‘Boy, Snow, Bird’ by Helen Oyeyemi

IMG_3155

 

‘Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s. When I stood on tiptoe, we all stood on tiptoe, trying to see the first of us, and the last. The effect was dizzying, a vast pulse, not quite alive, more like the working of an automaton. I felt the reflection at my shoulder like a touch. I was on the most familiar terms with her, same as any other junior dope too lonely to be selective about the company she keeps’.

Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi, Pg.3

I remember reading all the hype surrounding Helen Oyeyemi’s fifth novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, a couple of months ago in the blogging world and thought to myself, how have I never heard of this writer before? Her novels tend to take their basis from traditional fairytales, turning them into something completely different and completely relevant (something I admire in writers like Angela Carter). They merge the real with the magical, the mythical or folklore, incorporating the different cultures in which these narratives are embedded. In the case of Boy, Snow, Bird Oyeyemi takes as her inspiration the ‘evil’ stepmother trope from the popular Snow White fairytale, amongst many others.

Boy Novak, the motherless young woman who opens up the story with the wonderful quote above, has decided to flee her abusive ‘rat catcher’ father. She jumps on the first bus to arrive in New York and ends up in a mythical little town called Flax Hill in Massachusetts. There is an unsettling feeling about this place, which isn’t all that welcoming to newcomers. Everyone has a useful role in this small community, from the bookstore owner, Mrs Fletcher, to the history-teacher, turned jewellery maker, Arturo Whitman, widower and father of the beautiful, young Snow.

‘Her voice sounded exactly the way I’d thought it would sound. For some reason that scared me, so I didn’t stop at the gate to greet her even though I heard her saying “Hi” in a startled way. I just said “Hi, Snow” as if we’d met before, when of course we hadn’t, and I kept going, kept my gaze fixed on the road ahead of me. “Scared” doesn’t even really describe it. I almost crossed myself. It felt like the evil eye had fallen upon us both’.

Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi, Pg.25

Continue reading

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert Read Along: Part I

This read along is hosted by CJ at ebookclassics and Juliana at Cedar Station (who is hosting the first check-in post for Part I of the novel).

‘It would be impossible now for any of us to remember a thing about him. He was a boy of sober temperament, who played at play-time, worked in school hours, listened in class, slept well in the dormitory, ate well in the refectory’.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, Pg.8-9

Gustave Flaubert’s debut novel, Madame Bovary, was published in 1856-7 and opens up to a realistic portrayal of the provincial lives of Charles Bovary and his soon-to-be wife, Emma Rouault – the infamous Madame Bovary. Although the novel is principally named after Emma, Flaubert is cautious not to give away everything at first. We begin with a short history of Charles Bovary’s life, told from the first person plural ‘we’ – from the humiliation he suffered in his school days, to his unremarkable career as a medical health officer. There is only one brief moment where Charles strays from the path his mother – the first Madame Bovary – has forcibly placed him on: ‘He became a tavern-goer, a great domino-player. To closet himself every evening in some scruffy public-room, so as to tap on a marble table his little bits of sheep-bone marked with black spots, this seemed to him a precious act of liberty’ (pg.10).

Teasing us further, Flaubert then introduces another Madame Bovary to the story – Charles’ first wife, the ‘splendidly be-pimpled, Madame Dubuc’, a widow with a large sum of money to her name. This marriage, like everything else in Charles’ life is engineered by his domineering and interfering mother and the new Madame Bovary – Heloise – seems only to replace this figure:

‘Charles had pictured marriage as the advent of a better life, thinking he would be more free, and able to dispose of his own person and his own money. But his wife was master; in company he had to say this, not say that, eat fish every Friday, wear what she wanted him to, harass at her instigation the patients who didn’t pay up. She opened his letters, watched over his comings and goings, and listened, through the partition wall, to his consultations, when there were women in his surgery’.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, Pg.11

Continue reading

‘Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted’ by Andrew Wilson

IMG_0333

 

‘On the 25 February 1956, twenty-three-year-old Sylvia Plath stepped into a roomful of people and immediately spotted what she later described in her diary as a ‘big, dark, hunky boy”.

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, Andrew Wilson, Pg.1

And so, Andrew Wilson begins, and ends, his new biography of the legendary Sylvia Plath – with the first fatal meeting between herself and Ted Hughes. Unlike previous biographies – with Anne Stevenson’s ‘authorised’ Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath called into constant scrutiny, apparently only 89 pages of it is dedicated to Plath’s life before she met Hughes – Wilson tries to uncover more of Sylvia’s earlier life. New interviews and pieces of information are brought to light in this ‘refreshingly inquiring book’, according to the Sunday Times, and Wilson litters his work with direct quotations from friends, families and, most importantly, lovers who knew Plath, regardless of how fleeting their acquaintance may have been. He is even able to shed some light on Plath’s ever-elusive penultimate love, Richard Sassoon – an area of Plath’s life that has eluded many biographers to date. This has the effect of authenticity. I don’t feel like I am being manipulated into viewing Plath in a certain way. Each facet of information uncovers different sides to her, highlighting the duality in Plath’s conflicting personalities.

‘Sylvia’s interior world may have been a skewed one, but she became expert at pretending, fashioning a mask of normality that she could wear when it suited’.

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted, Andrew Wilson, Pg.48

I first became acquainted with Plath’s work when my sister bought me a copy of The Bell Jar for my sixteenth birthday. The blurb of my copy, a quotation from The New York Times Book Review, stated that ‘This novel is not political or historical in any narrow sense, but in looking at the madness of the world and the world of madness it forces us to consider the great question posed by all truly realistic fiction: What is reality and how can it be confronted?’ At the time I knew little of Plath’s life other than the fact that she had committed suicide at the age of 30; I had no idea just how ‘realistic’ this fiction would be. I then re-read The Bell Jar last year on the 50th anniversary of its publication in 1963. This time I had more knowledge of Plath than I previously did. I knew that just like Esther Greenwood, Sylvia Plath had secured a guest editorship position at Mademoiselle magazine, which is where the novel opens. I also knew that Plath had suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 and attempted suicide, like Esther does. However, it wasn’t until I read Wilson’s Mad Girl’s Love Song that I realised just how close to reality The Bell Jar was.

Continue reading

The Feminist Library Bookshop!

IMG_3163

The Feminist Library, Westminster Bridge Rd

Although hidden within a rather old, inconspicuous building, The Feminist Library on Westminster Bridge Road (just a short 10 minute walk from Waterloo East Station) is home to a large collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials from the 1960s up to the 1990s. Hidden in the recesses of a few cramped rooms on the first floor of this inconspicuous Multipurpose Resource Centre, The Feminist Library stocks everything from fiction written by women, to non-fiction, magazines and zines. I was surprised to find out that they stock over 5,000 non-fiction books, which have been donated, and date back to the 1900s. Topics cover the arts, women’s history, mental health, physical health and politics. It was an impressive collection to look at and I was drawn to so many titles!

IMG_3162

The bookshop itself is actually only open on Saturdays from 10am-6pm and is located in the space outside of the office and library. It is rather small, however, they have a fascinating collection of back issue copies of the feminist magazine Spare Rib for sale, as well as numerous pamphlet books on different topics for a couple of pounds each. There is also a small selection of new publications, such as Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune’s Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today and a couple of books by Susan Sellers, including the interesting Vanessa and Virginia, based on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell (I was almost tempted to buy this).

I was most drawn to the secondhand rack of books, which included a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I came back with a very interesting haul, which I look forward to reading!

IMG_1285

IMG_1279

I chose:

  • Down Among the Women by Fay Weldon – tells the story of three generations of women living in 1950s England. Each of them is unhappy and unfulfilled  with their restricted lives. As the blurb states: all are ‘discontented in various ways until they recognise that what they think they want is not what they need’.
  • Writing For Their Lives: The Modernist Women 1910-1940 by Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia L. Smyers – a detailed analysis of female writers, such as Dorothy Richardson, Djuna Barnes, Marianne Moore and Mina Loy who ‘were at the forefront of literary experimentation’. They are reinstated alongside such figures as James Joyce and Ezra Pound, highlighting that their work was just as innovative and influential as their male counterparts. As someone who only knows Virginia Woolf when it comes to female modernist writers I feel like this book will be very informative (as well as damaging for my bank balance!).
  • Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals by Marilyn French – after reading The Women’s Room at the beginning of the year I am drawn to the rest of French’s work. In this non-fiction book French asks the question: ‘how is it that a relative handful of men have come to have such complete power over the lives of hundreds of millions of men and women?’
  • Spare Rib, January 1986 – I chose this copy of Spare Rib simply because it has an interview with Keri Hulme, the writer of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Bone People. I have had this book on my shelf for quite a while now so this interview should be a good accompaniment when I get round to reading it!

‘Madame Bovary’ Read Along!

I seem to be a bit late to the party, but the Madame Bovary read along – hosted by CJ at ebookclassics and Juliana at Cedar Station – has gained a lot of interest in fellow bloggers, which makes it an exciting one to be a part of! I read Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece in my second year of university, when we were studying The Novel, and I absolutely adored it. Flaubert is such a wonderful writer (even in translation) and it has been one of my goals in life to learn French just so I can read Madame Bovary in the original. It is  also on my Classics Club List to re-read, so now is the perfect opportunity to pick it up once again.

The schedule is as follows:

Part One – April 10, 2014

Part Two – April 20, 2014

Part Three – April 30, 2014

Each week Juliana or CJ will host thoughts and discussion questions.

I can’t wait to hear what other people will think of Madame Bovary!

Classics Club Spin Fail!

Today is the deadline for posting about our Classics Club Spin result, which was announced two months ago, and I am afraid to say that I completely failed. I was meant to read Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, which I realised was actually the third (not the second) novel in Achebe’s African Trilogy. This then meant that I had to read No Longer At Ease as well as my Classics Spin. However, as soon as I started reading that I realised I couldn’t really remember much of his most successful and well-known book, Things Fall Apart. By this point I was really not in the mood to read all three books when I had so much more on my shelves I preferred! I would say I feel guilty about not completing my Classics Spin, but the truth is I have read some wonderful books over the past couple of months that I’m not too bothered. I will have to pick my Spin list more carefully next time!

‘Patience’ by John Coates

IMG_1211

‘Edward had made his wishes quite clear on two or three subjects. The most important of these was sons. His wife was to go on having babies until she produced a son – or even two sons – for the number was a minor matter compared to the gender. When Star was born he had said Poor old girl, better luck next time. And with Sue it was, I say, old thing, don’t make a habit of this. And with Sal, with rather a gloomy expression, Another of them, what! So that Patience had untruthfully said she was sorry, and must have looked so submissive that he had kissed her as briskly as ever and immediately said Never mind; we’ll try again’.

Patience, John Coates, Pg.31

Although Persephone Books generally concern themselves with publishing lesser-known female authors of the twentieth century, or the lesser-known works of established female authors, Patience is, in fact, an exception in that it is written by the male author, John Coates. In 1953, the year of its publication, the preface by Maureen Lipman informs us that Patience was banned in Ireland – ‘This is such a naughty book’ (Patience, pg.vi). And this is indeed a very naughty book if you consider the era of the 1950s and the fact that it is about a young, married, Catholic woman.

Patience Gathorne-Galley is a 28 year-old woman married to the older, non-Catholic Edward. They have three beautiful, healthy daughters. Yet, as the above quote makes clear, daughters were secondary-beings compared to the prospect of producing a son, an heir. Patience’s duties as a wife are quite clear and she follows them unquestioningly. She is the quietly submissive wife men such as Edward – a patronisingly, bum-patting old man – can only dream of acquiring. Yet men like Edward like to venture outside of the home on occasion – as Lionel, Patience’s strict Catholic brother, will relish telling her one afternoon over tea.

‘She must love Edward very much’, Patience murmured.

‘Why?’

‘Well, to do that if she isn’t married to him. And not taking any money either’.

Patience, John Coates, Pg.12

Continue reading

‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright

IMG_2192

‘I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me – this thing that may not have taken place. I don’t even know what name to put on it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones’.

The Gathering, Anne Enright, Pg. 1

Anne Enright’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Gathering, brings together the Hegarty family clan who have all gathered for the wake of their beloved son and brother, Liam. Found dead on the shores of Brighton beach, his death comes as a shock and a revelation to the sibling closest to him, Veronica. Written from her perspective, we witness a grieving process which forces Veronica to step back into the hauntingly uncertain past to grasp and gather the strands of her brother’s – and, by extension, the Hegarty’s – frayed life. This means travelling back to the summer she and Liam had to stay at her grandmother, Ada’s, house when they were both eight and nine years old and it even stretches before that, to the possible history between her grandmother and her husband’s mysterious friend, Lambert Nugent.

‘It does not matter. I do not know the truth, or I do not know how to tell the truth. All I have are stories, night thoughts, the sudden convictions that uncertainty spawns. All I have are ravings more like’.

The Gathering, Anne Enright, Pg.2

What I loved about Enright’s novel was the stark reality and bleakness of it. Veronica (or perhaps it’s Enright, herself) is so acutely aware of the limitations in her knowledge and the distortions of her childhood memory that much of the book is based on guesswork. It is only about two-thirds through The Gathering that we are confronted with the bitter truth of what happened the summer Liam and Veronica were eight and nine years old, respectively (if we haven’t already guessed). Yet, by this point, the truth becomes a somewhat irrelevant factor in the tragic life of Liam Hegarty.

Continue reading

‘The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly’ by Sun-Mi Hwang

IMG_1127

‘The egg rolled to a stop upon reaching the wire mesh of the coop. Sprout looked at it – a chalky egg flecked with blood. She hadn’t laid an egg in two days; she doubted she could anymore. Yet there it was – one small, sad egg’.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, Sun-Mi Hwang, Pg.5

Sun-Mi Hwang’s bestseller, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, has only recently been translated into English by Chi-Young Kim. Originally published in 2000, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly was an instant success and remained on bestseller lists for almost ten years. It was also adapted into one of the highest-grossing animated films in Korea. It is surprising, then, that it was only translated into English a year ago and I probably would have missed its release altogether if it hadn’t been for the wonderful Staff Recommendations shelves at my local Waterstones (which also introduced me to Sophie Divry’s The Library of Unrequited Love).

“A sprout is the mother of flowers”, Sprout explained. “It breathes, stands firm against rain and wind, keeps the sunlight, and rears blindingly white flowers. If it weren’t for sprouts, there’s be no trees. A sprout is vital”.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, Sun-Mi Hwang, Pg. 52-3

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly tells the tale of a hen named Sprout who is no longer content with laying eggs for the sake of having them taken away. Living in a small, enclosed cage she glimpses the life she could have through the chicken wire of her coop. One day, when her resolve appears to have reached breaking point and she can no longer carry on laying eggs, the farmer is quick to cull her, assuming she will die soon. However, against all odds Sprout – self-named – battles for survival and a life she can truly call her own. Once in the world outside her chicken coop, Sprout encounters the brutality of a hungry weasel, another outsider like herself – the aptly named Straggler – a duck from the barnyard, and multiple confrontations with the hen and cockerel who rule over the tame, barnyard animals. Sprout soon finds herself outcast from the safety of the barnyard and is left to fend for herself in the wild. Whilst wandering around the surrounding fields she comes across an abandoned egg and her motherly instincts quickly set in. She doesn’t care that the egg is not her own and may not even be of her own kind. When she eventually hatches a little duckling she doesn’t realise until she is scorned and ridiculed by the barnyard animals. But her love for  this duckling goes above and beyond any superficial differences and it is this love which gives her the strength and courage to survive in the face of hostility.

Continue reading

The Liebster Award!

I have kindly been nominated for the Liebster Award by the wonderful Emma over at Turning Pages and Tea, which I am incredibly chuffed with. I remember seeing this award months ago and thought it was such a great way of bringing new bloggers together and making their blogs more accessible and easier to find. I, for one, have already found some incredible bloggers just by looking back at the blogs that have been nominated previously.

The rules are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
  • Display the award somewhere on your blog.
  • List 11 facts about yourself.
  • Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger that nominated you.
  • Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
  • Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000 followers. (You may nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you cannot renominate the blog that nominated you).
  • Go to their blog and inform them that they’ve been nominated.

11 Facts About Me:

  1. I have been a vegetarian since the age of ten (thirteen years now, and counting!) – I tried to be a vegan but found it near impossible so now I just try and cut down on my dairy intake.
  2. I have chickens at home – a great source of free range eggs (the only eggs I eat)!
  3. Part of my (current) job working with people with learning disabilities requires me to support service users in a wood workshop – I have become quite the expert at using an electric drill!
  4. After stating in the About page of my blog that I was ‘hoping’ to teach English abroad as a foreign language, I have since completed my CertTESOL qualification and finally started to apply for jobs (I have my first interview for a job in South Korea next week)!
  5. I am rubbish at keeping plants alive – right now I am trying to keep my brand new orchid alive, so far so good.
  6. I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in 2011, despite my fear of heights, and reached the summit! It was also the first time I had ever been camping.
  7. I knew from the age of ten that I wanted to study English Literature at University but after that I had no idea what I wanted to do and still don’t! But at least I have fulfilled my childhood dream!
  8. I would love to do an MA in Gender Studies, but seriously lack the funds to be able to do so. I also have no idea what I would do with it either.
  9. I am the youngest of three sisters and have a wonderful niece and nephew.
  10. I am from South East London (without the accent) and as much as I love my city I wouldn’t want to live here in the future.
  11. I will be giving blood for the first time this April (10th)!

11 Questions from Turning Pages and Tea:

- What is your favourite book?

There are so many books I love that it is hard to pick just one! I love Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus – it was the first book I read of hers and I have read it so many times since, as well as studied it for my dissertation (which, thankfully, only enhanced my love for it). I also love Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights for its darkly gothic tale of doomed love and revenge and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which I reread last year.

- How often do you read, and for how long?

Depending on how good the book is, or how engrossed I am in it, I can read for hours and hours. I grew up when Harry Potter was at the height of popularity and would queue up at midnight to get my hands on each new copy. I would then read all through the night until I had finished (mainly because I didn’t want anyone to  spoil the ending for me). I do try and read every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

- What is the worst book you have ever read?

I try not to be too much of a book snob (though I inevitably am), so when Fifty Shades of Grey came out and was in the bestseller chart for weeks I thought I would give it a go. I found the writing awful and the characters flat and one-dimensional, not to mention how degrading and demeaning it was to women. I couldn’t even get through the first few chapters before I abandoned it. In retaliation I bought the aptly named, Fifty Shades of Feminism, edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Susie Orbach and Rachel Holmes.

- How would you describe yourself as a reader?

I think as I have got older my taste in books have narrowed because I know what I like and what I don’t like. However, this can mean that I don’t often try books that are out of my comfort zone, which is a shame. I am also a bit of a book snob. I hate chick lit and have grown out of young adult literature. I tend to focus more on female authors and prefer twentieth-century literature.

- Do you ever listen to audiobooks?

I tried to listen to an audiobook once, I listened to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and wrote about my experience on my blog, which you can read here. It wasn’t an experience I would try again as I find pleasure in reading the words on a page and seeing the words laid out. I often like to highlight passages or write comments in the margins, which is impossible when listening to an audiobook. Also, my memory can be quite useless and I tend to take in more when I am reading rather than listening.

- What is your opinion on reading e-books, i.e. on the Kindle and Kobo?

I do own a Kindle and I can see the benefits of having one. I can get free e-books, for example, and the e-books are generally cheaper than the physical copy. I also had in mind that buying a Kindle would come in useful when I eventually travelled abroad to teach – which it will. However, whilst I’m still at home I haven’t actually used it that much. I will always prefer the physical, 3D book where I can admire the cover art, scribble in the margins, turn down pages of interest and underline wonderful quotes.

- What made you become a book blogger?

I wanted to blog about books as soon as I finished university in 2012, however I was too scared to actually write anything! After a year of going from boring job to boring job and eventually jumping on some semblance of an idea of what to do with my life, whilst also gaining a job working with people with learning disabilities (which I really enjoy), I finally plucked up the courage to blog about books. It is my way of carrying on my love of books without actually studying them anymore.

- Is there anything else that you would blog about, other than books?

I would like to blog more about exhibitions I go to. As I am planning on travelling abroad by the end of this year (at the latest) I have written out a list of all the exhibitions I want to see in London and have been ticking them off one by one. I have written about some of the more relevant or literary exhibitions I have visited but there are many that I have seen, which I haven’t written about.

- What is the longest book you have ever read?

I honestly have no idea. I was meant to read James Joyce’s Ulysses and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, which are both huge, at university but never finished them! Recently, the longest book I have read was probably Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which was close to 1,000 pages long.

- What is your favourite poem (if you have one)?

I have to admit that I don’t read much poetry – I much prefer to study, rather than read, poetry for pleasure. I do like Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry, which I was introduced to when I was a teenager. I remember studying her poem, ‘Havisham’, based on Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations. I also love William Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, particularly at this time of the year.

- How do you create the perfect environment for reading?

I like to be comfortable so spend most of my time reading in bed or laid out on the sofa! I used to be able to listen to music whilst reading but now I like a quiet and peaceful environment to read. I also like to have a cup of tea nearby!

11 Questions for Nominees:

  1. What was your favourite book as a child/teen?
  2. Who is/are your favourite author/s?
  3. Which book, or books, has had the most influence or impact on you?
  4. What is your favourite literary era/time period?
  5. How would you describe yourself as a reader?
  6. What is the worst book you have ever read?
  7. Why did you start blogging about books?
  8. What is the most rewarding or challenging aspect of blogging?
  9. Can you pinpoint the exact moment where you discovered your love of/interest in books?
  10. How often do you read, and for how long?
  11. Do you watch TV/movie adaptations of books, if so what is your favourite adaptation and why?

My Nominees:

ofBooks

This Is Where The Magic Happens

Marvel At Words

My Book Strings

The Writes of Woman

I did also want to nominate Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings but I see she has been nominated a couple of times (though feel free to join in if you want!) and LindyLit, but she has been nominated recently and I have only just realised she nominated me to answer the question: What were my favourite childhood reads. I will answer that now. When I was a child I loved fantasy books, such as The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I was also a massive fan of Roald Dahl!