Friday, 13 September 2013

Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy - Book Review

thomas hardy, book review, wessex tales, hardy, wessex
This is a great introduction to those unfamiliar with Hardy's work. Easy to digest and never 'bogged down' with allusive or flowery language, this is Hardy stripped down. Each tale possesses its own element of scandal, with characters embroiled in extra-marital affairs of the heart, illegitimate children and jealousy. What's all the more tantalising is often Hardy refrains from being so explicit. Much is revealed through the gossipy aside from an otherwise irrelevant stock character, with the seed planted for the reader to let their speculation grow.

Hardy loves a good plot twist, so for those who like a bit of suspense in their classic lit, this is the perfect read.

Below are my thoughts on my favourite of the tales

The Imaginative Woman

An unfulfilled housewife, her intellect unchallenged by her blasé husband and her want of passion unmet, becomes infatuated with the absent tenant of a room she is temporarily occupying. With only the thinnest of associations between them, Ella Marchmill becomes increasingly desperate in her attempts to orchestrate a meeting - one she vainly hopes may turn a correspondence into something more real. In this short tale, Hardy paints a passionate vignette of unrequited love laden with irony.

I loved the irony in this tale. Hardy perfectly evokes the maddening desperation of an unrequited 'relationship' - made all the more desperate considering that the 'couple' never physically meet or actually see each other. I'm always drawn to the timelessness of a story's sentiment or message, and in an updated version, this same tale could be told in the modern world of social media and 'Facebook stalking' - though the premise is a lot more eloquently put in 'The Imaginative Woman'! This was surprisingly straight forward to read, and for those not yet familiar with his work, a brilliant first foray into Hardy.

Have you read 'The Wessex Tales' - which are your favourites?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Simon and the Oaks by Marianne Fredricksson - Book Review

Having already watched and posted my thoughts on 'Simon and the Oaks' here, I've been itching to read and review the novel. Originally in Swedish (an English translation is available - I found mine on Waterstones' Marketplace, a treasure trove for anyone looking for rare or out-of-print books), the translation at times lends to a slightly disjointed syntax, with occasionally odd word placements. Nevertheless, I wasn't disappointed.

Simon and the Oaks
Note: I would recommend that you watch the film before reading the book. I felt the novel to be a bit keen in revealing key twists early on. Had I known about these crucial turning points when watching the film, I know I would have felt slightly let down.

The novel is much more a saga than the film, chronicling Simon's life from early boyhood into young adulthood and far beyond where the film takes us. Whereas the film ends in Simon's onset into adulthood, the novel takes us into the unexplored regions of his later life including time served in the army and his later archaeological career.

What struck me most about the novel is the time it devotes to all characters involved, as opposed to the film which places Simon as very much the focus of its story. Whereas we see much from his perspective, the novel commits a mini psychological study to each character, providing a deeper insight into the motivations driving their behaviour. Nobody is without their personal demons, and whereas the film prefers to depict the characterisations rather simply - i.e. Simon's father as a pragmatic and domineering man, the novel is more forgiving. This is especially the case with regards to Simon's mother. The film's characterisation has her imbued with sadness, whereas the novel complements this by emphasising her strength and endurance.

This is a psychologically driven novel, which the film only hinted at by way of the timelessness evoked by music and nature. There is a Jungian undercurrent to Simon's characterisation, which Fredricksson reflects in Simon's dreams. The point is put across all the more explicitly in the following quote -

"Children are of the earth, she thought, with the ancient history of the earth in their cells and the entire wisdom of nature in the circulation of their blood."

With some further reading into Jung, there are various parallels between the psychologist's early life and Simon's. Both struggle with the enormity of obeying God's will and the burden of being so in tune with one's unconscious. This is particularly evident in a shared disillusion both Jung and Simon express with priests. (See Jung's 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' for further reading). There are even hints of Milgram, in the novel's expression that there may be, "... a sergeant in all of us..." Whether this is a deliberate literary device by Fredriksson or not, it adds to the historical entrenchment and universality of the novel's themes of war and the human condition.