Jane Eyre: The Past and the Present

I’m rereading Jane Eyre, because do I really need a reason? And it’s reminding me that the Jane who has taken residence in my head – the calm, passionate, but reasoning, principled Jane – is only a finished product. She was not always so.

Revisiting the beginning of her story is highlighting the parallels and contrasts between the younger and the older Jane.

Jane’s passion, and thirst for fairness, is one of her most appealing, and identifiable qualities. In the passage below, she is vociferously declaring her need for love and affection to her callous Aunt Reed:

You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.

Of course these lines immediately made me think of her impassioned speech to Rochester:

Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!

The older Jane is more eloquent when it comes to expressing her pain, but the similarities are there. In some aspects Jane doesn’t change. She has always longed to be loved, to be accepted. The younger Jane is more pitiful, sure, being a child, and being so isolated. But the older Jane, while armed with more maturity and confidence with which to stand on her own, still longs for her love to be recognised, and maybe even reciprocated.

On the other hand, she is certainly more stable as an adult. She is confident enough to stand on her own if the situation requires it, to be satisfied with her knowledge of herself even if the world deems her an outsider.

As a young child, she says:

…I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don’t love me I would rather die than live – I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the lines Jane utters following her failed nuptials:

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.

I love those lines. They always make me swell with pride and admiration. Jane has grown strong enough, and confident enough in herself, to be able to stand up for herself. Even if that means standing alone.

 

Binti: A Bildungsroman Out of This World

I’m always excited to get my hands on a novel that falls into the New Adult category. “New Adult” is the little known label for books that chronicle the experiences of those who are post high school/secondary education age, and trying to figure out their next step in the world.

bI’d certainly put Binti in this category. Binti is just like any other young girl heading off to university. She is nervous about leaving her family, anxious about breaking with tradition, but also excited to explore her new opportunities. The only difference is that, for Binti, new opportunities means a new planet. Binti is one of the few people to have been accepted at Oomza University, at the other side of the galaxy, and she is certainly one of the first of the Himba people to leave their tribe. It is just not done, and these monumental  firsts play with Binti’s emotions. Of course, when the ship that she is on is suddenly commandeered by an alien, and apparently hostile race, the Meduse, Binti’s situation take a turn for the worse.

Binti is a novella. It is a glimpse of a bigger world, but it is a glimpse so rich and bright that you become wholly immersed in it when reading. I always say this about Okorafor’s writing, but it bears repeating. She has the talent of achieving her world-building while developing her plot. The tendency sci-fi and fantasy novels have to “pause” the plot, while they get their world-building underway is what made me reluctant to read them in the past. With Okorafor this is not the case, and it makes the story all the more realistic.

Binti is a compelling heroine. The general trepidation that young adults feel upon leaving their old world and entering a new one are drawn against a grander background here, but still feel very real and immediate. Binti’s journey of finding herself, of identifying her strengths and weaknesses involve navigating the politics between the people of her planet and the Meduse.

Binti’s anxieties about belonging are also realistically explored. She leaves for Oomza University with the knowledge that in doing so, she is essentially severing her connection to her family and her community. As she is of the Himba people, she has a significant connection to the soil she was born on. It is the practice of the Himba people to cover themselves in otjize paste, a mixture that includes soil from their land. In leaving her place of birth Binti loses this literal connection to her land. This was quite heartbreaking to read, but it’s also interesting to see how Binti tries to accommodate this drastic change in her life.

Binti is intelligent and resourceful, but her confidence and maturity really develop throughout the arc of the story.

I would certainly recommend this novel to everyone. Okorafor’s writing is masterful – it is skilled, but is never bogged down in overwrought descriptions. She is a great storyteller, and I can guarantee she will be able to draw you in. Both sci-fi lovers, and sci-fi noobs (like myself) will enjoy this novel.

Links:

For those, who have already read this novel, here are a couple of interviews with Okorafor from 2016:

Confessions of an Elbaholic: Infidelity Could Endanger the Lives of Your Loved Ones

When you’re stressed out with too many school readings to finish, on top of too many just-for-the-fun-of-it readings, and it’s becoming clear that you’ve bitten off way more than you can chew, the only thing to do is stop, step back, and stick your head in the sand. And here, readers, “stick your head in the sand” means pick out yet another film from Idris Elba’s filmography and forget yourself and your anxieties for an hour and half or so.

Today’s lucky winner is: No Good Deed. It’s the domestic thriller in which stay-at-home mom, Terri (Taraji P. Henson), unwittingly lets a stranger into her home to use the phone following a mishap with his car. Little does she know that this stranger is actually, Colin Evans (Idris Elba), a convict who has recently escaped prison and always been off his rocker.

Anyway, here be spoilers.

The movie starts off with Colin Evans being transported in a police van to the scene of his parole. Though he has been convicted of manslaughter of five young girls, he tells the court that he has turned over a new leaf.

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He’s intelligent, and well-spoken, and the more he speaks, the more you realize there’s cunning hiding there. It’s clear there’s a whole lot more going on under the surface. The court doesn’t buy his new act, though, and denies him parole which only leads to a creepy stare down from Evans that must surely have those men soiling their pants.

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Evans, however, doesn’t plan on waiting another five years. Instead, he ends up killing the two policemen transporting him, and takes off in the van.

Meanwhile, Terri Granger is busy looking after her two kids, and keeping up with the remodelling of her house.

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Her husband, who is apparently always working, and only seems to maintain a vague interest in their home life, comes home only to leave again on a trip to see his father. He’s a little bit detached, and more than a little assholish. I don’t trust him too much.

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Ditch him, Terri.

To cheer the obviously downcast Terri, her friend Meg decides that they’re going to have a girl’s night! Which will apparently involve wine, and… that’s it.

We’re back to Colin, who’s looking disturbing as he creeps on a woman at a cafe. It turns out she’s his old girlfriend, Alexis. He surprises her at her home, wanting to know why she hasn’t been keeping in touch, who her new boyfriend is, etc. etc. He yo-yos between charming and slightly deranged, and it’s kind of terrifying. Alexis is clearly scared for her life, but tries to use her wits and not to set him off. It doesn’t exactly work because he ends up killing her too.

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On the way back, Evans’ van crashes and he decides to knock on Terri’s door to ask to borrow the phone. Terri cautiously agrees, all too aware that she is home alone with the kids, but after seeing the heavy downpour, she softens and invites him in for a cup of tea. The whole time I’m going “DON’T. DO IT.” but Evans, much like the vampire, has been given the invitation to step over the threshold.

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Let the wrong one in.

DUN DUN DUN.

At this point, Elba plays Evans so charmingly, and his chemistry with Henson is spot on that I’m confused for a sec. Am I watching a rom-com or a thriller? He’s all caring and attentive, and then stands around with wet shirt sticking to him, and there’s clearly some tension.

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At this point, Meg arrives with the much promised wine. She, of course, is very single, and very smitten with Evans. When Terri goes off to see to the kids, Meg gets to chat with Evans, and fearing her growing suspicions Evans hits her over the head with a shovel. At this point, Evans go-to-solution is to just take out anyone who stands in his way. Frankly, it doesn’t seem very strategic, and if he’s going to leave dead bodies in his wake, it’s not going to be difficult for the police to track him down.

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Terri returns and is confused when Evans tells her that Meg has to run off. Terri’s no fool, and after noticing Meg’s umbrella is still in the stand she realizes that something’s wrong. She runs to the kitchen to ring the police, but discovers that the phone line has been cut! Of course! And why doesn’t Terri have her cell on her at all times, like every other 21st century being?

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Ugh, this move only worked in the 90s.

After a long and drawn-out tussle that takes place through the house, with winning moves from both parties, (and yes! There are children involved! I was quite scared for them actually), and Terri almost completes a 911 call, Evans takes back the upper hand, and forces her to get into her car with the kids and drive.

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“Marco?” “Get away from me!”

And miracle of miracles, a police car ends up driving past, and Terri flashes her lights at it. But, of course, we were hoping for too much, because after a short interrogation during which Terri can’t really reveal much, because after all, the psycho is in the car with her children, said psycho ends up shooting the police officer. That’s five and counting.

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Evans makes Terri drive to his old girlfriend’s house. Terri asks him why he’s doing this, and he goes “You’ll find out.” So there’s a mystery involved? And we’re finding this out bout two thirds into the film?

Terri, of course, freaks the hell out when she sees Alexis’s dead body. While Evans is distracted with a fallen tree and the car alarm going off, she runs off to find the first aid kit. That’s when Alexis’ cell rings, which Terri answers.

And surprise, surprise! It’s Jeffrey. That two-timing jerk. Terri realizes he’s been having an affair with Alexis, and that Evans’ attack on Terri isn’t spontaneous, but pre-calculated revenge. After ordering her slimy husband to call the police, Terri takes matters into her own hands, hides her kids, and manages to ambush Evans when he comes back into the house. And she kills that sucker.

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After that, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Because not only has that rogue convict been stopped, but Terri now knows that her husband is the actual slimeball that I expected him to be. After a solid punch to his face, Terri takes the kids and leaves, and we cut to … a future Terri with her kids in a new house, who is best friendless, but also cheating husbandless, and predatorless, aka, in a pretty good position.

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Honourable mentions go to Terri punching Jeffrey in the face:

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Yeah, I replayed that. Twice.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Finally, finally, finally, I got my hands on a copy of this novel. I’ve been keeping an eye out for it ever since it took the book blogging world by storm. Juliet Takes a Breath stars the titular character, Juliet, a queer, latina college student on a journey that involves discovery of herself, and the world. She is leaving Bronx for Portland to begin an internship with a famous feminist author, Harlowe Brisbane. She’s one who instigated Juliet’s feminist awakening, and of course Juliet can’t help idolising her.

1Before leaving on her trip, however, she has summoned up all her courage to come out to her family. They’re not exactly delighted. In fact, Juliet’s mother retreats into silence, and Juliet leaves for the next stage of her journey, in agony over whether her mother will accept her identity.

Portland, when she does get there, is not without problems. She’s thrown into a whole new world of meanings, and ways of being. She finds that her heroines are not who she thought they were, and that searching for a community of like-minded people who will accept her can be an uphill climb.

Juliet is an endearing character. She is warm, and curious and exactly one of those characters you wish was real so you could be friends with them. Her tone is vivid and effusive. It sort of jumps off the page at you, and you can really hear her in your head. She really is like Holden Caulfield for the contemporary, queer youth, except much less whiny and annoying.  I adored the relationships she had with her younger brother, her aunts, and her cousins. Overall, Juliet’s family seems pretty close, but that intimacy reaches out to her extended family as well, and you can see that a lot of love and warmth are at the heart of it.

However, the characters were also lacking in good development. There could have been a lot more exposition. A lot of it is also due to the fact that there was a lot more telling than showing. So much of the conversation between characters was narrated to me, instead of allowing me to “listen in” on the dialogue. This became a little frustrating because it started to feel like I was reading from a journal, with someone recounting a scene to me, as opposed to me being able to view the scene for myself. This really detracted from the book, especially as it seems to be a title targeted for older Young Adult, or New Adult (adults who are college, and post-college age) audiences. There were also several typos throughout the novel, and it could have probably used another edit or two.

Having mentioned the above, I do appreciate the fact that this book has arrived at a time when there are few like it. It deals with a young, latina character exploring her sexuality, her personal identity, as well as her academic identity. It explores issues of inclusiveness, diversity, and intersectionality. These are all extremely rare things in the world of young adult literature, and for that I’m excited for this novel, for where it has gone, and will continue to go.

I will just include a link to a review here that examines a careless comment made by Juliet regarding the Native American community. Overall, Rivera was quite good about untangling Juliet’s mistaken assumptions, but this one was never addressed, which this reviewer discusses.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. If you see it, pick it up, read it, share it. It deals with a lot of important issues, and shines light on many things that need to be discussed openly.

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

I’ve been excited to read this one for awhile now. I stumbled across Shyam Selvadurai a couple of years back, when I began my active search for Sri Lankan authors.

1443203Fourteen year-old Amrith is caught between childhood and adulthood. School has let out, and the holidays stretch out ahead of him in a seemingly infinite number of blank days. Amrith fears boredom, which is only kept at bay by his school’s holiday production of Othello.

Amrith, whose parents have both passed away, has effectively been adopted by Aunty Bundle, his mother’s childhood friend. He lives with her husband, and their two daughters. Lately, however, resentment has been bubbling up inside Amrith, spurred by the idea that he is alone, an orphan who has lost his real family. Which is why when Amrith’s cousin Niresh comes to visit Amrith is especially excited. It finally means a connection to his mother’s family. To Amrith’s surprise, however, he starts developing feelings for his cousin.

This is a coming of age story that tackles many themes: belonging, identity, sexuality, bravery. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Amrith as he tried to navigate his worries of being abandoned, and having no one. His youth makes him a little rash, and he says and does many impulsive things. All the same, he is still a sympathetic character, and I couldn’t help rooting for him.

One of the cons of this novel is that it chooses to “tell” rather than “show”. The setting of Sri Lanka is beautifully described, and is quite emotive at times. However, when it comes to interactions between characters, and their inner emotional development, the narration felt slightly stilted. It took the wind out of my sails a little, considering how excited I’d been about diving into this one. I think this also added, or rather, took away from significant character development. It could certainly have been expanded on more. As it is, I’d expect this book to be intended for the younger half of the young adult spectrum.

The blurb also states that the play Othello is a backdrop that parallels Amrith’s own romantic adventure. While it, and theatre, certainly plays a significant part in Amrith’s life, it is not really dwelled on as much as the blurb would suggest.

However, as a coming of age novel, it certainly holds it own. Things are tidied up perhaps a bit too prettily at the end, but it also means leaving this young boy, that I’d grown quite fond of, in a more optimistic and stable position. As a novel that focuses on queerness and youth, I believe it’s a significant player in the field of Sri Lanakn young adult fiction.

Celebrating Library Lovers’ Day

Apparently, February 14th not only marks Valentine’s Day, but also Library Lovers’ Day! A day to celebrate any and all things library. I can’t believe I’ve lived this long on this planet and only just stumbled across this piece of information. You don’t understand, ok? I used to sneak off to the library because our teachers didn’t organise enough library visits.

They’re so easy to get lost in, but they’re also the places where you can find a million versions of yourself. You can be alone, and feel like you’re in a roomful of your closest friends. You can be surrounded by people, and disappear into a world of your choosing. Libraries are great!

And in this day and age, they’re also a refuge to many. They provide vital information for refugees and migrants, for people looking to enter the work industry, for homeless folks seeking shelter and a distraction, for parents looking to occupy their children… the list goes on. The value of a library is immeasurable.

So, to commemorate this day, I thought I’d pick some of my favourite fictional libraries:

The Hogwarts library in The Harry Potter Series

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This one definitely takes top spot. My brain would probably explode at the thought of setting foot in this magical library. Imagine all the different kinds of books those enchanted walls are housing. It’s not only just books about magic, but the books themselves that are magical. It would make the reading experience all the more exciting. J.K. Rowling gives us hints with the “Monster Book of Monsters” and that shrieking head that explodes from between the pages in Philosopher’s Stone. It only suggests that there must be tons more enigmatical tomes in there for perusal.

The Chrestomanci Castle library in the Chrestomanci Series

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I haven’t actually read enough of the Chrestomanci books to become acquainted with this library. However, from what I know of Chrestomanci, and of Diana Wynne Jones, I know that I’d give an arm and a leg to be able to access this library. Chrestomanci castle is the residing place of the Chrestomanci, aka the supervisor of all magic use. It’s basically the hubbub of all magical happenings, from discussions of magical theory to adventurous romps. The library probably houses all the everything from educational tomes, to magically entertaining reads.

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities’ library from The Mummy

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This film is a personal favourite, despite all its cheesy lines, and slapstick comedy. Or perhaps, because of it? In any case, the library/museum/archives that Evie works in at the start is a beautiful structure housing thousands of texts. It is a little chilling to watch Evie knock over the majority of the shelves, though,and I pity whoever had to clean up after her.

The Pemberley library from Pride and Prejudice

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Darcy may be a snob, but he certainly has good taste, as evidenced by the subdued elegance of his estate, and, of course, by his choice of wife. As is mentioned in the novel, the Pemberley library has been many generations in the making, and Darcy himself says that “It ought to be good.” Despite Lizzie’s prickly assertion that they couldn’t possibly share reading tastes, I’m sure she’ll find something of interest following her marriage to its owner.

The Beast’s library from Beauty and the Beast

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Who hasn’t seen this scene and not fantasised about being given full reign to explore it? It’s sheer expansiveness is enough to make your fingers itch to explore the shelves. You could get lost in it for days.

Jay Gatsby’s library in The Great Gatsby

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This is the perfect library for a hermit, because no one ever goes in there. Guaranteed, libraries are meant to be shared by all, and I’m all for that. But some days you enter extreme hermit mode and this is exactly what you need. Especially when you happen to find yourself at a monstrosity of a party where everyone is beyond drunk, beyond ridiculous, and you need to find a quiet refuge.

What are some of your favourite libraries?

 

Re-Shelving: 2016

It’s well past January, and perhaps a bit belated for this post, but I’ve read too many good books this past year to not re-visit them.

I have to say that my decision to read more diversely this last year was quite effective (and made me realize how much I’d been missing out on). More than half of the books I read were by #ownvoices* authors, and the stories stem from a variety of life experiences. I only hope to increase the range of stories and authors this year.

While I enjoyed the majority of my reading picks, there were several that impacted me in significant ways. Here are the standouts:

The Book That Was Both Educational and Devastating

1In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

This memoir was an intense and harrowing read. It chronicles Yeonmi Park’s life under the North Korean regime, describing how her family struggles to survive under an iron fisted rule. While Yeonmi Park has now escaped and found freedom, the journey to achieve that is a long and treacherous one. Escaping North Korea was only the first step, and soon Yeonmi’s trapped in a tangled web of exploitation. However, her story is also one of resilience and hope. Since her escape Yeonmi has tried her best to educate the world about the dangers that she escaped, and that many North Koreans are still facing. The only thing I can recommend is that you read her story.

The Book That Was Brilliantly Entertaining, and Possessed a Unique Elegance

phoThe Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

This novel centres around Phoenix, an “accelerated specimen” who has been has been grown by the scientists of Tower Seven. She has no idea of the reason for her creation, or about the extent of her powers. She is on the brink of discovering just how devastating and destructive they can be, however, and it hinges on a moment of betrayal. I adored Phoenix. She is, quite literally, a ball of rage at times, and I loved that the narrative let her flex that part of her character so frequently. Femal rage in this novel is justified, and has serious consequences. Okorafor’s writing has a brevity and vitality to it that I love – she never bogs you down in descriptions, and yet you can clearly envision her characters and adventures. I would highly recommend this to both sci-fi fans and newbies. I’m in the latter group, and I found it incredibly easy to sink into this story.

The Book That Stomped All Over My Heart, and Then Brought it Back to Life Again

2Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings by Tina Makereti

What can I say about this novel that I haven’t said before? Months later, it’s still hovering in my mind, and I keep mentioning it whenever and to whomever I can. It explores an aspect of New Zealand history that’s rarely touched on in fiction: that of the Morioris. The novel has forbidden love, familial love, and self-love as its main ingredients. It connects three voices: Mere’s a young Maori girl in 1700s New Zealand, Lula a modern Maori European woman in present day New Zealand and a mysterious voice that connects the two women. The mystery of the voice, of Lula’s past and Mere’s future all churn slowly to a heartwarming conclusion.

The Book With a Lovable Cast of Characters That Made Me Hug it Tight After I’d Finished It

sttcSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

This is set in Regency England when Magic is at an all time low, and the Sorcerer to the Crown, Zacharias Whythe finds his position is not as secure as he would hope. The fact that he is an African man, and the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer who happened to die in mysterious circumstances only complicates his position. Despite all this Zacharias remains a strong, stoic and noble character, who doesn’t lose sight of duty and I might have fallen a little bit in love. Thrown into the mix is orphan, Prunella Gentleman, half English, half Indian, and completely ready to find her own place in the world. She’s resourceful, smart, and a tad bit impulsive, but that makes for a lot of fun adventuring. There’s a whole cast of characters to fall in love with, and fall in love I did. I can’t wait for the sequel!

The Book That Simultaneously Made Magic Seem Real and Extraordinary

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The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

Oh, Diana Wynne Jones. I have to wonder if she really was a witch, because she has a way of writing about magic that makes it seem very real. She describes it an almost tangible thing. Reading her books makes you wonder if magic isn’t just an extra element in the real world as well. In this one, Christopher Chant is determined to be the new Chrestomanci, the magician chosen to be the supervisor of all those who use magic. Christopher, however, is just like any other young boy his age, and just wants to play cricket, and only use magic for fun. Diana Wynne Jones is also great at characters – they are so lifelike and vivid that I can hear them even when I’m not reading the book. It’s a story that jumps to life so easily, and is such a fun romp. I may not have read her as a child, but she certainly makes me feel that childlike wonder every time I pick up one of her books.

Have you come across some of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know what your standouts were.

*The term “own voices” authors refers to authors who write fiction or non-fiction based on marginalized experiences from their own lives.