Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Jennifer Donnelly – Revolution

Book Cover

‘Let them eat cake’ did not happen here.

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 470
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-408-80152-9
First Published: 12th October 2010
Date Reviewed: 30th April 2017
Rating: 2.5/5

Andi’s little brother, Truman, died unexpectedly a couple of years ago, and Andi is struggling to come to terms with it; it happened under her watch. Failing school and with a poor outlook on university, her father tells her she must join him on a work trip to Paris. She doesn’t want to go but Paris was the home of a historical musician she loves and her father’s friends are converting an old museum into a house; the building is full of artefacts from another time, including the diary of a girl living in 1700s Paris.

Revolution is a semi dual plot line book that looks at the horrors of the French Revolution starting from before the time of the fall of Bastille; it connects a young travelling servant’s life with a contemporary person in a not dissimilar position, one grieving her brother, the other trying to look out for a young prince. The book has a lot of promise – history in tandem with the present; the possibility of time travel that is somewhat realised – but is unfortunately plagued by very lazy writing.

Andi does not read as real. Her status in society – high – is not explored enough for you to believe it. The way she speaks does not correspond to her age. Donnelly has inserted a lot of strange non-words that heighten this – ‘parslied carrots’ – and employs the likes of the unnecessary ‘shake my head no’. Were it contained to Andi’s narrative, the laziness would not be so bad, but the 1700s Alexandrine speaks the same way, anachronisms running riot, the two girls sounding one and the same – in a literal way rather than symbolically. You could say Andi is translating it, but it still doesn’t ring true.

The information on the Revolution is the redeeming factor – this book has it in spades. The musician of Andi’s thesis may not be real (in our world) but everything surrounding him and his time is. The underground tunnels. The morbid death parties. The author’s research seeps through the pages.

In regards to the sort of time travel, it’s worth knowing that Andi is always under the influence of pills – she overdoses often – and whilst this doesn’t excuse her awful behaviour, it’s enough to wonder if she would have been such an uncaring person before. (Neither character is likeable.) The time travel concerns Andi, solely. Alexandrine’s part in the novel is limited to her diary. The diary is a bit far-fetched, with Andi reading it everywhere, including the artefacts section of a library, and not being asked about it. Her restringing of a guitar from two centuries ago using modern strings without research… thankfully this is fiction!

If you want information about the underground mausoleums in Paris, it’s worth dipping in and out of the pages, but otherwise it’s one to pass by.

Related Books

None yet

 
July 2017 Reading Round-Up

I tend to read a fair amount in the month of July, be it in the number of books I read or page count, but this time I’ve finished very little. It’s been an overcast month (being outside away from electronics helps) and seeing my nephew a lot more than usual ensured I spent more time answering multiple proliferations of questions rather than concentrating on books. Many evenings have been spent playing Monopoly and Mouse Trap. For once, I regret nothing in terms of numbers, even if I’ve now a huge pile to read post haste.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

Book cover

Susanna Kearsley: The Shadowy Horses – When Verity is offered an archaeology job in Scotland she takes it and decides to keep it even when she meets the leader of the dig who is basing his theories on supernatural events. A fair book but Kearsley leans too much on a fictional/literal Scots dictionary, constantly halting scene progression.

Book cover

Tove Jansson: Letters From Klara – A collection of short stories with a subtle underlying theme. You need to make time for it, because subtle really is the word, but it’s good.

Book cover

Zoë Duncan: The Shifting Pools – A woman who suffered war-based trauma as a child and has yet to heal goes through her grief, eventually finding herself in a fantasy world where the people require strength to fight battles. It’s difficult to sum this up well – saying there is a fantasy world sounds, well, too out there, but it really works; a wonderful book.

Duncan’s book wins this month, hands down. I loved it; the fantasy element could be considered too lengthy but the structure of the book and general way it’s all been written is exceptional. It’s worth reading the back story, the author’s childhood, that is the reason for the book.

Quotation Report

In The Shifting Pools, Duncan puts forth the concept of getting over something, healing, and studies it, saying why time doesn’t heal, it merely allows you to scab over, to find new ways to live. Stasis rather than healing.

In theory, August should be packed.

How is your summer/winter going?

 
Musings On Notebooks

A photograph of three notebooks and some pens

I’ve a lot of notebooks lying around and have filled many more that have been thrown away. All have been used for various purposes; the basic idea is to use them for reading notes and blog post drafts but inevitably at some point they also get used for ‘what to take on holiday’ and gift lists and so forth.

My view or almost relationship with notebooks has changed over the years. First I bought anything, mostly refill pads, and also used scraps of paper, to make notes on the books I wanted to review, including notes I actively wanted to include and thoughts and quotes I knew probably wouldn’t make it. I’d throw the notes away once the post was up, because why would I need them?…

Then I realised my error – I did need those thrown away notes, particularly those I’d made for general purposes; I bought notebooks with the intention of keeping them, and gave myself the ‘choice’ to slim the books down later on (if they were spiral bound).

Thirdly, I realised there was no rhyme or reason to this, and I was still using scraps of paper – often notes were split across scraps and books – and they got lost. I reverted to refill pads.

Keeping quotes I want to remember is a sort of compromise I’ve made with myself – I’ve often thought of starting a commonplace book, but putting it into practise strikes me as overwhelming. Where to start, exactly? How to categorise? And would I actually end up using any of the notes or quotes? This new refill pad that I’m not tearing pages out of – as I did all the others – is a way round that. I’ll probably digitalise them all with the caveat that they get kept – I’ve deleted lots of digit notes, too.

This refill pad is almost full so I’ll have to make a decision soon.

What do you look for in a notebook, and how do you go about using them in the context of what you need them for?

 
A Brief Word On Imagination And Description

A photograph of a door in the gardens of Hever Castle, surrounded by autumn leaves

The woman went to the sink and washed her cup. I was pulled out of the story – hadn’t she already done that? Looking through the past few paragraphs in the scene I found that she hadn’t.

I realised that as I’d been reading, I’d imagined the two women talking at the table – as the dialogue showed this was happening. I saw one taking sips of coffee as the other spoke and then the reverse, and, as often happens in reality when you’ve a friend with you in the kitchen and it’s all very casual, the home owner had left the table to rinse her mug. That I’d imagined this made me very happy; I’m not great at taking a scene and running with it; description is useful (though I agree with the fact that lots of books have too much description).

(On this note there’s a ‘condition’ in the same region as Synesthesia, called Aphantasia – the inability to create mental images. It’s an interesting thing to read about.)

The washing up brought to mind the fact that stories don’t need to ‘tell’ – even if you’re not actually imagining, you don’t need an exact run-down of what’s happening, you don’t need the minor details repeated. Perhaps that’s where the line is, between telling and showing, the line between a reader taking on the scene’s construction themselves compared to being hindered because the author won’t let them create.

How do you find the visual part of reading? Do you find yourself creating the background and context?

 
Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Herland

Book Cover

This is a difficult book to write about!

Publisher: Various
Pages: N/A
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: N/A
First Published: 1915
Date Reviewed: 12th February 2017
Rating: N/A (Historical value is significant but it’s not the best book out there)

Van and his friends are exploring new regions and during their travels they are told of a land bereft of men. Highly intrigued, they make for that country for different reasons. Terry thinks he’ll conquer the ladies, Jeff thinks it all sounds marvellous, and Van is simply interested. It might not turn out as they expect, particularly for Terry.

Herland is a science fiction utopia novella – a sociological text – that looks at what might happen if men were not around. Understandably based around early 20th century American society – and a lot of academia – there is much to recommend it today both in terms of the history of feminism and eternally relevant concepts. There is also a lot to be said for reading it in our modern day where, in our further cultural and scientific progress, some of the concepts are more poignant and relevant than they were in Gilman’s day.

Herland asks many questions under the umbrella subject of womanhood. What is a woman? What is femininity and how much is nature versus nurture? How much should motherhood (back then almost an inevitability) impact upon a woman’s life?

Gilman’s narrator is a man, Van, and he is joined by two others. In the trio, the author makes use of different personalities in order to be able to fully explore her ideas in the context of her fictional world as well as to pull it apart both in favour of it and not so. Van is somewhere on the middle of a scale; he’s critical of both his friends who in turn represent viewpoints at the extremes, one of them loving Herland a lot. Jeff doesn’t take long to align himself with the country, indeed he is presented, once the trio get there, as a major ally of it. Gilman, through narrator Van, questions the wisdom of falling completely for the female-only society, always leaning towards equality for both genders. Jeff takes Herland in his stride and as the novel continues you can see Gilman’s questions – is Jeff’s a complete submission, his almost ‘mummy’s boy’ approach a good one?

Then there’s Terry. Granted, Terry goes through a cycle of changes that’s in favour of Gilman’s ideas – which I’ll get to in a moment – but on the whole in Terry you have a ‘man’s man’ who thinks all the women will love him and submit to him. Gilman wants you to see that both Terry and Jeff’s views are problematic, Van, too, to various extents.

Terry’s change, from ‘man’s world’ to a bit more ‘woman’s and man’s world’ is never completed – Gilman does make him more amenable for a time but it’s in her continued decision to not change him completely (she shatters his good progression to major effect) that you can see her thought that equality is best – and in fact Gilman uses him to show the increasing realisation that women can do just as good a job in traditionally male work. It’s a slow development but there is a distinctive span of time between Terry’s reckoning that the female-only country will be ‘savage’ and his statement in which he terms the people ‘highly civilised ladies’.

On the question of what femininity is, there is much. Gilman builds it up, as she does her exploration of ‘people’, speaking of Terry’s description of ‘real women’ (those in his society) and using character development to say the following through Van:

This led me very promptly to the conviction that those ‘feminine charms’ we are so fond of are not feminine at all, but mere reflected masculinity – developed to please us because they had to please us, and in no way essential to the real fulfilment of their great process.

Gilman looks at the differences between Herland women and American women, the way Herland’s are the equivalent of American men. She doesn’t go too far into the idea that Terry, Jeff, and Van should do the housework, too, but the point is made: a woman doesn’t have to conform to society expectations to be a woman.

Where Gilman looks most critically at her creation is on the subject of motherhood. She uses the real world expectation in her fictional one, taking it to the extreme so that becoming a mother is the absolute be all and end all of life, it’s just that they happen to live full lives otherwise. (She has by this stage built up your imagination of the world enough that you can see the patriarchy and western concept of manhood aligning perfectly with this taken-to-the-extreme concept of motherhood.)

The country revolves around motherhood. It’s the highest, best thing, a woman – a person – can live for; it’s a religion. It’s both a clever criticism of the west and a criticism of itself:

“The only thing they can think of about a man is Fatherhood!” said Terry in high scorn. “Fatherhood! As if a man was always wanting to be a father!”

Motherhood is where the novella meets its biggest present day opposition. The basic history of the land is science fiction – it might even disappoint you because Gilman takes a giant definite leap towards fantasy, away from real world concepts. Herland women started experiencing immaculate conceptions and this reproduction produces only females. The contention today is in the continual effect of that propagation (because it’s now natural) – in order to not become overwhelmed by overpopulation, the highest people in Herland decreed that some women must ‘suppress the urge’ to reproduce and leave it to a select number of chosen women. Some women are so favoured they have more than one child.

The criticism itself comes in where Gilman places what we would now call a cheeky child outside of the circle of those chosen to later be mothers. If you combine this concept with Herland’s success at eradicating disease, illness, harm, it’s not the happiest picture, despite that this eradication of suffering is for the benefit of everyone in the land.

(The interesting thing about the views of children, in general, displayed here is Gilman’s view of how the west treats them: ‘no Herland children ever met the overbearing rudeness we so commonly show to children’.)

So disability and mental illness become suspect, too. Gilman does not speak of it outright – the illnesses she mentions read as cold and flu – but it creates unease, particularly in the context of today. It’s much like the situation surrounding Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre – you have to consider where prejudice as we view it meets what were average societal thoughts back then and come to your own conclusion.

Gilman says little directly about race. Terry calls the people who reside next to Herland ‘savages’ but given his character in general, in the context of the book it’s hard to say that this is Gilman’s view. Gilman’s Herland could be ethnically mixed; again it’s down to the reader. (I will note here that the question of the author’s views on race are answered in the next book. Since I wouldn’t recommend reading the next book I’d propose you read essays about her instead.)

Herland is an enjoyable read on an entertainment level, at least in terms of being entertained by history and barriers being broken, but it’s not something to read to escape daily life. It demands you think – that is it’s very purpose – and it’s a book you’d be hard pressed not to take a thousand notes on. It has its faults, it has its dated aspects, but it is a triumph in terms of progressive thinking. The only thing really amiss is the ending – the book finishes almost mid movement, but there’s a sequel that continues where the flying machine takes off.

Related Books

Book coverBook cover

 

Older Entries Newer Entries