Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

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Unexpected Resolution

This book is not what I expected! Not in a particularly good or bad way, but in a random-thoughts-translated-as-random-interwoven-plots kinda way, with each different conflict finishing in a subtle and unexpected fashion.

I guess I should explain. There’s a few conflicts within Ishiguro’s book, which I’ll list below:

  1. The married couple, Axl and Beatrice, were supposed to visit their son.
  2. There was a vicious dragon that warrior Winstan was supposed to kill.
  3. There was a vicious dragon that knight Gawain was also supposed to kill—no idea why the two men couldn’t help each other.
  4. Everyone kept recognizing husband Axl, no idea why—I secretly thought he was King Arthur lost among the people after the forgetful fog.
  5. There was the boy Edwin, whom was bit by some secret animal—I kept wondering if he was going to turn into a werewolf.

Any of those align with your expectations? No?

What do you expect to happen?

Now compare that to what actually happens:

  1. The married couple remember by the end of the book that their son had died earlier, and now they could only visit his grave, meaning all their travel was for nothing.
  2. Winstan killed the “vicious” dragon, who was actually really old and was going to die soon anyways, and he didn’t kill out out of the goodness of his heart (being that the dragon’s breath created a mist that made people forget) but because he wanted people to remember their vengeance in order to create disorder and chaos before the Saxons invade.
  3. Knight Gawain never wanted to kill the dragon; he was the dragon’s protector, protecting the beast so that Master Merlin’s spell of forgetfulness would make people heal and forget the past—the mass murder that King Arthur had commit.
  4. Axl turned out to be just some small peace-maker, one of the knights of Arthur’s round table.
  5. Edwin was bit by a dragon, whose pull could actually pull you toward it. No idea how this works considering the Dragon was so big it Should’ve just swallowed him, and was so old that it never left it’s nest. Feel like this plot was concluded since the Dragon died but was ultimately left unexplained.

Overall, even though this was a slow read, I thought this was a very interesting book. Because of its numerous conflicts, the way it interwove these numerous stories, it was very complex and it tied itself up at the end. I feel like it was so subtle that it was very thought provoking, and I like the fact it had no big reveal. I’ll have to think on this book some more.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Peregrine

Having just finished All the Birds in the Sky, I feel like this should be a more momentous occasion. Especially—Spoiler Alert—after that last scene.

“You are,” the Tree said, “like me.”

“A distributed consciousness, yes,” Peregrine said. “Although your network is much larger and vastly more chaotic than mine. This may require…a rather ambitious firmware update. Stay tune.” The screen went dark.

Through this ending, Anders draws attention to the similarities between technology and magic. Both having a sort of network, one connected by magic, the other connected by internet. This shows how dissimilar the two societies communicate, and yet, it shows how alike they are, both working in the same way. By understanding how this book crosses genres, using fantasy and scifi elements, you can better understand how scientists can be religious and religiously devoted to their studies, how people can be devoted to explain the explainable and, at the same time, accept the unexplainable.

And yet, it was so slap in your face, so obvious, that I find a hard time being attached to this ending. Imagining a piece of technology attached to a tree? It was practically waving the theme in your face. And I found it hard to accept, especially since this if the first time of technology attaching to nature in the book. I would rather accept Peregrine—the know-it-all tablet and AI baby of witch Patricia and scientist Laurence—as the savior of humanity instead. Maybe since he’s already a cross breed?

I also didn’t really like how the timeline took these awkward jumps forward.

He would be doubting his relationship aloud with Serafina…

“This is weirding me out. I mean, I feel like our communication has sucked for, I don’t know, a month or so…”

“So…I’m not on probation then?”

…”I guess you are now.” (138)

And then all the sudden they’re on the equivalent of a ‘probation.’ How does one follow that logic? Maybe I’m just too easy going, but surely when someone voices their own doubts, you don’t punish them for it? Isn’t that a betrayal of trust and communication?

Then, we would go from Laurence dating Serafina…

But this was someone he’d known half his life, with whom he had this whole labyrinthine history. He could not screw this up. Plus Patricia might be used to crazy magic sex. (218)

To him and Patricia getting down and dirty. Isn’t that third base? They hadn’t even made it to one. And what happened to Laurence dating Serafina? I wanted some closure (or at least explanation) of what happened to the first relationship before he moved with a new one.

Overall, these were only minor hiccups to the story. Still disturbing—jolting you out of the story when you least expect it—but it’s not anything super bad. In this case, it was outweighed by the positives: creating realistic characters.

Truth was, Laurence only half paid attention to the amazing sight of these bright tropical birds devouring flowers, because he kept trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he had nearly erased a human being from existence…Plus when he tried to sleep, his heart did a circus drumroll as he remembered Priya’s mouth opening and closing.

Even now, sitting with Patricia on a rough horse blanket on the grass, Laurence kept bracing himself for her to say something—she knew full well what had happened to Priya, maybe even better than Laurence did, and she hadn’t said one judgmental word about it yet. She was probably just waiting for the right moment. (207).

What I particularly like about these paragraphs is that it shows how guilty Laurence feels for what he did, and yet not once does it say, ‘He felt guilty.’ Instead, Anders shows us how guilty he feels: re-imagining Priya in pain, going over the scene again and again; imagining he’s going to get punished, expecting that punishment. These are all the signs of a child who knows they committed an immoral act. And it was sooo much stronger than saying, ‘He felt guilty.’ I definitely want to practice this skill more because this is what made this book special for me. The emotions are so intense!

Anders, Charlie Jane. All the Birds in the Sky. New York, NY: Tor, 2016. Print.

And from the depths of the sea…the Kraken!

I like calamari. Of course, that has nothing to do with China Miéville’s book, Kraken, except maybe a distant relationship to his brother octopus. But thinking of both of them brings a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach – probably the beginnings of heart burn, or something. Ha.

But seriously, I liked it. Just finished reading it, courtesy of one of my students. He was captivated by the ending. I was captivated by the details and a few other things.(Spoilers!)

+ I loved the critic on religious beliefs. It was entertaining to read about these different religions, whose gods took different forms. Kraken, sea, ferret…It was random. And entertaining. It puts religion in perspective, how silly it is to argue different beliefs because you can never prove one write, and why should you when it’s a belief and not a fact.

+ I liked the introduction. It was this hilarious deceit, showing you through a scene, oh – this is how all the tours go. And then it breaks the continuity, and says, oh – the tour didn’t go like this. It actually went like this. It was this funny contrast between usual and now. And I really enjoyed that comparison.

+ The random extra characters. Miéville has a great imagination, and he didn’t let me down in Kraken. He invented all these extra characters, who don’t really add anything to the novel, except to show more details behind this society. The one guy I liked in particular was this guy who went to a villain meet-up, and they were auctioning the job. Everyone got greedy hearing the prize, but there was one guy – he was allergic to greed. He had to run out of the room (184). How hilarious and random, is that?

There was also one other guy – Jason. Anyone who met him thought they knew him; his knack was familiarity, recognition. Everyone thought they recognized him, and it allowed him the ability to walk in to secure offices, to walk around without a badge, to take information without asking. It was cool until someone with powers recognized him for what he was and until the bad guys found him and killed him. Poor guy.

I don’t like Billy. This is where I feel like Miéville is definitely a plot-oriented author. For most of the book, Billy was in mourning for Leon, being dragged to and from events like a little kid. He didn’t contribute anything to the book until it was time for the conclusion, where he re-wrote the laws of nature with the strength of his belief. Billy was a flat character. At least in my opinion. I got more feeling from Marge.

I am…unsure about the ending. So in the end, they figure out the villain is Grisamentum, who has preserved his life in ink – that was cool. But then after the good guys beat bad guys, Billy’s all, oh no! Port me! Port me now! And all the sudden, it’s like, Nope! Vardy’s the bad guy, and has been all long. He’s the one setting the Earth on fire because he can’t deal with having no belief…I’m sorry. But this to me seems like atheism, and is a legitimate belief… I don’t know. I didn’t like the “twist” ending even though it is explainable with Vardy’s beliefs.

I’m not sure I liked the pace. This is something I have to go back and examine, but for the first half of the book, I’m struggling to read it. It’s interesting, and I want to learn more, but it’s not captivating. Then, a little more than halfway, it’s pulling me along. There’s action; characters are interacting; they finally have a plan. I really do want to look back because to me, the most interesting part to study is why do I feel this way? (My hypothesis is that the first part of the book was just setting up the story of the three character sets: Billy/Dane/Wati, FSRC, Marge.)

Miéville, C. Kraken. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2010. Print.

 

Huxley’s 1984

I submitted to peer pressure.

A lot of my friends had talked about the book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, including how much they liked it and how traumatic an ending it had. They pressured me to read it, telling me again and again, it’s a classic. You should know the story.

So, I read it. I submitted to peer pressure and committed the deed. And fortunately, I didn’t feel contaminated afterwards, which tends to happen after I read a book I didn’t like. But this book was so interesting, and there are so many things I want to talk about! This book had a weird style; it was similar to 1984; the ending was weird? Forced? Rushed?

I’ll divide up my thoughts and try to make them quicker than usual, since I did a no-no and left a whole book for a post.

PREFACE

Within the first chapter, you get the setting of the book: future time period, a society where humans are artificially grown in a lab, set to undergo the Bokanovsky’s Process (where fertilized eggs undergo duplication until there are ninety-six duplicates), which the Director calls “one of the major instruments of social stability” since, as Huxley says, it produces “standard men and women; in uniform batches” (Huxley 7). Because everyone is a twin of the other; humanity can be standardized and cast into formal castes, based on intelligence. As one of the characters mentioned, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely” (137). Meaning, the more standard they look, the more easily they can conform and socialize, equating popularity and happiness.

This is a big component on which the society is built, and even though their civilization has changed in more than one manner, I think this component, for being such a small deviation from the norm, still resulted with a largely different plot, in which is discussed the importance of the individual versus society. Hint: All it takes is one deviation from the norm to create a good framework for a novel.

 TRANSITIONS IN CH 3

“Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending.”

Green corduroy shorts and white viscose-woolen stockings turned down below the knee.

“Then came the famous British Museum Massacre. Two thousand culture fans gassed with dichlorethyl sulphide.”

A green-and-white jockey cap shaded Lenina’s eyes; her shoes were bright green and highly polished.

“In the end,” said Mustapha Mond, “the Controllers realized that force was no good. The slower but infinitely surer methods of ectogenesis, neo-Pavlovian conditioning and hypnopaedia…” (50)

Most of the chapter was this way, and it was crazy to read, because it was constantly changing scenes, switching back and forth between the repetitious nurses (who used hypnopaedia to sleep condition citizen’s ethics and morals), to the reflecting Controllers (who explained how society became this way), to the average Lenina, acting as the typical citizen in this society. Because it switched so often, my brain struggled to keep up. But one thing I liked was that it showed all that was going on at the moment, drawing direct comparisons between each of these situations.

While the Controller, Mustapha, explained why society acted this way, the nurses showed how we conditioned society to act in this manner, using Lenina to demonstrate the typical behavior. For example, the nurses repeated, “Ending is better than mending,” encouraging citizens to always buy new clothes while Huxley described all of Lenina’s clothes, showing how she conforms to these conditioning’s (50). Hint: These quick transitions draw direct comparisons between scenes or characters, making them relate to each other.

1984

Remember how 1984 was a direct contemplation of the politics and social criteria to make a totalitarian society? One of the criteria it required was a sex-less society, where sex became a chore, and the standard woman behavior (of the middle and high class) was abstinence. As a direct opposite, Brave New World is sex heavy. And although the two books share opposing views to create a submissive society, both of them encourage society members to never be alone, to always be in public, and to never ruminate in their thoughts. For example, while 1984 encourages doublethink to disable individual thinking, BNW encourages the use of soma, a drug that Lenina says to take “when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly” (92).

It’s interesting to compare the books side-by-side since they both study social behavior of their own fictional society, constantly examining what-if’s. Where 1984 took a ‘hate everything, be at war approach,’ Brave New World took a peaceful ‘everyone’s happy’ approach, which you can see is drilled into the mind of every citizen on page 75: “‘Yes, everybody’s happy now,’ echoed Lenina. They had heard the words repeated a hundred and fifty times every night for twelve years.” Overall, it’s funny how similar and different they are, considering they both had the purpose to have a stable society for forever. Note: Notice again how this book doesn’t have to be sneaky with its purpose, again having the characters reflect on the same theme throughout their thoughts and dialogue, just as obvious as 1984. This gives a good method on how to reveal your theme: Make the characters examine and reflect on your purpose.

SOMA

I really like the use of drugs in this book, the one named soma. In the case of this book, as previously mentioned, characters take these drugs whenever they’re feeling something other than happiness, using soma as an avoidance method for any strong negative emotions, in effect, never learning how to deal with them (examples seen on 171 and 176). This is a cool similarity with our society, even though drugs aren’t as heavily used as in BNW, where they’re used as currency. But I think the reason this drug made the book stronger is that it shows the degree of happiness that characters feel. They depend on this sort of artificial happiness, which is by no means a true substitute for real happiness. As the Controller says, “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand” (221). What the Controller means, is the kind of happiness their society achieves is tiny compared to the kind you earn in the face of sadness. You cannot achieve true happiness without its opposite, and by eliminating the negatives, they’ve diminished the positives, but it’s okay! It’s all in the name of stability, and wouldn’t everyone rather safety? Leading us back to 1984’s statement. Would you be willing to give up your freedom for safety? How much are you willing to give up for survival? Hint: Running symbolism, as is the case of soma and the society’s dependence on artificial happiness, is a great way to exaggerate the theme of your book.

ENDING

This one I won’t include any references, but I will include plenty of SPOILERS. With the end of the book, came a general conclusion, where a few of the characters were banished from society, being too creative and intelligent for the general society. And then one character decides to banish himself, not being able to accept this artificial happiness that they have created, through the avoidance of all negative emotion.

After a sort, society tracks him down and continues to make fun of his culture’s tradition, where he learned to welcome pain and suffering as a sort of cleansing process, making him feel better. But the society warped this, making him go crazy until he rebels against the crowds, whipping people and eventually killing – what I believe to be – his ‘love’. In the face of this, his hangs himself.

This felt overall, too quick, rushed. This happened in the last 10 pages, and the pacing seemed quite strange. It slowed down quite a bit after the argument between the main characters, delving into a sort of epilogue before it re-entered the action, with the unhappy character moving away from society, flashing through quick moments of his life until we arrived at the moment of him going crazy, and killing himself in the face of murder. And because this felt forced for me, I don’t think it had the same sort of impact as it did on other readers. What about you?

Edit: I still want to say I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but I want to change part of my answer. While I was discussing the book with a friend, someone said, I know you didn’t like it, but was it effective? Causing me to consider it for the first time. Was it an effective ending? And in short, I want to say yes. It was effective.

The character who killed himself thought he couldn’t deal with the guilt at killing his love, so he ended up committing suicide. I thought this was funny – yes, funny – because he was in opposition of this consistently happy society because it was artificial through the constant use of soma. And yet, when he was faced with the situation of unhappiness, he couldn’t handle it and killed himself, showing, maybe the fake-happy society has it the right way. Because the only thing this ending showed us was that, no, people can’t handle the truth, so continue to feed them soma.

I liked that. Continuing the trek of the story by reinforcing the incorrect notion.

Huxley, A. Brave New World. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1932. Print.

Atypical Endings

When I first walked into Big Commercial Bookstore – not actually the name – and purchased this book, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, the cashier said, “Out of all the books I’ve read this year, this was my favorite. You’re going to love it.” And if anyone has ever had this happen to them before, you know exactly what’s going to happen. The book doesn’t meet those expectations.

I mean, of course it’s not going to meet them! You just raised the bar for the reader by bragging about how amazing this book is going to be, and of course, I’m going to raise the bar above my standards, thinking this book is going to be one out of a million, which of course it isn’t. Because even if books are amazing, they’re not perfect.

So I read the book, and I can tell you, it’s not perfect. Every author has their quirks, their own ideas, and although I appreciate everything, it’s not my favorite. But thank you cashier for raising the bar even more.

But there was one thing I truly appreciated, besides the nicely written summaries, which everyone should learn from because they aren’t boring in any way even if they do take up a huge portion of the book, and that is the ending.

In my perspective, there’s two types of endings, which probably over generalizes things, but this is again a general rule within my opinion.

  1. Open-ended
  2. Close-ended

For open endings, the finale of the book reaches some general conclusion, but never really wraps things up. You never find out what happens to Joe’s mother. Bobby’s friend. Does Shannon get into the American all-girl’s school after fighting sexist stereotypes against Thai Tom’s? Who knows…

For closed endings, the book reaches a finale. It ties everything up and shows you how everything ends. A good example of this would be the epilogue in the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling showed us who marries who, how the story ended and how the good guys won. She firmly ended the series so that in no way could they be continued. (Probably a good thing considering how dedicated her fan base is. You as the writer probably don’t want to suffer the pressure of continuing a possible series.)

This book – and I know this may SPOIL details for you – but this book ends like this, abbreviated-style:

Vincent.

This is my will and testament. My confession, if you will. My victory, my apology. These are the last words I will write in this life, for already I can feel the end coming to this body, as the end always comes…And in another life, a life yet to come, a seven-year-old boy will walk down a lane beyond south London with a cardboard box in his hand. He will stop before a house whose gardens smell of rhododendrons and hear the whistle of a passing train…This seven-year-old child will approach these strangers and, with the innocence of youth, offer them something from his cardboard box. An apple, maybe, or an orange…I promise the poison will be quick.

And Vincent Rankis will never be born. (North 403-405)

This ending I thought was amazing. You are not shown anything, which is a complete reversal of what every writer is told. “Show, not tell.” And yet, here we are told exactly how the story will end. We are given a letter, in which Harry reveals to his enemy, Vincent, that he will kill him, that Vincent doesn’t have much time left, and it’s already too late. And yet, we never see him kill Vincent. We are told how. We are given all the details, but we’re never shown if it’s successful.

Good-grape-ilicious-gosh, I love this ending! Nothing and everything is wrapped up. Simultaneously, this ending is open because we are not shown the definitive end, and yet this ending is closed because we know what’s going to happen next.

Because this ending forces the reader to imagine the ending, since it’s not technically shown, it forces them to think. It gives them closure because we can assume Harry will succeed, and yet we will never truly be satisfied without proof of his success. It achieves this perfect balance that I think a lot of books struggle to achieve.

What I would recommend is leave your readers within this sense of balance. To me, I think this ideal. Give them a sense of closure, but don’t close the door all the way. Give readers the motivation to think, to imagine. As authors, our job is to make our readers question the world around them. It would be in our best interest to try!

North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.