Thursday, 14 January 2021

Disillusioned (The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath)

(Note: If you suffer from suicidal thoughts, I would strongly recommend not reading this book. It also contains an attempted assault on a woman that some may find distressing in nature.)

5/5

"[...] everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end." - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, page 104

There's something cliche about a disillusioned young woman reading The Bell Jar, to the point that when I first had the urge to finally sit down and read it, I refused. Then, I decided that I would read it, but I certainly wouldn't enjoy it. This seemed like a fair compromise.

It sucked me in from the first page. This was a problem only because I chose to start reading it in the early hours of the morning. 

The Bell Jar follows Esther Greenwood, a nineteen (later twenty) year old woman with her whole life ahead of her, who spirals into depression. Whilst she's not always a good person (at one point, she leaves her friend lying outside her hotel room in a pool of vomit) and she seems to have quite a high opinion of herself, Esther is still a sympathetic heroine. School has come easily to her and, whilst she is still in college, she is painfully aware that everything is about to change and she doesn't know where her path leads next.

"After nineteen years of running after good marks and prizes and grants of one sort and another, I was letting up, slowing down, dropping clean out of the race." - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, page 27

Her narration hit very close to home for me at times. Sometimes, I wonder if what my brain is putting me through is just normal for your early twenties, for desperately searching for your next purpose in life. Maybe my brain is just waiting for the metamorphosis into whatever I'm going to become next. (Or maybe it just hates me.) 

This is not a plot-heavy book. It's about Esther's journey from a month's internship that does not do for her what she thought it would, back home to the suburbs, and then through asylums. It's set in the fifties and tackles the gender issues present at the time, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that not a lot has changed (even though everything has). We talk, nowadays, of whether women can really "have it all", with all being a career and a family, but nobody ever asks if a man can "have it all" - it is taken for granted that he can, and should, and will if he so chooses. 

"That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket." -
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Career vs family is very much a choice that is thrust upon young women in The Bell Jar, and Esther resents the idea that she is expected to fade away into the backdrop of a man's life. She feels the double standard of sex like a shackle too. For me, the perceived value of a woman in this society was really hammered home when Buddy visited Esther at the asylum as she was improving: "I wonder who you'll marry now, Esther. Now you've been [...] here." 

I strongly recommend this novel. It dives into gender politics, mental health, and not having the time of your life as a young adult. It'll be okay. We'll get there one day at a time.

Plot-focused or character-focused - which type of story do you prefer?

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

3 Reasons Why Every Writer Should Try Poetry (Guest Post by Kate I. Foley)

(Today, we have our first ever guest post! Take it away, Kate...)

Hello, all! My name is Kate and I blog at “The Magic Violinist” (yes, I really do play the violin!). I’m a big fan of novels with ship-able romances, fluffy dogs, Broadway shows, and big cups of coffee in the mornings (or afternoons; I’m not too picky).

I’m primarily a YA novelist, but one of my other writing loves is poetry. My first book of poetry, Instructions For Flight, was published nearly four years ago and the process was so confusing and exhilarating, I knew I wanted to do it all over again in the future, if only to learn from my experience and do it better the second time around.

Quarantine in the wintertime seemed like perfect timing to polish up some poetry and publish another collection. This was a very spur-of-the-moment decision (my family didn't even know I was doing this!) and I spent every free second perfecting the details. You can read a description about it below:

 

Ghost light shine, ghost light flicker . . .

An open journal of mixed and complicated emotions, Ghost Light is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is art. Written entirely during quarantine in 2020, Kate I. Foley’s second collection of poetry is angry, joyful, wistful, and whimsical. The ghost light burns to keep the demons at bay, to watch over the artists and dreamers and remind us all that we will rebuild and return and fill the air with music once again.”

 

But enough about me: Hannah so kindly invited me here to talk about poetry, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

I’m here to convince each and every writer (or non-writer) reading this why you should write poetry. Even if you think you hate it, don’t understand, or it’s just plain not your style, your mind is about to be changed. Here are three reasons why you should write poetry.

It’s short

I’ve learned over the years that poetry is great for those days when I just don’t have the time to write anything else. Writing a whole novel chapter is hard and long and when my brain is fried, I don’t even want to think about revisions for anything. But poetry? Poetry can take all of five minutes if I want it to.

Poems have no minimum or maximum length requirement. I could write a couplet (all of two lines!) and call it a day. But I also have the freedom to go longer if inspiration strikes me. It’s the perfect “go with the flow” genre. I tend to write way more poetry when I’m in college classes than I do novel writing, simply because of my busy schedule.

It focuses more on language and less on structure

Of course, there are conventions in terms of structure for certain kinds of poems (sonnets, haikus, etc.), but there is a lot of free range when it comes to how a poem should physically look or what it should contain.

For the most part, poetry focuses on the use of language: sound and imagery and beautiful words. Word choice is huge with poetry. Learning how to master these skills in a poem is useful for anything you write.

Novels and short stories and movie scripts and anything else you might write have specific rules for form and style, but for all of those things, you need to have a talent for writing well and writing beautifully. Poetry is a wonderful way to flex those muscles.

It's therapeutic

I felt a weight lift off my chest when I finished writing each poem in this collection. All of the sadness and worry and rage and every other complicated emotion sitting in a tangled mess in my gut lessened a bit just because I’d written those fears down.

Poetry, much like journaling, is such a raw and honest way to purge your emotions, good or bad. It doesn’t need to be good or pretty or anything you wish to pursue further than pen strokes on a crumpled-up napkin. Just the act of writing your thoughts and feelings in a poem, whether or not anyone else reads it, is healing.

Do you write poetry? Why or why not?

Ghost Light is on sale now for just 99 cents (a steal!). You can check it out on Amazon or Goodreads.

Still not convinced? Here is one of the poems from the collection, “A Visit” (and, not-so-coincidentally, one of Hannah’s self-proclaimed favorites!)

Thursday, 7 January 2021

New Friends, Old Enemies (The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman)

5/5

"It was a sad commentary on Irene's life that, on waking up in chains, her first thought was oh no, not again." - Genevieve Cogman, The Dark Archive, page 232

Right on schedule, it's my annual review of the latest installment of The Invisible Library series. 

Discovering an old and very much deceased enemy alive is one thing. Tackling the existential questions it poses whilst dealing with assassination attempts on pretty much everyone involved in the treaty is quite another. Meanwhile, Vale goes mind to mind with a criminal mastermind, Kai experiences the joys of spending time with family, and Irene has a new apprentice (because, obviously, she doesn't have enough responsibilities already).

The Dark Archive is book seven (seven! We are blessed!) and Irene and Kai really give off the vibe of having been there and done everything at this point - especially in comparison to Catherine, Irene's green, but eager, new apprentice. Nothing phases them anymore. Poisoned? Walk it off. Chained up? Almost an everyday experience. Kai's meddlesome family members? Troublesome, but usually able to be worked around. Catherine, on the other hand, is very much done. This was not what she thought being a librarian would be like and she would like off this ride. (Or would she?)

Speaking of Catherine, I really liked her. She's sulky and easily led, sure, but she's also enthusiastic, sarcastic, and determined to be a part of the narrative. She also happens to be the first person to really make a point about Irene and Kai's relationship not being particularly... diplomatic.

I may be very wrong, but much of what happened in this book felt like it was building up relationship drama for the next book. Irene and Kai's romantic relationship has been the status quo for three books now and I think there might be an upset coming. Whilst the two of them are going as strong as - if not stronger than - ever, Irene's thoughts put a lot of emphasis on the fact that they could be ordered to seperate places at any time by their respective authorities and how much that would hurt her. There's also Kai's older brother, Shan Yuan, who thinks Kai would be safer elsewhere. Opportunistic and advancement-hungry, he may be, but it's obvious that he does hold some genuine care for Kai. Towards the end, Irene is spooked when Kai mentions love, because surely this is jinxing things. Meanwhile, I'm just sat there, popcorn halfway to my mouth, like, they've never mentioned love?!? Because the level of devotion these two have, I certainly never noticed. 


I eagerly await the next novel with the hope that this is (once again) not actually the final novel of this series, because I remain ever-fond of this world and the characters who inhabit it.

What's your favourite series?

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Back to Manderley (You're Watching Wednesday #13)

 Good morning. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -


   

The new adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca was released on Netflix towards the end of October, but I only got round to watching it in December. I have walked the path to Manderley several times before, having read the original novel twice and Rebecca's Tale (an unofficial follow-up by Sally Beauman) once. Rebecca is a Gothic romance about an unnamed heroine who marries the much older Maxim de Winter after what is possibly the world's shortest courtship. Maxim is wealthy and recently widowed, whereas the heroine is an orphan working as a companion to a lady who conveniently falls unwell. To give you an idea of the level of romance involved, here is the proposal:

"I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."

Ah, Gothic love. On the scale of fictional proposals, I think I would rank this below Darcy's first one.

As I was watching this film, I couldn't help but feel that this story works much better as a novel. There's an atmosphere to the novel that the film couldn't quite capture, despite the beautiful, eerie settings. They changed a lot, to the point that the climax was almost completely different, and the age gap between the two main characters appeared to be non-existent and their relationship was portrayed as much more physical. This version of Maxim came across as suave rather than brooding. I felt like the film also lacked the ambiguity of the book, which is (in my opinion) what makes it such a popular read to this day.

As always, the characters of Beatrice and Clarice were breaths of fresh air amongst the uptight and judgemental cast of characters who the heroine has to endure. I also enjoyed the ball scene, where the heroine slowly descended into rooms that spun, and dancers who loomed around her, culminating at the open window with Mrs Danvers finally throwing off her affability and revealing her true nature. Gloriously done.

Overall, I was disappointed with this. It felt boring. Too far from the story it was supposed to be and not different enough to stand up on its own. 

   What did you think of this film?

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Happy 2021 - Have Some Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I don't know about you, but I don't want another year like 2020. I've been stuck in a rut for a while and, whilst I can't do anything about the root cause whilst stuck in the middle of a global pandemic, there must be something I can do to get myself going again. I also think it'll be important for my mental health - after mid-January, I'm on my own, so I need to give my brain some quality distractions.

Reading Goals

For the Goodreads reading challenge this year, I'm aiming for 80 books. I would also like to read more novels. (*Insert laugh track here*)

If you're having trouble deciding what to set as your Goodreads goal, remember that it's a personal challenge. This isn't a competition. Make it manageable for you.

Have you signed up for any reading challenges? You can see the ones that I've signed up for here. I am hoping to keep them in mind as I read this year.

Writing Goals

When I set writing goals, for some reason, I set them like I'm in sixth form. No one writes as quickly, as excitedly, as religiously, as a teenager. I have a lot more going on in my life now and I'm still (yes, still) trying to work out how to balance it all. I would like to aim to finish editing my story and send it to my beta readers. 

I would also like to feel giddy, and excited, and passionate every time I open the document, but editing is hard and I am no longer who I was at 16-18.

Personal Goals   

I want to put myself first this year. If there's one thing I learnt in 2020, it's that spending a lot of evenings socialising burns me out and drains me of all feeling for weeks on end. I need time for myself after work, to breathe, and relax, and feel like a human being. I'm going to start saying no this year to the things that I know I won't enjoy, even if I feel guilty about it.  

I've been working on my fitness and flexibility recently, so I'd like to keep that up.

I would also like to gain some sort of new qualification or take a course. 

Happy 2021! Do you have any resolutions?

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