Tag Archives: currently reading

Just finished reading…

9 Jul

…’The Edible Woman’ by Margaret Atwood

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I’ve just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s first published novel, ‘The Edible Woman’ which came out in 1969 and propelled Atwood into the literary world.  I’d only read ‘The  Handmaid’s Tale’ by her, which I felt (possibly, somewhat controversially) was overhyped and I was keen to see whether I felt this was the case with other Atwood novels.

At many points in this novel, I did.  I found the prose slow-going and dull in parts and was unable to empathise with the protagonist, Marian, or even care what would actually happen to her.   In the introduction, Atwood states that she wrote this novel at 23 and it was published at 24, which probably accounts for the prose laden with imagery and symbolism that is at times shoved down the reader’s throat.  A brief summary of the story is that Marian, a young, employed, educated woman,  finds herself unable to eat at first meat, then all sorts of other things from the moment she gets engaged, which represents a sort of subconscious rebellion to the patriarchal role of woman in society.  I thought the themes that Atwood explored in the novel were incredibly interesting – namely, the conflicting role of women, especially during the late 60’s.  Women then were becoming more and more educated but many of the careers they could go into offered few prospects for real progression.  At the same time, the idea of female in society was still very much that they should marry and fulfil their womanly duties as wife and mother – an idea which was becoming increasingly at odds with the rise in educated young women.

I really liked the representation of women as ‘edible’ , i.e. there to be consumed and devoured by men and I thought the idea was witty and insightful.  It was just that I felt the novel dragged on for too long and some of the characters felt a little two-dimensional and in my opinion, didn’t really add much to the story.

Atwood uses foils to great extent for the characters to demonstrate their opposing qualities: Marian is contrasted with her roommate Ainsley, who initially seems freer from restraints however interestingly ends up being the character with the more traditional setup (she ends up with a child and a husband).  The two predominant male characters seem to be diametrically opposed as well: there is Marian’s inconsiderate fiancée, Peter and the manipulative self-absorbed English graduate Duncan.

Stylistically, I liked the use of first person and third person to denote the emotions (or in the latter case, the lack of) and it is clear that Atwood is a talented writer; however, I was simply unable to fully immerse myself in her world which felt to me, rather flat and one-dimensional.  Having read such great things about Atwood’s writing ability, though, I’ll read a few more of her novels to see if she’s a ‘grower’ but at this moment in time, I’m not a huge fan.

Many of the themes I am attempting to explore in my own novel are prevalent in Atwood’s writing so it’s all useful research!

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Currently reading…

7 May

Nancy Mitford’s ‘A Talent to Annoy’ – Essays, Journalism & Reviews 1929 – 1971

a talent to annoy coverPerhaps I’ve become far more impatient recently but reading essays, rather than novels, seems far more appealing.  Maybe it’s some sort of nostalgic longing for old school days although to be fair, the essays then were far more boring.  And it’s safe to say that Mitford’s essays are definitely not boring.

I came across this collection of essays and various writings purely by chance as I was browsing a bookshop this bank holiday weekend.  I had heard of Nancy Mitford but wasn’t entirely sure who she was before.  It turns out she was a novelist and biographer and one of the Bright Young People on the London social scene in the interwar period.  Basically, she was a bohemian socialite in 1920s London – you know, all Flappers, experimentation, drink and drugs – and she belonged to an elite set which included the magnificent Evelyn Waugh.  She would often write for esteemed high-society publications such as Vogue and The Lady and her articles were often satirical pieces on society life, such as a woman’s ‘role’ at a shooting party.

I have only just started reading this collection of Mitford’s essays and other writings but I am already hooked.  Perhaps it is because in some part, I long to have lived in the roaring twenties but apart from that, I genuinely enjoy Mitford’s acerbic wit which shines through in her writing.  Some of her observations on society have literally made me laugh out loud (which always scares people on public transport) and I am captivated by her intelligence and independence.

It’s also interesting to see how the term socialite has adapted and evolved over the years.   Of course, Mitford was predominantly a writer and she should be regarded first and foremost as such… but it’s clear that they definitely don’t make socialites like they used to!

Currently reading…

7 Mar

Of-Human-Bondage…Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage.’

I had wanted to read some of Maugham’s work for a long time and finally started getting around to doing so.  This, being his first novel and strongly autobiographical in nature, seemed a sensible choice.  I am about half the way through (it is a rather hefty thing but not at all arduous) and I already love it.  The protagonist is Philip, a sensitive orphan with a clubfoot, and the novel follows him as he trials out different careers and experiences loves and loss.  The novel is beautifully written – Maugham’s use of third person manages to maintain a sense of simplicity and non-sentimentality yet evokes such empathy in the reader towards Philip’s trials and tribulations.

I have even marked passages in the book that I have found particularly poignant or relatable to my own experiences.  A particular favourite is:

It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched for they are full of the truthless ideal which has been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the rule, they are bruised and wounded.

Looking forward to settling down and reading the rest of this gem with a big cup of tea and some biscuits 🙂

Currently reading…

12 Feb

Mrs Fry’s Diary by (Mrs) Stephen Fry

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Because commuting can be such a drag so why not read something that gives you a little chuckle now and then?!  It breaks up the morning and confuses weary commuters who are not used to seeing someone happy so early.

As expected, containing the wit one would expect from the great Fry. I especially like the various pop culture references Mrs Fry refers to, highlighting just how crazy our celebrity-fuelled society is becoming.  I also like Mrs Fry’s sometimes philosophical questioning of her life and what she used to imagine her life would be.  Some definite laugh-out-loud moments for times when your brain starts rejecting the “heavy stuff”.

Currently reading…

6 Feb

‘Inglorious’ by Joanna Kavenna.

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This is probably not a book I would have picked up myself but my tutor from LSJ advised me to read this as it deals with themes I am looking to explore in my own writing (despite the misleading trashy chic-lit cover).  She said that it would be useful to look at this, even if it tells me what I should not do in my own novel.  The story follows Rosa, a thirty-something successful arts journalist, after the sudden death of her mother and her subsequent existential questioning of life and its meaning.  It’s meant to chronicle her fall in society – her unemployment leads to feelings of isolation and detachment from her friends which is emphasised by Rosa’s introspective thoughts.

I am not really a fan of this novel.  I find the language overly descriptive, to the point of tedious.  Kavena does a very good job at portraying London life but I find some of her detailed descriptions to be superfluous and distracting from Rosa’s inner turmoil.  I think certain aspects of Rosa’s disposition seem somewhat laboured and at times, I found myself wishing that Rosa would just take action and ‘get on with it’, whatever ‘it’ means.  Rosa seems to fixate on philosophical issues which is a theme I really want to explore; however, I really don’t like the way she repeatedly discusses esoteric philosopher’s thoughts.  I felt that was a bit forced and actually made me quite annoyed with the character of Rosa, whom I felt was constantly trying to prove her intelligence and knowledge of culture.

But – all very useful ‘research’ for my own work.

Currently reading…

30 Jan

…’Wilt in Nowhere’ by Tom Sharpe.

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One of my first forays into comic literature and I’ve had this book sitting around for a good few years as it was a Christmas gift from a couple of years ago.  Only recently, however, did I think it would be interesting to examine the comic novel so I started reading this and so far, I actually quite enjoy it.

I’ve always been drawn to haunting novels that examine the complexities of human nature (a la Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan) but it’s good to mix things up a little and not be so intense all the time.  Sharpe’s writing is easy to read, witty, very English and has actually had me laughing out loud on various forms of public transport.   It’s thoroughly dependent on a tight plot and lots of characters’ misfortunes interweaving leading to hilarious consequences.  Good for a chuckle but the characters don’t exactly imprint themselves in your memory which is often the case with comic novels in my opinion.