Review: ‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante [2012]

My brilliant friend

‘My Brilliant Friend’ is an elegantly written and immersive bildungsroman, featuring in-depth studies of character and development. It follows the childhood and friendship of Elena and Lila, growing up in the slums of Naples. In particular it tells of Elena’s struggle to forge a defined identity, surrounded by personalities stronger than her own. Elena has very little self-confidence or conviction in her own abilities and I felt sorry for her, but a lot of the time I also wanted to shake some sense into her. Get a grip, girl.

 

By contrast Lila is fiery, brilliant and intense; a living and breathing supernova. Although I found the novel a little slow at times it was my intense curiosity to know about Lila that spurred me on. I was also riveted by the power-struggles and the journey undertaken by all of the young people within the novel, not just Elena and Lila. Enzo, Stefano, Rino, Nino, Carmen… All of them were fascinating in their own right and I loved seeing them interact – though the suggestion that they were all following the same paths as their parents and grandparents before them was bittersweet. It is of course heart-breaking to see Lila’s genius wasted, but it is raw and honest; exactly what would have and did so often happen. Coinciding with this was Elena’s jealousy. As soon as she heard that Lila was to be married before her, all of her pride and ambition in school vanished and suddenly her only wish is to ‘catch up’ with her friend and be married herself. This mentality is disturbing and, unfortunately, not uncommon.

The class divide is another discourse within the novel that I particularly enjoyed reading. It is also, evidently, a painful subject for many of the novel’s characters. They all dream of wealth and feel bitterly jealous of their middle-class contemporaries, an interesting dynamic that builds in tension as the plot progresses. The scenes wherein the groups visit the centre of Naples are some of the best in the novel.

There is no big ‘event’, plot twist or mystery in ‘My Brilliant Friend’. It really is telling the honest story of their childhood. In doing so, however, I felt that the plot did become a little repetitive. At times it seems to go around in circles as Elena fixates on her competition with Lila, school, boys, men…It loops around a few times and grows a little stale. I appreciated and adored the graceful prose, I enjoyed the exploration of female experience in the slums of Naples, and these things saved the novel from becoming too boring. It was frustrating, though, to start with Lila and Elena as adults and not reach an explanation by the end of the novel. We are barely a third of the way through the story, as though the narrator insists on writing down every little, sometimes pointless, detail.

I am happy to say that these aspects have not put me off the novel and I still view it as a beautiful piece of writing: sometimes, that is what you have to appreciate and respect, whether the story is to your taste or no. I also still wish to know what happens to Lila, so perhaps Ferrante’s clever trick pays off as I will probably pick up the second and third novels if I come across them in future.

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The Liebster Award 2016!

Thanks to Filmandnuance.wordpress.com for nominating me for the Liebster Award! This is SO COOL and the first time I’ve been tagged in anything, so thank you very much J J J Definitely check out this swanky blog: http://www.Filmandnuance.wordpress.com

liebster

So let’s go with the questions! Unfortunately with my new internship starting I am very short on time, so I won’t be able to come up with any more questions: I just invite everyone to answer these ones!

  1. What is your favourite movie in your least favourite genre. And why?

Well, damn, don’t ease us in! This question is really, really hard. I am not a film person at all, so I have no idea what any of my favourite movies are, let alone what genres I like or dislike. I guess for the sake of an answer, I don’t really like spy movies. I like action movies in the broader sense, but those James Bond type films don’t really do it for me. I liked Skyfall a lot though.

2. If you had to favour a certain style (for directing a film,writing a book or any other art form of your choice), would you prefer a no-frills and direct approach, or an artistic and ambiguous one. Why?

I like a direct approach. Ambiguous is beautiful sometimes, but when it gets to the ambiguity level of, say, Jacob’s Room (Virginia Woolf) I just get a massive headache. Sometimes blunt, honest and shocking prose is the most effective.

3. Name a movie you can watch any day.

Easy. Stepbrothers! I can only apologise if this isn’t as sophisticated as you were hoping for, but I absolutely love Stepbrothers. It’s such easy watching, it’s funny and it doesn’t require too much concentration, which is perfect for me because I only really watch films as background entertainment while I’m doing something else.

4. If you could keep an object that you had previously but by now either lost it,sold,misplaced,had it stolen or destroyed, what would it be?

Probably all my old toys and videogames. They’d be worth a killing now.

5Pick an era to live in.

The 80s, please! I want to join that party.

6. The best film you’ve seen this year and an unreleased 2016 film that you think might beat it.

Another film question that I have no idea how to answer. I’ve seen a couple of good horror films this year…I can’t remember much else. Certainly not details. I saw The David Brent film recently though and it was pretty funny. And I have no idea what films are due to be released… When is The Incredibles II due? I’m so excited for that one.

7. Name a memory you would keep till your death.

Hopefully I’ll keep several of them! A lot of memories from my childhood, and my time at University – I met all my best friends there.

8. Ice-cream or popsicles?

My absolute favourite is a sorbet…What category does that fall into? Ice-cream? Half and half?

8. Where do you stand on the Harambe case?

It’s a difficult one. I don’t think Harambe should have been killed until every other option was ruled out; that was a mistake. I do think that some people have taken their anger too far, though. Personally I couldn’t tell from the video that Harambe was trying to protect anyone, or hurt anyone. It certainly looked as though the poor child was being dragged along and you never know how a wild animal is going to act. If it felt threatened by all the screaming and commotion something easily could have gone wrong. But they should have tried everything else before shooting.

 9. Favourite type of music? And what does it mean to you?

I have very wide-ranging taste. I love musical theatre and all the memories I have of theatre shows, I love acoustic covers and how they showcase an artist’s unique talent. At the moment, I also adore house and EDM because I have had so many magical nights with my friends, and only have to hear the intro to certain songs to start smiling.

10. How do you cool off after being upset/angry?

I just go and sit in my bedroom, alone, until I’ve calmed down. Usually I have some TV show on in the background to distract me but generally I am just in my own thoughts.

 

Thanks guys! Love ya – Fiona

Review: ‘The Last Pier’ by Roma Tearne [2015]

Goodreads: How deep the summer had bitten into the land that last August, how cruelly it had burnt into earth and grass and air. What had started out as a pastel and water-faded spring turning so unexpectedly into a splintering, shimmering thing. All that had been required was a spark to cause a fire. Why had no one noticed?

The summer of 1939 broke the Maudsley family. Cecily was only 13-years-old and desperate to grow up; desperate to be as beautiful and desired and reckless as her older sister Rose. Now, in her 40s, the family resemblance is uncanny, but Cecily is a shadow of her former self. A part of her died that fateful summer. Returning to the deserted family farm as an adult, Cecily recalls the light before the storm, before the war came and before the terrible family tragedy. It was a summer of laughter and ice cream, promises and first love. She remembers her father’s unrequited love for her, her melancholy mother, and her brittle and argumentative aunt Kitty, and how everyone, somehow, was guarding a secret. None more so than the impossibly beautiful Rose. And in her childhood innocence, between snatches of misunderstood conversations, Cecily helps set in motion a chain of devastating events. Wandering through the family home 29 years later, Cecily hopes to lay some ghosts to rest but the past has yet to give up some shocking secrets.

the last pier

‘The Last Pier’ is an extremely poignant, surreal work of historical fiction. The novel delves into the lives of the Maudsley family on the brink of the Second World War, elegantly weaving together their lives, secrets and those of the community around them. ‘The Last Pier’ made me desperately, desperately sad and it felt almost like an invasion of privacy to read about the protagonist, Cecily, as she struggles to rebuild something from the rubble of her war-torn, secret-stained life.

The first thing I noticed in ‘The Last Pier’ is how well Tearne set the scene. She captures perfectly the wild, unpredictable Suffolk coast and its surrounding countryside. I was constantly picturing either this dark, lonely landscape or the heat-scorched yellow fields of the daytime (based on my own Suffolk village), and I think this setting was a brilliant choice to build and compliment the atmosphere of the novel. The quality of the prose is almost poetic, so alongside the construction of this landscape we are treated to a slow-building narrative interspersed with beautiful, interesting moments of revelation and clarity. Furthermore, conversely to what one would usually find in historical fiction, I like that the war is not the central focus of the novel. Instead the war drives events from offstage, largely due to the novel being written from a child’s perspective. The novel is written like a microchosm: the small ‘world’ of the Bly community acting as representative of the effect of the war everywhere. It gives this massive, mind-boggling event a very personal feel.

My only drawback with ‘The Last Pier’ is that it was confusing at times. I followed the jumps in time easily, but all the different mysteries tying into Rose’s death did become a bit much for me to keep up with, in particular her relationship with Pinky Wilson. Again, I think this was perhaps due to Cecily’s perception of the events, and I did like this idea that Cecily’s eavesdropping habit and some terrible cases of jumping to conclusions set the events of the novel in motion: a very unique twist. Some elements could have been a bit clearer though – I would also have loved more exploration of why Kitty acts in the way she does, but I accept that this is not her story.

Returning to the positives, there were a lot of shocking moments in ‘The Last Pier’ that made it a very interesting read. I had no idea about the awful treatment of the Italian community during the Second World War, and this novel really had an impact with its description of this and made me want to find out more about it – it was devastating. Moreover the revelation about Cecily’s mother is, by far, the crowning triumph of the novel. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I really didn’t and it elevated the narrative for me.

The characterisation in ‘The Last Pier’ is also very well executed. Cecily is beautiful and intriguing both as a child and an adult, and her view of her family is weaved so brilliantly into the narrative that I found myself sharing her idolisation of Rose, her love for Carlo and her doubts concerning her parents. These characters are all well written and rounded; I particularly enjoyed hearing about the history between Agnes, Kitty and Selwyn. Carlo as the subject of Cecily’s young affections is beautiful, fun-loving and good-hearted. I wanted to see more of him throughout the novel, as well as his siblings.

To conclude, I think that ‘The Last Pier’ is a beautifully written piece of prose. The plot is tangled, and distorted by Cecily’s imagination which makes it challenging in places, but this adds to the mystery and atmosphere. The characters are enjoyable to read, particularly Rose and the Molinello family, and the wider framework of the War adds an extra layer of tension. I picked up ‘The Last Pier’ completely on a whim in Waterstones but I am very glad I did, and would recommend it again in future.

Review: Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’ [2016]

Greetings bloggers! Before I get started on this review I just want to give you all the heads up about the next month or two – I am starting my internship with Cancer Research UK on Monday, so I might not be around too much! It’s only standard working hours but I am moving around a lot between different relatives and friends for the duration so that I can commute into London, and I also want to sign up for as many of the extra social activities, training opportunities etc as possible to make a good impression! I’ll still be reading (the one bonus of a long commute) but I might be a bit slow getting my thoughts down into type, so bear with me!

The widow

I have been getting really into my creepy, psychological novels recently so I was really excited to take a crack at Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’. I picked it up in Waterstones expecting it to be similar to my recently reviewed ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ but I have to say, ‘The Widow’ far surpassed those expectations. I thought it was written brilliantly and the similar genre of psychological thriller is taken to a completely different level.

One of the main attributes of this novel that I enjoyed was the unique viewpoint. The experience of the spouse of someone who is accused of paedophilia or murder is not one you often think about, and this is what really drew me into buying ‘The Widow’ because it is a fresh approach to a topic that can sometimes be used purely for a bit of ‘shock factor’, without being truly understood or well handled. Being able to see the story from a different point of view made the novel far more interesting, and with the use of alternating narrators we get a far deeper insight and more well-rounded view of the characters – Kate’s view of Jean versus Jean’s perception of herself, and Jean’s view of Dawn, for example. This also means that we can see the different people and roles that are involved in such a horrifying event and the ensuing investigation, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the work of journalists such as Kate, trying to get interviews with people like Jean and tackle really difficult subjects.

As we begin to unravel Jean Taylor’s story, the novel just gets more and more interesting and when new things are revealed we start to question the reliability of the narrator. Jean knows more than we think she does, and her own psychological struggles begin to be unearthed. Her warped view of Bella’s mother really exposes this, and I loved the glimpse of her twisted perception.

However, the main struggle of this novel was that the widow was a massively irritating character to read a lot of the time. She was very whiny and self-absorbed, and whilst I appreciate that it was part of her psychology to act in that way it got a bit much to read from her perspective and really started to grate on the enjoyment of reading. Couple Jean with Detective Bob the woman hater and I was starting to hate most people featured in ‘The Widow’. By contrast, Kate was a strong and likeable character with a wry sense of humour and I wish more could have been seen of her life and experiences. Glen himself was written well; we don’t see anything from his viewpoint but Jean’s descriptions of him are very clever in how they show his manipulative side.

For a debut novel ‘The Widow’ is in my eyes a complete success. Despite some of my misgivings about the characters, the sinister undercurrent is unmistakeable and exactly what I love in a novel.  There was no gob-smacking twist that smacked you around the back of the head at the end, but I can forgive that. This couple are far too creepy for it to not have been the ending we were expecting and the plot would have been rendered almost entirely irrelevant if Barton took it in a different direction.

Have you read ‘The Widow’? What did you think?

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child [2016]

I know I’m a little bit late to the party, but here it is…my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! I thought it might be nice to let the dust settle around this one before I threw my hat into the ring. My review is going to focus on the development of character for the most part, because I think it is rather difficult to talk about much else without having seen the play as it is meant to be seen!

the cursed child

First up and one of the best parts of the script, is the relationship between Albus and Harry. Their relationship was a joy to read because it was realistic. It would have been entirely irritating for Harry to move seamlessly through adult life, and I could completely understand Albus and his difficulty adapting to life as Harry Potter’s son. Kids are cruel, and their awe for Harry himself doesn’t stop them from bullying Albus mercilessly. The same applies for Scorpius, who is a welcome friend and comfort in the novel – I particularly enjoyed his scene as the Scorpion King. I think almost everyone has pinpointed and praised this dynamic so I won’t go into it too far, but the representation of the power of friendship echoes the original Harry Potter series and I think that is important.

A character that I was a little more conflicted about was Rose. I wished there was more of Rose so that we could see her development, her drives and her feelings as she treats Albus in the way she does. Instead, she just seemed like a bit of a bitch. She’s young so we can forgive her, and I like that her and Albus are not automatically friends because of her parents, but I wish we could have seen a little more from her perspective: perhaps a scene of her with her friends, or a soliloquy. This would have been a very welcome insight before Rose begins to change her attitude towards Albus and Scorpius. I think she had the potential to be a fantastic, funny character but this wasn’t realised.  And from the conflicted to the downright disappointing: Ron. Unfortunately Ron became a bit of a joke character, which is a real shame because the way Rowling constructed his character was at once beautifully raw and comedic. I feel like he lost his identity and unique flaws completely.

I don’t want to make this review too negative because I really did enjoy the script, but I’m struggling to find much to say about the plot which was essentially pointless for the first three quarters of the novel. The circling around in time to feature old characters and provide a bit of entertainment worked well, but it was just that: entertaining and nothing else. The final confrontation, revelation etcetera did at last provide some drama and saved it for me (As you might expect from a play, the beginning is largely setting up context and introducing character). However I don’t hold these points against the script, because I think onstage as a proper performance this wouldn’t be the case at all.

To compare Cursed Child to the rest of the series is very difficult. In fact I had to completely disconnect it from the other novels in order to enjoy it, as it reads like light-hearted fanfiction rather than a serious continuation of the series. Overall I enjoyed ‘Cursed Child’ as a quick, relaxed foray back into the lives of the characters that I adored for my entire childhood and my shortcomings will in no way prevent me from going to see the play onstage if I get the chance. A script is never going to match up to seeing the performance properly, where stage tricks and the introductions of different, old-loved characters would be far more exciting.

Review: ‘The Book of Lost Things’ by John Connolly [2006]

the book of lost things
❤ Confession: I picked up this book because I was wooed by the cover. ❤

I have to start by saying that I really loved the plot of this novel. It weaves together several Angela Carter-esque rewriting of popular myths and stories, but in this context they are all set in the same Universe (Kind of like the prelude to Once Upon A Time, but way darker). The young protagonist David is forced to travel through this strange, fairy-tale land in what he believes is a quest to find his mother, but is actually an evil plot laid out by the Crooked Man, or as we might know him, Rumpelstiltskin. In a typically formulaic bildungsroman plot David faces multiple challenges and wins battles that no child should ever win, making friends and enemies along the way. ‘The Book of Lost Things’ is in no way ground-breaking, but it is entertaining and very creepy. The best parts, in my opinion, were the stories. The allusions to our own popular myths and fairy tales are reworked into terrifying ‘truths’ – I have always been really excited by this kind of thing (refer back to the Angela Carter comment) so I dived into these sections happily and wish there was more of them. In the same way the most unsettling parts were not the gore but the small implications, such as the relationship between David and Roland, which create a worrying undertone in their interactions. There are also some light-hearted, funny breaks within the plot: such as the new version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves! These are not too frequent, so the true nature of the novel isn’t affected, thankfully.

In between these wonderful stories, though, the plot begins to flag slightly. As I’ve previously alluded to in reference to the formulaic plot, some parts of the novel were predictable – for example the identity of the king and the book of lost things itself, but if you can forgive this it is still an enjoyable read. I have to confess that I wanted more to be written from the Crooked Man’s perspective, the glimpse into his lair and history was brilliantly creepy. As a character he could have been absolutely terrifying but I don’t think this was fully realised and it was kept a little too PG. If you’re going to create a fairy-tale for adults, you may as well go for it and make it really, really creepy. This novel is already unsuitable for children so why stall in some strange half-way stage and not go for full on terrifying? I think the author missed a big trick there and I kept waiting to hit that next level.

Back to the positives: I love the context of the Second World War. This elevates the novel because it draws on the escapist methods often used by children to escape their own lives – it starts to make it believable, as much as a fairy tale can be. David’s tendency to withdraw into the world of his books is captured perfectly, and the subsequent bildungsroman is paced very well. The blend of historical fiction and fantasy is uneven as the history takes a backseat, but the awareness that this momentous war is going on in the background adds an extra layer of depth to the story.

Furthermore, the characters of David’s father and step-mother are written well. They don’t play a major part in any way, but David’s skewed perspective of the ‘evil’ step-mother taking the place of his mother is executed well and as the reader, we can see how her attempts to fit into his life are misconstrued. The same goes for David’s father, and I loved the little references to his work as a code-breaker for the War effort. Seeing through David’s eyes we sympathise, but as adults we can also see how his view is inaccurate and biased: a perfectly understandable eight year old reaction to the trauma of losing his mother. ‘The Book of Lost Things’ would definitely make for an interesting study in psychology and Freudian ideas.

Overall I’m giving ‘The Book of Lost Things’ a thumbs up. If, like me, you’re into the rewriting of old myths and tales it is definitely worth a read.

Review: ‘The Hunger’ by Lincoln Townley [2014]

Lincoln Townley’s ‘The Hunger’ is a brutally honest depiction of his years spent in SoHo, drinking, whoring and snorting. Townley carries us through some of the most memorable experiences of this time, as well as many of the fantasies and hallucinations that haunted his mind as he struggled with his addiction. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this novel and having finished it I can’t say I’m any more enlightened as to how I feel about it. But, here are a couple of points I picked up.

the hunger

It took me a while to get used to the structure of ‘The Hunger’, as it jumped about a lot in time through the narrator’s periods of lucidity. Each passage is titled with the time, date and year, but it’s pretty impossible to keep up with that in relation to the other parts of the book. After a while though I just ignored the timings and embraced the whirlwind nature of the book, accepting that it all happened during one messy period and that, really, the particular times and dates don’t matter at all. Once I relaxed into this it became a far easier read and I enjoyed the flow. Whether one thing happened before the other doesn’t make any difference to most of the narrative.

The brilliance of this book lies in the construction of Esurio: the multi-dimensional, maniacal personification of ‘The Hunger’ – addiction. He starts off as this suave, intriguing character and slowly evolves into something worse throughout the novel. His initial seduction is spellbinding; the way that he convinces Lincoln he is somehow ‘special’ and invincible in ways other people are not. As he gets worse the old-time, well-dressed gentleman begins to shift into something more animalistic and terrifying. At the points where he starts to scream ‘FEED ME LINCOLN, FEED ME’ you can almost hear it yourself, the rage swelling across the pages. It is a fascinating insight into the psychology of addiction.

The most impactful aspect is, without a doubt, the truthfulness of the story. You completely forget when you are reading and can even start to criticise the plot, but then you take a step back and realise every word is true (Esurio is fictional, of course, but his influence is real). At this moment you are really hit with the pain that emanates from the book, the idea that these shocking things actually happened and their effect on the narrator. It becomes something truly raw and often painful to read, even those sections that are edged with a definite bitter humour.

The main problem that I encountered whilst reading ‘The Hunger’ was that it becomes repetitive at times. In many ways I can appreciate that this just gives you even more of an insight into addiction: the reader is drawn into the cycle of repeating the same things and hoping for a different result. However, it did start to drag towards the second half and I had to force myself to finish. I have to conclude that is see ‘The Hunger’ as more of a personal venture for the author, as a way of communicating and understanding his past. I pushed myself through it much in the same way Lincoln pushes his way through life towards the end of the novel, but I don’t regret making myself finish the book. It made me laugh and it made me think. The message it portrays is meaningful and I feel partly honoured that the author has chosen to share his journey with us. In the afterword Townley explains his reasoning, gives thanks to his loved ones and leaves us with a fairly poignant warning: ‘Esurio is very patient and as keen to get to know you as he was to get to know me’.