Monday, July 2, 2012

4. The Devil wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger (2003)

    How exactly were we supposed to predict what would please her? I was about to find out.

    Not the best page to take a quote from, unless you don't mind a long description of different kinds of skirts. I picked up this book at the 'Free books' table at uni and thought it would be a good starter read for the holidays, one that is completely different from my course work. Boy was I right. The 'her' in question is the ostensible Devil herself, Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway fashion magazine. The main character, Andrea, has just been hired as Miranda's second assistant, even though she has zero interest in fashion and really wants to work at The New Yorker. However working at Runway seems a far bigger stepping stone than attempting to claw her way up the literary ranks, or so Andrea keeps telling herself. If she can survive the 12+hr working days, the ambiguity of her new boss' instructions, and having no personal time, let alone socialising with anyone, she might just get that reference she craves. But is it worth it? The answer is clearly no, and it takes outrageously terrible things to happen in her personal life for Andrea to even remotely come to this conclusion.

    This novel and its film adaptation are both good in different ways. While the novel is grittier and darker than the film, presenting slightly more complex scenarios and characterisations of modern people (albeit people who are self-destructive, self-obsessed and materialistic), the film offers glimpses beyond the facades that characters intentionally or otherwise place around themselves. They are aware of the sacrifices they have made to be where they are, but appear to believe in a higher cause that motivates them.

    From a personal standpoint, I didn't enjoy the way that characters in the novel manipulated and attempted to control those around them. It was almost as if they were willing participants in a game where the aim is to score as many favours as possible. However the way that everything had conditions placed upon it highlighted the give-and-take nature of all human relationships, and the way that there are always expectations and consequences.

   All up it was an interesting read, although Andrea, as the perfect personification of a driven, distracted and unsettled 20-something, was deeply frustrating to follow. Read if you're interested in the fashion industry (apparently it's quite accurate) and enjoy some 'will she or won't she' action.  

3. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

    She doesn't make speeches any more. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she's been taken at her word.

      Another fantastic novel by Margaret Atwood. Besides being a wonderful storyteller, Atwood keeps you reading by leading you to unexpected places. Often the reader cannot be sure whether there will even be any resolution for her characters. So far she appears to like to leave the reader guessing, but in many ways this brings the narrative to life, where the book is not just a story but a life simply written down. This "realism", achieved through depth of character and the description of society and contexts within which characters live, draws the reader in and engages you in a way that few books achieve. Many novels are entertaining, maybe even thought provoking. Atwood's novels however make you feel as if you have lived beside the narrator, every upset and every high a shared experience. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

2. Midnight in Austenland - Shannon Hale

      She blew out her cheeks and tried to focus on driving. She could feel him staring at her, contemplating her, and it was such an unfamiliar sensation that she sprouted goose bumps as if she'd been tickled. Thoughts fled her head. Apparently they found the place too crazy to stick around.

      Charlotte Kinder seeks to escape the complications of her life by vacationing at Pembroke Park - a place where paying customers can have the authentic Jane Austen experience, complete with period clothing, balls, and even a love affair or two. But something dark lingers within the stately grounds and Charlotte can't let her suspicions rest. Where everyone involved is playing a part, will Charlotte be able to tell the difference between act and reality before it is too late?

      LOVED Austenland, this one is so-so. Still highly enjoyable with a splendid cast of characters, such as the return of Miss Charming, the slightly silly but comical Southern darling. The setting and events are even more unbelievable the second time round, and yet I still want to find myself at Pembroke Park. Shannon Hale still amuses with her self-deprecating and likeable characters, with action, dialogue and internal musings set to make you laugh within the first page.  

Starting again - 2012: 1. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

    I went cold with envy. I had never been to Yale, and Yale was the place all the seniors in my house liked to go best on week-ends. I decided to expect nothing from Buddy Willard. If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.

      The account of a young woman's breakdown and treatment, which supposedly reflects the author's own battle with depression. Esther Greenwood is terse, unapologetic, pessimistic and wholly engaging. Although sometimes frustrating or even hopeless, the narrative is never exactly dark and is instead surprisingly objective for such personal experiences. As if seeing events from at some point separate, Esther makes observations about herself and others that seem to cut right to the core of things.

      The fact that this is Syliva Plath's only novel makes The Bell Jar even more poignant. A girl trapped and preserved beneath this bell jar who you want to know received some respite, some experience beyond the blurred glass. I want to know whether Esther is alright, whether the world ever appeared different. In Plath's suicide the answer seems prevented, and yet provided.

2012 - Books read so far:

Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
The Pact - Jodi Picoult
About A Boy - Nicholas Hardy?
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Midnight in Austenland - Shannon Hale


The Alchemist's Daughter - Katharine McMahon
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood