Dan Sandman

Posts Tagged ‘Romance’

#27 The Pyramid

In Books, Fiction, Romance on 30/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#28 The Pyramid

With the deadline for the first chapter of my Golding dissertation coming up, I have been rereading the 1967 classic The Pyramid. For those of you not familiar with the book, it’s a love story about a young man called Oliver and a young woman called Evie. If you’re looking for an easy way into Golding’s less famous novels, this is an ideal starter.

The plot makes sense, the characters are realistically portrayed and the story is told by Oliver in the first-person.

In a minor essay, part of an MA course I’m taking, I say lots of clever things about Golding’s exploration of class in To the Ends of the Earth; A Sea Trilogy, none of which will be of any interest to the general public. Basically, Golding wrote about class; I have spent all of my life living in Britain: a country I love, but one where people from all classes still, still struggle to face the age old anxieties and prejudices of the British class system.

This historic problem, which effects us all, will always rear its head when voting occurs.

Examples:

  1. The vote to leave Europe (a direct split between one class of Britain and another)
  2. The vote to keep Scotland inside the United Kingdom (another barbed-wire fence)
  3. The brick wall between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party

 

Throughout his work, Golding argued that class was a universal problem for the British. Our recent history continues to reinforce the power of this inescapable fog, a dark force, continuing to cloud the judgement of every British person today.

#25 Emma

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 16/06/2017 at 12:00 pm

#25 EmmaEmma Woodhouse, an heiress of £30,000 and two-and-twenty years old, plays match-maker with her less fortunate and younger friend Harriet Smith. But when her social schemes backfire, she is terribly upset.

As the writer Sebastian Faulks has said, Emma is a snob and her snobbery has emotional consequences, both for herself and for those within her society. Emma’s self-satisfaction, her selfish pretenses and her manipulative social behaivour make her a figure of fun because she takes herself too seriously. To Emma, the false manners and codified language of her class exist for her pleasure and delight. Admittedly, as a young woman living in a man’s world, Emma’s approach to her own courtiers needs to be cautious and considerate; but this does not, should not, excuse her hobby of interfering with the love life of her naive friend Harriet. Faulks is right to argue that Emma is a snob; and I would go further to argue that she is one of the worst snobs seen in English literature: interfering and selfish to extremes.

I have mixed feelings about Jane Austen, whose novels are often imitated but never surpassed. Clearly, Austen is a writer of some genius—she almost single-handedly resurected the sentimental novel from the dustbin of literary history and transformed into the modern romantic comedy. However, Austen often attracts harsh criticism because her novels appear completely detached from history, ignorant of the servant-class and devoid of any serious political intrigue. And much to the dissatisfaction of the male species, Austen portrays men as binary opposites to woman. For Austen, war is a man’s business; marriage: a woman’s affair. In Austen view, the struggles of the lower-orders are ignored in favour of the struggles of chivalric love—-i.e. whether X will marry Y for a good fortune or X will marry Z for love. In Austen’s defense, I might add–at least when it comes to the under representation of ordinary people–minus the occasional gravedigger or porter—Shakespeare has been accused of the exact same narrow-mindedness.

#21 Candide

In Adventure, Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 19/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#21 CandideCandide begins his journey in a German castle, closeted off from reality by his optimistic philosophy tutor Dr. Pangloss. One day, he innocently kisses the beautiful Cunégonde’s hand, strays his own hands into other areas, and is kicked up the backside by Baron Thunder-ten-tronchk. So then, as so many stories do, the trouble all begins with two young people falling in love…

First published in 1759, Candide sold twice more than Gulliver’s Travels within the first month. Like Swift, Voltaire sends his hero on an unlikely adventure with many twists and turns. Like Cervantes, he has a trusty servant accompany his hero along the way. On this hilarious journey of incredible misfortune, Candide is flogged, taken in by the Spanish inquisition and has the riches of Elderado fleeced from him aboard a merchant ship. And yet, despite the sheer scale of catastrophe that befalls young Candide, he continues to draw hope that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’.

The question is, will he remain optimistic until the end of the tale? The answer is no. And so, what we have is a universal message about faith versus reason; optimism versus cynicism; youth versus experience; and romantic love versus companionship. Candide is foolish to trust everyone he meets along the way, believing them to be trustworthy, without making any reasonable judgement about their character beforehand. As he is scarred by his foolishness, he begins to develop into a more reasonable person, behaving in a way which is less trusting of other people.

Written during the Enlightenment, otherwise known as age of reason, Candide is both a moral and philosophical tale about the power of substance over superstition. At a time of great scientific discovery, a period that is often seen as a turning point from religious thinking to scientific thinking, this deceptively simple tale can be enjoyed on several levels. On the surface, it is a wonderfully funny boy’s adventure about a young man going off on an unlikely journey. Nothing is taken seriously, deaths occur in a sentence, and the children’s-story-like prose doesn’t appear to struggle with the depths of the human psyche. However, like all the greatest fictions, when its depths are delved into, Candide becomes a wonderfully informed discussion opener for any number of essential topics: war, love, death (to name a few). Give this classic to a ten year old boy or an elderly woman and they’ll each have something to say about it.

It was banned though, probably because of its flippant treatment of such delicate matters as murder, rape and slavery. I would argue that making fun of serious matters is a good way to challenge any preconceptions or prejudices we may have about them; other disagree. Without a liberal attitude, growing from the age of reason, there could be no stand-up comedy, no rock n’ roll and no critique of religious matters. Such a world would be full of solemn prayer, pious attitudes towards sex and (to be flippant myself) absolutely no fun whatsoever. It would also be a world where public shaming or public executions occur whenever an artist challenges the status quo. When censorship goes too far, suddenly, jazz music, Jewish poetry and black comedy are being stamped upon by the jackboots of fascists, as they burn the works of Voltaire outside the gates of the Reichstag. By the butt of a gun, in a world without liberal humanism, violent troops of young fools fight for some tyrant’s idea of a religious ideal: unthinking and under orders. With great wit and wisdom, Voltaire reveals the sheer absurdity of such human history and teaches us to see such serious matters in the true light of day. And most importantly, with a good sense of humour and a decent dose of irony.

48: Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance on 27/11/2015 at 12:00 pm

Rob Roy by Sir Walter ScottBy 1817, an unprecedented number of books by Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) were being sold.  Not only was Scott the first best seller in the English language, but he has since been credited for his invention of the historical novel. When placed within the context of the history of the book, Scott’s significance as a canonical writer of worldwide influence becomes most clear. But how should we approach Scott’s writing today? Can it still be taught to school children in the age of the internet.

The first thing that will strike a modern reader is the two hundred year old English being used by the narrator Mr. Francis Osbaldistone. Although his first person narrative is written in a sprightly style, which energetically jumps off the page, it could easily be judged as overcomplicated by today’s concise standard. When the lush narration is then combined with characters’ frequent use of the Scottish dialect circa early eighteenth century, our need yo translate becomes more paramount.

That being said, despite the difficulty that this reader had with the English and Scots, I very much enjoyed reading this two century aged text. All the components of great traditional storytelling are present within the work: a plot that encompasses a particular moment in history; a vivid series of different characters who live within this historical moment; and a confident control of the chosen language. These three things – plot, characters, style – remain the key skills to master before producing a best selling historical novel. The rest is hard graft and extensive research into your chosen period.

I wonder if there is a novel about the life of Sir Walter Scott out there?

44: The Peripheral by William Gibson

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction on 30/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Peripheral by William GibsonThe picture on the back of this hardback book is of its author. I’m drawn to those intelligent blue eyes of his. He’s not looking straight at you, but peering just behind you. This is what his speculative fiction has been doing since he coined the term cyberspace back in 1982. It looks just behind you, peers into potential futures. The Peripheral (2014) is no exception.

William Gibson (1948 – ) has a remarkable knack for making the future believable. His slick novels thrust us into the lives of ordinary people, trying to live decent lives, despite the bullshit knocked out to them by criminals and corporations alike. Characters such as Flynne Fisher, who gets sucked into some weird future-London. All she wanted was to earn was a few quid, playing games with her brother Burton. Now she finds herself in some messed-up future dimension, whilst her whole family gets dragged into some serious shit.

There’s a quote from The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) at the start of this book. Something to do with time travel making you sick and confused. Taking this point on board, I wonder if reading a Gibson novel is somewhat like time travelling. When you first pick up one of his books, you’re thrust into an alien world. At first it feels weird, but you keep reading because you’re enjoying it. Despite feeling confused, you persevere; and eventually, all the dots start to connect.

Intersect behind peering blue eyes.

43: If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance, Spy on 23/10/2015 at 12:00 pm

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo CalvinoThis brilliant novel is about you. It involves your search for a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino (1923-1985). Frustratingly, your quest for the book keeps on leading to other books; and these new books keep on ending, just as you’re getting attached to them. And so, you embark on your own adventure. Along the way, you’ll find romance and meet a spy. All within the sinews of your imagination.

If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979) was first published in Italian and translated to English in 1981. During the sixties and seventies, literary theorists such as Roland Barthes (1915-1980) and Julia Kristeva (1941-) were busy inventing clever ways of talking about novels. As an approximation, 39% of what Roland and Julia wrote was nonsense. However, a lot of it was really cool inter-textual stuff that got writers joining dots indiscriminately. Story tellers could start weaving their threads in new post-modern ways, as Italo Calvino did in this remarkable novel.

Now for some twenty-first century linkage: if you like David Mitchell (1969-), you’ll like Italo Calvino. That’s because both writers are crafty, shifting from story to story. The clever word for this is post-modern, but you don’t need to know any clever words to enjoy Calvino. All you need to do is let your imagination run wild, and go with the proverbial. If you don’t like books, then you won’t like this book. If you do like books, you’ll enjoy at least 41% of this novel. I probably enjoyed about 78%-81% of it, but don’t always believe what you read on the internet. I suggest you start / finish the book yourself.

You’ll find it’s easier in a library.

14: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Romance on 03/04/2015 at 12:00 pm

Lucky Jim by Kingsly AmisJames Dixon works at an unnamed English university in the history department under Professor Welch. When Dixon is invited to an arty weekend at the Welch’s place, a series of comic incidents begin to occur that will mean Dixon must ride his luck – something that ‘Lucky Jim’ is actually quite good at. As Dixon gets tangled up by his own foolish behaviour, the comedy builds up to a crescendo.

Lucky Jim (1954) is a funny and skeptical book that sets Dixon’s questionable actions alongside the ironic tone of the narrator. A perfect example is the way in which a hangover is described at the start of chapter 6, following a night spent getting extremely drunk and setting fire to Mrs. Welch’s bedclothes.

‘He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning.’ (pg. 61)

This sentence not only sums up Dixon’s feelings of wickedness as he lays static with a terrible hangover, but it craftily combines a simile (‘like a broken spider-crab’) with a metaphor (‘the tarry shingle of the morning’). It is the humorous combination of the sprawled human body, juxtaposed to imagery taken from the natural world, that turns Dixon’s self-imposed misfortune into comedy. When such literary techniques – which commonly occur in poetry – are expertly used to bring humour and lushness to the prose, the result can be seriously funny and aesthetically pleasing.

I think that Amis was ahead of his time in many ways, and yet part of a funny-novel history reaching back to such eighteenth century delights as Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy). My reasoning is that this sort of humour (part naturalistic / part situational) has often been seen in contemporary British and American television series (e.g. The Office / Curb Your Enthusiasm). On the one hand, we are encouraged to empathise with Dixon as he struggles with the pretensions and snobbery of university life; and on the other hand, the narrator turns Dixon into a selfish and dishonest fool. A good way to argue for and against Dixon as a human being would be to look at his relationship with Christine. Although Christine is clearly more suited to Dixon then she is to Bertrand, the way in which Dixon woos Christine involves selfishness and dishonesty. However, Christine doesn’t seem to mind his silly actions and actually finds them quite amusing. And it is only because she sees him for the flawed and pathetic creature he truly is, that Dixon allows himself to fall in love with her.

And love soon turns this comedy into a romance.

10: Almayer’s Folly by Joseph Conrad

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance on 06/03/2015 at 12:00 pm

Almayer's Folly by Joseph ConradJoseph Conrad (Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) (1857 – 1924) lived a somewhat displaced life, and often created characters who have traveled far away from their homeland. Writing towards the end of the British Empire, his best-known work has been criticised for its outdated portrayal of ‘the other’. But despite over a hundred years of literary criticism, his writing continues to grip new readers because it is written with great narrative verve. For when the reader opens a Conrad novel, it is the narrative – as opposed to the story – that centres itself. In other words, the way that he tells the story is more important than the plot.

And this remarkable first novel (published in 1895), in only twelve chapters, inhabits place and character in a way that is vivid and lucid and almost transcendental. The exotic setting (the Malay archipelago), is beautifully brought to life, written with that Conrad-esque clarity of vision, equally at ease when pinpointing a character trait as it is when directing the dramatic action. Further more, these emotions, these actions, smoothly pull and shift alongside changes in the weather, the Malay people and the sea.

One character that stands out for me is Nina, the young girl who falls in love with the forbidden Dian. Her father Almayer is a white European, a failed merchant who loves Nina deeply. He is in conflict with his wife Mrs. Almayer, a Malay woman rumored to be a witch. At the start of the book, Nina is sent to a convent by her father, who wishes her to adopt Christian values. However, as Almayer foolishly builds an unfinished house nicknamed ‘Almayer’s Folly’, his business begins to fail and his daughter returns home. Later Nina falls in love with the fugitive Dian (wanted by the white authorities), and is asked to choose between her European father and her Malay lover.

A melancholic and stirring romance.

04: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

In Books, Fiction, Romance on 23/01/2015 at 12:00 pm

Madame Bovary by Gustave FlaubertAs a major French novelist, Gustave Flaubert (1821-80) has been studied and read for over a century-and-a-half. His first novel Madame Bovary (1857) made Flaubert’s name, and is a scintillating romance about a woman who is bored with provincial life. Married to a sensible doctor, whose medical skills are at best average, Madame (Emma) Bovary begins to foster and maintain adulterous relationships.

Emma’s affairs, although temporary thrilling, fail to satisfy her unsettled soul. Madame Bovary is very keen to spend her husband’s money, and absorb herself in sentimental novels and music, but even these cerebral distractions leave her wanting. As the psychological portrait thickens, revealing Emma as a complex and disturbed character, the inevitable tragedy looms.

I was handed this book by a friend, who had decided to stop reading it halfway through. When I asked my friend for a reason, she said that Madame Bovary is not a likable character. To this point I agree: Emma is deceitful, reckless, vain and self-centered. However, this did not stop me from enjoying her exploits, and the quirky characters who inhabit her little nineteenth century village. I was excited to see how far Emma could push her conscience, and test her lying abilities, before she fell apart completely. And when I allowed Flaubert to weave my imagination, I felt joy and fascination, as though I had traveled by time machine to some happily nostalgic and curious land.

It’s a classic French novel about a tragically bored woman.

46: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance on 15/11/2013 at 12:00 pm

Brooklyn by Colm ToibinI found this well-thumbed secondhand book in a local charity shop for £1 last Friday. I wouldn’t normally have picked it up, but on the same day I had been out for lunch and it had been coincidentally mentioned. And so, believing that one should follow the unexplained rhythms of coincidence, I thought I would give this contemporary novel a punt.

In his psychologically acute style, Colm Toibin (rhymes with ‘the scene’) creates Eilis – pronounced like ‘Irish’ with an L for lollipop – Lacey, a young Irish character who emigrates to America in the 1950’s. In chronological order, in four parts without chapters, the novel describes a number of events in Eilis’s life as she moves from Enniscorthy, the second largest town in County Wessex, to Brooklyn, the most populous of New York’s five boroughs. Along the way she will become homesick, fall in love and be forced to make difficult decisions about her future.

In an interview for the BBC’s World Book Club, Toibin talks about how he wanted to take an ordinary character and dislocate her from the comforts of home to explore her humanity. In addition, he suggests that there is a secret history in Ireland of young people emigrating when times have become hard. In his quick witted and talkative way, Toibin expands on these points suggesting that today Eilis would be using Skype to plan a trip to Canada because she knows two friends who are already there.

Today there are over thirty-five million people with Irish ancestry living in America. This novel presents an intimate and realistic portrait of what it would be like for a young woman to emigrate to the states in the 1950’s. However, the book is more concerned with the subtleties of Eilis’s character than with, for example, the civil rights movement. This is perhaps because we are shown the story from the perspective of a passive young woman, with a thoughtful personality, going through an emotional time in her life and yet, because of her dislocation from home and her passivity, unable to express her feelings to those closest to her. Fortunately for Eilis, there is love for her in New York and she is eventually saved by love.

I enjoyed Toibin’s way with words which is well balanced between descriptive narrative, psychological observation and dialogue with strong screenplay potential. Indeed, Nick Hornby has already adapted the book for screen and the film version is set to be released next year staring Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo).

A good book that could generate an award winning film.