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Ever ran out of words in a conversation, because the perfect word for your feeling doesn’t exist in English? You’re not alone! Even though English is an amazing language, there are some feelings or situations that simply can’t transfer into words in English! It happens even more frequently if you speak a second language. We’ll […]
A novel interweaving the sense of frustration with societal restrictions and expectations with the struggle to remain sane
This has been on my to read list for a long time so I finally dived in and was pleasantly surprised by it’s first person chatty style. Interesting and easy to read, the first half flew past. Then the story bounced around into darker areas of the expectations of, and put on, a young woman in 1950’s USA and their consequences. Thoughts of suicide and the profound inability of anyone in and out of the health professions to help.
The story begins as Esther Greenwood arrives in New York after winning a competition to work as an intern at a Fashion Magazine. She is determined to make the most of the opportunity in every way she can. Esther and her friend Doreen are tempted out of a taxi into a bar by a group of young men. Esther pretends to be Elly Higginbottom from Chicago.
“Oh, Elly’ll come, won’t you Elly?” Lenny said, giving me a wink. “Sure I’ll come, ” I said. Frankie had wilted away into the night, so I thought I’d string along with Doreen. I wanted to see as much as I could. I liked looking on at other people in crucial situations. If there was a road accident or a street fight or a baby pickled in a laboratory jar for me to look at, I’d stop and look so hard I never forgot it. I certainly learned a lot of things I never would have learned otherwise this way, and even when they surprised me or made me sick I never let on, but pretended that’s the way I knew things were all the time.
The time in New York slips away and suddenly she is back in her home town living with her parents and depressed. A few failed suicide attempts and then she wakes up in a mental hospital.
I wanted to tell her that if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head, but the idea seemed so involved and wearisome that I didn’t say anything. I only burrowed down further in the bed.
The end of the book ends with Esther about to be told whether or not she can leave the hospital and go home. Sylvia Plath’s real parallel life continued but ended as a single mother in London.
Usually I will write a review soon after finishing a book, but in this case, four weeks afterwards, I still do not feel I can write a review that gives justice to the work and fully explains the contents and the thoughts it sowed in my head.
Finishing the book left me with more questions than answers. The largely autobiographical story made me think about many things which, I suppose, is what the author intended. There are a small selection of books which would do well to be on everyone’s reading list to be read some time in their life and I would judge this to be included in that select list. I would hugely recommend reading Sylvia Plath’s novel. Small incremental changes have evolved in society’s view and treatment of women and mental health over the 60 odd ensuing years but everything written in this book resonates with the world today. The book and the author left a mark on me. Read it and judge for yourself.
An odd and charming fairy tale that gradually becomes darker and frightening as ghosts and gods make themselves known
The 12 Thaumas sisters live a privileged life in Highmoor, an expansive house on one of the Salann Islands. Their father is the nineteenth Duke of the Salann Islands and is newly married to Morella, his first wife having died. Tragedy seems to follow the family and the community believes the family are cursed as one by one the sisters die in mysterious circumstances. We enter the story as Eulalie is being interred in a sea cave used as a mausoleum and Annaleigh lingers behind as everyone leaves.
“Did you trip and fall?” My words echoed in the tomb. “Were you pushed?” The question burst from me before I could stop to ponder it. I knew without a shadow of a doubt how my other sisters had died: Octavia was notoriously accident-prone, even Elizabeth… Drawing a short breath, I dig my fingers into my skirt’s thick scratchy black wool. She’s been so despondent after Octavia. We’d all felt the losses, but not as keenly as Elizabeth. But no one was there when Eulalie died. No one saw it happen. Just the brutal aftermath.
The world the author has created is full of reference to the sea that surrounds the islands. They swear by the salt, pray to Pontus the sea god, are guided in religion by the High Mariner. The sea is part of all their lives.
“We, the people of the salt, come together on this special night,” the High Mariner intoned, “to give our thanks to mighty Pontus for his great benevolence, blessing us with a season of bountiful plenty. Our fishermen’s nets – filled to bursting. Our winds – strong and sure. And the starts – clear and true. Now he churns the waters, changing the season over to a time of rest, replenishing the sea, taking care of us as he has for thousands of years.”
To distract themselves from the tragedies, the sisters search for a doorway mentioned in an old tale. They unexpectedly discover it and find themselves in another world where they find a large estate with a ball taking place in the house. They join in the dancing and are mesmerised by the other participants and the escape into dancing and excitement. They are compulsively drawn back time and again until Annaleigh starts to wonder whether there is something malevolent in this other world.
My stomach churned as I watched her swirl away. Why couldn’t she sense the danger I felt? She looked as carefree as a butterfly, fluttering from partner to partner. “Dance, Annaleigh,” the dragon man urged, bringing me back to the present.
Annaleigh starts to search for the truth behind her sisters’ deaths and, a little at a time, the frightening truth unveils itself. Why is her step mother determined to conceive a male child? And why is she so upset when she is told the oldest female inherits the estate? The family, friends, step mother and world are not what they would seem.
“No!” Morella cried, struggling to stand on the uneven mattress. “No! I gave you your son. You’ve taken two of the Thaumas girls. Our deal is off. I want this bargain broken!”
A great story that gathers pace after a few chapters with some unexpected turns and a little sprinkling a unworldly love thrown in for good measure. I enjoyed the read.
One of the words that jars when I hear it is ‘gotten’. I have noticed younger people often use the word. One of my younger colleagues at work was shocked when I explained it was not a modern English (as in UK English) word and we have used the word ‘got’ for the last few hundred years. But I guess I must be getting old and don’t like change as I know the English language has always continually changed.
Gotten was originally a 17th Century English word that found its way as part of the English language to North America. The language was protected more conservatively than in England and so is still used today. As American English influences English language around the world, it is ironic to think that the originally English ‘gotten’ is slipping back into use in its original 17th Century home.
Black storm clouds gather Pitter patter Pitter patter Words like raindrops fall A shower of ideas A squall of what ifs Stormy thoughts Puddles of dreams Coalescing slowly Into a stream of imagination A ripple of consciousness Teased out From each drop A river of half remembered worlds An endless ocean of imagination Gathering around the pen Poised, ready Circling The charged atmosphere Yearning for light Dawn washes the darkness away Sunlight breaks the clouds The ink flows The words form The story’s begun
A richly described fantasy of a young man who follows his heart into a strange and beautiful magical world
I had watched and enjoyed the film a long time ago, and it was a surprise when I found the book so much more imaginative and enjoyable than the film.
Wall is an ordinary quiet English village but holds an extraordinary secret; a high grey rock wall forming the boundary between the ordinary world and the magical world of Faerie. There is a break in the wall, guarded by villagers who discourage anyone from passing into Faerie. Except, for once every nine years, on May Day, a fair is held and inhabitants of both worlds meet.
Through the gap in the wall can be seen a large green meadow; beyond the meadow, a stream; and beyond the stream there are trees. From time to time shapes and small, glimmering things which flash and glitter and are gone.
Tristran’s true love promises him anything he wants if he brings back a shooting star they have seen. He is surprised when he is allowed through the break in the wall as he starts his quest to find the star. Unbeknown to him, the star lives as the body of a young woman in Faerie, and when he reaches her he finds himself competing with others for the star and what she holds. Evil witches, unicorns, talking trees, murderous brothers (both dead and alive).
“The burning golden heart of a star at peace is so much finer than the flickering heart of a little frightened star,” she told them, her voice oddly calm and detached, coming, as it was, from that blood-bespattered face. “But even the heart of a star who is afraid and scared is better by far than no heart at all.”
The story telling is beautifully crafted, the descriptions rich and imaginative. I thoroughly enjoyed escaping and breathing this world. Recommended reading.
I wasn’t too sure I’d enjoy this story after reading the first few pages. It didn’t seem the same as the author’s extraordinary first book A Man called Ove. However, it didn’t take long before I became immersed in the rather special life of “nearly eight year old” Elsa.
Elsa is different. The kind of person who goes around with a red pen correcting the grammar and spelling in shop signs. She is rather intelligent and is bullied at school. Her granny is her one friend and, it turns out, is very different herself. The seven year old has thoughts and perceptive observations of the adults (and sometimes the children) she encounters as she tries to make sense of the world.
Dad likes to know what he’s getting. One time last year they rearranged the shelves in the supermarket near to where Dad and Lisette live, and Else had to run those tests she had seen advertised on television, to make sure he hadn’t had a stroke.
Elsa’s disfunctional granny and Elsa have a strong influence on each other. Her granny behaves irresponsibly, but wonderfully, most of the time.
Granny let off fireworks inside a hamburger restaurant and accidentally set fire to a seventeen-year-old girl who was dressed up as a clown and apparently supposed to be providing ‘entertainment for the children’. She really was entertaining, Elsa should say in her defence. That day, Elsa learned some of her very best swear words.
The book is beautifully inventive, humorous, emotional, witty, sarcastic, dark, scary and occasionally downright funny. As Elsa discovers more about her granny and how the people around her are all linked together, she manages to point out the absurdities in people’s thoughts and behaviours as well as each person’s “superhero” super power.
Her granny helps her by telling fairy tale stories, each having a meaning. The stories are interwoven with Elsa’s real life and, at times, the two seem to merge. Then some of the characters in the stories start to appear in real life.
The War-Without-End ended that day. The shadows were driven across the sea. And Wolfheart disappeared back into the forests. But the wurses remained, and to this day they are still serving as the princess’s personal guard in Miploris. On guard outside her castle.
Such imagination. Such a wealth of thoughts. All delivered in a masterful and entertaining way. Another extraordinary book from Fredrik Backman. Highly recommended.