This book is one of my favourites. I’ve read it repeatedly since first being introduced to it at school. It is beautifully written and Plath’s prose is as poetic as her poems. She has a knack for capturing the essence of anything in just a few lyrical words; from a thought or feeling to a whole situation or personality. It is one of the few books I have read that portrays someone with serious mental health issues and manages to emphasise the severity of their experience alongside their humanity, or ‘normality’ if you will. Esther Greenwood may be increasingly detached, depressed, delusional and struggling to engage with the world around her, but she is still just a girl who loves a bath.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure but I don’t know many of them.
I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath
And just try to tell me you have never stood somewhere beautiful, looked around and felt this..
I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
Plath shows you someone who is incredibly vulnerable and almost naive about life, but she is also intelligent and has had to make her own deductions about what is going on and what is expected of her. She also shows you other people’s reactions to mental health, and while some of the treatments have moved on since this was written in 1963 not all attitudes have. Continue reading “The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath”
As per usual, I had all sorts of preconcieved ideas about this book that proved to be completely wrong – if only there was a suitable book-related idiom about not judging things on appearances…
Frank and April are a married couple in 1950s America. He was meant to be ‘something’ but now works in a mundane office job he hates. She is beautiful, a trained actress and now playing the suburban wife and mother. No-one is happy. To begin with, I thought this was going to be well written but dry – from the first page I was writing down quotes in my little green book of nicely made phrases but I wasn’t really emotionally involved.
The trouble was that from the very beginning they had been afraid they would end by making fools of themselves and they compounded that fear by being afraid to admit it.
Continue reading “Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates “
This is my favourite kind of non-fiction. Armchair tourism at its best with a really funny guide who knows her stuff (mainly because she went and found the experts on said stuff). It reads as easily as fiction and has lots of personality woven through what is a pretty informative guide to the Danish lifestyle. The recurring theme of happiness matched quite nicely with my own ethos and has too many laughs to be pretentious or lecturing.
From: a friend with great taste in books
Read: while sheltering from the rain at National Trust Tyntesfield
Felt: like having a chat with a new friend over coffee and some pretty tasty Danish pastries. It was funny and moving and honest and informative. Well researched, well written and a joy to read. The whole expat palava rang painfully true.
Would recommend: highly to everyone, especially those who have lived abroad or are planning a move or anyone who likes a good laugh. So everyone then. Heads up – the food descriptions will make you really very hungry.
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A brief history of modern France as viewed and experienced by a fictional frenchman. Having bought this after falling for the cover, which is not just beautiful but soft enough to make the physical process of reading really enjoyable, it was nice to find it contained a punchy and engaging story. It was very frank and there were a lot of gritty or unpleasant moments (and characters) but it still managed to be charming. It reads like an autobiography rather than a work of fiction and includes a lot of reference to contempary events in France in each time period. It still worked in translation but probably has another layer of meaning to those with a better knowledge of the country and its history. It was interesting to see the ripples these political and national events caused in the private lives of the characters. If you dont mind unlikable characters and a lot of talk of sex, Dubois has turned an apparently unremarkable life into an interesting and thought-provoking read.
The wonderful wry tone of the narrator allows him to laugh at himself and everyone he meets while still expressing a great fondness for life.
On his childhood behaviour
The child is father to the man
On his boss
Spiridon became giddy from his adorably effervescent little sin of pride
And finally, a great quote from the Marquise de Montespen – Mistress of Louis XIV
The grandeur of a destiny arises as much from what one refuses as from what one gains
From: The French Embassy in New York. Really. Walking along the side of central park, coming out of Café Sabarsky and heading for the Frick, I stumbled across a sign saying French and English books for sale. This felt the most magical place, hidden past a beautiful marble entrance hall. I ended up buying this book in both English and French (not as pretty but a compact little thing that seems to be a standard in French publishing), an even smaller book of Rudyard Kipling’s work in French and a canvas bag with Jules Verne quotations. The French bookseller’s enthusiasm for this particular book was encouraging too!
Read: Nov 2015 in Seville over breakfast on the roof terrace.
Felt: like I was listening to someone reminiscing on their life over a bottle of red wine.
Liked: The honesty and realism with just a touch of the bizarre. The tree photography concept was also mesmerising.
Would recommend: to anyone wanting to learn more about France or French life, or to those who like life stories and books that are more than fluffy niceties.
My entire being wants to condemn this book for shoehorning every conceivable sadness into its pages, for representing India through the eyes of the empire and for being yet another book about one of the world wars. But I learned a lot. It was refreshing to see the Allies portrayed more realistically than just the glorious victorious and to highlight the racism, perpetuated by history’s omission, against the commonwealth countries that fought and died alongside the UK, USA and ANZAC forces.
It also felt important to have the hazy days of the empire cut through with the reality of a rule that could be brutal. That there was savagery on both sides was no mitigation of the atrocities committed. A recent survey about our attitudes to colonialism (will hunt down the link) shows that there is still so much ignorance in the UK on the subject and hopefully this book will encourage people to find out more.
As a novel, this is captivating writing and the characters are very real and their many flaws and terrible thoughts seem to make them all the more human and even a bit more likeable. I did spend the entire book going ‘really, more suffering? Seriously?’ and I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit when there was mention of ‘mixing races giving bad blood’. I know this may have been to highlight how ingrained prejudices were, but it makes for very difficult reading – perhaps all the more so because of it being not yet totally eradicated from society. The book served as a haunting reminder of how quick we are to trample each other for survival and forget that the ‘enemy’ is probably not the person we are facing (Mina’s character was a good example of this).
In short, it is a thought provoking but tough read. It was mercifully quite a quick read and probably worth it if you can stand the perpetual misery and have something cheerful lined up next or a lot of chocolate on hand.
From: Heathrow Terminal 5 on the way to NYC
Read: Jan 2016 in lunch breaks and through stormy evenings
Felt: Horrified, frustrated
Liked: that neither the people or the regimes were seen as flawless or wholly good or bad.
Would recommend: tentatively to those who don’t mind a grisly read