Tag Archives: Fiction

The Beautiful and Damned

F. Scott Fitzgerald has always been one of my favorite authors. His way of making a glitzy and glamorous reality show it’s true colors and his disillusionment with society have always intrigued me, especially with his flowery, ethereal way of describing it all. The Beautiful and the Damned is almost a sort of autobiography of Fitzgerald’s, telling of the rise, slow plateau, and steep into alcoholism of Anthony Patch, along with his wife Gloria. Much of the story mirrors what happened to Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda: after The Great Gatsby gained Scott a massive amount of wealth, they spent it like all flappers would- frivolously and without hesitation. Their partying was short-lived, for Zelda soon developed schizophrenia and Scott developed an alcohol problem. Most of the story focuses on the good times of Anthony and Gloria, even if Anthony was reluctant on meeting her in the first place. They have a strange, modern relationship and live life very spontaneously. Sometimes they don’t seem in love but “knowing they had the best of love, they clung to what remained. Love lingered- by way of long conversations at night into those stark hours when the mind things and sharpens and the borrowings from dreams become the stuff of life, by way of deep intimate kindness they developed toward each other, by way of their laughing at the same absurdities and thinking the same things noble and the same things sad.” Fitzgerald has a way of making the mundane actions of married life a little more describable, and even more desirable. However, their shining happiness is cut short- Gloria tries to run away from home, Anthony is drafted into the war, and you start to wonder if they even like each other at all anymore. Their once infamous, irresistible romance now seems disillusioned- much like the whole universe Fitzgerald creates within his novels. The couple soon runs into financial troubles and Anthony starts drinking at work, getting him into some trouble. During the time of Prohibition, this was especially problematic, even though people seemed to flaunt it all the time. The reader at this point is almost as depressed as the two supposed lovers. But things turn around for them as they win a lawsuit and become millionaires.

The story shows the obsession with materialism, the absence of a deep, romantic love, and a disillusionment with society. The couple is always out spending money and having fun, never worrying about going broke or missing out on the latest party. However, this enjoyment is only on the surface, just like their love seems to be. The reader always seems to be wondering if they really love each other or if it’s all just a passing fancy. Like the book says, “there was nothing, it seemed, that grew stale so soon as pleasure.” And as always, in practically every Fitzgerald novel, their is a disillusionment with society: nothing is really ever all it’s cracked up to be and all things once bright and beautiful will soon dull and fade. While this can be sad to some people, it can also be comforting- beauty and glory will always pass but sometimes lackluster things can be the strongest and last the longest. Maybe Fitzgerald was going somewhere with disillusionment thing and there could be deeper meaning behind it.

The novel’s dialogue structure was easier to follow than previous novels. It was almost like a play, a back-and-forth sort of format where you had to follow who was saying what. This sounds complicated but it made the novel flow much more quickly and changed the pace of certain parts. Overall, it was a beautiful piece of literary work, as should be expected of Fitzgerald, and one I will definitely read again soon.

Cousin Bette

It’s been a while since my last post but I thought I’d pick up where I left off and continue my reviews on books. Over the summer I read Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (considering the amount of time it has been since, this review may be a little sparse). This book was published in 1864 and is a part of a larger work that Balzac wrote called The Human Comedy. This particular story has to do with Cousin Bette, an old maid that spins a lie for her family. She tells them that after many years, a man has finally shown interest in her and is now her lover, his name being Wenceslas. Her family is astonished and are unaware of the fact that he is actually just a young artist that Bette supports. He has suicidal tendencies and comes across as very depressed and morose. He eventually meets Hortense, Bette’s cousin, and falls in love with her. Hortense is the daugther of Baron Hulot who is married to Adeline but is in love with Josepha, a singer, but when she rejects him, he sets his sights on Valerie Marneffe, who wants to seduce Crevel but is in love with Henri. When Hortense and Wenceslas wed, Valerie and Bette team up to try and get money from Baron Hulot but things happen and Valerie becomes pregnant, not knowing who the father is. Valerie and Crevel are mysteriously poisoned by a Brazilian toxin and die. Baron Hulot finishes out the story by having affairs with multiple women. His wife Adeline dies and he marries another woman shortly after.

This story reminded me of Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest in that there are multiple people with complicated love lives. The characters in this story are complex and at times extreme, making them seem real and all the more unreliable in nature. Balzac’s ultimate goal was to portray the human comedy, or more specifically the human condition, or really what it means to be a person. Balzac makes you familiar with Paris and famous figures at the time, as well as ones throughout history, making the reader have to educate themselves every now and then on who exactly he is talking about. Cousin Bette reflects on romance and relationships and explores the side of the human condition that effects all of us so deeply- love.

Agatha Christie

Everyone loves a good mystery and Agatha Christie knows that. Agatha Christie was a British author who penned numerous books, one of the most well-known being The Murder on the Orient Express. She had a pretty interesting life and she actually disappeared shortly after her first husband asked for a divorce. To this day, no one knows what happened in the ten days that she was missing. She remarried later and was very happy. Her intuitive mind really heped when it came to constructing her novels. Her favorite character that she uses in a number of books is Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who parallels Nancy Drew in the way he is used over and over again. The people in her books are also very elegant and refined. The way her characters interact with each other is with subdued formality. I say subdued because they are still conversational. She talks in a high-class sort of fashion and even implements some French often throughout the text. Her mysteries are often very twisted and leave the reader guessing through the entire novel, you really don’t know who the killer is until the end of the book, and it is always a shocking revelation. Most readers enjoy her books and they are obviously still read today; on my copy of The Patriotic Murders, it says over 500 million copies of her books have been sold. This shows that she is still relevant and important in society today. In popular culture, Christie has been depicted on television, showing that her legacy lives on. For example, on a Doctor Who episode called ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp,’ Christie’s disappearance is a result of an encounter with an alien called a vespiform. In the end of the episode, the Doctor shows Donna an Agatha Christie book that had been published in the year 5,000,000,000. Even though the show is fictional, it goes to show that Christie is relevant in all genres and society in general. Agatha Christie’s books are cherished and adored by fans and it undoubtedly will be the same for years to come.

Why Historical Novels are Important

How do we know what we know about history? Careful accounts and discoveries have made the amount of information we know on our backgrounds larger and more finite. Historical novels, whether fictional or realistic, help us out even more by describing what life was like back then and how people dressed, acted, and behaved. Without them, we would lose the important part of history that makes us human. Historical books (and not just textbooks) teach us things that we actually wouldn’t have learned from reading a textbook. However, this post may be a little biased since my favorite genre of books is historical fiction. Historical novels can be based in fact or fiction. The fact comes from things that actually happened and the fiction is filler that the author thinks will make an entertaining story. Movies can be this way, too; when it is ‘based on a true story’, it is just that, some filler has been added to make the story flow better or look different, but most usually coincide to the actual events that happened. Take Titanic and Gone With the Wind for example: one about a tragic ship accident and the other based during the time of the American Civil War, with Sherman’s March to the sea being mentioned. However, there was most likely no one named Jack Dawson and Rose Dewitt Bukater on the Titanic, and if Scarlett O’Hara was actually real, she is a long-forgotten Southern belle. Whatever the case, historical fiction is exciting to me because I find history itself so interesting. Learning how people lived over one hundred years ago is something I find so fascinating and I totally wish the Doctor and the Tardis were real. So whenever they invent time travel, sign me up. I want to learn about these distant times authors write about and live them.

Pen Names

Authors throughout time have used pen names to keep their identity a secret or to make the reader’s focus more on the book and less on the person writing it. For example, Mark Twain, a well-known American writer, was born Samuel Clemens. He changed his name after working on a steamboat along the Mississippi River in Missouri. He actually gets the name ‘Mark Twain’ from a type of measurement that was used on the boats called a ‘twain’, which people would mark, hence his new name. His life on the river was very important to him and this is evident through his name change. Another reason writers change their names is because they are actually women looking to make it in the literary world. George Eliot, the author of Middlemarch, was actually Mary Ann Evans, born in England during the 1800s, who wanted people to take her work seriously. During that time, men had all the power and authority so it was only logical to take the name of a man. J.K. Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter series used the initial of her name Joanne, and made up the ‘K’ as she did not have a middle name. This was all done because she believed boys at the time wouldn’t want to read a book about magic written by a woman. Authors also use pen names to heighten the story they are telling and to make it more believable. I Am Number Four, a science-fiction novel about aliens (that description doesn’t do it justice, it is actually a very intriguing story) is written by Pittacus Lore. In the story, Lore is the ruler of the place where the aliens originate, Lorien. James Frey and Jobie Hughes are the actual authors, but props to them for incorporating more of the book to be apart of the reader’s imagination and the story overall. I also used to read a book as a child called The Name of This Book is Secret, written by Pseudonymous Bosch. The actual author of the series is still disputed. Dictionary.com defines ‘pseudonymous’ as “bearing a false or fictitious name.” Relates pretty well, doesn’t it? ‘Bosch’ may come from the artist Hieronymous Bosch, who is actually one of my favorites. Overall, authors use pen names for all sorts of reasons and some of those reasons can be quite interesting once you get to researching them.

Genres

I’ve always wondered why we put books into genres. The word comes from Latin, meaning “kind” or “sort”. In my opinion, books, like people shouldn’t be labeled. For example, if people were books, a flirtatious woman would be romance, a typical teenager would be young adult, and a detective would obviously be a mystery. I feel like books shouldn’t be given labels. Some books don’t even fit into their defined genres. No novel is like the other and a genre shouldn’t define them. I do understand that humans function by putting things into categories and it’s safe to say that my life is as categorized as much as I can make it. Categories are how we organize information and make it easier to understand. However, with all of the new books being written and published, it’s becoming increasingly harder to categorize them into a genre. Take Hunger Games for example. Wikipedia classifies it as adventure, dystopian, science fiction, and action. Personally, I would’ve just called it a young adult novel. This is just one representation of how genres can be confusing or misleading. I’m not a fan of science fiction so if someone told me that Hunger Games was a science fiction novel, I probably wouldn’t read it. However, it has become a massive fandom and I have read them and enjoyed them, but I don’t consider it to be science fiction. The categorization of books also makes me wonder what authors who write these books think about genres. Do the authors set out to write a certain genre? If they don’t, do they agree with the genres that have been placed on their books? This may not be the most persuasive argument but it was just something that was on my mind. What do you think about genres?

Life of Pi (Part Two)

This book was fantastic, and I can now see what all the hype was about. I love Martel’s style of writing and the way he just puts his story together, and how it seems that he is part of the story, even though it is fiction. The story picks up from my part one post were the ship sinks and Pi is left out on the Pacific Ocean in the close quarters of a Bengal tiger. It turns out that Pi was stranded for 227 days, 7 months! When watching the movie it didn’t seem that he was out there this long. Pi tries to train the tiger named Richard Parker to respond to him, and in turn, not devour him. Days go by on the lifeboat. Near the end of the novel, Pi and Richard Parker stumble upon an island that has no vegetation other than algae, and no animals other than meerkats. Pi stays there for a few days, and says he wouldn’t mind living there forever, until he comes across something horrific. Dead fish have been cropping up in small freshwater ponds throughout the island and Pi realizes the island is acidic, with the ability to nocturnally kill anything. He finds this out after finding the dead fish and a complete set of teeth on the island. Pi eventually reaches Tomatlan, Mexico, traveling a whopping total of 10,000 miles in all, and a total of 2,000 miles away from his destination before the shipwreck, Winnipeg, Canada. In the end, Pi is interviewed by two men from the Japanese Ministry of Transport about his story and the cause of the shipwreck. They don’t believe the true story that Pi tells them, so he makes one up but they decide the first is more believable.

Life of Pi was a really great read. I love how it seems that the author is included in the story through the narrative and it made it a different type of storytelling, like mixing life with fiction (even though all fiction is based on life). Martel really knows how to use his words, whether its making the reader feel the monotony of Pi’s journey on the sea, anxiousness from the fact that Richard Parker could eat him, or just completely grossed out by some of the descriptions that are in the novel. However the author makes you feel, his words have an amazing impact. After all, “Words have no calories.”