Category Archives: American Literature

The Great Gatsby Review

Hey guys! 

Happy Bank Holiday Monday! In true British tradition, it’s rained all day. However, I’ve used that to my own advantage and had a bit of a reading day. I finished Into The Water (review in the future, maybe). I also decided to re-read The Great Gatsby. This is one of my favourite books EVER and then I realised I haven’t reviewed it which is insane. 


What’s it all about? 

The novel is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway. Nick, originally from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West  Egg district of Long Island. This area is populated by the ‘new rich’, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established social connections, who are prone to lavish displays of wealth. Jay Gatsby, his neighbour, who lives in a glorious gothic mansion and throws extravagant parties every Saturday evening. 

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” 

Despite his surroundings, Nick is not like the others of West Egg. He was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, the fashionable area of Long Island home to the upper class. Nick visits East Egg one evening to have dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and we brutish husband, Tom. Whilst there Nick meets Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical young woman, who he is quite taken with. It is here where Nick learns about Daisy’s marriage: Jordan reveals he has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a grey, depressing dumping ground. Soon after, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar party in the apartment Tom keeps for Myrtle, she begins to taunt Tom about Daisy. He responds by breaking her nose. 

It is during the summer that Nick finally reveals an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Here he sees Jordan which leads him to meet Gatsby himself. Gatsby is a very charismatic, well spoken with his English accent, a remarkable smile and calls everyone “old sport.” Gatsby requests Jordan’s attention alone. It is here Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbour. Gatsby tells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply, passionately in love with her. Gatsby spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dick, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’s lifestyle and parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy and get her attention. 

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse him if she knows he still loves her. Nevertheless, Nick invites Daisy round without mentioning Gatsby. Initially, it started awkwardly. However, their love soon rekindled and their connection was re-established. 

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” 

Over time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such passion, that Tom soon realises he is in love with her. Tom (the master of double standards) is outraged at the thought of his wife being involved with another man. The group take a trip to New York City. It is here that Tom confronts Gatsby. Tom asserts that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby couldn’t understand or contemplate and he announces that Gatsby is a criminal. It is at this point that Daisy realises that she chooses Tom. Tom sends them back to New York in an act of defiance. 

On the return journey, Nick, Jordan and Tom drive through the valley of ashes. Yet, on this journey, they realise that Gatsby’s car has hit and killed Myrtle. They rush straight back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was in fact driving the car when it hit Myrtle. Yet, Gatsby wants to take the blame for her. 

The following day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, somewhat naturally concludes that as the driver he must have been a lover. George vows to get revenge so heads towards Gatsby’s house. Gatsby is shot followed by George himself. 

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan and moves back to the Midwest to escape the absolute disgust he feels for people surrounding Gatsby’s life. He struggles with the moral decay among the wealthy. He reflects that Gatsby’s dream of Daisy and their love is corrupted by money an dishonesty. Fitzgerald’s nod to the American Dream of happiness and individualism. Here it is been tarnished by the pursuit of wealth. Nick’s dream and the American Dream is well and truly over. 

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

Overview:

I love this book for so many reasons. I even love Gatsby. I wish I had someone who loved me that much. I’d do anything for that green light. Fitzgerald is an incredible writer – I feel like I live and breathe his words. I’m also interested in his relationship with his wife Zelda. He had a fascinating yet tragic life. It was inevitable that this American Dream was going to end – his own American Dream ending was solemn. Yet, I take great hope from this little book. The mixed narration of 1st and 3rd person makes me feel like I personally know these characters and despite it all, I have hope for them. 

I have to say, my copy of this book is beautiful. I was showing my friend today. It was this that made me read it again actually. I cannot stress enough how awesome this little book is. Buy your copy from the Folio Society because all of their books are stunning too. 



Read it. Live it. 

Big love xx

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Filed under American Literature, Book review

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

  

Morning all! 

It’s no great secret to those who follow my blog that American literature is a love of mine. Despite it being cut from every English Literature GCSE going, I was able to teach this novella to my year 9 class last half term. What astounds me is the reaction you get from young people about the content and how people were treated during the Great Depression in America. Also, the live stream from the National Theatre Live is rapidly approaching, something I’m very excited about. Therefore, it seems to be the perfect opportunity to review this short but powerful book. 

The novella opens with vast description of a plantation and two migrant field workers during the Great Depression. The surprise at this part being that these men always travel together. Notoriously during this time, men were lonely and were forever moving from place to place, so relationships were difficult to form and hardly worth doing. George Milton is an intelligent man, but uneducated. His friend, Lennie Small is almost an opposite to him.  What has lacks in mental abilities he makes up for in strength and his large size. The men are in Soledad, meaning loneliness in Spanish, on their way to another ranch for work. 

“I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” 

The man have massive hopes for the future, and dare I say it, unrealistic hopes for their future. They have a shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie’s addition to the dream is he wants to tend the rabbits. Lennie enjoys touching soft things, like animals fur. However, he always kills them, accidentally, because of his strength and over petting. This dream is one of Lennie’s favourite stories. He constantly makes George repeat it over and over. 

At the start of the novella, we meet the men as they are fleeing from their current employment in Weed, California. Unfortunately they have to flee because of Lennie, who we quickly learn is more of a hindrance than a help. Lennie was stroking a girls dress and refused to let go. This resulted in an accusation of rape. George and Lennie are more than best friends. George is Lennie’s protector, despite the irritation Lennie causes him and the disruption to his life. 

‘George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.'”

The men stop for the night in the brush on their way to the new ranch and make a plan in case anything should go wrong. It is repeated by George to ensure Lennie remembers. It is here we see Lennie petting a dead mouse, which George throws into the outback. 

Once the men reach the ranch and are hired, the men realise the ranch is more of a dystopia rather than utopia. The ranch is clearly a dangerous place. They are confronted by the boss, who is suspicious of Lennie (George gave him strict instructions not to speak) and then they are confronted by Curley – the Boss’s son. He’s a small but mean and aggressive person. He dislikes larger men which makes Lennie a target for his anger. It’s mentioned how he keeps a hand soft for his wife. What a charmer! Curley’s wife, who isn’t given a name, arguably because she’s a woman and Curley’s object, also poses as a problem for the men. Lennie is instantly attracted to her. Steinbeck’s description of her homes in the readers connotations of red. But equally, the description of her is one of my favourite pieces of writing. 

‘A girl was standing there looking in. She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.’

Contrastingly, George and Lennie meet the other ranch workers. Firstly, Candy: a kind, old, aged ranch hand, with one fully working hand, and a loyal dog. Secondly, Slim: the kind, intelligent, intuitive jerkline-skinner, whose dog has recently had a litter of puppies. The first (of many) heartbreaking scenes come from when Candy’s dog is killed for being old, smelly and useless. Candy is heartbroken and lies facing the wall in silence. His only friend, gone. Slim gives a puppy to both Candy and Lennie but it isn’t the same. 

There dream does show some sign of life when Candy offers to give the men $350 towards buying a farm at the end of the month, in return for their permission to live there. The trio are the happiest we ever see them. But, it doesn’t last for long. Curley stomps around the ranch looking for his wife, he picks on Lennie and repeatedly punches him. Lennie does nothing without George’s permission. After a moment, George tells him to retaliate. Lennie catches Curley’s fist and easily crushes it. He is immediately upset, he didn’t want to do it. A stark reminder to both Lennie and George that there’s plenty of obstacles in their way before their dream can be a reality. 

“Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror.”

Nevertheless, George feels relaxed, since their dream is almost within their grasp. He decides to leave Lennie on the ranch whilst he popped to town with the other ranch hands. Lennie aimlessly wonders into the stable where he meets Crooks. He too is isolated on the ranch. He’s a bitter, yet educated stable buck. He’s black, so has his own room. St first he is hostile towards Lennie being there, but eventually they get along and start chatting. Candy finds them and they talk about their dreams for the farm. Crooks too gets carried away with the idea and asks if he could hoe a garden patch on the farm, despite his initial reaction of scorning the possibility of achieving the dream. 

Curley’s Wife appears and starts flirting with the men. Crooks is visibly uncomfortable with her being there. Contextually, it’s no secret that black people were not treated well at all. Curley’s Wife doesn’t get the reaction she’s looking for, so is spiteful to them, especially Crooks because of his race. She threatens to have him hung. 

“Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”

The very next day, Lennie accidentally kills his puppy while stroking it. Lennie is upset. At this point, Curley’s Wife enters the barn and tries to speak to Lennie. It is here, because of her audience being Lennie and him only, we learn her story. She’s given room for a voice, for a second anyway. She’s incredibly lonely, Curley wants her in the house all day every day. Her dreams of becoming a movie star were crushed. She tries to talk to the ranch men to pass the time, and ease the loneliness. Lennie confesses to her that he likes to stroke soft things, so she lets him stroke her hair. She repeatedly asks Lennie no to mess it, but he doesn’t let go. She panics and begins to scream, thus resulting in Lennie yelling at her to stop. Lennie is frightened and unintentionally breaks her neck. Again, his immediate reaction is sadness. He didn’t mean to, or even want to kill her. 

‘Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head and her lips were parted.’

Lennie remembers the plan he and George made, and runs and hides in the brush. When the ranch hands return and find her, George realises what has happened. Their dream, or the illusion of their dream, is shattered. The men support George and keep him away so rules knows he had nothing to do with it. Curley wants revenge. He wants Lennie dead. George hurries to find him, hoping he will be at the meeting place they pre-organised. George knows that there’s only one thing he can do to save Lennie this time. 

George meets a very unhappy and worried Lennie at the spot. It’s almost a little ironic that Lennie can remember this and not much else. The friends sit together and they share the story they love: the bright future together, yet knowing it is something they won’t get to share now. Whilst Lennie tells the story, George shoots his one and only friend, in the back of the head. His death was painless and Lennie died happy. The other men, Curley, Slim and Carlson find George seconds after he spot Lennie. Only Slim realises that George killed Lennie out of love. Surely it’s better to be killed by your best friend than a mob? Slim leads him gently and consolingly away, whilst Curley and Carlson look on. The mood is subdued. The dream is over. 

“I can still tend the rabbits, George? I didn’t mean no harm, George.”

Whenever I read this novel, I feel heartbroken all over again. The themes of friendship and loneliness run parallel and throughout. This time period in America meant that the common every day working man struggled and was desperately afraid. There are lessons we can earn from this. It’s also almost incomprehensible that so much happens in such a short space of time. This is Steinbeck’s writing at its most honest and finest. 

Big love x

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84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

  
I stumbled across this book, hidden at the bottom of the pile, in a box of books at a second hand book shop. What attracted me to it was the cover – the letter design. I love looking at old letters, stamps and postcards. I find them really incredibly interesting, so I bought this book. I’m also the first to admit I’ve no idea who Helene Hanff is. I do now, and I absolutely loved this book. 

Note: My copy of the book also contains The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, so I will also be reviewing this. 


Firstly, 84 Charing Cross Road. 

It is an epistolary novel, written in the form of letters to and from Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Company. The correspondence spans from October 1949 to October 1969, New York to London, in less than 100 pages. 

The first letter from Helene is a response to an advertisement for a book seller specialising in out of print books. At this stage, she knows nothing about Marks & Co in London, but she encloses a list of her “most pressing problems” – books she can’t find locally. They must be clean, and cost less than $5. When the books arrive safely at her New York apartment, she enlists the help of a neighbour to change the cost from dollars to British pounds. 

“The phrase ‘antiquarian book-sellers’ scares me somewhat, as I equate ‘antique’ with expensive.” 

Some of the most touching letters are sent and received during the war years, where the rations in London meant that food was limited. In America, things were different. Helene sends over a 6 pound ham for all the staff at 84 Charing Cross Road for Christmas. She also sends gifts for Easter. 

“Now then. Brian told me you are all rationed to 2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month and I am simply appalled.” 

As more letters, food parcels and books travel to and from London/New York, Helene gets to know more people from the book shop: Cecily, Megan, Bill and Nora, Frank’s wife and others. As well as books, the narrative also becomes a plea to get Helene to visit London. 

“My dear, I do hope you get your wish to come to England. Why not save your pennies and come next summer?” 

The relationship between Helene and Frank is based on mutual respect and fondness. Therefore, when Helene has a complaint, and she has a few within this little book, she writes honestly to Frank to express her feelings. From a structural point of view, it is interesting and rather realistic that Helene’s writing style changes at points this like. She writes in full capitals, or with no capitals at all. One example of this is when she requests a complete copy of Pepy’s Diary, but gets sent an incomplete or collected version. What is sweet, is the letter ends with the question of fresh or powdered eggs for Christmas. Harmony is restored. 

“WHAT KIND OF PEPYS’ DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS? 

this is not pepys’ diary, this is some busybody editor’s miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys’ diary may he rot. 

i could just spit.”

However, there comes a time when great sadness is explored within this book. There is a gap in time from Helene’s last letter dated 30th September and correspondence in January, this time from a different character. On the 8th January, Helene receives a letter from Joan Todd, a secretary from Marks & Co, bringing news of Frank’s death. 

“It is with great regret that I have to tell you that he passed away on Sunday 22nd of December, he funeral took place last week on Wednesday 1st January. “

Helene, exclaims herself, how much 84 Charing Cross Road means to her, wishing her friend to “kiss it for me! I owe it so much.” 

I loved this so much, it was utterly charming. It makes me think about the power of blogs and social media now, connecting people from all over the world. How much the world has changed! For me, the letter is still something special, and this is shown within this book. I wish I could have experienced something like this within my own life. 

Secondly, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

Again, this novel is an epistolary novel, this time written in the form of a diary. It takes place much later, in 1971, when Helene finally gets to visit London for the English publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. 

It is in this book that she meets Nora, the wife of Frank of whom she has been corresponding with for over twenty years. Helene also fulfills her dream to visit a number of literary landmarks in London. These included Trinity College where John Donne often walked in the yard as well as Claridges. This book is a tour of England seen through the excited eyes of Helene, who had dreamed of this trip all her life. 

“Theoretically, it was one of the happiness days of my life. The date was Thursday, June 17th, 1971; the BOAC lifted from Kennedy airport promptly at 10 A.M.; the sky was blue and sunny, and after a lifetime of waiting I was finally on my way to London.” 

Helene leaves New York just days after leaving the hospital, full of excitement and expectations to finally see the country she has always wanted to visit. Naturally, Helene worries that no one will meet her, and makes a plan just in case. She reassures herself with the many letters she received from both her fans and her publisher. As planned, a gentleman was waiting for her arrival. This gentleman, The Colonel, was a fan of Helene’s book and happened to work at the airport. 

“And there he was, a big, towering Colonel Blimp with a beaming smile on his face and both arms outstretched, waiting to get my dainty feet onto British soil.” 

She finds her friends, Nora and Shelia and from there checks in to a hotel, hardly believing that she was in London. She decides, after advice, to keep a diary for her trip. The next day, Helene visits Mark & Co, which had sadly since closed down. As part of her books promotion, a photographer accompanied her to be interviewed and photographed with Nora about the correspondence between Helene and Frank. 

“How about this, Frankie? I finally made it.”

The narration rapidly progresses from an array of interviews and book signings. However, soon enough, Helene had time to explore London at her own pace. She experiences a pub where Shakespeare once drank and drove past the Tower of London to witness the locking of the gates. She also meets up with her old friends from Texas who were also visits the city, and lunched at Claridges. Helene, was also able to meet Joyce Grenfall, an actress she had always admired, and also took a trip to Oxford with the Colonel. As well as this, Helene also met Leo Marks, the son of Marks who owned Marks & Co, and his wife Ena. As a portrait painter, Ena would eventually persuade Helene to sit for a portrait, as long as she sat outside. A rather touching moment was when Helene went to St. Paul’s Covent Garden where Ellen Terry’s ashes are. 

“Just inside the door as I was leaving I came upon the most recent plaque: VIVIEN LEIGH D.1967 and I was suddenly moved to tears.”

Helene stayed in London for nearly a month, visiting every place she had ever read about. Helene embraced and enjoyed the sights and sounds of London. When it was time to head back to New York, a number of parties were thrown to say goodbye. On the plane to go home, Helene says goodbye to London, England, and focuses on life back in New York City. 

“I sit here on the plane trying to see faces, trying to hold onto London, but the mind intrudes with thoughts of home: the mail piled up waiting for me, the people waiting, the work waiting.” 

I loved this short book as well. The excitement of visiting a place you’ve always wanted to visit I can easily relate to. I loved reading about the sights and sounds of London, a city I adore. This book, as a collective, was absolutely charming. It’s very short, so can be read in a couple of hours. I would recommend this book to anyone, but you do need both 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street in order to not be disappointed. 

BL x

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Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

 
Morning!!

I realise that there’s been a lack of books on my blog recently, so it’s time I fixed that by posting my review of one of the most anticipated novels of this year. Go Set A Watchman has littered the newspapers, lined bookshelves and generated discussion, both positive and negative, all over the globe. 

I’ll be honest, I was incredibly worried when I first saw the headlines discolouring my beloved Atticus. As a lover of To Kill A Mockingbird, like many others, I didn’t want to read a book which changes my perceptions of characters I’ve had a long relationship with. So, I tried to read this book as a stand alone, to take it at face value and judge it as an individual piece of writing with some smiled character names. 

The novel centres a 26 year old woman, Jean Louise Finch (Scout), who travels from New York to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her family. The beginning of the novel deals with her return journey and different recollections of incidents around the town as Jean Louise tries to reconnect with her Aunt Alexandra, her Uncle Jack and her father Atticus. Uncle Jack is still being portrayed as a retired doctor in this novel, and Atticus is still a lawyer, and a former state legislator. Henry ‘Hank’ Clinton is a key figure in this novel. Jean Louise reconnects with him as he is a childhood friend, and now works with her father. The controversy in the town now is the NAACP.

“Go away, the old buildings said. There is no place for you here. You are not wanted. We have secrets.” 

On a return trip from home, Jean Louise and Henry are passed by a car of Negroes who seem to be traveling at a dangerously high speed. Henry informs her that negroes in the county have more money now for cars, but they fail to get licenses and insurance. Whisked away in a moment together, Jean Louise and Henry decide to take a swim. The next morning is spent dealing with the the mini scandal this causes. Aunt Alexandra is less than impressed! It is here we see flashbacks to Jean Louise’s youth, time spent with another friend, Charles Baker ‘Dill’ Harris, and her older brother Jem, who has since died of a heart condition that killed her mother. The loss of Jem in this novel is vital for what happens later. I admit, I missed that brotherly bond the two shared in TKAM. But, I appreciate how significant this loss is for the development of is novel. 

As Jean Louise rests in her father’s chair, she finds a pamphlet entitled ‘The Black Plague’ among her father’s papers. With a growing sense of unease, she follows him to a Citizens’ Council meeting, where Atticus introduces Mr Grady O’Hanlon. He delivers a passionate yet aggressive racist speech. Being as she snuck in, Jean Louise watches in secret from a balcony. She’s horrified. As is the world reading this novel. Why is Atticus involved? In another flashback, Jean Louise sees back to her father defending a Negro against a rape allegation. She struggles to comprehend what she’s seen. She cannot forgive him and feels betrayed and flees the meeting. 

“It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.”

Jean Louise then has a dream about her old family maid, Calpurnia, who Jean sees as the closest thing to a mother she’s ever had. As Jean Louise has breakfast with her father, they learn that Calpurnia’s grandson killed a drunk pedestrian the previous evening, while speeding in his car. Atticus agrees to take his case in order to prevent the NAACP from becoming involved. (A glimmer into the TKAM Atticus we all know and love?) Jean Louise decides to visit Calpurnia. However, despite being treated politely, she was cold with her, leaving Jean Louise devastated. 

The fact that Jean Louise saw her father at this meeting eats away at Jean Louise. She decides to ask her Uncle Jack about it, whilst lunching one day. He tries to explain to her that Atticus hasn’t become a racist or changed his views, but he is trying to slow federal government intervention into state politics. Her uncle lectures her on the complexity of history, race and politics in the South. He tries to get Jean Louise to come to a conclusion, at which at this stage, she struggles to comprehend. 

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” “That’s odd, isn’t it?”

Jean Louise decides she needs to see her father, and heads towards the law office. Instead, she finds Henry. They go out for a coffee. Jean Louise, rather honestly, informs him that she doesn’t love him and will never marry him. Aunt Alexandra is also quite opinionated regarding Jean Louise’s choice of future husband. She screams at Henry with disgust about seeing him and her father at the council meeting. Henry tries to explain that sometimes people have to do things that they don’t really want to do. Jean Louise screams that she could never live or love a hypocrite, only to notice that Atticus is standing behind them, smiling. 

Henry leaves and Jean Louise goes into her father’s office. Atticus argues that the Negroes of the South are not ready for full civil rights, and the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional and irresponsible. Jean Louise tries to comprehend, and shows agreement that the South is not ready to be dully integrated, commenting on how the court was pushed into a corner by the NAACP and had to act. Jean Louise is confused and devastated by her father’s position, as they are the opposite to everything he has ever taught her. 

Jean Louise flees the office and returns home to pack her things. As she is about to leave, her Uncle Jack comes home and tells her to think of all the things that have happened over the past two days and how she has processed them. When she claims she can no stand them, he tells her that it is bearable because she has become her own person now. He shows her that at one point she had fastened her conscience to her father’s, assuming that her answers would always be his answers. He informs her that Atticus was letting her break her idols so that he could reduce him to the status of a human being. 

“What would Atticus do?” passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him.” 

Jean Louise returns to the office and makes a date with Henry for that evening. I enjoyed the development of their relationship throughout this novel. Jean Louise admits that Maycomb has taught him that’s that she’s missed out on being in New York. Then, she goes to apologise to her father, only to be told that he is proud of her. Atticus wanted his daughter to stand for what she thought was right. Jean Louise admits that she didn’t want her world disturbed, but in this process, was crushing the man who was trying to preserve it for her. Jean Louise admits her love for him and follows him to his car. She silently welcomes him to the human race, seeing him as just a man for the first time. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s what I would describe as a challenging book. It’s also journey through life as a young adult reflecting back onto their childhood. It challenges all our previous preconceptions and thoughts. The father/daughter relationship for me, is incredibly realistic. I’m also only a year younger than Jean Louise in this novel, so I can relate to her feelings well. Most girls have their fathers as an idol, I sure know I do. The family relationships are well developed and poignant. The loss of Jem meant that we see Jean Louise in her head more. The questioning aloud replaced by flashbacks and her own inner thoughts. 

My heart ached for Jean Louise throughout this novel. It’s a process of life realising that times, people, places all change. The critics are divided about this novel, but I’m glad I read it. Will it replace TKAM? No. Does it ‘tarnish’ the reputation of TKAM? I don’t think so. Should Lee’s writing style be respected and praised? Yes, absolutely. This book is well worth a read. For me, it sits proudly on my bookshelf next to TKAM. 

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.” 

Big love x

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Present From The Postman – Go Set A Watchman 

So, today I received my highly anticipated and eagerly awaited copy of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. 

I’ve been patient and good, I haven’t read the first chapter that has surfaced the internet. I want to experience the novel as a whole. I’ve waited this long, like the rest of us, so I can wait to read it as a whole piece. 

As I’m sure you’re all aware, there’s been a huge amount of press attention over the past few days, both positive and some quite critical responses. I must admit the snippets I have read have worried me. I adore Atticus Finch. He is a character I grew up with, one I respected and admired. What if my impression of him changes? Can he really have changed and become this ‘awful’ character I’ve heard about in some reports? Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see exactly what the novel teaches us. 

I’ve decided to read this book as a stand alone novel, or try to at least. I feel this could bring about some difficulties (I’m an avid Mockingbird fan after all). But, I don’t want to write off the novel before even reading it and basing this on speculation in the press. 

What do you think? Should To Kill A Mockingbird fans be worried? I’ll review this as soon as I’ve read it (like everyone else!) 

Big love x 

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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy 

  

I first read this story when I was at university studying an American Fiction of the 1930s module. It shocked me to the core. It still does today. It is a snapshot into life in America during the Great Depression when people were desperate to make it to the big screen, to Hollywood. It’s a tragic, realistic story. 

The narrator, Robert Syverten is a naive, young man from Hollywood who dreams of being a film director. The story opens with his sentencing for murder. The girl in question is called Gloria Beatty, quite possibly one of the more depressing and depressed characters I’ve ever come across. She repeats throughout how she wishes she was dead. This story of how he knows her is intercut after every chapter with short comments from the judge. The font gets larger as the story progresses. It ends with “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Robert meets Gloria when they both have failed to become extras for Central. (The only way to be on the big screen.) She persuades him into taking part in a marathon dance contest. She is adamant that this is the way to be noticed by studio producers and movie stars. 

Robert meets Gloria on a morning when they have both failed to get parts as extras, with each feeling bitter. ‘Let’s go and sit and hate a bunch of people.’ Like Robert, she is struggling to find work in Hollywood. Gloria and Robert enter the dance contest, which is held at a large amusement pier on the beach, somewhere near Hollywood. Naively they enter thinking they could win and really make it. 

Gloria has every reason to be repetitive in her wishes to die. Her parents are dead, she ran away from a farm in Dallas where her uncle regularly made passes at her, she tried to commit suicide, failed, then ran away to Hollywood. She’s not a beautiful character, being described as plain looking and unlikely to ever find work as an actress. She tells Robert that she does not have the courage to kill herself. “It’s perculiar to me that everyone pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it?” 

The promotors are desperate to increase attendance at the contest, as this will help make them money. They publicise the arrest of a contestant for murder, stage elimination races every evening and a even a marriage. However the couple due to be married should have been eliminated, but it’s fixed so they don’t. 

Two and three weeks pass and the crowds increase as newspapers cover the contest. Some couples receive sponsorships from local businesses, giving them new clothes and shoes. We are introduced to a lady called Mrs Layden. She attends every evening to watch her favourite couple, Robert and Gloria. She also gets them a sponsorship from a local business. However, she doesn’t have a good impression of Gloria, saying “She’s an evil person and she’ll wreck your life.”

The number of couples that break down physically and drop out increase. The crowd cheers and takes a sharp intake of breath whenever someone falls or trips in the race. Robert is consumed with claustrophobia and repeats his desire to be outside and to see the sun. Gloria too is starting to show signs of struggling. There are a couple of occasions where they narrowly miss out on being disqualified. Robert starts to tire of how bitter Gloria is, saying “Sometimes I’m sorry I ever met you. I don’t like to say a thing like that, but it’s the true. Before I met you I didn’t know what it was to be around gloomy people.”

After 879 hours of dancing, with 20 couples left, the contest is shut down when there is a murder in the dance hall’s bar. Unfortunately, a stray bullet from the shooting hits and kills Mrs Layden. The promotors decide to end the competition and give each dancer left $50 for their efforts. It is believed they would have been closed down anyway, after opposition arriving before. 

Robert and Gloria go outside for the first time in five weeks and sit looking out at the ocean. Gloria takes out a pistol and asks Robert to shoot her. He does. There doesn’t seem to be much a fight or moral dilemma regarding this choice. He reverts back to a memory of when his grandfather shot his beloved horse after she broke her leg. The police push Robert to answer why he shot Gloria. The fact that she asked him to caused them to mock him. “They shoot horses, don’t they?”

American readers of the 1930s were not impressed with this book one bit. Sales were low. It was, however, read in the existentialist circles of France. McCoy’s story here was one of many to be published during this time showing the Great Depression and its effect on people at that time. 

It’s a grim and gory tale, yet it’s one that is physically impossible to put down. It  is short yet packed with drama, tragedy and desperation. A must read for anyone interested in American and/or Existentilist literature. 

BL x

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To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

 

The first time I read this book was 10 years ago when I was studying for my GCSEs. I remember having to perform the courtroom scene for a speaking and listening assessment. It feels like yesterday! I can remember how it made me feel. It opened my eyes and my heart. I love this book – I didn’t think I could love it more, but ten years down the line it shows me that there’s more I understand in this book now, thus strengthening my love for it. I genuinely don’t understand why it has been taken off all the exam boards reading lists! 

I’ve told the students in my class about this book, about how it changed me and started something special in my life – the love of reading. Slowly but surely my copy of the text is making its way around school, even to the most unsuspecting of characters who claim they “never read.”

With the highly anticipated ‘Go Set A Watchman’ being published this summer, I wanted to read this again in preparation. (Can not wait for this by the way!)

To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the Deep South of America during the 1930s with the narrator being a little girl, Scout. By having a child narrator we get to learn with her and understand the world as she does. The novel deals with the emotive portrayal of race and prejudice. Filled with morals and the teaching of many life lessons through Atticus, this novel succeeds in portraying a specific time and place as well as how good can triumph over evil. The book teaches that prejudice must be met, fought and overcome no matter how difficult it may be. 

Scout Finch lives with her older brother Jem and her widowed lawyer father Atticus. It’s summertime and Jem and Scout are happily playing (a reoccurring image throughout the book), they make new friends and stumble across Boo Radley. Boo lives in a neighbouring house and yet is never seen. However, there are a number of rumours regarding him (such as a murderer and a child stealer). Atticus always reminds them to see the world through other people’s eyes. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Still as true today as it was 55 years ago when this book was written. 

Scout struggles, but perseveres eventually to try and live life using the advice from her father. He is a model father, and uses childlike terms to help Scout understand what her father believes and the sole principle that he has to live his life. 

Then, we meet Tom Robinson, a black man, who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus takes on the case of defending him, despite the fact that this causes problems for him and his family in terms of the actions of the community around them. The community, largely white, are incredibly racist and disagree with Atticus. And yet, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” 

The trial takes up the majority of the book and as a reader I went through a range of emotions. I feel saddened that people could do anything like that, that people could dislike someone so much because of their skin colour, or tell lies to show who has the power in the community. I would like to think that today things have changed but this book, 55 years later, still makes me question modern society. 

Atticus proves that Tom is not guilty, and that the woman seduced him. As her father finds out they twist the story as he was outraged that she wanted to try and sleep with a black man. The evidence was overwhelming in support of Tom but the white jury still condemn him to prison. He is later killed as he tries to escape. The woman’s father, furious about being disgraced in court, follows Scout and Jem home one evening and tries to harm them. However Boo, disarms him and kills him dead. 

Boo is revealed for who he really is and boy is he great! Scout learns from Tom and Boo that it is better and more important to see people for who they really are, and now for how others see them. Another reason why this novel is timeless. 

Boo and the mockingbirds are linked. “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Like the innocent mockingbird, Boo embodies that same trait. He doesn’t harm anyone, he just protects. Yet he has been damaged by his abusive father. The is just one of the clever metaphors that run through the novel. 

This novel is courageous, powerful, evocative, emotional. Atticus is inspirational. We all need someone like that in our lives – someone who believes that gVood will beat evil and that racism is unacceptable. He is the voice of moral consciousness in an age when the novel was written and it represented the hopes and dreams of those who wanted to end racism and segregation. Such a beautiful book. The whole world needs to read this. Now. 

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