A Room With a View, by E. M. Forster

Every once in a while, I turn back to a book that I enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy at all) in my  early teenage years, only to find that my experience of the book has completely changed.

So it was with A Room With a View. While I didn’t read the book until I was about 16, I believe I must have first watched the film when I was about 10 (and this is one of those instances where the film is astonishingly loyal to the book).

A Room With a View

This was the first film I saw Helena Bonham-Carter in, which has made her subsequent films quite startling.

When I first watched and read A Room with a View, it was in the same sort of way that I generally read classic romances (a dreadful habit I need to get out of): as a character study with a love story in it. I think that A Room with a View  can still definitely be read in this way – after all, there are so  many interesting characters in this novel.

However, this is the first time I have read the book, and felt something deeper in it – understood a sort of moral standing within it, I mean, which can definitely be applied to one’s own life. In this instance, the novel suggests a way of living that is true to yourself, and true to decency, while disregarding the niceties of society.

The View

The story follows Lucy Honeychurch, a young woman who is travelling in Europe with her poor older cousin, Miss Charlotte Bartlett. The two of them are shocked to meet two men in their Pensione in Florence who not only come from the working class, but also disregard tact – when they mention dissatisfaction with the room they’ve been given, the men (Mr Emerson and his son George), immediately offer them their own room in exchange. Note: this is considered inappropriate because it leaves the two women beholden to strange men.

While they are in Florence, Lucy finds herself in a number of situations which challenge her ideas of how to behave; she is separated from her chaperone while exploring the city, witnesses a murder, and finally finds herself being kissed by George, in a field above Florence. Charlotte convinces her that George views this as an exploit, and they leave.

In the second part of the book, Lucy returns home with her new fiance Cecil (in the film, played by Daniel Day-Lewis).

Cecil

This was also the first film I saw Daniel Day Lewis in – which made all his other film roles even more of a shock than those of Helena Bonham-Carter.

Cecil is a bit of a snob – he looks down on her friends and family as being too middle-class, closed-off, and not interested enough in the higher things of life (such as art and music). He is actually a fascinating character: he doesn’t become a villain at any point, when it would be very easy to make him one. Nor is he particularly ridiculous. His one fault is that he is a restraining influence on Lucy, wanting her to fit into a particular mould, mix with particular people and live in a particular way.

I will leave the ending to you to discover, but I will say that this is a wonderful book, both as a character study of Edwardian society, and as a way of understanding a radical lifestyle lived in an unobtrusive manner. It is well worth reading, and also very short. Also, the film is lovely.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Neuromancer is an interesting book – I had to go through most of it twice before I cottoned on to what the plot was.

Neuromancer

Normally, this would be a major issue for me. After all, shouldn’t it be fairly obvious what a book’s plot is? But actually, the novel’s randomness and its refusal to answer questions works well with its themes: just as the main character can sometimes not distinguish between reality and what is happening in his own head, so it takes you, as a reader, a while to understand what is going on. And, by a while, I mean most of the book.

The novel is set in a future world in which virtual reality has grown to become a much more immersive experience. It follows Case, a young ex-computer hacker  who had his central nervous system (which is essential for working in the matrix), damaged by some previous employers he had robbed. He is searching for a way to repair that damage so that he can return to the matrix, but this seems to be an impossible feat.

MatrixCode

Not *that* Matrix! (a little bit that Matrix)

Luckily for him, he is hired by an ex-army man who wants him for “a job” (exactly what the job is is, I think, never really specified at the time). The man in question is incredibly wealthy and has the resources to fix his broken systems, as well as take him around the world, and into orbit, in order to complete the job he’s been chosen for.

Gibson’s imagination, in creating the various cities and space habitats that litter his universe, is admirable and intricate, and the book is worth reading for his descriptions of future styles and mores. The novel’s characters have the strange, slightly disconnected feel to them that I have often noticed  in high science-fiction, and which can be a bit of a turn-off (if you’re looking for people to have feelings of happiness, love, or motivations beyond themselves, this is not the novel for you).

 

A Brief Note on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I went to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last night, as my Valentines Day treat. I expected it to be ridiculous, silly, action-y fun.

It wasn’t.

It was actually really good.

The film maintains the mannerisms of Jane Austen’s characters the whole way through, adding new touches that come about with the zombie apocalypse (for example, it is now fashionable to travel to the far east in order to study martial arts; the most fashionable people go to Japan, while the less fashionable go to China – so there is some snobbery about Eliza being unable to speak Japanese).

It makes friendly digs at the original text, as well as at the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (Mr Darcy dives into the lake!). However, it does not go too far in parodying the source material, and strays from making the very obvious jokes.

The costume design is also fantastic. The filmmakers have put real thought into how Regency ladies might fight zombies (there’s a sentence you don’t see every day!) without simply updating their clothing  – and there was surprisingly little sexing-up of the main characters.

The plot can be a little confusing at times, but it all makes sense in the end. Even if it wasn’t, though, anything can be forgiven when you introduce Lena Headey as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a famous zombie slayer.

Lady Catherine du Bourgh

We first see her standing on a mound of corpses.

If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice, go and see it. It is brilliant, and deserves a lot of recognition.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley

When Thaniel, a Victorian telegraphist for the Home Office, finds a mysterious watch in his apartment, he becomes a little nervous. When the watch’s alarm sounds moments before a bomb explodes – saving his life when he goes outside to silence it – he realises that not only was he right to be nervous, but now he might be in deep trouble.

In his attempts to find out where the watch came from, and why the alarm sounded moments before the bomb exploded, he meets Mori, a Japanese watchmaker. Mori is an extraordinary man: not only is he so gifted with clockwork that he has created an entirely lifelike clockwork octopus, but he is also strangely good at knowing exactly what Thaniel is about to say…

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

This was an excellent read (or should I say “listen”, as again I have been lazy and listened to it on Audible while doing the washing up). It combines an interesting blend of history and science fiction, without sacrificing one for the other. In addition, the “science” in it, which is based on a real, although now disproven, theory, is something that I’ve not seen explored in this way before. Sadly, the novel does not always stick solidly to its own scientific rules, but this is only in a couple of small remarks which can easily be ignored. The rest of the time, it’s an incredibly interesting idea.

The friendship between Thaniel or Mori (or is it friendship?) is absolutely wonderful, as well. Pulley places a lot of emphasis on the little things which allow the two to show affection for each other, such as their drinking tea together or checking that the other is all right. The writer of this review makes an excellent point when he says that male friendship is rare in literature; I’m not sure I have read such an excellent male relationship since Lord of the Rings.

feb19_frodo_and_sam_leaving_shire

It’s like this, but if Sam didn’t work for Frodo.

The book does take a little while to get into. Thaniel’s character, before he meets Mori, is quite dull, while Grace, the main female character, is completely obnoxious. I spent the first few chapters worrying that I would have to spend all my time with these people, but rest assured that they become a great deal better and more interesting once the plot kicks in.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street comes highly recommended. It is interesting in both a philosophical and a historical sense. Also, it has made me really, really want a clockwork octopus.

Blue-Ringed-Octopus-Pictures

Preferably a cute one.

Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf – a review

Mrs Dalloway is an odd book for me; it’s a sort of novel that I think one ought to read (and I think this rarely about books), rather than a novel one might enjoy. On the other hand, I really like it, but I can’t exactly say why.

Virginia Woolf

The reason for my ambiguity about this particular novel is due to Woolf’s writing style for it, which is highly unusual. It is a sort of stream of conscious narrative mixed with free indirect discourse, so that the narrative voice, remaining in the third person, can enter into and out of memories and thoughts without a pause. I’m aware this has become a bit technical, and very likely I have got it wrong somewhere, so here’s the opening of the novel so you can see what I mean:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.

The actual plot of Mrs Dalloway is one that is largely focused on Clarissa’s domestic matters: she is organising a party. At the same time, Woolf tells the story of Septimus Warren Smith, an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. The novel rests on the inner workings of the characters we meet, their thoughts and memories, and the things that they generally are not saying to each other.

It’s odd: I feel that usually I would be depressed by a book like Mrs Dalloway, with Septimus’s plot about mental illness and Clarrisa’s thoughts being largely about the various disappointments, little and big, that life holds. There is something about the book, though, that, through showing the internal loneliness of others, makes me feel somewhat less isolated.

Mrs Dalloway is a beautifully written book, and the reason I think everyone should read it is simply because the style is so interesting, and the scenes she describes are so vibrant and realistic (from the point of view of the characters witnessing said scenes) that it provides an entirely different outlook on what literature can be, and can be used for. It is also interesting in that it addresses issues of mental health and some queer issues, although I should add as a small warning that it might be triggering for people with PTSD and similar mental health problems. It is a short book, one that might be read in a few afternoons, and I believe that it is definitely worth that time.

The Return of the King, by J. R. R. Tolkein

Let’s be honest here – I’ve already recommended the previous two books, so I was always going to recommend this one. You might as well read to the end of the trilogy, after all.

This was, sadly, the book that I got the most bored by. Partly because I think the films correlated the most closely to the first half of the book, so there wasn’t that much that was new, and partly because a lot of the plot is Samwise and Frodo walking.

feb19_frodo_and_sam_leaving_shire

And walking.

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Then they get tired. But still they walk.

I do so love their friendship, though.

I do so love their friendship, though.

Eventually (spoilers!) they make it, and throw the Ring of Power into the fires of Mount Doom.

But this is not nearly the end! There is an interesting bit back at the Houses of Healing, where the injured, including Eowyn and Faramir still believe the end is nigh.

And then… the Shire happens. This is just so different to everything in the film, which suggests that the Shire is totally untouched by the wars, and it works as a place of refuge for the weary travellers. No, instead our Hobbit friends return to the Shire to find it being ruled over by Men, who ensure the Hobbits are downtrodden by a list of Rules that favour the Men over the Hobbits. They have a mysterious leader called ‘Sharkey’ and have completely ruined the environment of the Shire, digging up the trees and creating a mill purely for the purposes of pollution.

I think I can only say, once again, that if you enjoyed The Lord of the Rings films it is definitely worth reading the books. While some moments can drag a little, and it might end up getting you addicted to smoking (my word, Tolkein makes pipe weed sound appealing!) there is a different tone to the books, as well as additional storylines and moments of interest, that make the entire trilogy well worth your time.

Seriously, the man loved to smoke.

Seriously, the man loved to smoke.

The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien

One of the major themes of The Lord of The Rings trilogy that I think was missed out a bit in the films is the environment and its changes. This can be seen the most in the second book of the trilogy, The Two Towers. Why? Because it’s the book where we meet the Ents.

Ents!

Ents!

Ents! What can I say, I was dreading reading this book. I found the film Ents the most boring things ever, with their tediously long discussions of whether or not they should join in the battle and actually do something. (To be fair, I was 10 when I first watched it, and really into classic fairy tales. I was looking for something more action-y and less council-y.)

Reading about the Ents though, that was a different matter. I love them. For one thing, Merry and Pippin go on a walk in the woods with a young Ent instead of having to listen to the conversation, and also their minds are pretty much made up as soon as the hobbits ask for their help.

And they're adorable!

And they’re adorable!

The Ents have been thinking about taking action for quite some time now. There’s a really beautiful moment with one young Ent, Bregalad, who has been described as being pretty cheerful and good company, reflects on the loss of the rowan trees he’s been caring for. In addition, the Ents have learned that they need to be more proactive, after they managed to lose all the Entwives.

Apart from the Ents, so much of this book has the characters reflecting on the devastation of the natural world that has been caused by Sauron and his allies. While this is definitely shown in the film, I got the impression that Mordor and it’s surroundings had always looked like that. The book says explicitly that the land used to be beautiful and is now hideous. So, once again, I think there is good reason for reading the book even when you’ve seen the film. There may be things you have missed!