my 2014 giant: reading anna karenina

This book is not for the faint-hearted or casual reader, as my poor teddy, Beast, discovered when I performed open heart surgery on him to remove his two hearts for the photo (so no one is worried, he is making  healthy and happy full recovery).

Since reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo last year, I made it my mission to read one giant each year, and man, was this a giant. If you can’t read two books at once or stick to one story for months at a time, I’d suggest maybe this one isn’t for you. Starting in January, it took me a whopping six months to get through.

Having said that, slipping this monster back onto the bookshelf after its company for months was an amazingly satisfying feeling and if you think you can do it, give it a crack. The worst that’s going to happen is you won’t make it through first go, which considering the size isn’t really that devastating.

Anna Karenina is considered one of the two great adultery novels of the nineteenth century, the other being Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The themes of marriage and relationships are definitely heavy in the novel, so if nineteenth century marriage values and culture don’t interest you, again this may not be for you. I will be honest, it nearly lost me a few times with heavy, essay-like chapters but managed to get it together again by the next chapter.

There are many plots running parallel and a fair few characters to keep track of which got a bit overwhelming. Everyone is connected and there are relationships going everywhere. I will be honest, there was one plot line and a few characters that I think I could have done without, and the book wasn’t nearly as much about Anna Karenina as you would expect from the title. But for the purposes of the concept and political motivations, I can see the reasoning.

Also, I’m not sure if it is a traditional thing in Russian literature, but everyone was referred to by full name or last name every time which gave the entire novel a bit of a stiff and formal feel.

My biggest problem with following the characters was the use of multiple names for each character, one character being referred to with multiple titles and names. To get around this, as silly as it may feel, the best option is probably to mind map it out and write down the multiple names (and maybe make a chart of their connections while you’re at it) so it’s easier to follow along, especially if it’s something you intend on picking up and putting down, or reading along with another book.

Lastly, I just want to slip in a little point about my photo. Every photo is taken by one of my fantastic housemates (who probably won’t even see this nice little shout out). Not only do they deal with a model who is more difficult that a constipated toddler that won’t smile, they do exactly what I want and don’t complain about my strange lack of facial control. So for that this is just a little thank you to them both.

This was my first Russian author and after this, I think I would try another, but definitely will be doing a smaller book next time. If you have the commitment or interest, I would say give it a shot. If not, I’ve heard Keira Knightley and Jude Law are pretty alright in the new film adaptation.

From the friend who is going to start reading one book at a time,

The Cat

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the labyrinth 101: reading looking for alaska

It has been a while since our last post and I am going to remedy this fact. As the unemployed and perpetually bored partner of this duo I am going to attempt to maintain the blog while Curiosity is busy for the next month or two so bear with me on the results. For now I am definitely here and going to aim to post every weekend.

I know it was not long ago that I read another John Green book but he is just too good to save for later and with the announcement that Looking for Alaska is about to made into a film adaptation I thought now was an appropriate time to get everyone who hasn’t already read it to look into this book.

I have now read two of John Green’s four novels and am trying desperately (and with a tiny bit of success) to save the other two for my summer holidays. I now have them safely locked up in my housemate’s closet where they will stay until I have no uni left (or my lock picking skills improve dramatically).

Again, this man has jumped right into my chest and plucked my heartstrings like a professional harpist. I swear, he may as well just walk around with my heart in a jar from the skilled way in which he plays with my emotions.

Just like The Fault in our Stars, I managed to knock over Looking for Alaska in about 24 hours, mostly due to the amazing writing skills of this brilliant man (and only slightly because I am incredibly boring with not much to fill my days with).  By the midway point I was hooked and forfeited my personal appearance, hygiene and food intake for the remaining hours. If you have something to do, or somewhere to be, do not read John Green until you have done it. To date, apart from J.K Rowling, he is the hardest author to put down once you’ve started.

Like his other books, the characters are fantastically formed and completely thought out. Immediately I felt drawn into the world of boarding school, pranks and procrastinating homework. John Green expertly enters the mind of his teenage narrator and poses some thought-provoking questions.

The book is much more than a simple story. In a beautiful way that only John Green seems to capture, the book is underlined by fantastic and heart-wrenching concepts that go well beyond the normal themes of YA fiction. As I said, not since J.K. Rowling and Markus Zusak, have I seen such engaging YA fiction done so well.

Again, John Green has been successful in taking my world, shaking it around and turning my perspective completely upside down.  He has now easily made it as one of my favourite writers of all time and I can’t emphasise how highly or adamantly I think everyone should read his books. Nothing has changed my life this drastically since I discovered the magical properties of coffee.

From the reader who approves of the well-deserved attention and kudos John Green is getting,

The Cat

 

 

the music is in the words: reading jazz

After a few weeks of hiatus we are back. Over that time I had the pleasure of enjoying a book I had an exam on, Toni Morrison’s Jazz. This piece of American beauty was intricate, engaging and overwhelming all at the same time.

The novel engages with a variety of characters who all have overlapping stories. In some ways this became difficult to follow as just as you felt you understood or connected with one character you were thrown off course and began focusing on a new one. Although unsettling at first, this became a really beautiful aspect of the novel.

After about the third bout of confusion and backtracking, I gave up trying to remember and identify the connections and the book became significantly easier and I found I was able to connect with the characters more.

This also happened with many of the sentences. The aim of the piece is not only to tell the story of the characters and explore the themes of love, loss, abandonment and human relationships, but is also to explore the lyricism of the Jazz movement and the musical genre. This is best presented through the language Morrsion uses.

Some of the sentences became a little nonsensical and confusing, needing two or three re-reads to make sense of. The best way again was to forget about it, go with the flow of the book and try and listen to the lyricism of the words. In both the literal and figurative sense, the music of the piece is in the words.

This book is inevitably one of those stories that every time you pick something new up you drop something you had before. It is also one that is open to many readings, every new perspective promising a new outlook and understanding of the characters and story.

I think this is one of the American novels that will stand the test of time and became a classic among the ranks of the Fitzgeralds, Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger.

A final note on housekeeping. Due to our busy schedules, Curiosity and I are struggling to read a book a week meaning we are going to drop the blog back to one post a week on alternate Fridays. We are however looking into many new exciting projects that we will keep all our readers updated on. For the best way to keep up with us, head over to our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/redchairreview, as that is where we keep our little updates and fun things we find during the week.

From your internet friend who is starting to feel a little like margarine,

The Cat

 

peacocks and procrastination: reading arabian nights

What does Sir Richard Burton’s translation of Arabian Nights and a peacock have in common?

Nothing!

Seriously—one is a book of stunning fables and beautifully convoluted narration and the other is a random photo I took over six months ago and happens to be the only pic I could get my hands on at 4.20pm this afternoon.

The only thing that connects them is me and my pathological and shameful laziness.

To bring you up to speed, The Cat and I traded places this week thinking that a few extra days would be more than enough to get a book finished.

Now I could have done the sensible thing and kicked myself into gear and produced a well-planned post with a coordinated photo that reflected the few days extension … or I could spend three days stuffing my face with chocolate and gummi-worms, guzzling coffee and spending a full day off work between the seduction of YouTube and aimlessly wandering around my empty house contemplating a career as a spy.

The peacock speaks for itself.

So, in place of the considered and thoughtful review I was hoping would just write itself, this week I took a look at the beautifully convoluted and stunningly narrated collection of stories that is Arabian Nights.

If you’re not familiar with the Middle Eastern-esque collection of stories, it is where Disney’s Aladdin came from, along with a few other classic stories like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and  is the source of almost every reference in the Genii’s song when Aladdin and the monkey are trapped in the cave with a giant, blue Robin Williams.

In a nutshell, the central narrative is constructed by the young and beautiful Scheherazade (who shall henceforth be known as Sharon for pronunciation purposes) who is married to a king with a nasty habit of beheading his wives on a daily basis.

Managing to keep her head firmly and safely attached, the cunning new princess keeps the king hanging on the edge of the bed each night through the clever use of cliff-hanging story endings—drawing on her seemingly inexhaustible bank of fables and tales, Sharon manages to live to fight another day, never completing her stories for the chop-happy royal.

The effect of this no beheading in exchange for stories arrangement is the famous construction of a narrative-in-a-narrative technique that writers have been reproducing for decades.

Needless to say, the trick to surviving this one is just going with it.

Each fable is stunning and beautifully constructed, but the continual story-in-a-story technique can get a little repetitive after a while.

If you are looking for a fast-paced narrative that keeps you hanging, maybe try a thriller because this one is more about letting yourself get lost in the wibbly-wobbly and circular story-telling and delectably poetic style of a truly committed storyteller.

In all, this is one of the most stunningly narrated tales you will come across and the perfect holiday companion.

In my week of absurd laziness, this one was a welcome distraction.

 

From the internet friend who would procrastinate from sleeping in if it wasn’t so easy,

Curiosity

the australian jane eyre?: reading my brilliant career

In a crazy, topsy-turvy (but actually quite normal) turn of events, the blog has been mixed up this week and you have me, The Cat, this Tuesday and Curiosity will be Friday.

I’m sorry for missing my last Friday post. Between my sister’s twelfth birthday, the final weeks of uni assessments and coming down with a rather nasty bout of headaches and hot flushes, it was all a bit too crazy. But with all of that mostly out of the way, and my body slowly fighting this man flu (yes,girls can get it too), I have managed to get through a book, take a photo and carry on.

This week’s book was the final book of my Australian Literature and History class, Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career. I went into this book assuming it would be a fantastic story about Franklin’s writing career, however was presented with something somewhat different.

The book had striking similarities to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, however seemed to be missing the exciting climactic moments that keep readers reading. The book boasted a protagonist, Sybylla, who consistently assessed her physical appearances only to come to the same conclusion of ugliness and plain-ness. On multiple unnecessary occasions did she return to analysing her beauty (or lack thereof) to pine over her lack of attraction and subsequent difficulties in life.

The book also included multiple settings, Sybylla being shipped from once house to another. In these settings is the book’s true value. Franklin has a beautiful grasp on language in describing the Australian outback, dairy farms and country estates. Each setting and all the scenery are developed magnificently and the reader is brought into the wattle-filled, fly-swatting, hot-air-on-the-back-of-your-neck environment.

The final thing similarity the book shared with Bronte was the contradictory nature of the romantic notions of the text. At the very beginning, Sybylla asserts the story is not to be a romance. However the majority of the plot hat follows is wrapped around her romantic relationships. This worked in Jane Eyre for the genre of the book, the characters that were created and the ideologies it espoused. But Franklin just didn’t pull it together for me. It felt irritating and contradictory and made it difficult for me to like Sybylla or want to keep reading about her life.

What sets Bronte’s book apart from Franklin’s is that between each of these aspects, Bronte managed to develop character, create tension and move the plot along, whereas Franklin’s just didn’t do it. The characters became stale, the narrator became irritatingly contradictory and unreliable (for what seems like no real narrative purpose) and the plot slowed to a near stop.

Overall, despite it’s fantastic Australian imagery and descriptions of setting, and its accolades as a fore-running Australian text, the book felt unfinished and unpolished. It missed the real punchy moments and dragged on the slow ones and unfortunately, if it wasn’t a set text for uni, I probably wouldn’t have got to the end.

From your swaddled, Nurofen-dosed, “gotta keep your hydration up”-ed Internet friend, 

The Cat

pin-ups, chocolate and the end of the world again: reading the road

The really sexy thing about language is its ability to build us up and strip us down, leaving us in either a state of immense and stuffy pride or cold, naked and alone in the night time.

Cormac McCarthy does both.

With only a man, a child, a road and a whole hunk of ashy nothingness, McCarthy breaks down the ideas that seem to be made completely permanent only by the amount of time they have stuck around.

And this is what is so hauntingly beautiful about The Road.

Without giving too much away, the novel follows the survival of two characters in a pretty standard post-apocalyptic landscape.

Ash, loneliness, sickness and some pretty desperate survivors are all that is left of the world we know, though there is little explanation of why it has happened, which seems to add to the tension and give the book a nice semi-SciFi fable feel (say that 10 times!).

This kind of thing is pretty normal for the end of the world novel, but what makes The Road really (dare I say) pretty is the way the characters survive and talk and carry on when there really are no promises that things will get better.

Taking on the big things like memory, names, god and a few other juicy bits from the bag of stuff we generally like to say are permanent, the book breaks down each one with the destructive and beautiful use of deceptively simple language that seems to be mostly narrated from the position of an utterly disillusioned and disenfranchised child.

What McCarthy does best is mess about with our blinding sense of hope for the man and the child as they keep each other alive on the road with conversation and questions that obliterate any idea of things like identity and names being any more sacred than ashy water.

From the beginning, we are pretty well informed that things are going to be mostly grim for a couple hundred pages but what makes the book so utterly stunning is that little feeling of hope we seem to immediately cling to that everything will eventually turn up roses.

And even though the book is predominantly grim that silly feeling of optimism made me think, if only for the fact that the man and the child are still talking and walking and carrying on, that the narrative was not undeniably and completely depressing.

What made me fall completely head of heels into the book was the idea that, even in a world where the very basics of humanity are almost gone, there is still this beautifully optimistic feeling of carrying the fire and that—even in their degenerating state—the boy and the man are still clinging dearly to the best parts of all of us.

While it is definitely not a happy story where all is well in the end, The Road is truly a masterpiece of modern fiction, with McCarthy firmly planting himself as nothing short of the pin-up for post-apocalyptic fiction.

And without any further nonsense about words, read The Road. It’s spectacular.

 

From the friend who started stockpiling end of the world currency chocolate, but is pretty sure he’ll be poor and unprepared when the apocalypse gets here,

Curiosity

a little infinity: reading the fault in our stars

Alright. This week I read a book I became so emotionally invested in that on Wednesday morning, rather than getting up, getting dressed and doing my homework like a responsible adult, I spent from 8am until 12pm huddled in bed, a box of tissues by my side and my trusty stuffed animal, Beast, curled up under my chin. Needless to say, The Fault in our Stars was a brilliant read.

Initially, I wasn’t going to review this book as I got so attached so quickly, and had little to no words on how to describe my reading experience, the first few days my best response being ‘There are no words. Just read it!’. However, the lack of finishing another book and a more comprehensive vocabulary has forced me into the review ahead.

I don’t want to talk about any of the plot because I don’t want any spoilers, the movie on its way to the cinema and all. But also the book was such an impressive and well-crafted read, I think it is unfair on both the readers and John Green to give anything away. So if you are after a plot overview, read the blurb or Google it.

I will admit to you, dear readers, I went into the book with no expectations or warning (and to my vlogging housemates horror, didn’t even know who John Green was) but send you away with one. While a beautiful and amazing book, it is also tear-jerking and heart-wrenching, so if you aren’t ready for a good cry or don’t have a sneaky box of tissues lying around, go out and get some when you pick up a copy.  It is a book that stays with you after you turn the final page.

The most amazing thing about the book for me was the well-developed characters. Throughout the entire book, I didn’t once question whether a character would really behave like that, or if the dialogue sounded like how that person should talk, or even if a certain character would have that kind of fashion sense. Even the simplest characters with the least amount of impact on the plot were fully formed, three dimensional characters.

I think this is easily the greatest achievement of the book, in that, even though the experiences of the characters might not be relatable to you, or distanced from you as a reader, there is an instant connection with every character in the book. And that’s what makes the book emotional and fulfilling.

The book was a beautiful surprise in all ways, easily exceeding my expectations in every facet. It made me experience a range of emotions that I don’t think I’ve fully come to terms with yet and is the first book in a long time to make me read about half in one day. I don’t want to oversell it, and I still think the best review I can give is ‘There are no words. Just read it!’

From your internet friend who is now just a little bit more emotionally crippled but easily better for it,

The Cat