Book Review - Arcadia by Lauren Groff

There are times when I start to read a novel and by the first sentence I am completely hooked, reluctant to put it down and always thinking about the next moment that I will have a free minute so that I can pick it up again and continue to read the story. There are other times when I read a few pages and lose interest, dropping it down on the pile of books on my nightstand, sometimes going back to it on another day, other times just leaving it there until it makes it's way back into one of my book cases. And then there are the times that I start a book, and have a little trouble in the beginning, but keep at it, because I know deep down that it is going to be a gem of a story, one that will hold onto my heart for a long time. Arcadia by Lauren Groff falls into the latter category.

Set in three different periods of time, Arcadia follows little Bit's life, from when he is born into a commune named Arcadia in the late 60's, through his early 30's in New York City and then finally back in Arcadia in his 50's. Born to Abe, a pillar of the Arcadian community, and Hannah, strong and beautiful but prone to bouts of debilitating depression, the only life Bit knows until his early teens is that of Arcadia. A commune based on utopia ideals that works and then falls apart, where everyone works together to create a place where the rules of the outside world are not needed in order to survive. Where music and love and hard work create a home where happiness is meant to be prevalent, and politics, hypocrisy and hatred are non-existent. Arcadia works well in a confined place with a small amount of inhabitants but once it becomes popular the population grows and grows, and the ideals inevitably start to crumble. We see Arcadia through Bit's eyes and hear it's music through Bit's ears, we become part of his life, ask the same questions as him, love his friends the way he loves them and fall in love with the troubled Helle, the girl and then woman who occupies his heart even when he doesn't want her to, when he does. When Arcadia falls apart Abe and Hannah decide to take their son out into the world, before they are crushed by the consequences, and Bit has to learn how to live as most people live, away from the protection of the commune and from the freedom he always knew.

Groff's prose is absolutely beautiful. Her descriptions of Arcadia are stunning and so realistic you can only imagine being there; however, it is the way that she portrays love, heartbreak and pure sadness that really hit me in the stomach. We all know these feelings all too well, but when the prose you are reading actually makes you feel the exact emotions the main character is feeling, down to the very core, something special happens. It's as if it releases something inside of you, a mixture of pure sadness and the realization that you have touched something very beautiful and very clear. I hope that one day my own writing can create the same type of feeling in others, because there is something so incredible about how this type of writing continues to make you feel, days after you have finished the book. Groff has an amazing talent, and I hope she continues to create such wonderful stories for us.

Arcadia is not only a terrific story in itself, it is also, in my opinion, a stunning piece of literature.

Lauren Groff's Website

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I don't even know where to start with this. This novel has so many layers and depths. Every time you uncover another depth or peel away another layer you can't help but sit back and bask in the absolute greatness of it all. This isn't just a good book, it's an amazing piece of modern literature, a work of art. I never doubted Eugenides talent, but this is honestly him at his best (in my opinion). This may be because a lot of the story lines hit home. It wasn't just that I completely related to the characters, more that I felt that there were huge parts of me in all of them. Or maybe huge parts of them in me? Who knows. Let's start with the first paragraph...

"To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a dmidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoutable Brontë sisters. There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov. There were the Colette novels she read on the sly. There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-size but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn't trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for "Artistic" or "Passionate", thinking that you could live with "Sensitive", secretly fearing "Narcissistic" and "Domestic", but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: "Incurably Romantic."

I already identified with Madeleine from the first lines. Add some Hardy, Tolstoy, Byron, Rimbaud, Keats, de Nerval and Baudelaire in there and it could have been me. Sitting in a room surrounded by novels that depict love lost and found, heartbreak and happiness within pages and pages of beautiful words has always been my safe place - as it seems to be Madeleine's. Although I feel I am still more pulled towards the darker side, more Hardy and Tess than Austen and Emma. But anyway, am going to try to not to get sidetracked and talk about myself as usual, as I doubt Eugenides wrote this novel with me in mind...

Madeleine is writing her thesis on the marriage plot in 19th century Victorian literature (think Jane Austen's work as a prime example), and how with the changes in society (divorce etc) and marriage not being as important as it once was, the novel itself seems to have slightly lost the plot (so to say). By depicting Madeleine's real life love triangle with her manic-depressive boyfriend Leonard and her friend who happens to be madly in love with her, Mitchell Grammaticus, Eugenides reinvents the marriage plot in it's modern form and gives us a good dose of the modern mixed with the classic, with twists and turns that you cannot even expect to expect, right down to the last page.

Leonard is the one character I so wanted to despise, but just couldn't. Eugenides has a very clear view of what manic-depression does to people, and the picture he portrays of Leonard is one that way too many of us go through every day. (FYI the novel is set in the early 80's, so all of the older terms of this illness and medication are used in the novel). Some times you just want to shake Leonard and tell him to snap out of it, other times you just want him to do the right thing and disappear, leaving Madeleine to live a happier life with someone like Mitchell. Mitchell, on the other hand, is just as lost as the other two, travelling around Europe and India, searching for his spiritual self while pining after Madeleine at every waking moment. Every time you feel like you finally know one of the characters they turn round and show you another side of themselves, just like people in real life. Nothing is ever exactly how it seems and failure to communicate correctly can lead to disastrous as well as spectacular experiences. However many times you think that you know the outcome, it most often doesn't fall quite into place the way you would like it to - which is not always a bad thing. And then sometimes, once in a while, it all just works out perfectly, even if this wasn't what you thought you wanted.

I don't want to talk more about the plot of the novel, as I think everyone will have their own feelings about this, but not only is this a wonderful story, beautifully written, it's also a great psychological insight and social study on how we all react and communicate (or not) with each other on a daily basis. You can protect yourself from everything to avoid pain, but in the end there will always be some cracks in the armour. A serious must-read in my books.

Book Review: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

In August 2005 I had been living in the States for less than 6 months and was still getting used to the life of finally having my own apartment (tiny place in Spanish Harlem) and a corporate job, as well as just life in general in NYC. I couldn't afford cable TV at that point, so would watch the news every day on the "regular" TV channels, trying to figure out what was important and what was not as important. I'd never lived in a country where hurricane season actually caused damage, and was following the formation and tracking of all of the tropical storms and hurricanes with avid interest. When Hurricane Katrina went from a category 1 to a 3 and then a 5 in a short period of time, and looked like it was heading right for New Orleans and the surrounding areas I did wonder what would happen when it finally made landfall. I never thought it would create the absolute destruction and devastation that it did. Obviously I wasn't the only one to think that way either, but then again, I really had nothing to compare it to, never having been in a hurricane myself.

Salvage the Bones takes place over 12 days in August, 2005 in the Mississippi town of Bois Sauvage. 9 days before Katrina hits, the days of the hurricane, and then the aftermath. It's the story of a family of four children and their father, the mother long gone, taken away by death at the birth of her last child. Esch, the main character, speaks in the first person, and the story is mainly hers, spoken from her eyes and mind. Esch is the third child and the only daughter, looks up to her brothers Skeetah and Randall, and looks out for the youngest, Junior. Their father is bringing them up in the only way he knows how, often drunk and often aggressive, but still trying, in his own way. The children are fiercely loyal and protective, and live how they can; Randall intent on getting a basketball scholarship to get him out of the town, Skeetah obsessed with his prize fighter pitbull China and her puppies, Esch wondering how she can keep her pregnancy from everyone and Junior trying to grow up without ever having known his mother.

The father knows that a big storm is heading their way and can feel that it's not going to be like any other storm they have had to face over the past few years. The kids only half listen to their father's fears but help prepare as much as they can, boarding up windows, saving water, buying non-perishable food... When the evacuation call comes in they just put the phone right back down again, as they know there is nowhere else to go but brave the storm at home. But when the hurricane finally hits it is worse than expected, and all of their survival instincts kick in to face the destruction together, as the family they have always been.

The story is heart-breaking, but very realistic: the poverty, the loyalty, the love, the survival and the ability to face destruction and continue with life as you know it, just because there is no other option. The writing in the present tense just amplifies the life in the moment-feel and the way the family lives to survive each day, together, despite whatever they may come across, or whatever comes across them. Amidst the destruction there is still an element of hope that everything will be allright in the end. I literally bawled my eyes out in several sections of the novel, and Ward really doesn't hold back - there are certain scenes where you just want to close your eyes while reading so you don't have to imagine them so vividly. Read this book if you are not scared of reading about real life in the South, because that's what it's all about.

Jesmyn Ward's blog HERE

Short Story: Paris and the Garden Gnomes

A story I wrote based on a trip to Paris back in the 90's...

"En attendant mieux vaut se consacrer aux autres qu'à un nain de jardin" – Amélie Poulain

Neuilly, sometime in the late 90’s. 

Neuilly is in a posh part of Paris. I don’t think we can really call it a suburb, more like a posh area, stuck on to the rest of Paris. You take the ligne jaune, 1, Métro towards La Défense, and get out in a place that is obviously still a city but that also feels quiet and rich and old moneyish. Not the type of area that I was brought up in or lived, or even a place I really feel comfortable in. But it’s pretty, and M. had friends who lived there, and they let us stay during our first trip to Paris together. It’s not like we could ever have afforded to actually stay in a hotel or a hostel – the TGV ticket and some spending money were about all we could muster together. But it was worth it. Five days in the most beautiful, magical city in the world, roaming the streets of Paris, sitting by the Seine and contemplating life, drinking wine on the quai, watching all of the people walk by,  busy with their lives, while we had the time to sit and watch and wonder.
We learnt little tricks to save money: grab your coffee “au comptoir” to pay a “regular” price; get cappuccinos at McDo so you could take one along with you on your way. Eat a brie sandwich from the boulangerie and then go to Le Chat Noir in Pigalle to share a dessert and drink more coffee at a table. Cheap wine is easy to come by; we were never looking to savour it, just to get drunk and happy. That floating feeling of peace is something that only wine and youth can bring, sometimes I try to find it again and nearly always miss it in my rush to get there. Sipping wine straight from the bottle, waiting for that slow but steady rise of ivresse that starts in your stomach and ends in your head: warmth, serenity and bubbles of happiness and laughter. Red, white or rose, it really depended on my mood. Red was for those winter days, when I needed something warmer and stronger, white for the spring and summer, lighter and easier to drink, and rose for those days when I couldn’t stomach red or white. Probably after long week of drinking really cheap wine (as opposed to just cheap wine). The quality of cheap wine in France is what you would probably see as medium quality anywhere else… Very cheap wine is what you could equal to vinegar anywhere. Assume about 10 to 15 francs would get you a bottle of drinkable wine from an epicerie arabe. Wine and Gauloises Blondes (no way I could afford my favourites, Marlboro Lights, in my years of being a poor student), and the evening was all set to be a success.
On our last evening in Paris we decided not to sleep. We had to catch an early morning train and why would we waste our last hours in Paris sleeping when we could enjoy the magical air for a few more hours? We had dinner in a brasserie, drank some wine and walked around the Seine for a few hours before the last métro back to Neuilly. We had already planned our evening in advance and had bought some bottles of wine to drink through-out the night, with the plan of falling asleep on the TGV on the way home to ease the sadness of leaving Paris behind, for boring old Grenoble (Grenorrible). I find it difficult to drink in a contained space. I need to run, to sing, to jump, to create silly plans of action and play pranks on people. I need to jump in streams, pick city flowers and hug statues of great musicians of times gone by. I find it difficult to sit in one bar all night without running around in the streets, moving to other places and seeing different people. I like to feel free.
Neuilly was so quiet after midnight. As the lights went out one by one in the different apartments and houses around us, calm seemed to descend on the neighbourhood. Too calm. Meaning that the neighbourhood was in dire need of some decadence as Melusine and I would affectionately call our nights out. Decadence was whatever the night would bring, no one could determine it, but it would usually mean some kind of act that would make us laugh for days and days. Neuilly was too quiet for us, so all that could mean was that we were going to leave Paris with a bang.
Walking through the empty streets, singing Mylène Farmer songs, talking about boys and men and Romantic poets dead and gone from this earth (but not from our hearts), about how we want to move to Paris and live there, amongst the old buildings and the anonymity. One day, maybe one day. The grass may not be greener in Paris, but it sure is more appetizing…
“I can’t believe we didn’t find the exact place were Nerval killed himself. We had the map and the exact location!”. M. was peeved about this, as we wanted to see the area.
“I think we got it right”, I said, knowing that we had found the right alley, just that it had been closed off and added to a building over the course of the years. “In any case, we were right there, right where he took his life, right there were he gasped his final breath.”
M. contemplated this and nodded in agreement. We walked along, in silence, for a few minutes.
“J… Look at that garden!!”
“It’s full of garden gnomes! They are all looking at us! I think they need to go on a trip. Are you thinking what I am thinking?!”
“I think they need to go on a trip to see the Coureurs de Jupons in Grenorrible!”.
That was it; the idea had formed simultaneously in our minds, now it was just time for us to hatch out a plan. Three nains de jardin to be removed from a garden in peaceful Neuilly. Easy work, as long as we were discreet and quiet. M. tried the gate first but it was too noisy so she hopped over the fence and helped me over. Once in the garden we tiptoed over to the gnomes, picked one each, and a third one for good measure, tiptoed back to the fence, climbed back over, looked at each other and legged it down the street to the nearest corner, M. with a gnome under each arm, me holding it close to my chest while I ran. Breathless but hysterically laughing at this point we couldn’t believe that we had pulled it off. The ultimate prank, better than letters of disgust written on toilet paper and stuck to their front door. Better than locking ourselves in their bathroom during parties and taking baths for hours on end when people were waiting to pee. Better than switching their doormats with everyone else’s in the building. Better than playing knock a door run every night of the week. Even better than finding a shopping trolley in the street and carrying it up three flights of stairs and leaving it in front of their door. This was going to be the epic prank. A stunt no one else would have thought to play, except for two slightly crazy girls from Grenorrible.
The gnomes were wrapped in sweaters and placed on the overhead luggage racks in the TGV. Not even 7 o’clock in the morning, and it was time for us to say our last goodbye to Paris, coffee and croissants in our hands. It was impossible to cover the gnomes completely (they weren’t the smallest you could find; we are talking nice big smiling garden gnomes. The ones that stand out in your garden amidst the flowers and trees). Even wrapped up in sweaters their bright red hats were poking out of the top, and every time either of us looked up at the luggage racks we burst into laughter. Nothing remotely abnormal about two girls jumping on a train on a Monday morning amongst all of the business travelers in their suits, plonking three barely concealed garden gnomes above their heads and proceeding to sleep through the three hour journey back home.
Once at Gare Europole we walked to Boulevard Gambetta to make the first stop before going home, the final part of the prank. The building door was open as usual (although we would have had no qualms about ringing on all of the buzzers until someone opened it, our usual technique).
“Shhh! We need to be really quiet. They can’t catch us, because if they do it will all be ruined!” I was beginning to be a little paranoid and was worried the whole trick would be discovered before we could finish it.
“Ne t’inquiètes pas! It’s too early for any of them to be up, and if they are they are already in class. Let’s just try not to laugh while we get this done!”
For once M. seemed less worried than me, an unusual occurrence seeing as I was normally the more reckless of the two of us. Or maybe the one with the more reckless ideas, but more responsible in the way that I always knew exactly what I was doing and why. M. would follow along, sometimes with even more grandiose and evil ideas, but mainly not as aware of the consequences if we were caught. Of course I don’t mean real crime, but we were always up to no good, running around the streets drinking wine from the bottle, singing at the tops of our voices, crashing random parties we would find along the way, taking any alcohol we could find and running away. Sitting on statues and talking crap to random passers-by. Once we even made some poor guy kneel in front of the Berlioz statue and recite the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end. Memories…
Once we got to the third floor we arranged the gnomes in a semi-circle in front of the door, so that they all looked towards the door. We didn’t even bother to leave a note, because who else would have thought of doing this? We then rang the bell and pounded on the door a few times and ran as fast as we could down the steps, racing out of the front door, grabbing our own luggage along the way, hoping that we would make it out of the building before anyone saw us. I think we did. Ultimate prank pulled off to perfection.
I only wish that I had been a little fly on the wall when one of the guys opened the door. Happy Monday from three Parisian garden gnomes! 

Slut angel selling acid punch
Dominatrix with a submissive glance
Botticelli with a tattooed bust – Fluffy, Crossdresser

Book Review: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I just finished this one on the subway home from work, after starting it yesterday. I have to write about it now, even though I have a million things to do to prepare for my trip to England on Tuesday morning (working 8 days in a row and then picking up an extra shift tomorrow night isn't giving me much time to do laundry, pack, clean the apartment, go to the bank, print the eulogy and my tickets etc etc). I just have to write about this one now because I want to do it while it is still fresh in my mind.

No wonder this novel won the National Book Award. It's AMAZING. The story is about several lives that are intertwined in NYC in the 70's: Corrigan and his brother Ciaran, Irish immigrants living in the Bronx, Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, two prostitutes in the Bronx that Corrigan looks after, Clare and her husband Solomon, parents who are mourning the untimely death of their son in Vietnam, Lara and her husband, artists who are still looking for themselves through art and drugs, as well as quite a few others, lesser characters, but just as important and interesting.

Colum McCann starts the story with Philippe Petit's incredible feat of walking between the Twin Towers on a cable, and proceeds to use this as a back story for all the entire book. On the day that Petit walks across the wire different events happen that will change the lives of all characters for the rest of their lives. Although the narrative goes back in time and into the future to give background on some of the characters and events, the main storyline is based in this week in August 1974.

Rich, full of emotion and feelings that everyone can empathise with, this book is literally magical. Not only that, it creates a real vision of NYC, one that really exists, a city of everything, paradoxical and alive, one that anyone who has lived in NYC will immediately recognise. It's going to take me a while to get this book out of my mind, I think I am still a little overwhelmed.

At the end of the edition I read there is an interview with McCann by Nathan Englander. One of the questions was "Let The Great World Spin paints a broad picture of New York. Do you want to talk about the various worlds you walk us through?". McCann's answer really does explain it all, and I have to say that he succeeded in what he set out to do: "I wanted it to be a Whitmanesque song of the city, with everything in there - high and low, rich and poor, black, white, and Hispanic. Hungry, exhausted, filthy, vivacious, everything this lovely city is. I wanted to catch some of that music and slap it down on the page so that even those who have never been to New York can be temporarily transported there."

Read it - you won't be sorry.

Colum McCann
Man On Wire - Philippe Petit documentary

Literature: Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar

WARNING: this post contains spoilers from the novel. If you have never read the novel and are planning on reading it, I would advise you not to read further.

Back in 2001 - 2002 I finished my MA thesis, based on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, her letters home and her complete journals. It was a bit of a step out of my comfort zone at the time, as I was mainly immersed in the 19th century Romantics, but I was so intrigued by Plath and her legacy that I decided to take the chance and study her writing in depth. It took so much out of me that year that I have only recently been able to read her work again without feeling like that inevitable bell jar was closing in on me again. I was rereading parts of my thesis again this morning and realized how much it had affected me, my own writing and the way I made some changes in my life once it was all over. I only have a hard copy, I think there must be a soft copy on a floppy disc somewhere, but here is part of the introduction to the thesis, with novel synopsis. Maybe one day I will take the time to type it all up again and will post it as a link. In my opinion The Bell Jar is a must-read, even just in terms of literary value. Not only a dark coming of age novel, it also brings up poignant literary themes such as doubles and mirrors, entrapment, escape and questions existence and destiny. I’ve posted some links to other novels in the same vein below.

Sylvia Plath & Esther Greenwood: The Intolerable Struggle to Exist (Introduction)

The myths and the incomprehension that surround Sylvia Plath’s memory were probably brought on by her suicide in 1963. At the time, although her poems and short stories had been published in magazines since her teenage years, her writing career was only beginning to take off in terms of public recognition. When her later poems were published two years after her death, the myths became even greater, and even cloudier. Her later work was at times so bitter and dark, and her suicide tainted the public with so much incomprehension, that her popularity shot up, with people wanting to know who she actually was, and why she killed herself.

This thesis is based on Sylvia Plath’s only published novel, The Bell Jar, a story about a young girl’s mental disintegration, the questions it brings up about possible links between the narrator in the novel and the author herself. This novel is probably Plath’s most famous piece of work, and brings up the subdued taboo of mental disorder in a semi-casual style, and in a love/hate way that makes it so interesting.

Summary of the novel:

The Bell Jar takes place in the 1950’s, in the year which the Rosenbergs were electrocuted, and starts off in New York, where the narrator – Esther Greenwood – is an intern in a fashion magazine after winning a prize. Esther befriends another fellow intern called Doreen, who is cynical, bemused and a lot more experienced than Esther. Doreen takes Esther out and they meet men, notably a certain Lenny Shephard. During one experience at Lenny’s apartment Esther witnesses Lenny and Doreen become intimate and ultimately violent with each other. Esther leaves the scene and decides to forget the experience. Although she takes care of a drunk Doreen later on in the night she convinces herself that she will have no more to do with her.

Later, Esther goes to a banquet with other prizewinners. Her mind flashes back to an earlier conversation with her editor Jay Cee. Jay Cee had reprimanded Esther for not knowing what she wanted from life, but had also tried to reassure her at the same time. All of the girls at the banquet fall ill from food poisoning.

Mrs Willard, the mother of Esther’s on-and-off Yale student boyfriend Buddy Willard, arranges for Esther to meet an interpreter called Constantin. Esther muses over her relationship with Buddy, who is in a sanitorium recovering from TB. She describes him as a hypocrite. During her outing with Constantin Esther worries about her future. She decides to let Constantin seduce, but then goes back on her decision at the last minute.

At the end of her month in New York, Esther attends a photography session, but bursts into tears when she realizes she cannot decide what to do with her future. During her last evening there she goes to a party where a Peruvian man called Marco tries to rape her, but she ultimately fights him off.

When Esther returns home to the suburbs of Boston she is told by her mother that she has not been accepted to the Harvard Summer School writing course she had applied to. Esther thinks about doing many different projects, but rejects them all nearly immediately. She has problems sleeping and tries using sleeping pills which do not work. She ends up taking the advice of a relative and goes to see a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist, Dr Gordon, does not really listen to Esther, and during her two sessions with him Esther tries to make him diagnose her. Instead he advises her to undergo electroshock treatment. At this time Esther begins to contemplate suicide.

After her shock treatment, which goes badly, Esther tells her mother she will not go back. Her mother merely says that she knew her child was not like all of the awful mad people in the asylums. Esther becomes obsessed with suicide, attempting cutting herself, drowing and hanging herself. In the end she hides in the basement of her house and overdoses on sleeping pills. When she awakes she finds herself in hospital and thinks she has gone blind. Many people visit her, but this makes her feel even more suffocated and put on show, and she behaves like a spoilt child. She is then sent to the psychiatric wing of the hospital.

Thanks to Esther’s benefactress, Philomena Guinea, she is sent to a private mental institution where she is put in the Caplan wing and is treated by Dr Nolan, a woman, who promises to tell Esther in advance if she is ever to be scheduled for shock treatment. One of Buddy’s other girlfriends, Joan Gilling, who Esther knows, also checks into the hospital. Dr Nolan refuses to let Esther have visitation rights when she realizes that the visits halt Esther’s progress, especially after she has a good reaction to insulin treatment.

Dr Nolan moves Esther to the Belsize wing where she has greater privileges, and where Joan is too. Esther goes through a series of shock treatments and has to deal with the feeling of betrayal, as Dr Nolan does not keep her promise about telling her about them in advance. Esther then rejects Joan’s friendship when she finds out that Joan is a lesbian and soon afterwards Joan is released from the institution. After obtaining birth control, Esther meets a man called Irwin and decides to let him seduce her, but after having sex she begins to bleed heavily and asks Joan to take her to the hospital. Shortly after this incident Joan returns to the institution. A few days later she goes missing and is found in the woods where she has hanged herself.

Esther prepares to leave the institution in January when her semester starts at college. She knows people will treat her differently, that her mother wants to forget the whole episode as soon as possible and that her depression might not have completely disappeared forever. She feels free again, but not new.

When studying The Bell Jar it is important to look at the narrator’s mental torment, as this is the epicenter of the narrative. This will be done in a first part, where Esther’s entrapment will be identified through her thought process, through the idea of suicide which becomes prominent and through her constant search for identity. As the novel also deals ultimately with escape this will also be studied through the images and the actions which release Esther from her bell jar.

In a second part the theme of the double in The Bell Jar will be studied. It will be identified through Esther’s constant search for a double and through Esther’s portrayals of society, men, and finally through the images of the mother figure.

The Bell Jar has often been described as autobiographical by some and semi-autobiographical by others. This will be studied in a third part where Plath’s personal life in 1953 (the year in which the novel is set) will be compared to the narrative of the novel, through the means of Plath’s personal diaries and her letters. Plath will be compared to Esther and the question of autobiography will be reviewed.

Other novels that deal with similar subjects:

Marge Piercy - Braided Lives

Susanna Kaysen - Girl, Interrupted

Erica Jong - Fear of Flying

The NaNoWriMo Challenge

It's November 1st on Tuesday, and that also means the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NoNoWriMo. A non-profit organisation created to motivate people to write a novel within the space of one month. No prizes, no money, no promises of publication, just a challenge. 50.000 words, starting on November 1st, ending on November 30th.
I've never done this before, but this year a couple of people have motivated/inspired me to try it, and for once, I actually have the time to do it.

Here is more information in case anyone else is inspired to take up the challenge:

Who knows, maybe I will actually finally get that novel finished. The one that has been roaming around in my head for years that is.

Anthropology of an American Girl - review & musings

I find it very, very difficult to categorise books. There are books I liked, there are books I loved. There are books I really didn’t enjoy but forced myself through anyway. There are books that I couldn’t get into, but went back to after months, even years, and loved. There are good books that I didn’t enjoy. There are books that are not considered “good” that I really loved. I read for several reasons, the main one being because I cannot remember a day in my life when I haven’t been reading one book. The other reasons are completely self-explanatory: I read to learn, to escape and to let my imagination run away from me. I am never bored, not just because I always have something to do or to see, but mainly because I always have a book to discover, to read, to finish. I live surrounded by books, as do/did my parents and my grandparents, my sister and my brother. I read fiction and non-fiction, classics and modern fiction. I love poetry, plays and prose. I love to read poetry out loud to my cat (she prefers French literature to English, but I think that is more because of her national pride and all that). Words inspire me, reading inspires me to write and vice versa.

I read many books that inspire me, I read many good to very good books, but there are only a few times a year that I read a book that hits me so deeply that it affects my entire being for the time I am reading it, as well as afterwards. I read a review of Hilary Thayer Hamann’s first novel Anthropology of an American Girl a while ago, and tried to bookmark it in my brain, but didn’t remember about it until I was browsing the new paperbacks at St Mark’s Bookshop a few weeks ago. Once I started it I went back to the Jade I was when I was 17 and 18. It’s as if I had a direct connection with the main character, Eveline Auerbach. I am probably not the only one who feels this way, but I am not kidding when I felt I was being literally pulled into the story and became Eveline. First love, second love, heartbreak, freedom, passion, thoughts… The last years of high school, growing up in a “bohemian” household, friends who know your fears and help you through them, fragility but so much strength. But then, halfway through the book Eveline and I became separated. We went our separate ways, she took a path I could not agree with, could not really understand, while I took another path, that of personal freedom from everything.

There is a very specific break in the story, between high school graduation and the beginning of college and it was at this point that Eveline and I became friends and I no longer saw her life through her eyes, as one, but by her side, through her narration.

To understand, you must read this novel. On the outside it appears to be another coming of age novel, girl becomes woman, loves and loses, to love again, but there is so much more to this than that. The prose is wonderfully well written, so much that instead of reading you feel that you are living the story. When Eveline was sad, I cried. When Eveline was depressed, I walked around in a haze. When Eveline walked away I threw the book on the ground in anger. What I am trying to say is that Hilary Thayer Hamann did a remarkable job of writing a novel that is right up there on my favourite novels that I will read over and over again and that will never cease to make me cry list. Right up there with Marge Piercy’s Gone To Soldiers, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles to name a few. We go through Eveline’s late teens and early twenties, follow her from East Hampton to Manhattan, watch her grow, then wither, then grow again.

We all have an Eveline, a Harrison Rourke, a Jack, a Kate, a Rob and a Mark in our lives, whether we are male or female, they all exist. I know who they are in my life. At first I thought I could be Eveline, it appeared that I am not, but I still love her as a person. Person or character? Although the main character is female, the story is for everyone. Be prepared to be punched in the stomach and in the face, to bawl your eyes out and to want to run to the ocean and watch the waves. Just read this book – you won’t regret it.

(When I bought the book I thought I was giving myself a break and that this was going to be some fun, light reading. I was so wrong! I didn’t realize exactly how much it had affected me until I found myself crying at everything this week, even for my crying average it was over the top. For some reason this story just hit me right in the core).

“Everywhere there are angels.”