Tuesday, 19 June 2012

To The Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)

Title: To The Lighthouse
Author: Virginia Woolf
First Published: 1927
This Edition Published: 1999
Published By:Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Source: Own copy
Genre: Classics
Goodreads | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

I picked up To The Lighthouse because of a single quote that I read on another blog.
"How life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach"
I thought it was quite simply one of the most moving passages I had read in a long time and I just had to read the whole book. I was however in for a bit of a surprise as I had never read anything by Woolf before nor any other modernist writer and therefore was completely new to the whole 'stream-of-consciousness' style of writing. I will see if I can successfully summarise things up for you.

To The Lighthouse is unique in that there is minimal plot, very little action and the crux of the novel is in the themes and philosophical aspects of the characters. The novel has little dialogue and instead of a main narrator it has a stream of consciousness type effect so the plot is revealed by the minds of the various characters and you learn how people perceive each other, whether those perceptions are accurate or not. This perspective shifts constantly, sometimes one sentence after another and the majority of the book explores the characters' feelings, tensions and interactions. Major plot points are mentioned almost as a side note in parenthesis. A unique approach I haven't seen before.
"And as sometimes happens when a cloud falls on a green hillside and gravity descends and there among all the surrounding hills is gloom and sorrow, and it seems as if the hill themselves must ponder the fate of the clouded, the darkened, either in pity or maliciously rejoicing in her dismay"
Warning *Spoilers* in the next paragraph although to be honest I read some spoilers after finishing the first part because I was worried I was missing things and I'm actually glad I read up a bit on the book before I read it.

There are three parts to the novel. The first 'The Window' focuses on Mr and Mrs Ramsay at their summer house with their children and a group of guests over for a dinner party. This part of the novel explores the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of these characters. The name of the novel is also extracted from this section as their son wants to take a trip to the lighthouse but is unable to do so. The second section, 'Time Passes', jumps a number of years and reveals the deaths of Mrs Ramsay and two of her children and the passing of the first world war. It's a very profound section which highlights the emptiness of the house. The last section, 'The Lighthouse', jumps again as Mr Ramsay, the remaining children and guests return once again to the house. This time focusing on Mr Ramsay and Lily Briscoe, the girl with the asian eyes.

Some of the prose is strikingly beautiful and many of the passages make for profound quotes. Her husband described this book as "a psychological poem" and I think that is a perfect description.
"Would they never come, she asked, for she could not sustain this enormous weight of sorrow, support these heavy draperies of grief"
"Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one."
I think the second section Time Passes captured me the most. With the house in a sorry state of disrepair  and Mrs. McNab the housekeeper exploring the house which has fallen into decay from years of abandonment. The inter-connectivity between sections is incredible too when you pick up on it and it is highlighted in the second section with the description of her shawl, so lovingly cared for in the first section now cast aside.
"Idly, aimlessly, the swaying shawl swung to and fro."
I also enjoyed how Lily's analysis of her own painting is a reflection on how many of us view our own work and how we are our own worst critics. Lily is constantly fearful that her work lacks any worth. I imagine it's a true representation of how Woolf felt about her own writing and the struggles she had beginning any particular piece.

The novel heavily explores the relationship between men and women both from the relationship of Mr and Mrs Ramsay, the interactions between the unmarried couples at dinner and also with Mr Ramsay's need to extract support and sympathy from Lily Briscoe in the final part of the novel.
"while the women, judging from her own experience, would all the time be feeling, This is not what we want; there is nothing more tedious, puerile and inhumane than love; yet it is also beautiful and necessary."
"For at any rate, she said to herself, catching sight of the salt cellar on the pattern, she need not marry, thank heaven: she need not undergo that degradation. She was saved from that dilution."
All of this is presented within the most simple structure of family routine and a dinner which is why I was so impressed by it.

This of course is not a book to read curled up in bed late at night (not unless you are looking for something to put you to sleep) nor on the beach in the height of summer. Due to its complex and dense prose it is a book that can make you feel exhausted. But it is a great book for a long winters weekend; a challenge worth the reward.
"A sort of transaction went on between them, in which she was on one side, and life was on another, and she was always trying to get the better of it, as it was of her; and sometimes they parleyed (when she sat alone); there were, she remembered, great reconciliation scenes; but for the most part, oddly enough, she must admit that she felt this thing that she called life terrible, hostile, and quick to pounce on you if you gave it a chance."

Read It

Monday, 18 June 2012

It's Monday. What are you reading? 18 June 2012

It's Monday. What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey to outline what you have been reading and what you plan to read this week.

I have not had a great start to the week, my work laptop has decided to go into retirement which means I am now about to be two days behind in work as I obtain a new one and re-install a million programs and restore my backed up data. Thankfully my trusty old macbook is still running strong (best laptop I have ever purchased in my life by the way) and so I may not be able to do any real work but I can check my emails and update my blog posts so not all bad right?!

This weekend we had the Ulysses readalong for Bloomsday organised by O which was a whole lot of fun. I've only started the book but I had a lot of fun reading various blogs, and reading guides and articles about James Joyce.

I am a bit behind in my review write ups. I'm still finishing off To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf) and last week I finished two books so those reviews will be on their way too; Anatomy of a Disappearance (Hisham Matar) and The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald).

This week I'm going to continue reading Ulysses and start reading The Odyssey which I'll be doing for awhile so I won't keep telling you every week about it. I have a couple of smaller books waiting in the wings to read in between my big chunk of a books when I need a bit of a break. So expect the odd scattering of a review here and there.

This week's top 3 in my last.fm profile:
Sam Amidon - Relief
Emily Jane White - Black Silk
The Mynabirds - Body of Work

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Bloomsday 2012 or How I began reading Ulysses

Well Bloomsday has arrived and as promised I have started Ulysses.

For those that are not aware Bloomsday is on the 16th June and it marks the day on which James Joyce's Ulysses is based. It is now used around the world to celebrate Joyce's work. A few of us decided to read Ulysses to mark the occasion. Some were going to try and read the whole thing in one day. I'm not one of those.

As some of you know I took one look at the book and freaked the crap out. This thing is massive and the writing is completely different to anything I've experienced before. There are a lot of phrases in other languages which require translation, much of it is in a stream-of-consciousness style and really overall it's just tough to read.

But I've started and that's the main thing. The beginning hasn't been as difficult as I expected but I want to make sure I actually understand what's going on so I'm taking my time and reading up on some guides at the end of each episode.

Ulysses is split up into sections and I'll briefly chat about each one as I go through the book. I'm also going to be reading The Odyssey around the same time to help understand the references made in Ulysses.

This is the break down of the first episode of the first part. The Telemachiad.

PART I: The Telemachiad
Episode i: Telemachus - The Tower - 8am
Episode ii: Nestor - The School - 10am
Episode iii: Proteus - The Strand - 11am

Episode 1 is set in a Martello Tower which after some reading I found out that James Joyce did actually live in for a couple of months and it's now a museum. I'm trying to think if I have seen a Martello Tower in my travels around Ireland but can't recall any.

We are introduced to Stephen "Kinch" Dedalus (apparently also a character in A Portrait of the Artist which I haven't read) and his roommate Malachi "Buck" Mulligan. Stephen is mourning the death of his mother and from what I've read is supposed to be a semi-autobiographical Joyce and Malachi is funny, stately and plump and well rather blasphemous. They also have an English visitor Haines who is chilling there and I think is studying Ireland or Irish folklore or Irish history or something like that.

I really do adore some of the language he uses, from describing the art colour as "snotgreen" and using the term "the scrotumtightening sea", I know I'm in for some fun passages throughout this book.

I have a few guides I'm using to help me out, one has the translations to phrases, another has a breakdown of the characters and the third summarises each chapter. I'm finding these very helpful to help decipher this book.

Over the coming weeks (and probably months) I'll be updating here and there with new episodes across Ulysses and also The Odyssey which I'm going to be reading together but only in drips and drabs so I don't overwhelm myself.

Happy Bloomsday everyone. I hope you have been able to enjoy some work of Joyce's today.

Monday, 11 June 2012

It's Monday. What are you reading? 11 June 2012

It's Monday. What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey to outline what you have been reading and what you plan to read this week.

A great week for books. Had book club which meant I borrowed a stack of new books and I was getting really bored with Our Tragic Universe (Scarlett Thomas) which I borrowed from the library so I ended up giving up on it to read something more interesting. Then on the weekend I stayed the night at a guesthouse and they had a swap a book so I swapped three books out for new ones including A Place Called Freedom (Ken Follett), Brida (Paulo Coelho) who wrote The Achemist, and Tomorrow, When The War Began (John Marsden).

I finished To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf) but the review is still on its way as there is a lot to think about with this one

I've  just started Anatomy of a Disappearance (Hisham Matar) which I quite like so far and it's very easy to read. So after this I think I'm going to start The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte) as I need a nice chunky book this week as I'm heading over to Melbourne for work for two days and need something to keep me entertained on the plane.

Thanks to Alita I have hooked up my iTunes and Spotify accounts to last.fm to track my music. It's so much fun. This week's top 3:
The Mynabirds - Body of Work
Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine (Yes I was surprised at this one too! Great song though)
3rd = Beirut - Elephant Gun
3rd = JBM - Winter Ghosts

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Book Club Books

Book Club time! Love the chance to borrow some great books. With the Bloomsday readalong starting next week I needed to get my hands on Ulysses (James Joyce) and luckily for me my friend had a copy.  My first reaction? Damn this thing's HUUGE. Seriously how do people read this brick in one day? Then I looked inside and there are parts of this that aren't even in English! Here's an example extract that freaked the crap out of me:
"....Goosepond Prhklstr Kratchinabritchisitch, Herr Hurhausdirektorpresident, Hans Chuechli-Steuerli, Nationalgymnasiummuseumsanatoriumandsuspensoriumsordinaryprivat-docentgeneralhistoryspecialprofesordoctor Kriegfried Ueberallgemein....."
Oh yes, that just happened. It's okay, I enjoy the odd challenge, and who knows maybe I'll get to learn some Irish along the way as I'm sure that's going to be scattered around in there somewhere, so here we go. I have decided to give myself some leeway because otherwise I just know I may give up on this one. So I'm going to start this Bloomsday and I have to finish (no matter what!) by next Bloomsday. That way if things get too much I can put it down and pick it back up again without any feelings of failure. Right so lets do this!

Going from bottom to top in the pic next up I borrowed The Odyssey (Homer) as it's on my challenge lists and since there are references between Ulysses and The Odyssey I figured I should probably read them about the same time. I'll probably flick between these two books over the next few months.

Then I grabbed Always Looking Up (Michael J. Fox) as I read his first book Lucky Man and loved it, so I want to read his second since I really enjoy his writing style. Where the first is more about his career, early life and early diagnosis, this book is about his foundation and ongoing work with Parkinson research. 

Next up is Maus I (Art Spiegelman) a graphic novel set in World War II where the Nazis are represented as cats and the Jews are mice. This will be a good quick book to jump to when Ulysses's stream of consciousness text just gets a bit too much and I need a break and something a bit different.

Both After Dark (Haruki Murakami) and Anatomy of a Disappearance (Hisham Matar) were borrowed from last month's book club but I hadn't gotten to them yet so took them back to give others another chance to borrow them. But they're back in my pile again this month.

And finally grabbed The Happiness project (Gretchen Rubin), a non-fiction book about how to work towards a happier life by giving yourself little projects that mean something to you. A great book to pull me out of the depressing mood I'll be in when I realise I have been reading Ulysses for what feels like forever and I still have half the friggin' thing to go because it's so damn big! I'll need that.

Happy reading peops! 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Fiction Uncovered 2012 List

Fiction Uncovered aims to celebrate and promote British fiction writers. I love awards like this as they promote local talent to a worldwide audience. The eight titles selected for the 2012 promotion are below. They will be part of a summer promotion supported by retailers Foyles, Waterstones, iBookstore, Amazon and numerous independent bookstores across the UK. I may no longer live in the UK but I am always happy to get behind British writers.

Find the entire list on Goodreads.

When Nights Were Cold (Susanna Jones)
As Queen Victoria’s reign reaches its end, Grace Farringdon dreams of polar explorations and of escape from her stifling home with her protective parents and eccentric, agoraphobic sister. But when Grace secretly applies to Candlin, a women’s college filled with intelligent, like-minded women, she finally feels her ambitions beginning to be take shape. There she forms an Antarctic Exploration Society with the gregarious suffragette Locke, the reserved and studious Hooper and the strange, enigmatic Parr, and before long the group are defying their times and their families by climbing the peaks of Snowdonia and planning an ambitious trip to the perilous Alps. Fifteen years later, trapped in her Dulwich home, Grace is haunted by the terrible events that took place out on the mountains. She is the society’s only survivor and for years people have demanded the truth of what happened, the group’s horrible legacy a millstone around her neck. Now, as the eve of the Second World War approaches, Grace is finally ready to remember and to confess.
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This is Life (Dan Rhodes)
In Paris, art student AurĂ©lie Renard throws a stone and sets in motion a chain of events that will turn her life upside down.

 Suddenly finding herself in sole charge of a stranger’s baby, and with no idea how babies work, it’s only thanks to the help of her adoring professor and her gun-toting heartbreaker of a best friend that AurĂ©lie Renard is able to navigate her way through the most extraordinary and calamitous seven days of her life.

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The Light of Amsterdam (David Park)
It is December in Belfast, Christmas is approaching and three sets of people are about to make their way to Amsterdam.

Alan, a university art teacher stands watching the grey sky blacken waiting for George Best’s funeral cortege to pass. He will go to Amsterdam to see Bob Dylan in concert but also in the aftermath of his divorce. Karen is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by working in a care home and cleaning city centre offices. Marion and Richard are taking a break from running their garden centre to celebrate Marion’s birthday. As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before.
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Hit and Run (Doug Johnstone)
Driving home from a party with his girlfriend and brother, all of them drunk and high on stolen pills, Billy Blackmore accidentally hits someone in the night. In a panic, they all decide to drive off.

But the next day Billy wakes to find he has to cover the story for the local paper. It turns out the dead man was Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord and, as Billy struggles with what he’s done, he is sucked into a nightmare of guilt, retribution and violence.
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Crushed Mexican Spiders (Tibor Fischer)
The book has two front covers: read one way you’re in south London at night; turn it over and you’re being burned by the harsh glare of Mediterranean sunlight. In ‘Crushed Mexican Spiders’, a woman returns home to discover the key to her Brixton flat no longer works. ‘Possibly Forty Ships’ couldn’t be further from the grime of South London. It begins with an elderly eyewitness being tortured to reveal the true story of the Trojan War.
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Lucky Bunny (Jill Dawson)
Queenie Dove is a self-proclaimed ‘genius’ when it comes to thieving and survival. In Lucky Bunny she narrates her colourful life: born into a criminal family in the East End of London during the Depression, Queenie survives the Blitz and the Bethnal Green tube disaster to become an accomplished thief, trained by a group of women shop-lifters, before moving on to more glamorous – and lucrative – crimes. Daring, clever and sexy, Queenie takes pride in outwitting the police and surviving on her wits. Despite attempting to go straight after the birth of her daughter, she’s tempted by the opportunity to take part in one last, audacious robbery.
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My Former Heart (Cressida Connolly)
In wartime London, the impulsive and beautiful Iris thinks she glimpses her missing lover on a cinema newsreel. She sets off to the Middle East in search of him, sending Ruth, her young daughter, to be cared for in the country by her uncle. Out in the Lebanon, Iris meets a young doctor; while at school in Malvern, Ruth befriends the clever, sophisticated Verity. Each encounter will change their lives.
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Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke (Peter Benson)
When young Elliot gets a labourer’s job at Mr Evans’s after being sacked from a pig farm for liberating six of its sows, he thinks he’ll have even more opportunities to lean on gates or stare at fields. But his best mate Spike keeps getting him into trouble, first by showing him what is being grown in a tucked-away polytunnel, and then turning up at his caravan’s door with a van full of weed. As Elliot tries to help his friend get rid of the hot merchandise, they find themselves at the receiving end of a cruel cat-and-mouse game.
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Obtained from  http://www.fictionuncovered.co.uk/2012list/