Nurse's removal would not solve;
"McMurphy doesn't know it, but he's onto what I realised a long time back, that it's not just the Big Nurse by herself, but it's the whole Combine, the nation-wide Combine that's the really big force, and the nurse is just a high ranking official for them."
It is clear from the reading that this insidious way of dealing with vulnerable people is something that Kesey thinks should change, and wants to change.

One thing that could easily be changed in this book is Nurse Ratched. Whilst she is not the only problem with the ward, she is still a grade A bitch, who probably shouldn't be around any people, let alone the vulnerable mentally ill patients of this book. She is painted so vividly that it is impossible not to side with the patients in the novel, and not to hate her for her subtle manipulations and steering of all their lives, something which is not at all conducive to their recovery. Ugh, I just hate her so much! McMurphy sees, from the very first group meeting, exactly what she has done and is still doing to the men- she emasculates them to the point where they can't do anything without her approval,
" 'what she is is a ball-cutter. I seen a thousand of 'em, old and young, men and women. Seen 'em all over the country and in the homes- people who try to make you weak so they can get you to toe the line, to follow their rules, to live like they want you to. And the best way to do this, to get you to knuckle under, is to weaken you by gettin' you where it hurts the most.'"
Calling her a ball-cutter is a little bit of a sexist way of putting what she does, since it excludes the possibility that women can also be treated this way, but the way she breaks the men could easily be applied to women, and I guess they'd just have to call her a boob-cutter or something similar in that case. But this is what she does- she has weakened these men to the point where they find themselves completely unable to live in the outside world anymore. Even more abhorrently, she commits some of the worst and cruellest acts in the novel, and then uses them to control and scare the men even more than they already are. Her absolute biggest crime comes at the end of the novel (which I'm NOT going to tell you about, because if you haven't already read it, it comes as quite a horrid shock), by which point you literally just wish she was dead, so that she could stop damaging these already broken people further.

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest has such a vivid cast of characters, and makes you think so much about the injustices in the world, and at times is extremely painful. It is also an incredibly rewarding read, and makes you consider the limits of 'normality' and sanity in a way that I never had done before. I implore you to read it if you haven't already, and I'd love to hear what you think about it if you have! Oh yeah, and see the film. Jack Nicholson is the absolute perfect McMurphy.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Revisiting Films... Brokeback Mountain

Photo via Wikipedia

I have loved Brokeback Mountain before it was even partially a movie, having seen pictures of it being filmed in some godawful celebrity magazine. My basic attitude to it was: Jake?! Heath?! Gay Cowboys?! I'm there! I wasn't, however, expecting it to have quite the effect it did on me. I went in there, pretty much for the eye-candy, and came out with a whole new perspective on love and the way we should live. I also came out with the urge to read everything Annie Proulx had ever written, a valiant aim that I'm not too far away from completing (Accordion Crimes is my favourite. Just in case you were wondering.) I always find, though, that the emotional punch that Brokeback Mountain packs doesn't fade with watching, and I always some away from it with wet cheeks and a righteous sense of the injustices in the world! Heath Ledger's death didn't help things either, and although he is not the cowboy who dies in the film, watching his performance is enough to make me mourn him all over again- the world has lost such an amazing actor that it almost hurts to watch his greatest achievement.

I remember that the first time I watched this, I didn't at all appreciate the first twenty minutes or so because I was just on edge waiting for the carnal adventures to begin (yes, I just said carnal adventures. Better than bum sex, non?) So, in a way, the film didn't even start for me until that happened. Now, when I watch it, I can take in the beautiful landscapes, that look exactly like a Proulx story (as they should), and all the extremely subtle little looks that the two men share as they feel the growing attraction towards each other. In my first viewing, I thought the sex came practically from nowhere, but my numerous revisits have shown me the error of my ways- it is all there, practically from the beginning, you just have to know where to look for it.

I was so disappointed when Ennis (Ledger) married Alma (Michelle Williams). It's not that I don't like her, or have anything against her, but by marrying her he is cheating himself out of what he really wants, and her out of a real marriage. Alma is not innocent in things either, and once she catches Ennis and Jack (Gyllenhaal) having a rather physical reunion, that should be it for her. However, once you consider that it's the sixties and she has two children, things don't seem quite so simple. Instead, she chooses to just go on resenting him, until she finally can't take it anymore and goads him into divorcing her. Jack has a similarly poor marriage, his wife (Anne Hathaway) is seemingly more interested in the business than in him, and he is stuck under the tyranny of his father-in-law. Jack and Ennis are apart for large portions of the film, but it is almost like they are only living half-lives. It is only when they come together that they begin to live fully, and as they would like to.

And when Jack and Ennis are together onscreen, it's hard not to want them to be together always. That's certainly what Jack wants "it could be like this, just like this, always." and while he does lack a certain amount of common sense, this is still the case- if they really tried, they could make things work and be together. This is something that Ennis just can't do, however. It is clear from the little things, the way he watches a truck drive by when they are talking, for instance, that he is terrified of being 'caught' with Jack, and this fear seems to stem from an event in his childhood where a gay man was viciously murdered just for being gay. It's a really sad story, told in extremely stark lighting, that reveals just how ingrained it is within Ennis that homosexuality is wrong. It is from this feeling that he can't escape, and because of it, it is clear, he will never be able to be happy.

Ennis and Jack's last meeting is so bittersweet that it is clear that it marks a real turning point for their relationship, and for the film in general. In the evening things go well, and Jack tells Ennis "The truth is, sometimes I miss you so much that I can hardly stand it," making my heart break into a million tiny pieces. Just as I pull myself back together, the lovers have a big fight, which culminates in Jack's confession that he has sex with Mexican prostitutes, and this exceedingly poignant exchange:
Jack: I wish I knew how to quit you
Ennis: Well why don't you? Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you Jack that I'm like this! I'm nothin'... I'm nowhere... I just can't stand being like this no more Jack.
I can't actually bear seeing Ennis cry. As Ennis drives away from this scene, we get a flashback from Jack's perspective, where they are young and both up on Brokeback for the first time. What I think this represents is a time where it felt like anything was possible for them, where they could live together and own a ranch and everything would be perfect. When the camera goes back to the older Jack (in a comedy moustache and padded belly) it is clear that his dreams haven't happened, and he resents this. This is something that I think everyone can appreciate, and gives a universal message to viewers- summing it up in a Rolling Stones song title, you can't always get what you want.

I choose to think that, after Jack's death, Ennis lives a life of regret of not being with the person he loved for the entire time he was alive. The scene in Jack's parent's house is, in my opinion, the most moving of the entire film, as Ennis gets to experience first-hand Jack's lonely childhood, and he also feels the full force of how much he misses him- Jack always gave Ennis emotional support more than anything else, and now he is gone, who is Ennis going to talk to? I also adore the way Jack's mother unquestioningly puts the two shirts into a brown paper bag, and implores Ennis to visit again, as though she knows just what he meant to her son, and she wants to keep Jack alive through him. It's just so lovely, but at the same time so devastating, and it's difficult to see how Ennis will ever be able to make himself happy, now that Jack is gone, and he has fully realised what he has lost. It is clear from the ending that he is finally able to take some solace in his family, but I wonder and worry whether this is going to be enough to stop Ennis from continuing to live a life of endless regret.

Ok, I know I go on a lot about Brokeback Mountain, but I do love it so! I'm just going to add a little 'I hate Mark Wahlberg' in here now, since wikipedia just kindly informed me that "Mark Wahlberg declined the starring role, saying he turned down the opportunity because he was 'a little creeped out' by the homosexual themes and sex scene." I have only two things to say about this: 1) What a charming and tolerant guy Mark Wahlberg must be. He sounds pleasant. I wish he was my friend. 2) Thank you Mark Wahlberg for your homophobia, because with you as Ennis instead of Heath Ledger (an actor who is, by the way, about a million times better than you, and never used to call himself 'Heathy Heath' to boot) Brokeback Mountain wouldn't be half the film it is.

There you go, a review of Brokeback Mountain and Mark Wahlberg's beliefs all rolled into one. Do I spoil you or what?! Have you seen the film? Do you have an extreme love for it like I do? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Devouring Books: Everything You Know By Zoe Heller

I have some mixed feelings about this book, mostly that it's not as good as Notes on a Scandal (also by Heller), but on the other hand, it was good enough for me to read in a day. So yeah, actually really quite good! I guess, also, it's unfair to judge an author by their other books, when in fact, while this book isn't as good as Notes on a Scandal, it is still better than a lot of books are. That made little to no sense, so I'm just going to talk about the book now, ok? I think it'll be better for all of us...

So, this book's protagonist is a 55 year old man called Willy Muller, an Englishman in LA who, at the start of the book has just had a heart attack. I dislike Willy a great deal, but I think that's kind of the point- you're not meant to like Willy, so that when he aims for some kind of redemption late on in the novel, you want that redemption to happen because he's been such a shit for the rest of the novel. He's very much like a Bret Easton Ellis character, without the excessive drug use, in that he seems to hate all his friends, feels indifferent to his family (one of his daughters has killed herself, and all he can do is admire the guts that it must have taken for her to do it!) and he is just generally bored with his life, and his two girlfriends. He is a pretty unspeakable man, actually, but you can derive a certain sense of satisfaction from the fact that he is at least miserable. Heller actually seems to have a knack for creating these cold-hearted, unlikable main characters, both in the manipulative Barbara in Notes on a Scandal, and the seemingly soulless Audrey in The Believers. Willy just adds himself to these relatively smoothly.

The part of the story that held more interest to me was the diaries of Willy's recently deceased daughter, which he is reading because... well, because she sent them to him, rather than because they hold any proper meaning or worth for him (I told you, he's really not a good guy). They track her progress from her mother's murky death (which Willy had something, but not everything, to do with), to following her promiscuous sister to a squat, to having a baby and all in between. What becomes clear is the portrait of a very troubled girl, passed between relatives from a relatively young age, and who has lost all sense of how she should be living. It's actually really tragic, and while Heller doesn't allow her a suicide note, it is clear that her life of poverty, a lack of love and quiet desperation lead her to the point where she just doesn't want to live anymore. I feel a lot more for Sadie than for her father since he just left- decided things would be easier in America, without a second, or even a first thought for his daughters. What a bum.

As long as Heller's intention was to make me find her narrator intolerable, then she has done an excellent job with this book- his complaints when he is in a beautiful Mexican house with 2 girlfriends and almost no responsibilities are almost too irritating to bear when you consider the state he left both of his daughters in. It is an extremely well written book, as Heller's tend to be; but it has the absolute worst blurb on the back of it. Something that really bugs me is when publishers try to misrepresent the books they are selling, in this case to make it sound like a light-hearted, chick-lit, frothy holiday read; when in fact it is a lot deeper than this, and I think it leaves you with a lot more to think about than your average piece of chick-lit (i.e. with anything to think about). If I was the kind of girl who picked up 'fun' books at the airport (which I don't because I plan my holiday reading practically before I plan the holiday) I would be seriously annoyed by this one, because, damn, it requires thinking!

Ok, that was mean. But the blurb still doesn't represent the book in this case! Anyway! Everything You Know is well worth reading, but I would recommend you go for Notes on a Scandal first, because it's just so nice and... vicious. Like I just was for a minute back there! Seriously though- does anyone else feel like this about misrepresenting blurbs? Let me know in the comments below!

Devouring Films: A Star is Born

Things Norman Maine Taught Me About Unemployment

I just watched A Star is Born after having it for about a year from LoveFilm (or, ok, like a month), not because I didn't want to watch it but because there was never a time when the big TV in my house was free for 3 hours, and a musical really demands a big screen! Anyway, I really enjoyed the film, even if it wasn't necessarily the musical I was expecting (as in, there was no spontaneous singing, but rather only singing where it should be, like in performances and stuff), and Judy Garland was, as ever, truly amazing. I have decided however, that rather than giving you a full on review, I'd tell you the things that I have learnt from Norman Maine, Judy's husband in the film, about how to deal with unemployment. There are clear dos and don'ts that he represents, and I think we can all learn a lot from him. It goes a little something like this:


  • Handle being fired with dignity- Norman manages not to make a scene when he is fired, since it would only make things worse. He instead takes it like a man, even though it is done at his own house, at a party he is hosting.
  • Get some hobbies- Norman's seem to include hitting golf balls around the room, playing cards (solitaire, naturally), and cooking.
  • Take pleasure in your wife's company, especially when she's an awesome star and can sing like no one else.


  • Be jealous of your wife's success and resentful because you can't get any work
  • Get drunk and ruin your wife's Oscar acceptance- not very good form at all. Even though she doesn't seem to mind that much, it's still not a very nice thing to do. On a similar note, 
  • Plead for a job during your wife's Oscar acceptance- all the industry bigwigs might be there, but it's still not exactly the best time to do it...
  • Continually drink so that you need to check into a rehab facility
  • Once you get out of said rehab facility, try not to start drinking almost straight away because some idiotic guy you used to work with (or who used to work for you) makes fun of you
  • Walk into the sea because you think it'll be the best thing for your wife, who you just want to be happy. Suffice to say, your death will not make her happy.

I think these are all vital points to be aware of when one is despairing over their status of unemployment. Also, this about sums up the final third of the film, just so you know! I'm going to try now not to resent my own wife's success and go and make something of myself... I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Literary Blog Hop February 17-20

Time for a Blog Hop! And this one's a goodie! Hosted by The Blue Bookcase, this week they ask:

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which literary book would you take and why?

This is a tricky question for me, but considering that there are books that I have practically memorised, I think I'd be ok to get through any horrible situation, at least entertainment-wise. For inspiration, however, I would probably have to go with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The ability of that family, and in fact most of the characters in the novel, to get through and overcome a whole host of horrifying situations is really inspiring, and would help give me the strength to soldier ever onwards. Although it would remind me that I didn't have my family right by my side, it would also give me the strength to get through it, so I could be reunited with them again. Also, I just generally love Tom Joad, especially that time he was Henry Fonda (although the film isn't that good. But still. Henry Fonda.)

What book would get you through the hardest time in your life? Am I crazy to want to take a book that doesn't exactly have a really happy ending?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Devouring Books: Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan

I love Bob Dylan, but one of the things I love most about him is his grumpy, mysterious cantankerousness; so I wasn't sure about reading his autobiography and dispelling all these illusions about him being raised by wolves, and then flung into a battle with a one eyed man for his life where he magically learned to play guitar or something like that. This possibly explains why the book has been sitting on my bookshelf for literally years, sadly looking at me when I bypass it for my third read of a Johnny Depp biography (NOT What's Eating Johnny Depp, though. Stay away from that!) I decided finally to stop being silly and just take the plunge into Bob Dylan's head, and I definitely did not regret it!

I don't read very many auto/biographies (although I have been doing so more recently for some unexplainable reason...), but Bob's is probably one of the best, or at least the most enjoyable I've ever read. And it shouldn't be at all. I should be infuriated by the lack of details (for instance, the wife is chapter 3 is not the same as the wife in chapter 4, but this is mentioned nowhere!), the lurching of 10 or more years in between chapters, and the general randomness of the events, people and details he has decided to include. But somehow, it just manages to work. I think it is maybe the perfect book to represent Dylan, in that you almost don't want to know too much about him, so that there is still a haze of mystery over him; but it still gives enough information so that you still feel like you could get to know him and make him your friend (this may only apply to me. But I tend to feel that way about famous people I really really like anyway! Which is probably not good).

But anyway, my insanity aside, let's talk about the book. The chapters essentially show young poor Dylan in New York, then struggling with fame and trying to be a family man Dylan, then the anatomy of getting his groove back and the fine details of making an album, and then finally, Dylan in his hometown, and then signing his record deal with Columbia records. The details are vague and the anecdotes pretty random, but what Dylan really does is create a real feel of the times and places he is talking about- we are almost there with him, feeling the thrill of performing in tiny New York venues, or really sensing his boredom at, once again being called a revolutionary, or the voice of a generation; something which Dylan very strongly insists in this book that he is not. One of the best evocations is of New Orleans, a city Dylan clearly loves, which is as well written a description of a place as I can remember reading by anyone:
"New Orleans, unlike a lot of those places you go back to and that don't have the magic anymore, still has got it. Night can swallow you up, yet none of it touches you. Around any corner, there's a promise of something daring and ideal and things are just getting going. There's something obscenely joyful behind every door, either that or somebody crying with their head in their hands. A lazy rhythm looms in the dreamy air and the atmosphere pulsates with bygone duels, past-life romance, comrades requesting comrades to aid them in some way. You can't see it, but you know it's here. Somebody is always sinking. Everyone seems to be from some very old Southern families. Either that or a foreigner. I like the way it is.
There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There's a thousand different angles at any moment. At any time you could run into a ritual honoring some vaguely known queen. Bluebloods, titled persons like crazy drunks, lean weakly against the walls and drag themselves through the gutter. Even they seem to have insights you might want to listen to. No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem. Gardens full of pansies, pink petunias, opiates. Flower-bedecked shrines, white myrtles, bourgainvillea and purple oleander stimulate your senses, make you feel cool and clear inside.
Everything in New Orleans is a good idea."
I realise that was about the longest extract ever, but really- how much do you want to go to New Orleans now?! I thought so...

One thing that Dylan talks about a lot is the burden of expectation that rested upon him because of the (amazing) songs that he wrote and recorded in the 1960s. Everyone was pushing upon him that he had to lead the youth and keep protesting the government etc, when all he wanted to do was stay home and be a father, mainly because he only ever saw himself as a musician and songwriter, NOT the voice of a generation, or whatever other titles were pushed upon him. It was at about this point of the book that I found myself feeling very relieved that Bob Dylan had a secure family and home life to keep his head away from all that stuff, since otherwise, I fear, he could have ended up crushed by the load of expectation on his shoulders, in a similar way to Kurt Cobain. Which would have been so terrible, and would have deprived the world of so much wonderful music. So I try not to think about such things!

There were a couple of things that annoyed me in this autobiography. The first was a couple of pages where Bob informs us all about his friendship with Bono, and actually seemed to speak of him admiringly. Since I hate Bono more than about 99.9% of all people, this really got me irritated and almost made me want to stop speaking to Bob. But then I realised that, while he is friends with morally objectionable people who claim to care about the earth but then fly a hat across continents, he's not actually my friend. Which then annoyed me even more! Stupid Bono. The only other thing I would say is that there are some parts where the technical aspects of music get a little... well, dull if you don't really know what he's talking about, but if you're a musician or know anything about music tech then you're definitely going to find these parts interesting!

These are both just tiny little complaints of mine, however, in a book that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. I guess we all knew Bob Dylan could write, since we've all heard his songs, that are really more like poetry, but I didn't quite expect his autobiography to be quite as good as it really is. I also found areas where I could identify with him, which is something I wasn't really expecting, but it happened! There is this one incident where, he gets a Robert Johnson from his Columbia records boss, and he feels so strongly attached to it that, when his friend is far less enthusiastic about it, he decides that he "didn't want to play it for anyone else." This is something that I so strongly relate to- I get so attached to some books and films that I'm loathe to let anyone else read or watch them in case they insult them, or even don't feel as strongly about them as I do. I still haven't let my sister watch Juno, and I didn't talk to my parents for days after they laughed at American Beauty (laughed! Can you believe it?!) With this viewpoint, it's amazing that I have this blog at all, but I really do want to inspire the kind of love for the things I love in others. I just don't want to hear it if they don't love it too!
I am, however, strongly recommending that you read Chronicles if you have even a passing interest in Bob Dylan, and probably even if you don't. That's how well written I found it. I'm now eagerly awaiting Volume two!

photo via

I Miss Heath Ledger So Much!

I mean, it goes without saying really. But I just went on YouTube for a completely different purpose (finding Bob Dylan performances) and they recommended this video, that I can't believe I've never seen before; and didn't in fact watch nearly 2 years ago (especially since I LOVE awards ceremonies, for some unknowable reason. Also unknowable-why I can't upload the video to this site. But oh well). In any case, this just made me cry a lot, since I still can't really process the idea that Heath Ledger is actually dead, choosing instead to believe that he's merely taking a break from movie making and is doing something incredible somewhere, probably Australia. I'm hoping that, in some way, that's actually true. I was ok for a bit, but then the audience all got me too- Kate Winslet, Brad and Angelina all looked so anguished for his poor family, and I think Anne Hathaway was actually crying. It's all just so heartbreakingly sad, still, over 3 years on from his death. I can't even begin to imagine how sad his family must still be, or how tragic for his little girl growing up without her father.

This is how I like to remember him, in one of my favourites of all his fabulous incarnations:

Movies miss you a whole lot, Heath.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Soooo, it's about that time again! To really cap off my Valentines themed posts, The Broke and the Bookish are kindly hosting this week's tres appropriate top ten...

Top Ten Favourite Love Stories in Books (although I'm doing movies too!)

1. Pretty Woman- I so adore Julia Roberts and Richard Gere falling in love even though she's being paid for it. The ultimate rags to riches story, but there's also a touch of feminism in there- "She rescues him right back!" Argh, I just love it so much!

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- It's so messed up, but there is some crushing, unbelievably strong love and passion in this novel, even if it is, in a way soul destroying. Check out my review of Wuthering Heights here and that should tell you all you need to know!

3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Apparently I'm just a glutton for romantic punishment, because this is another love story that isn't so nice. Nonetheless, I can't get enough of Scarlett and Rhett's love/hate/but really love thing they've got going on, and it is clear to me that they are absolutely made for each other! If only Miss O'Hara had figured that out a little bit sooner...

4. Josh and Donna in The West Wing- It's not the most romantic or mushy of love stories, but it is a love story nonetheless. It is so clear to anyone watching throughout the series that they should be together, and by the time it finally happens, you've almost stopped wishing for it or believing it could happen. But then it does! And it is great.

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Come on! I think this might be a very popular choice today, but I just couldn't resist. Who doesn't want a Mr Darcy that they can win around with their personality and beauty from his confirmed bachelorhood? Plus, he's so romantic *sigh*

6. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare- It's a completely messed up love, but really, if you're not willing (metaphorically) to die for the person you love, then do you really love them? Probably haha, but I still just love love love this play- "What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun." It's just so lovely!

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- Because, goodness knows, a madwoman in the attic a real relationship strengthener. But really, I root for Jane so badly since she's the ultimate girl next door, who makes a man fall in love with her on the strength of her character almost solely, and because she is completely awesome. And Mr Rochester isn't so bad either!

8. Casablanca- Is there anything more romantic than sacrificing the woman you love for the war effort?! Probably. But I still love the ballad of Rick and Ilsa, and can but hope that sometime after the war, they find their way back to each other and get to have the kind of relationship they deserve.

9. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier- This is not necessarily a traditional romantic novel (considering that one half of the couple doesn't even get a name!) but when the second Mrs De Winter finds out that Max really does love her, and never really loved Rebecca, I get all happy and well up! It's just a moment of pure loveliness.

10. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx- The book and film both express a love that has to remain secret, and has to, for the most part, remain unfulfilled. It seems like such an unfair situation, that Ennis can't fully express his feelings for his fear, and Jack has to feel deprived every time Ennis leaves him, but the love that they share is just as strong and just as real as any other I've encountered in fiction. I just want them to be happy!

So those are my top ten love stories. Most of them are either wholly, or in part, depressing; but I still love them, which probably says something about me! What are your favourite love stories?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Revisiting Books... Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Ah, Wuthering Heights. If you've read it, I think you'll agree it's the perfect end to my Valentines posts, considering all the incest and stalking and obsession involved. It's really very romantic, just in a completely messed up way, and a way that you might not necessarily want to happen to you in real life... But still, Heathcliff? He's completely and utterly irresistible, if you ask me (and Isabella Linton. But she's irritating, so we'll ignore her).

Wuthering Heights encompasses the love stories of many many people, but there are only really two couples where both parties equally love each other, and of these, only that of the younger Cathy and Hareton, her Heathcliff-esque cousin is at all successful. I'm not sure what Emily Bronte is trying to say here, other than 'incest is really cool!', but we all know that these young ruffians are the boring part of the story and it's all about Cathy and Heathcliff, the part that everyone, even those who haven't read the book, seems to know about, at least to some extent. Probably mainly because of this song:
But anyway. That's enough of Kate Bush for now. Back to the novel. Wuthering Heights actually has a very interesting structure, going through a number of different narrators, and thus a lot of different viewpoints, that are all necessary for the story to be told in it's entirety. We see things through the eyes of Mr Lockwood primarily, then through the housekeeper Nelly, and through her we get glimpses of the world through the eyes of Edgar and Isabella Linton (who we ostensibly dislike) and Catherine Earnshaw (who is insane, but at least not stuck up and spoilt). Heathcliff is the one character whose viewpoint we see from the least, and it is perhaps for this reason that he seems the most beguiling and most romantic character in this novel especially, but also in many many novels. He is a deeply flawed character, but this is true of all the characters in the novel (except, it seems, for Nelly herself, but seeing as she is practically the omniscient narrator, we can't necessarily see her as a fully formed character) and indeed of all people. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons Wuthering Heights has remained such a vital part of the popular, romantic imagination- we see parts of ourselves in these characters, and so we want to see what their lives will be like, so we can imagine how ours will turn out too.

If this is the case, however, then hopefully people who have read this book learn from the errors of its characters rather than emulate their essentially miserable lives. There seems to be an extremely low life expectancy for characters in this novel, and the amount of life that they do have is filled with misery, regret, and longing for what they have lost. Isabella and Edgar Linton each marry one of the core couple of the novel, Cathy and Heathcliff, and they pay dearly for their decisions- Isabella is made to live in misery until she escapes Heathcliff's violence, taken out against her essentially because she is not Cathy; and Edgar has to keep living after Cathy's death knowing that she never loved him, or at least not in the way that one would wish to be loved. This is undeniably tragic, but it is difficult (at least for me) to care about these characters, because I just care about Heathcliff and Cathy, and their love. And I know you do too!

Cathy and Heathcliff, then, were steadfast childhood friends, each others protectors against Cathy's older brother Hindley, and generally inseparable. Cathy, however, becomes seduced by the rather higher up lives of Edgar and Isabella Linton over a period of about 3 months, and Heathcliff becomes jealous and resentful, as well he might since she mocks him as soon as she comes home. He also doesn't help to contribute to his own happiness when he storms off, presumably leaving the country, literally seconds before Cathy says some of the most beautiful things relating to loving him that have ever been written;
"he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
And also this,
"If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like foliage in the woods: time will change it , I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being."
Seriously. Writing this good should probably be illegal. So, it is clear to us all that Cathy and Heathcliff are soulmates, but for economic, and totally unromantic reasons, they can't be together. This is where their troubles really begin. Cathy does marry Edgar, and Heathcliff then revenge marries Isabella, rendering everyone miserable. Cathy, also, falls apart just a tad, and displays clear signs of narcissism, "How strange! I thought , though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me", showing that however much she may love Heathcliff, she loves herself even more; and then she has what I can only describe as a nervous breakdown, leading to her completely dramatic death. Heathcliff, however, doesn't fare much better in the mental health stakes, considering that his methods of seduction of Isabella involve strangling her poor dog. Animal lovers, stop reading now!

It is tempting to say that, considering their less than amiable characters, Heathcliff and Cathy deserve each other, and not in the good way. They are, however, somehow so much more likeable than Edgar and Isabella, maybe because we know we shouldn't like them, and also because their love is just so intoxicating that we want to find something just like it, only without marrying other people just to spite the one we love. Cathy's death provides ample opportunity for the pair to, for the only time in the novel to express their love openly to one another, and while it is a violent love that we may not recognise, the passion and feeling behind it is so present that it is almost breathtaking,
"'You teach me now how cruel you've been - cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself... You loved me - then what right had you to leave me? What right - answer me - for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart - you have broken it; and in breaking it you have broken mine. So much the worse for me that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you - oh God! Would you like to live with your soul in the grave?'"
I mean, really. Yes, he scolds her (and God knows she needs scolding!), but this is nothing compared to how amazing it must be to have someone tell you that they don't know how to live without you, because you are essentially two sides of the same coin, and you share everything with each other. It's an alluring, kind of terrifying kind of love, but at the same time, I think it is the same love we all seek and want. Without all the mental illnesses and stuff.

So, yeah. After Cathy dies, Heathcliff gets even crazier and all vengeful, and there is an entire second half of the novel that can essentially be skipped because it adds nothing to the whole Heathcliff and Cathy saga, other than Heathcliff taking his anger and pain at her death out on all the wrong people, and the dream of Cathy and Heathcliff finally coming true in the next generation in the form of Catherine and Hareton, which is nice, but nowhere near as passionate as Cathy and Heathcliff's romance (which, in real life terms, would probably be a relief). Heathcliff eventually gives in, his body deciding to end all the suffering, and he is finally able to be with Cathy again, united in death in a way they never could be in life. It's a little bit spooky, but really quite romantic- the thing that you want to happen eventually does, even if it can't be in this life. Heartwarming stuff all round, especially if it's hallowe'en (which, I realise it isn't. But never mind that!)

So, Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I hope you find your Cathy/Heathcliff, I just hope that both your souls aren't made of total crazy! Or, if they are, you both get the appropriate medical attention for that.