Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

I decided to have a little trip down memory lane a couple of weeks ago and picked up a copy of probably one of the most prolific children’s books in the world. I have not read this book in such a long time, and I kind of felt like it was time to reflect. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), based on a tale he created for a friend’s daughters and published in 1865. I ended up reading most of this book on a day trip to Edinburgh, in various coffee shops across the city. Definitely a good way to experience a book.

IMG_0989
Edinburgh

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: the first of the two stories follows Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in the land of the Queen of Hearts. On her adventures she meets all manner of strange creatures; the chief of which being the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts. Based upon a game of cards, the world Alice finds is complicated and plays around with logic.

Through the Looking Glass: on another little jaunt, Alice is able to pass through the mirror in her drawing room into the mirror opposite room.This time, the alternative world is based upon a game of chess, with Alice having to pass across the chessboard, passing through every square to become a queen. Both the Red and the White Queen help Alice in her voyage, whilst she meets various nursery rhyme stars.

IMG_0988
Excellent Veggie Haggis whilst enjoying the Adventures of Alice

Even as an adult this book was highly enjoyable. Yes, at many times the stories seem to be complete gobble-di-gook. But its fun, its wacky, and of course it makes a highly entertaining read. I feel with this one I don’t need to recommend, considering its massive cultural following, but I do suggest revisiting such a timeless classic.

Featured

Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh

‘Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.’

So. I watched Trainspotting, the 1996 film, a couple of weeks ago and fully enjoyed it. So much so, that I went out and bought the book. Obviously, it is one of those things that has been everywhere at the moment, what with T2 Trainspotting coming out at the beginning of this year (might I add that the book sequel is actually called Porno). I have read an Irvine Welsh novel before, Filth, and found it thoroughly enjoyable – aside from the graphic violence, twisted narrative and phonetic Scottish writing.

Trainspotting is set in Leith, Edinburgh, following Mark Renton and his friends in their social interactions and encounters with heroin. The book documents Renton’s attempts to quit the drug, and all of those who cross his path, often being sucked into his orbit. It is made up of various monologues, not only those of Renton, yet also those surrounding him – giving insight into all aspects of Leith’s drug crowd. The book was begun from several short stories Welsh wrote, giving Trainspotting a more bizarre feeling in its non-linear approach. As Renton tries to rise above his friends, many of them spiral into the lives addiction has chosen for them. It is all very powerful stuff.

Again, obviously the writing style, being a mixture of Scottish, Scotch English and just plain English can make the reading a little difficult, yet it is definitely worth sticking to. If you are somebody who has watched the film, I would definitely recommend reading this – they are both complimentary but very different entities. Some great characters are missing from the film. Most of all, Trainspotting offers an intriguing perspective on addicting and its effects on character. Renton is the classic anti-hero, but the potential of him and his friends, wasted in their situations – making him someone the reader can emphasise with.

This is a definite recommend to a friend, especially if they have only seen the film.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams

My guilty pleasure has to be science fiction. By science fiction I more specifically mean alternate universes. Think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Yet, it is only now that I have got around to reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I tried once when I was a lot longer but I just could not get into it. My Dad was the one who got me interested in Pratchett and he quite likes Hitchhiker’s Guide so I thought it was probably about time to read this. I definitely need a new book series to get into.

If you have never heard of this I am, quite frankly, surprised. When this book was first published in 1979, it was an instant bestseller in the UK. It has sold over fifteen million books in the UK, the US and Australia. It is loved by millions across the globe, and has developed a cult following.

Arthur Dent is a normal guy, on a normal Thursday, trying to prevent the demolition of his house for a new bypass. Little does he know, he should actually be concerned with another demolition that is about to occur…after the destruction of Earth, Dent may be the last human alive. Trapped with his friend Ford Prefect, who he now discovers to be an alien, on board of a Vogon demolition ship, his only comfort being the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ inscribed in friendly letters on the Hitchhiker’s Guide – a travel guide for the professional space hitchhiker. Now he must chase the meaning of life across the galaxy with a disgraced president and the cute girl from a party in Islington.

This is a classic example of the English humour I love – dry, sarcastic and brimming with underdogs in hilarious scrapes. The attention to detail creates a rich story, my particular favourites were the Babel Fish (they sit inside your ear canal and absorb brain energy aimed towards the host, spitting it back out as translated language) and Dent’s various attempts to teach the Nutri-Matic drinks machine how to make a cup of tea. My only complaint is that this book is evidently a ‘set-up’ book for the rest of the series. Not that much seems to occur, which is a tad annoying. Yet I will probably definitely read the other four in the series. Watch this space.

I would recommend this to any lovers of science fiction or that strange British witty charm.

The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov

Long time no post! – I seem to have gotten lost in the world of seminar readings and procedural essays over the last couple of weeks, reading for fun has been put on the back-burner!

I had to write a review for this book. It is rare to pick something up and love it, even for me (I seem to feel pretty positively about most of what I read). I have come across reference to Bulgakov a couple of times, particularly in relation to other Russian writers like Vladimir Nabokov. I just thought I would give it a try, as a lover of twentieth century literature – I cannot say that I was disappointed.

The Master and Margarita begins with the Devil, otherwise known as Woland, and his arrival at Patriarch’s Ponds in Moscow. From here, havoc is unleashed on the city, with everyone who encounters Satan or his followers; Behemoth the giant black cat, Koroviev the valet, Azazello and Hella the naked witch (apparently to qualify as a witch nudity is compulsory, who knew), are driven to insanity at the sight of such chaos. Thus ensues the slow destruction of the mental state of Moscow. Meanwhile, the story of Pontius Pilate and the truth of Jesus runs parallel to this tale in the work of the Master, a man driven to depression by his literary failures and left isolated from his true love and number one fan, Margarita. Lots of very strange, bizarre and frankly hilarious events unfold, before the Devil and his disciples eventually tire of Moscow.

It all sounds kind of weird, but it only took me a chapter or two, at most, to get into this novel. Whilst I was reading I felt obligated to tell everyone how great it was. That is rare for me! The writing style and wit, do not read like something written around 1928-1940, it is the definition of timeless.

I enjoyed The Master and Margarita tremendously (even enough to use the word tremendous), a definite recommend to anyone who fancies something a bit different.

 

The Vegetarian: Han Kang

Translated by – Deborah Smith

I could not tell you why I decided to read this book. During my large Waterstones order (honestly, next day delivery on books is fantastic), I happened upon it and it looked pretty interesting. The Vegetarian even won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. I have never read anything by a Korean author before and was intrigued to try this out. Han Kang is a South Korean author, who also teaches creative writing at Seoul Institution of the Arts.

This book emerged from a line of poetry from Yi Sang – “I believe that humans should be plants.” The Vegetarian is the story of Yeong-hye, a young woman who becomes convinced of her transformation into a tree. The novel is told from the viewpoints of those around Yeong-hye, her husband, brother-in-law and her sister. After Yeong-hye stops eating meat and all animal products, she embarks upon her journey towards plant-hood. Her fear of flesh leads to a sexual awakening and liberation from the constraints of human nature and obligation. Her loss of grip on reality is something that confuses and fascinates those around us, who wish to understand her freedom.

Dark is probably one of the best ways to describe this book. It is tumultuous and twisting, complex and confusing. Whilst reading this I found something gripping, yet terrible about Yeong-hye and her mental journey. The writing is haunting, something I would not normally discuss in relation to a translated works – yet I feel this is what Han Kang would have wanted. I would most definitely recommend this novel, yet I would perhaps suggest that a good head space is needed to tackle this.

 

Roald Dahl

The Complete Short Stories, Volume One: 1944-1953

No matter who you are, you have probably heard of Roald Dahl. Literally, he is one of the most prolific British authors ever. The man who brought us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and Matilda was a big part of my childhood – who did not love The BFG? For my birthday a friend gave me this collection of short stories (you all know what a big fan of short stories I am), and I was intrigued to see how Dahl writes for adult audiences.

This collection is the first in a special series of Dahl’s stories, from various magazines throughout the period. The first half of the stories are centred around the Second World War, drawing upon Dahl’s experiences as an RAF flying ace. These in themselves were intriguing, as a testimony to the proximity of death  for pilots and disillusionment with war. Often they feature the tribulations of the same squadron; following their adoption of a Greek girl on the decimation of her village, in their down time in various cities liberating brothels or whatever, and in ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, considering the legions of dead and the passage to the afterlife.

The second half is a lot more reminiscent of polite British society, with several stories featuring Brits abroad on various jaunts or participating in the last breaths of colonialism. One classic story, that I did not originally realise was Dahl’s, is the tale of a woman who murders her husband with a joint of meat, getting away with it by roasting  it and serving it up to his police colleagues.

I really enjoyed these stories. I think there is a little bit for everyone in here. It does not even need to be said that Dahl is a literary genius, yet each one was beautifully crafted. However, I do not know if this was due to the differences in subject matter, but I almost felt that this should have been two separate books. There was no cohesion, or an overarching style to the writing. Perhaps this is because each was originally piece work for magazines,not intended to be read all together.

If you know any big Roald Dahl fans, I would say that they would still definitely try some of his ‘grown-up’ stuff. I know I definitely want to read more.

American Pastoral: Philip Roth

Not exactly starting off the new year with a cheerful one!

I initially decided to read this book after having seen adverts for the film. Ewan McGregor is great in pretty much anything he’s ever been in and has played some iconic characters so I assumed this must have been special for him to make his directorial debut. I have also studied the Vietnam War many times in my academic history career and it has always fascinated me, inspiring my trip to South East Asia last year. The idea of public response to events occurring thousands of miles away, the role of media in this, and their (sometimes violent) reaction are all essential parts to understanding the war – with a vast amount of American culture having been shaped by it.

American Pastoral begins with an introduction to the ‘author’, an old schoolmate of Seymour ‘the Swede’ Levov’s, whose whole idea of the man is based upon his all-American image and simplicity. On learning the truth of the Swede’s past he chooses to tell his story, how he imagines it to be. Thus we have the motivation for this slice of ‘American history’.

The Swede’s daughter, Merry, blows up a post office. With that post office, the whole of his and his wife Dawn’s perfect American dream is shattered. The story follows the Swede’s internal monologue as he attempts to pick up the pieces and recover what little he can of himself, if only to reconcile himself with a daughter known as the Rimrock Bomber.

Although little actually happens in this book apart from the passage of time and the mundane that must occur in the aftermath of such an event, the writing perfectly encapsulates juddering reality of the Swede, as a man who has done his best to coast through a life based on dreams he thought he had achieved. The narrative is powerfully raw and yet fluid, as his control upon his life continues to slip. There is no happy ending for the Swede, something I personally found dissatisfying yet worked – the book just ends, it does not reach an ending point. This, I feel, is more realistic, as in life there is no perfect cut off point, only death.

If you are in the mood for a profound search of a man’s psyche, I recommend this for you.