Totalitarian control. Censorship. Loss of Freedom. All of these things are as much of a concern in 2017 as they were decades ago. Since Trump entered office, Orwell’s 1984 has become a bestseller once again. There are growing concerns about government control, “Big Brother” and spying to name a few. However, while 1984 has been highlighted in North America’s conscious, there is yet another perspective that should be considered: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. While not quite as popular as Orwell, Bradbury makes excellent observations about Western Society’s possible downfall.
The world of Fahrenheit 451 is one of entertainment- parlour families shown on large screens in individual’s houses that one can interact with, radio, and the pastime of driving extremely fast for the fun of it. The average citizen has been amused into submission. They have no interest in books. It happened slowly- universities gradually lost all enrolment and therefore closed; schools became places to learn how things operate- not why. Individuals gradually become submissive and they were happy to abide by the illegality of books as they continued to be increasingly entertained. At least, most citizens were.
Guy Montag is a fireman- not a person who extinguishes fires- a person who creates fires largely for the purpose to destroy books and the places that house them. One day he meets 17 year old Clarrise McClellan who is so peculiar she makes Guy question his worldview- especially his definition of happiness and his career choice. He brings these questions home and to work which makes his peers suspicious. His superior, Captain Beatty, comes to comfort him in his doubts about being a fireman – to promote happiness, since books cause unease and unrest in people. Surely they are the detriment to people’s happiness and must be destroyed at all costs. But Montag wonders, how can that be true since his wife tried to take her own life with sleeping pills one night? Surely, there must be a reason why some risk their lives to protect books- like one lady he himself helped burn.
As I read through Fahrenheit 451 I couldn’t help but apply the themes to my own life. I have an entertainment machine in the palm of my hand-my smartphone- and I often use it for mindless dribble more than for educating myself. I look at the party culture of my generation and the inability many of my peers have to think about even the short term future and it saddens me. As I gain encouragement from Bradbury and other writers, I have been changing what I do in my spare moments- listening to audio books in the commute to and from work, taking classes, and so forth. Let’s not be made passive by entertainment, but use leisure for building us up.
Agatha Christie is one of the world’s bestselling novelists thanks to her 66 detective novels. According to her website, she has only been outsold by Shakespeare and the bible. Having never read an Agatha Christie novel before, I decided to read And Then There Were None, which is considered to be one of her best books. This is not just hearsay: And Then There Were None is listed on the Wikipedia List of Best Selling Books; it has an estimated $100 million in sales since it was published in 1939, and it remains in print today, with a new hardcover copy having been published in the fall.
And Then There Were None is the story of ten strangers with vastly different backgrounds who are all invited to stay at an island. After arriving, the guests are informed that their host and hostess are delayed; it’s around that point that they realize they were all invited under differing and rather mysterious circumstances. Then the guests start dying one by one. The first death can be explained as a suicide. But by the third death, there can be only one explanation: murder. After a thorough search of the island, the guests realize that they are the only ones present, which means one of their party is the murderer! How will the innocent guests figure out who the culprit is before they’re all dead?
While And Then There Were None is a little bit dated in its writing style, I can easily see why it remains the world’s best selling mystery novel. It is a bit light on the characterization, but I found that doesn’t really matter because And Then There Were None is all about the plot. It is an excellent mystery that will keep you guessing right to the end!
Haruki Murakami is a difficult author to write about. He is one of my favourite writers, who surprises and delights me each time I begin a new novel of his. If there is one commonality that ties his novels together, it’s the fact that his body of fiction defies categorization. Murakami frequently writes about people’s intimate life experiences while they deal with love, loss, growth, pain and revelation. Often these stories are set within a certain point in history, which adds a human dimension to our understanding of that time.
Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” is just that novel. Published in 1987 to critical acclaim, “Norwegian Wood” has been cited as his best novel. “Norwegian Wood” tells the story of Toru, an introspective young man studying in Tokyo during the sixties. The story follows Toru’s coming of age while he navigates his new life in Tokyo as well as coming to terms with the unexpected death of his best friend, Kizuki. As Toru tries to understand Kizuki’s senseless passing as well as determine what path, both personally and academically to take, he rekindles his friendship with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko.
Toru and Naoko soon realize that their feelings for each goes beyond friendship, which is further complicated by Naoko’s own inability to cope with Kizuki’s death. Naoko’s fragility makes it difficult to maintain a relationship with Toru, who eventually ends up falling equally in love with his classmate, Midori. Midori is radically different from Naoko, and Toru finds himself torn between the two loves of his life. As the plot delves deeper into Toru’s romantic and existential pain, Murakami effectively conjures the mood and atmosphere of the sixties, complete with historic and pop culture references.
The details of Toru’s experiences ultimately add up to Murakami’s sentiment that life can be beautiful and sad, tragic and unpredictable. Each and every one of us is on our own paths seeking truth in our lives and relationships. As we follow and listen to Toru’s first person narrative, Murakami reveals not only Toru’s thoughts, anxieties, and questions about life, but our own.
The recent release of the trailer to the movie, “Me before You”, reminded me of how much I loved the book on which the film is based. The story begins with Louisa Clark, having just lost her waitressing job. Times have not been good for the Clark family and her parents depend on the extra money that Louisa brings in. The recession has hit their small English town and jobs of any kind are scarce; so when the opportunity of being a companion to a disabled man at better than average pay comes along, Louisa jumps at the chance even though she hasn’t a clue about caregiving.
Her charge, Will Traynor was once a powerful investment broker but an accident has left him a quadriplegic. Will is many things; bright, educated, demanding, difficult and depressed. Forced to live in the modified annex of his family’s palatial home, Will feels the life he has is no longer worth living, and has chosen assisted suicide in six months’ time at a clinic in Switzerland. The beginning of Louisa’s relationship with Will is difficult but overtime they grow closer. When Louisa learns of Will’s decision, she throws herself into creating opportunities to show Will that his life matters. Will takes an interest in educating Louisa, showing her that there is a whole world outside her village by introducing her to foreign films, wines, literature and classical music. Will sees all the potential that resides in Louisa, and tries to get her to spread her wings.
On the surface much of the tale seems to be about the relationship between two very different people but the core of the novel is really an exploration and celebration of Life and the relationships with others that bring colour and joy to our own existence. Warning: bring tissues.
Since the birth of film, there has been Shakespeare. While translating his plays into film may have been the high water mark of many careers such as Lord Laurence Olivier and Sir Kenneth Branagh, other actors and directors have felt the urge to interpret The Bard. Most recently, Michael Fassbender, along with Marion Cotillard starred in the 2015 version of Macbeth and Joss Whedon, the writer and director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers, used his vacation time between films to shoot a simple updated version of “Much Ado About Nothing”.
Other films though have taken the gist of a Shakespearen play and completely transformed it to a new setting, in frequently strange and wonderful ways. Disney’s “The Lion King” owes much of its substance to Hamlet, and the teen comedy “Ten Things I Hate About You” is really The Taming of the Shrew. The Japanese shogun movie “Ran” that would inspire Star Wars, was itself inspired by King Lear, and the science fiction classic “Forbidden Planet”, which would be the catalyst much of the science fiction television and novels of the 1960’s and 1970’s, was really “The Tempest.”
Any film site on the internet lists great and not so great attempts at adapting Shakespeare and there are always more coming. Sean Bean is set to star as the title character in Caesar, (which does prove he dies in everything); and Rosaline which is based on Rebecca Serle YA novel called When You Were Mine, used Romeo and Juliet as it’s heart. IMDB or the International Movie Data Base lists 1140 versions of Shakespeare’s work on film or television, with another 19 new works on the horizon as of March this year.
Of course, Romeo and Juliet as garden gnomes is a bit much, even for my taste.
During my Christmas holidays, I picked up the novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Other than it was a popular title and was made into a movie, I didn’t know much about this book when I started reading it. Described as a psychological thriller, the novel seemed promising at first.
We begin with meeting one of the main characters, Rachel Watson, who is traveling on a train. With her own life in shambles, Rachel creates a perfect, imaginary life for a couple she sees everyday through the train window. But when the woman from this couple goes missing, Rachel decides to make her messy life even messier by helping to solve the mystery. The plot unfolds not only through the voice of Rachel, but two more female characters; Megan, the woman who has gone missing, and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife.
The novel’s timeline takes place in both the past and the present. In some cases, the same event will be described by more than one woman, giving the reader multiple perspectives on what happened.
This writing style creates a suspenseful atmosphere and leads the reader to wonder who can be trusted. As dark secrets begin to surface and we learn more about the characters, including Megan’s husband Scott and Rachel’s ex-husband Tom, our first impressions begin to change (the characters are not exactly who we think they were) and we start to see how everything is connected.
The Girl on the Train is a fast moving novel. However, half way through, the story seemed to drag on, the characters’ actions were a little repetitive and the conclusion to who committed the crime became predictable. Though overall, Hawkins novel was interesting, and dark, and had enough action and surprises to keep the reader turning pages.
As someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy, I was a little reluctant to pick up this book. I was even more reluctant after the person who recommended it informed me that it was the first book of Brooks’ original trilogy and now part of a growing series. However, I decided to jump in with both feet. The Sword of Shannara definitely has its share of adventures and interesting characters. Although, I am not a fan of novels with excessive detail, I still enjoyed Brooks’ writing and the fantasy world he created.
The story begins when Shea Ohmsford and his brother Flick are sent on a quest by the mysterious Druid Allanon to retrieve the Sword of Shannara and destroy the evil Warlock Lord. As more characters are introduced, the story begins to unfold in unexpected ways. Brooks immerses the reader in overlapping stories of each character’s journey to defend their world against evil, keeping you intrigued chapter after chapter.
I’ve started to read the second book of the trilogy, the Elfstones of Shannara. This summer, it was announced that MTV is filming a new TV series based on the Shannara books. The Shannara Chronicles will be released in 2016 and begins with the story The Elfstones of Shannara. It will be interesting to see how they have adapted the story for TV.