Inspecting the House of the Spirits

Standard
Inspecting the House of the Spirits

Unfamiliar with Latin American literature, I plunged into a mindblowing and sensual world of magic and the darkest place humanity could go to. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende centres on four generations of the del Valle/Trueba family who are plagued by violence, complicated love and the past. All the while they are surrounded by unknown spirits.

What I loved is the diversity of women. Each one is distinct and quite strong – I mean they’re well-written, complex women. They don’t tear each other down either which was a surprise. One of the major themes is the bond between them and it’s something that doesn’t break even during times of trouble. The women go through a lot of pain – reminding me of Game of Thrones – but they’re not portrayed as victims. Their strength remains intact, though they don’t physically fight back, they fight back by not inflicting revenge on their abusers. Because if they did so, they would continue passing on violence to future generations. And it’s how Alba, the eventually surviving member of the del Valle/Trueba family breaks the family curse.

Photo Credit: Vintage/Random House.

Photo Credit: Vintage/Random House.

I expected magic to be a major character but it’s in the background most of the time. Only there to be a guide. I’m not complaining because I love the characterisation and how the characters have to live in a world where there is magic but they still have to deal with their lives the normal way.

The writing is magic itself. It’s like music, never fails to bore you or make you think “I don’t believe it, this is unrealistic and stupid”. Each word is written with soul that I had to stop every and now before I turned into a fountain of tears.

I recommend The House of the Spirits, rating it 9/10. Though I should warn you that there are scenes that are quite sensitive and just plain disturbing (and irritated my feminist self), so take care. Now I’m going to go off, researching Latin American history and browse for more books in the Latin American house of fiction.

Story of O

Standard

4a7fd17d24a3d19f79c556e91ed1ee09So I’ve finally read Story of O, one of the most famous erotic novels and described as better than 50 Shades of Grey – any book is better than 50 Shades in my opinion. Story of O follows the character O (that’s it, that’s her name) who agrees to be a sub for many men and even women in order to prove her love/loyalty to her lover Rene.

I have mixed feelings about the book. It lives up to its genre. It’s arousing and the writing is beautiful (and the name of O reflects how submissive and shadowy the character is) but at the same time I felt horrified over the treatment of women, the passiveness of these characters. It’s BDSM…or is it? It isn’t clear since the dom-sub relationship also takes place outside of the bedroom or scheduled time. The relationship seeps into O’s personal life and eventually overtakes all of her. The way she is treated by these doms is…not to BDSM standards. That is safe and consensual. There’s no mention of safe words. No playfulness. It’s bloody dead serious, edging on abuse at times. There’s consent but O’s love for Rene blinds her, forcing her to consent.

I can’t help but see misogyny, not BDSM, especially with O treating other women and seeing them as objects of pleasure like the male characters do. She also blames women instead of the men, wanting to humiliate or punish them for being better than her – that’s what she thinks. Internalised misogyny really gets on my nerves. On the positive side, O is sort of a strong and complex character (it’s mentioned that she was in a high position occupation-wise and had a dominating personality before she became a sub) and throughout the book, she struggles to recover her self-respect/esteem and being torn because of Rene. Every now and then, she objects to being submissive and this is later mixed with her pleasure of being dominated. Furthermore, she isn’t afraid/ashamed of being “provocative” (she’s not the typical virgin/innocent protagonist – seriously this trope needs to die off) and attracted to women, though the women are portrayed as being only attracted to each other bodily rather than on a much deeper level.

I’m glad that Story of O isn’t called a romance (unlike a certain book series). Because clearly it isn’t and O knows it. Despite my criticisms and cringey scenes, Story of O is a good erotic book but not a good guide for aspiring BDSM practitioners. Obviously.

The Twelve: A Review

Standard

9780752897882Hi, everyone. I read The Twelve, the sequel to The Passage earlier this month. It’s way overdue so I’m going to keep this review short. The Twelve follows up on the group of survivors who are now on a quest to find and rescue their loved ones who had been missing as a result of a mysterious attack at the end of The Passage. They come across a seemingly civilised community of survivors…but not really. Meanwhile Amy, the gifted girl, goes on her own quest to defeat the Twelve, the ones who started the apocalypse. She’s the only one who can…

The sequel is chillingly suspenseful that you would turn the page with a trembling hand in excitement and fear. The only thing I criticise is, still, the lack of characterisation and multiple povs. It was easy to lose track because of the latter. Are multiple povs necessary? Some weren’t and didn’t lead to anything. I can’t wait for the next book though and hopefully the characterisation would be better.

A Haunting Passage of a Vampire Apocalypse

Standard
A Haunting Passage of a Vampire Apocalypse

I didn’t know what to expect from The Passage by Justin Cronin. The blurb told me about a special girl in a dystopian world but…I wasn’t prepared for how scary the story was going to be.

The story goes: a military experiment goes alright and then it goes wrong when its test subjects (twelve criminals transformed into vampire-like creatures because of the experiment) break loose, starting an apocalypse within a few days and marking the start of Year Zero. Another test subject Amy, a six year old, survives and flees. Unlike others, Amy is neither vampire-like or human but has some traits shared with the creatures including immortality, and she has a psychic connection with them and those who become victims of the creatures.

The human population is reduced to only a few, and there are communities here and there. The creatures (called “virals” by humans) outnumber the humans and the former test subjects are called The Twelve. Ninety-three years later, Amy, now a teenager (yeap she does grow but very, very slowly) encounters a Colony of survivors and things start to fall apart for that community, leading Amy and several members of that community to journey to Colorado which is believed to have the answers to the past – the exact location they’re heading to is the re-birthplace of The Twelve and Amy. Meanwhile, they’re tracked by the virals headed by the mysterious leader Babcock (one of The Twelve) who enters your mind through dreams – everyone, except Peter (the lead male character and member of the Colony) and Amy, end up having the same dream, well, nightmare which relates to Babcock’s past [shivers]. These dreams lead people to…fatal circumstances. banned

The Passage is quite a lengthy novel with multiple POVs but it’s worth it. It hooks you in and shocks you by suspense and there’s something haunting about it. I don’t know if it’s the tone or the writing but you feel something is crawling on you or behind you as you read. The only thing that I criticise is the lack of characterisation. There’s more external action than what’s going on inside the characters and some come out as caricatures. I couldn’t feel for them, maybe for Amy to an extent. I don’t know if it’s intentional; to keep them a mystery, to make them distant because they live in a dystopian world. I hope there’s improvement on the characters in the sequel The Twelve but overall, I love the book!

If you’re a fan of sci-fi, horror or vampire fiction (trust me, I thought the story was cliche with the experiments-that-leads-to-global-disaster plot, but by chapter five or so, my mind exploded), you’ll love The Passage and a Dracula movie reference (for a brief comic relief hahaha) in it.

tumblr_n5q4m34buw1s5zj1ko1_250

Rating: 10/10

Gone Girl – Review

Standard
Gone Girl – Review
Source: Amazon.com

Source: Amazon.com

After staying away from the hype (along with the movie) and waiting for it to die, I’ve finally read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Crime isn’t one of my favourite genres – Sherlock Holmes was the only one that interested me, but now Gone Girl has joined Sherlock. The book blew my mind. I couldn’t put it down. The structure and writing are perfect, giving the sharpness and multi-layerness of the story.

The story is about Nick Dunne who discovers that his wife Amy is missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, and he is suspected to be involved in her disappearance and possibly her death when evidence starts to pop up. Even the media rips him apart. “There are two sides to every story”. That’s right. We find that Amy is alive and well, and she’s framing Nick because she’s a “psycho bitch” with a history of manipulating and ruining people’s lives. People who disappoint her and that includes her husband. He’s not the perfect husband. She sets up her disappearance and fabricates a fool-proofed story to back her up. She self-harms, steals some semen (yeap), hacks into Nick’s credit cards and laptop, writing a fictional account or persona in a diary, leaving plenty of evidence that would imprison her husband. And plenty of evidence to make her return to society.

Nick eventually discovers who she truly is and starts to play the game. The ending leaves Nick and Amy staying together, pretending to be perfect for each other, that their marriage is the way it should be…according to Amy. We are left with Amy still suspecting Nick and we don’t know if she’s going to pull another plan on him, now that he’s in the game too, on her level.

One of the things that I bothered me was how angry and hateful I was towards Amy. I didn’t feel sorry for her. I wanted her to die. I was hoping for Nick to kill her or have her arrested and I got mad that he stayed…because she’s pregnant and couldn’t leave the baby in her hands. Yes, that’s very noble of him but still…I’m sure that the lack of resolution played a part in my feelings but Amy is just [incoherent screaming]. I feel suffocated by her – maybe that was the intended effect. I hate that I feel so against her and that the book has provoked internalised misogyny in me. I kept telling myself that it’s just her character, not because she’s a woman. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Gone Girl is critiquing on how society still treats women and even treats men wrongly, and analysing different views on feminism.

I was conflicted on whether Gone Girl is feminist or misogynistic or misandrist. I guess it’s a bit of all three. Both Nick and Amy are driven by society’s ideals – Nick constantly tries to prove that he’s a “real man” and Amy puts on the “Cool Girl” facade. They also try to change each other. Frustrated with society’s double standards, Amy went to extremes to change Nick and he did, but she doesn’t really change. She’s still her true “psycho bitch” self and that’s one of the few things that I admire about her. That she’s very intelligent and doesn’t change for a man. That behind a pretty face, she is twisted but she keeps that under wraps. That she only pretends to be “normal and cool” in public but she’s scheming to have some sort of revenge in private. She’s playing with everyone like a puppeteer and they don’t know it. This is a monster that society has created. I’m starting to sympathise with her a bit as I write this. But most of me still hates her. It’s complicated.

Anyway, I recommend Gone Girl, rating it 10 out 10, and you don’t have to be a fan of crime or feminist to enjoy it. It’s open to interpretation.

The White Queen – Review

Standard
The White Queen – Review

I’ve finally read a Philippa Gregory book. That book is called The White Queen which chronologically precedes The Other Boleyn Girl and therefore the Tudor era. The first in The Cousins’ War series, The White Queen centres on Elizabeth Woodville who, a commoner, rises to become the Queen of England because of her beauty and ambition. She soon finds herself in the middle of wars and constant instability.

What I admire is that Elizabeth is such an independent and strong woman despite the time. She’s ambitious – she would do anything to keep her position even murder…through witchcraft. Yes, she practices witchcraft every now and then, and I kind of liked the supernatural element in the book. Not sure if she was a witch in real life but I’m going to find out. One of the things about historical fiction is that it encourages you to research. Anyway back to the character, you can feel the struggle that Elizabeth experiences but at the same time, you start to not like her. Her constant cursing on people, almost everyone is a rival to her, becomes unbearable to the point that you want to shout at her.

I was turned off by her naivety and selfishness. She doesn’t seem to think of anything but her husband King Edward (I didn’t like this guy – he’s a prick, to be honest, that I doubt that he really loves Elizabeth) until she loses him and even after that, she almost damages her children’s wellbeing because the throne is the only thing on her mind. Most of the time, I didn’t care about the characters. The writing played a part in this. It was more telling than showing and plus the scenes were jumpy. The next chapter would take place a season or a year after the last chapter. The intimacy between reader and book got lost. There were times when I got confused with the names. There are a lot of Richards and Edwards, and there are several instances where there’s nothing to distinguish them.

The book did redeem itself with the last few chapters. Things start to climax with Elizabeth’s daughter being involved with Richard III and Henry Tudor becoming a threat. It’s the point where Elizabeth starts growing up and not cursing her enemies from afar. She starts her plans for revenge and on her way to restoring her position at court. On top of that, she finally pays attention to her kids, showing that a woman can do everything. Despite her flaws, I value Elizabeth’s intelligence. I didn’t buy her beauty and was irritated by her personality, but her intelligence and strong will enchanted me.

Even though the book takes place in the Plantaganet era, reading The White Queen rekindled my interest in the Tudors and everything that’s related to the era. I’ve already started Wolf Hall and currently have this burning desire to watch The Tudors. I can’t wait to read the next entry in The Cousins’ War series.

A Penny Dreadful

Standard

Dark blood oozes out of the teacup

instead of the usual English Breakfast.

The master doesn’t know why.

He picks up the cup, blood

stains his skin, trying to dig into his flesh.

The master can’t find a reason

for the blood.

Why did he do before

knocking the cup?

He can’t remember. He can’t break

down the doors to his memory storage.

But the lady in the decaying gown stares down

at him from her portrait.

Knowing his guilt.

But he knows.

He knows why there’s blood.

The house isn’t the villain here.

He made it respond, projecting his hidden spirits onto it,

corrupting its insides.

The house is the victim here.

The house will bleed him out and we will celebrate.

The reign of his terror will end.

But you and I know that the innocent house will have to fall too.

The Crucible – A Review on a Masterpiece

Standard

IMG_4433So I’ve finally saw the five-star masterpiece The Crucible (by Arthur Miller, directed by Yael Farber), one of my favourite plays, and I thank whoever decided to film it live for those like me who weren’t able to see it at The Old Vic in London last year. The Crucible is about fear-driven acts that threaten to tear a community in Salem, Massachusetts apart. The catalyst is a group of young girls who lead the accusations of witchcraft on people who are considered to be good or reputable.

Not only did I love the minimalist style, costumes and setting, I also love the emphasis on physicality. I applaud the actresses playing the girls in that intense physical scene where they become possessed (pretended to be) or attacked by “spirits”, not to mention the lighting and haunting music heightening the effect. The power of voice is a major element in the play that caught my attention and it aligns with the importance of names – names are the only thing that the accused and imprisoned characters have.

This is shown throughout the play through the characters’ reputations in society; their names are associated with “good” or “bad”, and silence seems to be a character. In some scenes, characters go on without a word for more than five minutes and there’s something beautiful about that. Watching them do something in silence. It reflects the seriousness of the situation and the strained relationships or interactions between characters, even heightening distrust. The power of voice is also shown through a chorus of shouting, voices overlapping and delivered like arrows, reflecting the chaos that is happening.

Richard Armitage, who plays the leading role of John Proctor, is from the moment he comes on stage an unforgettable and intense presence. Not that I’m bias or anything but Armitage is an amazing actor. You can see Proctor carrying a burden through his rigid body and a demeanour that warns you that he’s about to turn into a beast at any moment. He isn’t one-dimensional though. Proctor is capable of being soft. He’s quite loyal to his friends and family, and breaks down but eventually stays true to himself to the very end. It’s incredible to see Armitage portraying that complexity and stirs so much feelings in the viewer.

I also love Samantha Colley’s Abigail Williams, the leader of the girls. I hate the character and her portrayal in this version of the play made me hate her even more. There are some villains that you just can’t forgive or sympathise and Colley’s performance makes that effective, getting on my nerves. There’s subtlety but melodrama in how Abigail reacts and she has tears framing her eyes and staining her cheeks, talk about appearances are deceiving, which heighten the intensity of hysteria and suspicion that’s spiraling out of control. You get the feeling that there won’t be a happy ending for the falsely accused. Abigail and her friends have the town wrapped around their fingers.

The constantly trembling and tear-stained Mary Warren, played by Natalie Gavin, also captured my heart which she broke with a shocking moment. A moment that I expected but I didn’t expect such a powerful performance. The rest of the characters were well-rounded and…so real. Even though the play was filmed, I could feel the tears and spits on me, and the emotions and voices crushing against me as if I watched it live. It left me crying. I wasn’t prepared for the ending, not even being a fan of the play helped me.

You can tell that so much effort and dedication was put into this production, and it’s worth seeing – you don’t have to be a theatre lover to see it. I give The Crucible 1000 out 10! It’s one of the best plays I’ve seen and one that I will cherish forever. It also brought back drama school memories. Hopefully it gets a DVD release because I want to see it again. *Huge smiley face with tears*

Now I’m going to read some essays on The Crucible.

Misery – Book Review

Standard

Misery. Ironically it didn’t make me miserable as a reader. Instead, its suspense, rich language and well-rounded characters kept me on the edge of my seat and kept my eyes glued to the page that I had to use eyedrops in the end. Misery is the first Stephen King book I’ve read. Yeap, I know, I’m pretty late to the party but I’m not sure if you had read the book, so I’ll try not to spoil too much.

The storyline goes: Paul Sheldon, a famous writer and is known for his book series Misery, is caged up at his “number one fan” (that phrase has scarred me now and I won’t be using it for the rest of my life) Annie Wilkes’ isolated house. Burdened by fear and pain, Sheldon is forced to write a new Misery book by his over-enthusiastic caretaker. And she would do anything to make him write, even turning the “forced writer with an invisible gunman behind him” image into a reality – and it did make me afraid of Annie Wilkes, thanks to the writing which is concise and vivid that it twist my insides.

I love how Misery isn’t straightforward. There is consistency and some parts, even the wording, that might be confusing, but it’s a reflection of the characters’ mental states. You get to read their minds and you get to explore a villain who isn’t one-dimensional. You even sympathise with her a little, but you would want to escape from her regardless. It is a psychological horror novel after all.

The story also worked because of suspense. You get chapters where Sheldon plans and tries to escape, chapters where he gives up escaping, chapters where help shows up at Wilkes’ doorstep but nothing happens. And there are chapters that blow your mind away or give you a heart attack – the “you expected it, but not really” thing. There are chapters that aren’t about Sheldon and Wilkes, but chapters of the new story that Sheldon writes which, ironically, made me wish the Misery book series was real. I’m not going to hunt down Stephen King and kidnap him so Paul Sheldon’s Misery stories would be republished as real books. There’s a reason why fanfiction exists. There’s also meta commentary (by King or Sheldon? I would never know) on the difficulties and anxieties of being a writer which made my heart clench because it’s so on point and can be motivating.

If you’re an aspiring writer, a fan of horror and gothic, or curious about extreme fandoms (it’s okay, not all fans are Annie Wilkeses), then I recommend Misery. It will leave you all tense up, and making sure if the ordeal is over and if there’s a happy ending after all…

Rating: 10/10 (definitely going to read another Stephen King book)