Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Reflection: The Handmaid's Tale

I have finally reached the halfway mark with the one and only The Handmaid's Tale. Surprisingly, this book never made it on to any of my reading lists in grade school or university. Somehow, I have read this book until now. Not that I avoided it or felt anything towards it initially, but, after finishing this novel, I can't help but feel cheated. I feel like this novel cheated me out of a full story, and left me with an unfulfilled feeling. Yes, it is my own fault for loving the happy endings of stories, the kinds where all of the knots are tied nicely. Scratch that, I don't need it to be happily tied in a bow, just tied together. And yes, while I appreciate that this is a well established, highly esteemed novel, I am left feeling discontented and, frankly, angry.

First of all, this is definitely a novel for those who love language. It is the words that make this book (cause let’s face it, nothing really happens until, roughly, page 200). And while I enjoy language-- I have a hard time understanding sentences like:

"His face is long and mournful like a sheep's, but with the large full eyes of a dog, spaniel not terrier" (26)

Leaving the sheep aside (an animal which I have never thought as particularly mournful) what is the difference between the eye of a terrier versus a spaniel (and I ask this as a dog person)?


What is the difference? Is one more loving, more mournful, more needing? Or is she merely saying that this man, Nick, is like a dog?

This is not the only time Atwood mentions dogs, but I shan't go into all of those references in this reflection as I think I have made my initial point.

Atwood also uses this exact sentence structure when she our protagonists explains that she  " tell[s] the time by the moon. Lunar, not solar" (249). Out of curiosity, how do you tell the time by the moon solarly? Ah, well, perhaps these sentences are better left for the literary geniuses and not the general public.

The world Atwood creates is intriguing and one which the reader wants to learn more about, but part of the catch 22 is that the narrator that we are following doesn't even know about her own world because, as Atwood explains in the question and answer section at the end of the book "it would be cheating to show the reader more than the character has access to. Her information is limited. In fact, her lack of information is part of the nightmare" (398).  As the reader I say...great, just great. So we basically read about a dystopian world and **SPOILER ALERT** just when things are actually about to happen the narration/manuscript ends and we are left with an “Anne Frank effect”, of looking back through records trying to decipher, through process of elimination, what actually happened. Oh, and to top it off, we can't really make sense of anything. So what about her child, Luke, her mother, Nick, her commander, and Serena Joy? What about the eyes that just took her? What about her own fate?  WHAT IS HER REAL NAME?! The only thing that we know is that she had time after the events of the novel, to record the events. Like I said I enjoyed the world, the language was intriguing and poetic, but I am left feeling cheated

Up Next: Moby Dick

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A Reflection: Crime and Punishments

This is it, the third and final "big one". By that I mean, the final book on my Challenge List written by one of the top Russian masters and, I would have to say, out of the three: War and Peace, Ana Karenina and Crime and Punishment, it is my favourite. As I mentioned in my post of Ana Karenina, I prefer more "action" writing than description writing. I would define "action" writing as actual writing of action taking place in the novel or dialogue that drives the plot forward. This novel had much more "action" writing resulting in a good paced, forward-moving plot. Because this was a translation (due to my lack of bilingualism), I still felt that I lost a lot of what makes Dostoevsky's work so intriguing and "masterful". However, the overall plot itself was still highly interesting and fun to read.
It helps, perhaps, that I began reading this novel on Halloween. The gruesomeness of the beginning of the book fits right in with the backdrop of the annual celebration of the dead. As we follow the protagonist’s, Raskolnikov's, thoughts we are lead to believe that we are reading the story of a mad man. Given that the title of this novel is Crime and Punishment it is assumed that this novel will revolve around a crime and a punishment. We quickly identify what the crime is, but what will be the punishment? Is it his own torment of mind, his illness, or, the law? At the beginning of the novel, it is assumed the purpose of the crime is to obtain money. As the readers, we understand the destitute and desperation that many of the characters are living through, but after the crime is committed, Raskolnikov continually finds himself in situations where he is given money, and he chooses not to accept it. We actually see this even before he commits his crime when he gives the last of his money away to a family he just met. Once the crime is committed there are numerous opportunities that Raskolnikov could easily take advantage of, but subconsciously (whether he realizes that he is always avoiding these opportunities is unclear) he finds reasons to turn them down: there is his friend Razumikhin who is willing to share his work on translating pamphlets (one of which comically explores whether or not a woman is a human being) , there is the woman in the street that hands Raskolnikov a coin (although if Raskolnikov had not committed the crime he would arguably not have been in the street at this time), there is his own mother and sister who send him money...etc. Slowly, however, Dostoevsky reveals that Raskolnikov had a different motive for committing his crime, a motive that revolves around theories and geniuses! All in all, I would have to say Dostoevsky does a great job of showing the different sides of a potential mad man or genius.
Before I end this "reflection" I can't help but mention the theme of fate that Dostoevsky so cleverly entwined in his narrative. Was the crime Raskolnikov committed his destiny planned from the beginning by something greater causing him to be in, what one would argue as the right place at the right time, or a conscious choice that he made which forced him to be in those places?
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this novel.

Up Next: A Hand Maid's Tale

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Reflection: Ana Karenina

Well, what is there to say about this massive novel? This novel, famously, deals with many major topics such as women in society, fidelity, marriage, jealousy... basically a very large list of moral ideals. Tolstoy plays with the hypocrisy between men committing adultery versus women committing adultery. Initially, the modern day reader may feel that Tolstoy is (wonderfully?—if you are a woman) highlighting the unfairness in the way society treats women. Further analysis suggests, however, that it is the dramatic character that women have which prohibits them from making rational decisions upon being disloyal to their husbands. Therefore, Ana’s life which spirals downward, is simply the consequence of her revolting against the traditional role of women in society.
Because of the size of this novel, Tolstoy has enabled himself to riddle many morals and themes throughout the story without slapping the reader in the face with them, take his slight mockery of the church or religion, or the idea of forgiveness, these are tidily placed within characters and their traits, or story lines of some of the other characters.

I would have to say, overall I enjoyed the beginning of the novel and the end, but I had a hard time staying interested in the middle. My "issues" stem from a few things: a) Because I am not reading the original but rather my Kobo translation, the actual words are not as important and the emphasis is placed heavily on the story, possibly losing some of the initial brilliance of the novel. b) The story is based on the description of inner turmoil’s of characters and while there is some dialogue and events (or more “active writing”) it is not something Tolstoy focuses on, I prefer the “more active” style c) I (mistakenly) jumped at the opportunity to watch the new film of Ana Kerenina while in the middle of reading the book. While I knew that the book was rather depressing, I was not prepared for the film to omit roughly from the 50 % mark to the 75% mark of the novel. It made it difficult to go back and read everything when I already knew the outcome.

All in all, I would say this novel is definitely worth the read. Let’s face it, it’s Tolstoy! P.S Stylistically, the movie is very intriguing, but it drags.

Up Next: Crime and Punishment (for real this time)