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Posts Tagged ‘1984’

I managed to read three books during my break – the joys of flying and sunbathing ūüôā – but I’ll only be counting two for the challenge because I’d read one of them before.

Book 50 – Pompeii by Robert Harris. ¬†I borrowed this from my husband when I finished reading my non-numbered book; it wasn’t really my kind of thing but despite that it was an engaging read. ¬†It follows the experiences of a disparate group of characters whose lives overlap in the runup to the eruption of Vesuvius, which buried Pompeii.

To all intents and purposes, this was a historical action story, with significant historical research undertaken.  The main characters were mostly chancers, risk-takers or power-brokers with a few key exceptions who were specialists in aqueducts and water systems. Harris also wrote the very famous, very real, Pliny in to the tale, who was known to have died as he tried to rescue friends by sea. The only woman of consequence in the story is idealised because of her looks, the description of a mother and child dying in childbirth was horrific, and generally the book is about men and their power games.

This one was a mixed bag for me – it was very readable and despite the size only took a few days to get through; it was historically interesting and detailed; it was intelligently written. ¬†The key issues for me were a few unnecessarily unpleasant scenes which did nothing to bring the story along; a vaguely frustrating ending which I won’t spoil but didn’t satisfy me; the ongoing technicalities of the descriptions.

I also feel that, even at the end of the story, I know relatively little about the main character. ¬†I can’t imagine writing a book where the character is so hidden from view and I wonder if that is a male v female writer issue, or simply that I tend to write about the ‘human experience’ rather than big world events…

Or maybe reading in the sunshine, I didn’t give it my full attention, which is more than likely!

Book 51 РNorthanger Abbey, by Jane Austen РI read this one at the same time as Pompeii, depending on the mood I was in!  Having struggled to read Emma I wanted to try an alternative Jane Austen, and this one is very simple, very sweet, and fairly inoffensive.  The story follows Catherine Morland as she experiences her first taste of adulthood on a trip to Bath and then with her new friends on to Northanger Abbey.

It’s fluffy and frivolous in many ways: Catherine is naive, unworldly, foolish and blind but also honest, decent, loyal and loving. ¬†Her first experiences of friendship, with Isabella, open her eyes to a life outside the confines of her own reality, and lead first to meeting Henry Tilney, then his sister, then finally seeing her to Northanger Abbey. ¬†It is clear from the outset what Isabella’s focus is on, and it is also clear that Isabella’s brother is equally mercenary and disinterested in the Morland’s as people with true feelings.

Catherine’s odd behaviour on arrival at Northanger Abbey goes nowhere, and seems ridiculous but as a 17 year old in a strange house at that time in history, it may have been less so; either way it does make her seem a fool and that is unfortunate. ¬†Still, the ending leads to exactly what the reader would expect – albeit suddenly rushed through and unexplored.

I read this one easily, and quickly. ¬†I didn’t enjoy it as much as Pride and Prejudice (but I had no Colin Firth in my mind as I read!), but far more than Emma – so I have decided to try Sense and Sensibility soon to see where that falls on the Jane Austen spectrum!

As I said before there was one more that I’m not counting for the challenge¬†as it doesn’t meet my self-imposed rule of new books only – Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. ¬†I read this before the other two,¬†and having first read it many years ago, I still found it very affecting. ¬†I am not going to do a full review on it but I would suggest for anyone who hasn’t read it, it’s worth a look. ¬†It’s a great example of a book which contains concepts that are so powerful they become part of everyday language – and how many things Orwell imagined in his nightmare future that have come to pass. ¬†I don’t know if that says more about him, or us…

Happy reading,

EJ

ūüôā

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Now that project month is over I thought I’d reflect on some of the things I missed in the writing news, but I got sidetracked by a story that hit the culture headlines this week – the prospect of another three Star Wars films.

This reminded me of the efforts made a few years ago to encourage people to list their religion as Jedi on government census forms, and got me thinking about how some ideas become part of our cultural landscape.

As I have said before, storytelling is hugely important, and many stories remain part of our consciousness for centuries.  Their characters, or memorable quotes, become part of everyday language Рand even if we have never read the stories ourselves, we use the terminology.

We might think of Shakespeare, who is the source of a number of phrases still in use today Рand who would know they are using phrases written for Elizabethan plays?  Or Bram Stoker: he was not the first person to write about vampires, but Dracula is probably the most famous literary vampire (in English-language literature, at any rate).

A more modern example might be George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, a book that spawned the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’ amongst others. ¬†The idea has taken hold and we now see the phrase used by some people when talking about covert surveillance – or reality tv!

So why do some stories seem so much bigger than others, and why do they seem to last in our consciousness for such a long time?

I don’t have an answer, really – it could be that they’re taught in schools so each age group is introduced to them; it could be that they survive and others don’t either because they went out of print or were not as popular when released; it could be that they caught the public mood of a time, and became famous/notorious as a result.

Nowadays, marketing has a bigger part to play, but I don’t think that’s enough on its own – it might make something fashionable but it won’t make it timeless. ¬†On the other hand, the Harry Potter series has grown from a set of books into a world-wise phenomenon covering films, clothing, holidays, tours and countless official and unofficial websites plus lots more, so marketing clearly has some influence!

Of course we don’t really think about the fact we are using Shakespearean phrases, or referring to mythological characters. ¬†Maybe in another five hundred years, people will say they’re as forceful as a¬†Jedi, and it’ll be perfectly meaningful…

Happy writing,

EJ

ūüôā

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