Wednesday, 26 February 2014

'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green (2012)

Synopsis: Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16 year old girl who has terminal cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer three years ago and is only alive because of an experimental drug that has bought her a few more years. As a result of the cancer Hazel had to drop out of high school and she can only breathe with the aid of an oxygen tank. Hazel's parents are worried that she's depressed and insist on her going to a local cancer support group. At first Hazel resents these meetings but she then meets a gorgeous boy called Augustus Waters whose cancer is in remission. Augustus is as attracted to Hazel as she is to him and they begin to spend more and more time together. They discuss life in general and their favourite films and books. They especially bond over Hazel's favourite book (which is about a young girl who is also dying of cancer) and spend a lot of time discussing what might have happened after the book's ending. Hazel is falling in love with Augustus but she also feels that she has to pull away from him. She's dying and she doesn't want her and Augustus to get so close that he's shattered by her death. But Augustus feels differently. He believes that his love for Hazel is bigger than the pain that he would feel at her death and he tries to convince Hazel to let these feelings of hers go. The Fault in Our Stars was borne out of John Green's own experiences of working as a chaplain at a hospital with terminally ill children.

I have an awful confession to make. I only found out about John Green through the hit web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. When I was trying to find out more about that show I discovered that one of its creators was Hank Green and that Hank Green is the younger brother of John Green, a best-selling YA novelist and YouTube vlogger. But of course as soon as I knew who John Green was I started seeing his books everywhere! How could I go for so long without knowing about him?!

I decided that I'd really quite like to read some of John Green's books and I figured it would be best to start with The Fault in Our Stars since there's a film adaptation of it that's due out later this year. Now that I've read The Fault in Our Stars I can say that I found it to be one of the most beautiful, moving and powerful books that I've ever read. I don't think the book is perfect but I absolutely loved it and I feel very confident that it's going to stay with me for a very long time. This book didn't leave me sobbing but there were many times when I was on the verge of tears.

Yes, The Fault in Our Stars is a contemporary teenage romance novel but it's also so much more than that. It has far more depth than the average YA novel and it raises some really meaningful and thought-provoking questions. John Green has also said that he didn't want The Fault in Our Stars to be a typical "cancer book". I've read various quotes from him where he talks about how he can't stand the way that cancer sufferers are usually portrayed in stories. With this book he wanted to show cancer sufferers as they really are - as ordinary human beings who are no braver or stronger or wiser than anyone else. You can really tell that The Fault in Our Stars is a very personal book for Green and he never sugar-coats or sanitises things.

For anyone who's now thinking that The Fault in Our Stars is surely the most depressing story of all time I have to say - it's really not! It's really funny in places and even - yes - fun! And John Green's writing is absolutely fantastic. His prose is so eloquent and beautiful and there are many wonderful quotes from it.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. 

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it - or my observation of it - is temporary?” 

Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful." 

“My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations.”

I cared so much about Hazel and Augustus. They're not perfect characters. Hazel is sometimes rude to her parents and Augustus is pretentious at times. But I loved them. Sometimes I can read books where bad things happen to the main characters and I only feel sorry for them because I'd feel sorry for anyone in their situation. But with this book I felt sorry for Hazel and Augustus not just because of their situation but because I actually cared about them. Hazel is funny, clever, sarcastic and an engaging narrator. Apparently The Fault in Our Stars is John Green's first attempt at using a female narrator and I thought he did a amazing job writing Hazel. And Augustus, oh he's just adorable. He's just such a lovely and charming person.

The Fault in Our Stars isn't a perfect book. I won't give it away but the twist in this book is pretty obvious. I was actually spoiled about the twist but even if I hadn't been I think I would have seen it coming. Hazel and Augustus aren't exactly the most realistic teenagers that you'll ever encounter in fiction either. Both of them are much more mature and articulate than the average teenager but because I found them both so likeable that didn't really bother me. They still felt like real people. I wouldn't recommend The Fault in Our Stars to everyone either. I can very easily imagine that some who have been bereaved might find the book's subject matter too raw and painful. I think it could be an unhealthy trigger for some people. But I truly loved this book. It's fantastic and if all of Green's books are all of this level of quality then I think I'm well on my way to becoming a nerdfighter.

Rating: 5/5

P.S. John Green is a great vlogger too! I haven't seen all of his videos but I love his Book Recommendations post and his review of The Great Gatsby.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

I Don't Know If I'm a Book Purist

This is going to be a bit of a musing post. Up until fairly recently I used to think that I was a book purist. I usually prefer books to their adaptations. I also like book-to-screen adaptations to be as faithful to the books that they're based on as possible. I thought that those things made me a book purist. But ever since The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug came out I've been wondering what being a "book purist" actually means. Peter Jackson's Middle-earth films, especially his Hobbit films, seem to have really split the Tolkien fandom. Some Tolkien fans absolutely hate the films and others, like me, really love them.

I've been doing some thinking on the subject and I'm still not entirely sure if I am a book purist or not. I think it varies from book adaptation to book adaptation. Sometimes I'll read an angry review of a book adaptation and the reviewer will say "This film is absolutely nothing like the book!" They'll then list all of the reasons why that's the case and I'll find myself nodding in agreement. But sometimes I can read a review of a book adaptation and think otherwise. The reviewer will say that "this film is absolutely nothing like the book!" but the points that they'll make will seem really whiny, petty and silly to me. I don't understand how people can get so worked up about minor details if they're not even relevant to the plot. To use Les Miserables (2012) as an example, I've read some reviews where people have complained about Fantine not being a blonde and Cosette not being a brunette like they are in the book. This makes me think "What does that matter?! I'd much rather that they chose the right actresses for the parts instead of actresses that looked the parts but were absolutely terrible!"

I'm not necessarily bothered if adaptations leave certain things out or put new things in. It varies from case to case. Basically I think that an adaptation should capture the spirit, tone and essence of a book. I believe that the makers of an adaptation should have a genuine respect and love for the story that they're telling. I believe that they should be willing to consult with the author. If the author is still alive that is! If the author is long dead then they can consult with scholars and historical biographers. And finally, I also believe that the core aspects of the characters' personalities should stay the same. Their personalities can be altered a little bit but they should still be recognisable as the characters that I fell in love with. To be honest, even if a film differs quite radically from a book that doesn't always mean that I'll dislike it. As another example, there's the 2002 adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. That film is very different to the book but I still think that it's an entertaining and fun film in its own right. It probably helps that I saw the film before I read the book though! Oh, and then there's Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I actually believe that that film is one of the finest that Disney have ever made and yet that film is quite different to the book that it's based on too.

I don't know if I'm a book purist any more - I suspect not - but those are my own personal views on book-to-screen adaptations. What are your views? :)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

'Mary Barton' by Elizabeth Gaskell (1848)

Synopsis: Mary Barton is set in Manchester during the years from 1837 to 1842. The eponymous heroine is a seamstress and the beautiful daughter of a disillusioned mill worker and chartist. Mary's childhood friend, the working-class Jem Wilson, is deeply in love with her and offers her his hand in marriage. However, Mary rejects Jem's marriage proposal because she wishes to marry a handsome mill owner's son called Henry Carson. Henry is then murdered and Jem becomes the prime suspect. Mary is convinced that Jem is innocent and now realises that she's loved him all along. She's desperate to save him from being hanged. But when Mary discovers who the real murderer is her efforts to save Jem are made more difficult.

Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is one of my favourite books of all-time and now I'm trying to seek out more of Gaskell's other works. Mary Barton was Elizabeth Gaskell's debut novel and you can tell. For the most part the book felt just like North and South. Mary Barton is set in the same area as North and South and it has almost all of the same themes as North and South but it's just nowhere near as good as that book. The writing is far less polished, the characters are nowhere near as well-developed, and it has a very slow-moving first half. The entire first half of the book is basically a very lengthy tirade against the appalling living conditions of the Manchester working-classes. Although Gaskell's obvious compassion for the poor is admirable, the social commentary is much too heavy-handed. North and South has plenty of social commentary as well of course but I never felt like I was being preached too with that book because Gaskell managed to weave the social commentary into the plot and romance. With Mary Barton she didn't manage to do it. However, about halfway through, Mary Barton finally became a lot more interesting and turned into quite a dramatic legal drama. The book's second half is much better than its first and because of that I've added an extra star to its rating.

I suppose Gaskell was still finding her feet as an author when she wrote Mary Barton and I still want to read more of her books. I've heard great things about Wives and Daughters.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Pride and Prejudice (1980)

I've become more interested in seeing the BBC's older Jane Austen adaptations in recent months (those adaptations that were made in the 1970s and 1980s). I figured I'd start off with the 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. This was partly because Pride and Prejudice is still my favourite Jane Austen novel but also because the 1980 adaptation seems to be very well-regarded by older Jane Austen fans who got to see it before the 1995 version. Some of those fans argue that it's the definitive adaptation of the book. I wouldn't really agree with that argument but only because I don't believe in "definitive adaptations". As far as I'm concerned the only definitive version of Pride and Prejudice is Austen's book.

I wouldn't say that the 1980 version is my absolute favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I have a possibly irrational love for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Nevertheless I still really enjoyed this adaptation. It has so much going for it! This miniseries was written by the novelist Fay Weldon and her script is excellent. She keeps much of Austen's dialogue and there are many lines that are word-for-word accurate. And as this miniseries is five hours long it includes minor characters from the book that tend to get left out in the shorter adaptations. We might not get Maria Lucas and the Forsters in this version but we do get to see the Bennet sisters' aunt Mrs Phillips and Bingley's other sister Mrs Hurst. The Gardiners get quite a lot of screentime in this version as well which I really appreciated. This version also keeps in scenes from the book that none of the other Pride and Prejudice adaptations have included! We get Elizabeth singing at the Lucas party, Miss Bingley offering to repair Darcy's pen, and Darcy asking Elizabeth to dance a reel at Netherfield. We get Miss Bingley taunting Darcy about Elizabeth's relatives and asking whether he'll hang portraits of them up at Pemberley. We get Mrs Gardiner warning Elizabeth about the danger of falling in love with Wickham. We get Darcy's final line in his letter to Elizabeth in this version ('I will only add, God bless you'). I also love that Weldon kept in the scene where Elizabeth and Darcy discuss when their feelings for each other turned into love. This is one of my favourite scenes from the book and it really upsets me that none of the other adaptations have it apart from this one! I even love the opening credits of this version. They're quite clever and I find them charming. They give me a nice nostalgic vibe.

Of course no adaptation is 100% accurate. There are scenes from the book that are left out in this version. There's an added scene with Mr Collins and a flotation hat. I didn't mind that added scene at all though because it's funny and completely in character. We get occasional voiceovers from Elizabeth as a means of letting the audience know her inner thoughts. I don't think those voiceovers were really necessary but it's a nice idea. This version gives quite an interesting interpretation of Anne de Bourgh too. When Elizabeth leaves Rosings for the final time Anne goes over to her and holds her hands. It's a very brief moment but you get the sense that Anne really likes Elizabeth and is grateful to have met someone who's willing to put her overbearing mother in place. I was annoyed by one change that this miniseries made though. In the book Elizabeth finds out about Lydia's elopement with Wickham when she reads Jane's letter at the Lambton inn. Darcy then walks in and finds her in deep distress. But in this version Elizabeth reads the letter at the inn and then runs off to Pemberley to look for her uncle Mr Gardiner! It's then that she finds Darcy. This is a ridiculous change! It doesn't make the scene any more dramatic and it was an unpleasant reminder of the Benny Hill scene from Persuasion (2007)! At least this version doesn't mention that Lambton and Pemberley are five miles apart!

One of this adaptation's other flaws is its low production values. The interior scenes are all filmed on cheap-looking sets and the cinematography simply can't hold a candle to the cinematography of the 1995 and 2005 versions. Even The Lizzie Bennet Diaries looks better than this version! In some reviews that I've read people have complained that they felt like they were watching a filmed play when they saw this adaptation rather than a television miniseries - and I can understand why. Viewers who are only used to the BBC's modern and more cinematic-looking period dramas might find the low production values of the 1980 version a real turn-off. However, as I'm a fan of classic Doctor Who and have seen a few of the BBC's pre-90s period dramas, the low production values of this miniseries didn't really bother me.

The 1980 version might not be my absolute favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation but it has my absolute
favourite Elizabeth Bennet. She's played by Elizabeth Garvie who is wonderful in the role. I loved her! This miniseries is worth watching for her performance alone! Her Elizabeth is intelligent, witty, youthful, spirited and mischievous but also the sweetest and kindest that I've yet seen. And out of all of the actresses that I've seen play Elizabeth it's Garvie who looks the most like my mental image of Austen's Elizabeth! At the time of filming Garvie was very close to Book Elizabeth's age and she looks it. Her figure is light and slender. She has beautiful dark eyes. She has a dark complexion and brown hair. She's very pretty and attractive but I wouldn't call her stunning. It doesn't seem unbelievable to me that Darcy initially thought that her Elizabeth wasn't "handsome enough to tempt" him at the start. With Keira Knightley's Elizabeth, er, not so much! And finally, Elizabeth Garvie and Elizabeth Bennet also share the same name which I think is really cool :D

A lot of Janeites seem to really dislike David Rintoul's Darcy. I've read multiple complaints about his acting being "stiff" and even "robotic" in the role and I can understand where these criticisms come from (to an extent). His performance isn't as strong as Elizabeth Garvie's and he could have really done with being more emotive at times. Yet there are still things that I did really like about Rintoul's portrayal. His Darcy is clearly arrogant and haughty in the early scenes. Rintoul smiles more than Colin Firth did in the role. I liked how Rintoul played Darcy's attraction to Elizabeth as well. In this version I could actually understand why Elizabeth was so confused by Darcy's staring at her because it's not obvious that he finds her attractive. In the 1940 and 1995 versions it's obvious that Darcy finds Elizabeth attractive and she must really be blind not to see it! Also, Rintoul's Darcy becomes much more animated after his successful second proposal which made for a really nice contrast!

Apart from a few exceptions the casting for this adaptation is really strong in general. Malcolm Rennie is hilariously pompous and is now my favourite Mr Collins. Osmund Bullock is now my favourite Bingley. He's quite good-looking, is clearly amiable and good-natured, doesn't come across as stupid or dim at all, and you can see why he's Darcy's best friend. My favourite Jane Bennets are Rosamond Pike and Laura Spencer but Sabina Franklyn's Jane is really good too. I wouldn't call her Jane drop-dead beautiful but she's the prettiest of the Bennet sisters and is very sweet. She and Elizabeth really look like sisters in this adaptation which I really liked. Priscilla Morgan is excellent as Mrs Bennet. She manages to be silly, annoying, ridiculous and embarrassing without going completely over the top. I've liked all of the Mrs Bennets that I've seen actually with the exception of Alison Steadman's. Judy Parfitt's Lady Catherine is great. She's very intimidating in her confrontation with Elizabeth. Also, because her Lady Catherine is younger and more active than the character is in the other adaptations I could much more easily believe that she'd make a 50 mile trip just to tell Elizabeth off.

As I've already mentioned there are a few exceptions to the 1980 version's mostly great cast though. Peter Settelen's Wickham wasn't good-looking or charming enough for me. Clare Higgins is miscast as Kitty Bennet. There's nothing wrong with her acting but she looks by far the oldest Bennet sister! It's really weird and unintentionally amusing! Moray Watson's Mr Bennet is also disappointing but this seems to be down to the script rather than his acting. Whereas the 2005 film softens Mr Bennet's faults this adaptation emphasises them! This Mr Bennet doesn't even attempt to use humour and a light tone of voice to disguise his insults to his wife and younger daughters. He's harsh and nasty and really quite unlikeable. This characterisation - and Elizabeth's run to Pemberley - are the only things about this adaptation that I think will annoy and vex the purists.

This adaptation is on YouTube and I'd definitely recommend watching it. If you're a fan of the book and can get past the dated production values then I think you should find a lot to enjoy in this production. It has its faults but it's still a really well-done adaptation of Austen's book. I'll definitely have to get the DVD at some point.

Rating: 4/5 (It will probably get an even higher rating with a re-watch :)

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Poetry and Prose Reading Post

This post was inspired by a Tumblr post I saw the other day. I very much recommend clicking on it! I just thought I'd embed some of my favourite readings from that list over here. I think you should have a pretty great half an hour! :D

Tom Hiddleston reads Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare. I reeeally need to read more of Shakespeare's Sonnets!

Matthew Macfadyden reads Pride and Prejudice (an extract) by Jane Austen. He's got to do a full audiobook version at some point!

Benedict Cumberbatch reads Jaberwocky by Lewis Carroll

Richard Armitage reads Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth. I love the poem itself and Richard's reading if it. It's just such a shame that there's elevator music in the background! :(

Andrew Scott reads Master Speed by Robert Frost

David Tennant reads Sonnet 2 by William Shakespeare

Tom Hiddleston reads From the Princess by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Sir Christopher Lee reads The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. Whoever thought to get Sir Christopher to do a recording of this poem is a genius!

Monday, 10 February 2014

'Frederica' by Georgette Heyer (1965)

Synopsis: The Marquis of Alverstoke is a stylish, wealthy and rakish bachelor. He lives in London. Alverstoke is fed up with women only wanting him for his money and fed up with his sisters' constant attempts to have him fund their already lavish lifestyles. He's become deeply bored and cynical. Alverstoke then meets a distant cousin called Frederica Merriville. Frederica is 24 years old and has been taking care of her younger siblings in the countryside ever since the death of her parents. Frederica believes that she's now passed a marriageable age but is determined to have her stunningly beautiful younger sister Charis marry well. Frederica has taken her family to London for the season and wants Alverstoke's help in introducing Charis to the right sort of people. Usually Alverstoke isn't at all the sort of person who would put himself out for a complete stranger but it occurs to him that this would be an excellent opportunity to infuriate his sisters, who have been pestering him to do similar things for their daughters. Alverstoke cheerfully accepts Frederica's offer. He then spends quite a bit of time with the Merrivilles and finds himself being drawn into their slapstick exploits. As Alverstoke bails them out of various predicaments he's pulled out of his boredom and finds himself growing extremely fond of the family, and most of all Frederica.

Frederica is the third Georgette Heyer novel that I've read in as many months. It's a huge fan favourite and many Heyer fans think it's her finest work. I can definitely understand why. It's hugely entertaining and fun although I would still say that Venetia is my favourite of the Heyer novels that I've read so far. I actually thought Frederica took a little while to get going but after about 80 pages or so I was hooked.

Frederica is quite unusual for a romance novel because it's actually a lot more focused on the hero than it is on the heroine. We get given much more of an insight into Alverstoke's thoughts and motivations than we do with Frederica's. For the most part I found this extremely refreshing although I do wish that Heyer could have us given a little bit more of an insight into Frederica's changing feelings for Alverstoke. I wasn't even convinced that she loved him until the final few pages!

The romance between Alverstoke and Frederica is lovely and sweet but it was really Frederica's younger brothers - the 16 year old Jessamy and 12 year old Felix - who stole the show for me. I loved those two! They're both hugely likeable in their own different ways and I loved reading about their zany hijinks! :D Georgette Heyer is often viewed as a successor to Jane Austen but I see quite a bit of P.G. Wodehouse in her books as well. Felix is ridiculously intelligent and is completely obsessed with science and technology. He can't understand why anyone wouldn't be and thinks it's an absolute treat for Alverstoke to take him around a foundry. Jessamy is very intelligent as well and is passionate about horses. He's also torn between his devotion to his studies and his desire to compete with Felix in the adventure stakes. He's quite earnest and is a bit of an old soul. Oh and there's also the Merriville's dog Lufra, the "Baluchistan Hound". The scene where Lufra chases a herd of cows in Green Park and the scene that comes after that when Alverstoke has to save him are both hilarious! Frederica is so much fun!

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Why I Want a 'Northanger Abbey' Vlog

I think regular readers of this blog will probably know that I love the Pemberley Digital web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries - a modern day web series adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has now finished and Pemberley Digital are currently making a web series adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma which is called Emma Approved. That series got off to a rockier start than the LBD but it's now progressing very nicely and I'm really enjoying it. But there's yet another Austen book that I'd love for Pemberley Digital to take on: Northanger Abbey. In my opinion Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen's most underrated book and I think it could be adapted to the web series format brilliantly! If the PD creators haven't already considered adapting Northanger Abbey then they really should! I even have a few ideas about what they could do with it...

If I was adapting Northanger Abbey for the modern-day vlog format I'd have Catherine Morland start her vlog because she's going away to university and wants to keep her large family updated on what she's doing. She's shocked and stunned to get as many YouTube views as she does. Catherine then starts university and goes to a party. Catherine feels awkward and uncomfortable at the party though because she doesn't know anyone there. She sneaks off somewhere quiet to make a video - but Henry Tilney accidentally walks in on her while she's making it and they start talking. It's obvious that they're instantly smitten with each other. Catherine then meets Isabella Thorpe when they're picked to do an assignment together. They soon discover that they're both huge fans of the urban fantasy genre and bond over their favourite books. That genre has its roots from the Gothic literature of Austen's time so I think it's fitting that Catherine and Isabella would read those kinds of books. Isabella then tries to set Catherine up with her brother John, who would be obsessed with cars instead of carriages and horses. Henry Tilney would also have his own vlog which would cross over with Catherine's. Henry is a surprisingly modern and sarcastic character and I can very easily imagine him as a vlogger. He's also my favourite Austen hero by far and one of my favourite fictional heroes full stop. :) I'd like for Henry's videos to be similar in style to the vlogs of Danisnotonfire who I'm a big fan of. FYI: there's a bit of bad language in this video.

The semester then comes to an end and Henry invites Catherine to stay with him at his family mansion, Northanger Abbey, in New England. See what I did there? :D Then we get to the part of the novel where Catherine begins to suspect that General Tilney murdered his wife. However, I don't think it would be appropriate for Catherine to say that she thinks General Tilney is a murderer in a modern-day vlog adaptation. It's one thing for Catherine to think that General Tilney is a murderer but to accuse him of murder on a YouTube vlog would be awful. I think it would be best if Catherine begins to suspect that General Tilney is a vampire in a modern-day vlog since it would fit with the gothic literature/urban fantasy connection, and it could make for pure comedy gold! :D I'm still a bit hesitant about it though: would it make Catherine look stupid? It would have to be really well-written and handled for Catherine to not come across this way.

General Tilney then decides to send Catherine back home when Henry goes away for a few days. In the book General Tilney sends her away because John Thorpe told him that Catherine was a wealthy heiress and he's furious to find out that she isn't. I'm not sure what the General's motive for sending Catherine away should be in this version. Anyway, to really get across to modern viewers how awful it was of General Tilney to do this to Catherine in the book, I'd have Catherine spend three or four days travelling across the whole of America by bus. Catherine is convinced that Henry must have told his father about her suspicions and thinks that's why she's been sent home. She's heartbroken. When she gets back home she decides to make one last video in which she announces that she's going to give up vlogging for good - but as she's making the video there's a knock on her door. It's Henry! When he found out what his father did, Henry had a massive argument with him and instantly bought a plane ticket to Catherine's home town. He wanted to apologise to Catherine in person and let her know that he didn't ask his father to send her away. They then kiss. Catherine makes one more video to confirm that she and Henry are dating. The End.

I do have a few slight concerns about a Northanger Abbey vlog adaptation. Because Northanger Abbey doesn't have very many adaptations and is one of Jane Austen's lesser-known works it hasn't really got the large fanbase that Pride and Prejudice and Emma have. But then I suppose that those fans who loved The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved would probably be perfectly happy to watch whatever adaptation PD chose to do next. Northanger Abbey hasn't really got enough of a plot for it to be stretched out into a year-long adaptation either but I feel it could make for a brilliant short series to tide the fans over while the PD creators are working on a lengthier adaptation.

I would reeeally love it if Northanger Abbey was the next Pemberley Digital adaptation! I'm guessing that Hank Green and Bernie Su will eventually want to start adapting works by different authors but they should definitely make an attempt on Northanger Abbey. I wonder if the two of them have a long-term plan on the novels that they want to adapt or if they're just making it up as they go along?

Saturday, 1 February 2014

'Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys (1966)

Synopsis: Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It focuses on the character of Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester's first wife and the mad woman of the Thornfield attic. Bertha is renamed Antoinette Cosway and the book covers her marriage to Edward Rochester and her descent into madness. Wide Sargasso Sea is split into three parts. The first part of the book focuses on Antoinette's childhood in Jamaica and is told from her own point of view. The second part of the book is told (mostly) from the perspective of the newly-married Edward Rochester. The final part of the book is told from the perspectives of Antoinette and Grace Poole while Antoinette is at Thornfield, England. The story then goes briefly into the events of Jane Eyre.

Jean Rhys was brought up in Dominica and read Jane Eyre for the first time when she was 16 and had not long arrived in England. Rhys strongly disapproved of Charlotte Bronte's treatment of Bertha Mason. She felt that Jane Eyre demonised Bertha and that the book would have been far more interesting if Charlotte Bronte had made Bertha the main character. About 60 years later Rhys would go on to write a prequel to Jane Eyre in order to "right the wrongs" of Charlotte Bronte's book. Wide Sargasso Sea is now widely considered to be a classic in its own right and has been much praised by feminists for giving the character of Bertha Mason a more sympathetic portrayal.

When I read classic books I can usually understand why they're classics. There have been some classic books that I've found overrated but I've still been able to find merit in them. But not this time. As far as I'm concerned Wide Sargasso Sea is absolute rubbish! I feel that strongly about it. I don't want to upset its fans but I really hated this book.

If I hadn't read Jane Eyre then I don't think I'd have had a clue what was actually going on in Wide Sargasso Sea. I found Jean Rhys's writing so confusing and hard to follow that I often had to re-read sentences. The story jumps around rapidly, the narrators will change around without a moment's notice, and the language itself is just so convoluted and dry. I absolutely hated Rhys's writing style. I found it beyond tedious.

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books of all time and Wide Sargasso Sea completely fails as a Jane Eyre prequel. Considering that Wide Sargasso Sea is supposed to be the story of Jane Eyre's Bertha Mason I was extremely irritated at how much of Bertha's backstory Rhys changed. Rochester and Bertha Antoinette meet about 30 years later than they should have done if Rhys had gone with Charlotte Bronte's timeline. This is because Rhys wanted to incorporate some historic race riots into her story. I can understand Rhys wanting to emphasise the racial tensions that were going on in Jamaica but her altering of the time period really annoys me because it's simply not giving a true depiction of Bertha's life. Also, Bertha Antoinette isn't even a real Mason in this book. She's Mr Mason's stepdaughter instead of his actual daughter.

I disagree with the thing that many feminists praise about Wide Sargasso Sea. I'm completely against the suggestion that Bertha wasn't a sympathetic character until Jean Rhys came along. You can accuse me of being biased all you want but I have always considered Bertha to be an extremely tragic and sympathetic character. Her family deceived a man into marrying her before she could become a burden to them and - once she was off their hands - she then lost all grip of her sanity and ended up in a cold, foreign country. In her more lucid moments this must have caused Bertha grief. Yes Bertha isn't a particularly well-developed character and she doesn't get very much page-time but then Jane Eyre isn't her story. It's Jane's! And I actually find Bertha more sympathetic in Jane Eyre! What makes Bertha go insane in Wide Sargasso Sea? Rochester! The only reason why Bertha seems to go insane in this book is because her husband didn't love her or her country and because he once slept with a servant. But hang on a minute, I thought Rhys was trying to give us a Bertha who is a strong character? How can I believe that Bertha is a strong woman when she goes insane just because she suffers rejection by a man?

I also hated Wide Sargasso Sea because of Rhys's depiction of Rochester. It couldn't be any more obvious that she hates him and that really upset me. Of course I realise that Rochester has his faults but I absolutely refuse to believe that he could have ever acted in the way that he acts in this book. The Rochester that I know and love would never insist on calling his wife a different name when she obviously detests it. He would never brood and complain constantly. He would never have had sex with a servant girl in the room next to his wife and not even care about his wife overhearing them. The Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea doesn't even talk like the Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's book! OH ROCHESTER! WHAT DID JEAN RHYS DO TO YOU?!

I hated this book and I never want to read it again. I'll never understand how people can love this book. I'll never understand why this book is considered to be some kind of literary, feminist masterpiece. The writing is horrible. The characters are all flat and unsympathetic. It ruins Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester. It's a terrible prequel to Jane Eyre and a terrible book in its own right. In fact the only remotely good thing that I can say about Wide Sargasso Sea is that it's short. As the book is a novella it's only 150 pages long. Again, I'm sorry if this post offends any fans but I despise this book. I think it's an overrated mess.

Rating: 0.5/5 (the lowest rating I'll give)

P.S. If you're after a genuinely brilliant Bronte-inspired read then I strongly recommend that you read Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca instead.

Some Zimbio Quiz Results

I don't know why but everyone seems to be taking quizzes lately. Here are a few quizzes that I did on Zimbio...

My Once Upon a Time Character

My Game of Thrones Character

My Simpsons Character

 My Star Wars Character

My Disney Princess Character

My Harry Potter Character

My Magical Tolkien Creature

My Hunger Games Character