Friday, 24 May 2013

The Great Gatsby?



The thing is, I’m not so sure. I love Fitzgerald’s novel, as in, really love it and I was so excited about this film. It’s funny because it’s exactly what I expected it to be and yet still somehow I came out of the cinema feeling oddly disappointed. I am aware this makes no sense.

Is it amazing? No.

Is it terrible? Also, no.

It falls somewhere in between and I can’t quite put my finger on why that should be. I think maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time coming and there’s been so much build-up that I allowed myself to have ridiculously high expectations. Perhaps I just set myself up for a fall.


It stays faithful to the novel, which I liked – and I loved how they kept Nick’s narration, (although the flash forward from the action to Nick’s random therapy sessions felt a little bit jarring sometimes, and the whole typing out of the story, erm hello Moulin Rouge reference.)  There’s plenty of Fitzgerald’s original content and dialogue in there too, which I also liked so what did I not like?

Baz Luhrmann obviously has a particular vision and a particular style of directing which has served him well in the past. Take a look at Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge: he is not aiming for subtle. I adore Moulin Rouge. It’s a spectacle, the story is  a spectacular spectacular and it makes perfect sense for the film to be one too. It’s so flamboyant and so over the top and so unique that it’s wonderful. I wonder if Luhrmann has tried to recreate that here when in actuality Gatsby doesn’t need that; sometimes, like here, less is more. It felt like too much sometimes. It felt like Luhrmann was actually trying to recreate what he’d done with Moulin Rouge and that frustrated me because The Great Gatsby could have been great on it’s own merits if given half the chance. Also, the modern hip hoppy soundtrack, which whilst fabulous in it’s own right, didn’t work for me. I felt like the film tried too hard and in doing so took away from the actual story it was trying to tell.  I felt like I was being bombarded with these bright over the top visuals and it made my head spin.  That said, parts of it were glorious: I loved loved loved the costumes, practically squealed at them and at times the portrayal of New York in the 1920’s made me very happy: you could really feel the vibe, especially in the party scenes.

I was unsure about Nick: film Nick is much more innocent than book Nick, he wanders around these mental scenes of excess looking awed and overwhelmed and almost childlike whereas he isn’t like that for me in the book. Also, the party Tom takes him too, when he meets Myrtle, that was all wrong – Nick’s a little sneery at that party; he’s a little judgemental of Mrytle and her sister. He looks down his nose at it all, he doesn’t think ‘oooh wow a party. I’ve never been to one of those before GIVE ME ALL THE ALCOHOL AND ALL THE WOMEN.’ He leaves with a man. I think Nick is one of my main issues with the film actually. I don’t know if that’s down to Tobey Maguire or the direction he received, but it annoyed me nonetheless. Nick is more worldly wise than the film shows him to be, he’s tougher, he’s not a shrinking wallflower and it’s Gatsby he views through rose-tinted glasses and not the whole world.  He isn’t that naïve. The way Nick is portrayed has a knock on effect when it comes to the rest of the film and that is an issue.

Talking of Nick and Gatsby, I always thought Nick was gay, or bisexual: he’s clearly in love with Gatsby (The first time I read the book I remember thinking, in my best Chandler Bing thought-voice, ‘Jeez Nick, could you be any more in love with him?’ ) and there’s the implied night he spent with the guy when he goes to the party with Tom and Myrtle. They meet at the party and later leave together and whilst it’s never explicitly stated that anything happens, there is a lapse of time, and the next time we see Nick and this chap Nick is standing beside the bed and the other man is in it, wearing only his underwear *shrug*

I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a common interpretation, because I’ve never spoken to anybody about it at length but to me, Nick’s sexuality and his feelings towards Gatsby always seemed perfectly obvious. The bedroom scene isn’t in the film, interestingly enough and Nick is shown with a woman so maybe it is just me, but a lot of what Nick says throughout the book about Gatsby has been kept in, and whether you view it as platonic or not, that whole relationship interests me as much in the film as it does in the book. Nick is the ultimate unreliable narrator because his feelings for Gatsby make it hard for him to see the other man as anything but great.  He can’t see his flaws and if he can he doesn’t care, he wants to see the world the way Gatsby sees it, he wants to be a part of that blind optimism and hopeless romanticism, feels it probably himself, about Gatsby and as the reader, (or the viewer) your own opinion of Gatsby is shaped by that fact. It’s less obvious in the film, or rather, whilst he is still massively unreliable you feel like Nick’s opinions are based more on his general naivety than his feelings about Jay specifically. Maybe that's why you feel a little less sympathetic towards Gatsby? It’s easier to see Gatsby’s flaws because you’re not as naïve as Nick seems to be. Does that even make sense? It does in my head!

That said, Leo was great as Gatsby. I happen to think Leonardo DiCaprio is a very good actor,  and I really think he did well here. Some of his scenes were golden – waiting to meet Daisy for the first time, although the set up was verging on ridiculousness, Leo really expressed Gatsby’s vulnerability. The scene where Gatsby walks into the room and sees Daisy for the first time was lovely in it’s simplicity and they kept the ‘I’m certainly glad to see you again’ exchange so hurrah for that.  The following scenes with Gatsby and Daisy together were achingly touching and the final showdown between Gatsby and Tom was so tense. Leo played Gatsby’s slowly crumbling façade perfectly so that when he finally loses it you can totally understand Daisy’s – and to a lesser degree Nick and Jordan’s – horror.

It’s not the best film, it’s not the best adaptation and yes, I was disappointed but still, I’m glad I’ve seen it.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Top Ten Books Dealing with Difficult Subjects



This week’s topic for 'Top Ten Tuesday' (yes, I know it's Friday. Whoops.) was ‘Top Ten Books Dealing with Difficult Subjects’ which plays right into my hands actually, because I read rather a lot of books dealing with difficult subjects. I was practically rubbing my hands together because books that are challenging and emotive and punch me right in the feels? Those are the kinds of books I can’t seem to not read.Often I'll be in a bookshop and Helen will call out to me from the other side of the shop, 'hey, Jo, this is a book about Hitler, you'll love it' and I'll be able to feel everybody's eyes on me as I look around cagily and protesting, like some kind of confused Tinkerbelle: I don't love Hitler, I don't, I don't. 

What I do love is being affected by a book. I don't always want to read a book, smile and say 'well, that was good' before moving onto the next one. I like a dystopia that makes me think; I like characters that are raw and funny and human and palpable; and, I like books that break my heart and stay with me for days.

So, have at it. The best of the bunch (today at least):

 Cancer is a difficult subject. Pretty much every person ever has been affected by it to some degree and you can’t get away from the fact that it sucks. The thing I love about John Green – scratch that, one of the things I love about John Green – is that he doesn’t shy away from that. He doesn’t pretend it doesn’t suck.  He doesn’t pretend it’s all going to be ok.  He lets these two very real characters fall crazy in love regardless. It’s a beautiful story, all the more so because it hurts.








 Wasted: This incredible book about Myra Hornbacher’s struggle with eating disorders is the very definition of a book dealing with a difficult situation. It’s raw and hard-hitting, it pulls no punches. It's so brave too. Hornbacher really does bare her soul inside the pages, so it feels.


 




 The Book Thief is one of my favourite books of all time. Set in Nazi Germany, it broke me into tiny pieces. I love it so much I daren’t re-read it.  I have no words.
  


Rape and racial inequality – does it get much more ‘difficult’ than that? This is a book that changes you – it makes you think, really think. The best time I ever had at school was studying this and I’ve read it countless times since. Also, Atticus.






 Aaah, Perks. This is another one of those books that just made me feel so many things. It’s so so so well done.
   








The Cellist of Sarajevo: If you haven’t read this then you should. This story is that of a cellist – based, I believe, on Vedran Smailovic -  who played for 22 days as snipers fought each other in the buildings surrounding him during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990’s. It will make you bone crushingly sad but it will also fill you with wonder.





This book actually broke my heart. I finished it, looked at Iam, said ‘I think I’m sad’ and then just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. It makes me feel cold just thinking about it. Set in 1941 it follows a teenage Lithuanian girl sent to a work camp in Siberia. It’s incredibly moving; it’s incredibly haunting; it hurts and not even remotely in the good way, it just plain hurts. It feels like ripping open a wound, rubbing salt in it and then jumping up and down on it in spiked shoes. How can I recommend it so highly when I describe it so horrifically? Because it matters, because it matters and because whilst your heart breaks into tiny little pieces and you wonder how the hell this can have happened [ and if you’re me how you didn’t really know: we did a lot on the Nazi Concentration Camps in school but barely even touched on this] you’ll also marel at how love and hope can still bloom even when everything else is so hopeless – the love, the hope, the strength, the determination, the joy. That’s what hurts and that’s what makes this book important.

  Wonder is frank and moving and real and so important. Every child, every teenager, every person should probably read this book. This is a book that matters.
  









Junk won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Award and rightly so. It's the story of teenage runaways who fall into a life of heroin addiction. It's open, honest and upfront - it was slated at the time I think, by critics saying it was encouraging young people to take drugs.  I was a teenager when it eas published and I think it had the opposite effect. Seriously, what Gem and Tar go through, it's not pretty. I think the people that have a problem with books like this really need to have a greater respect for  the target audicence. Drug abuse is a real issue, we shouldn't hide from it and that we need more books like Junk.



  My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece deals beautifully with loss and what that means, particularly to children. S'good. I think I blogged about it when I read it actually because I thought at the time that it was good at what it did. Children deal with death - grandparents, pets, maybe even a parent or a sibling and it's a hard thing to understand - it's hard for adults so it's got to be a million times harder for children. Books like this definitely have a place. It also handles the topic of racism pretty nicely too.The best thing I think is that it remains accessible: the subject matter is tough but the story itself isn't and that's really important.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Top Ten Books When You Need Something Light & Fun

[Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at Broke and Bookish Here is what they have to say: Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND sign Mister Linky at the bottom to share with us and all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time..just post what you can! ]

I stole this idea from Musings of a Bookshop Girl who in turn I believe follows the meme over at Broke and Bookish and thought it sounded like fun.

This is yesterday's TTT, but better late than never, right?

So, here we go: Top Ten Books When You Need Something Light & Fun [in no particular order...]

The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovoch: 
These books are totally my guilty pleasure. When I've had a ad week, or I'm tired, or I need to not concentrate or let's be real I just need a laugh I turn to Stephanie P,um. Stephanie, grandma Mazur, Ranger - who is super hot inside my head, Joe Morelli the asshat. These books are laugh out loud funny and I love them.
Agatha Raisin - MC Beaton
Pure unadulterated escapism in the Cotswolds.

Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging et al - Louise Rennison  
Even at 30 years old I still think these books are full of fabnosity. Now, I am away laughing on a fast camel to re-read, because they haven't gotten old yet. I still quote Georgia a lot a LOT.
In fact, on a regular basis I have the following conversation with my BFF.

Me:Helen, do you love me?
Helen:Yes.
Me: Lezzer.

James Herriot
I can remember laughing out loud at these when I was a kid and still love them now.

My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
See above. A rec from my mum that was totally on the money.

Roald Dahl who surely speaks for himself.

All My Friends Are Superheroes - Andrew Kaufman
This book is clever and witty and adorable and the best way to spend an afternoon.

Weird Things.. - Jen Campbell.
Because JEN and also because sitting in a pub reading snippets of this aloud is the best

The Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson
I love Kate Atkinson and I love this series, Jackson is a literary hero and these books are so easy to read

Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
All the love, all the time. ALL THE LOVE. The thing about Alice is that it's absolutely perfectly insane. I love it.

That's it. There's a few past TTT's that I plan to go back and look at so watch this space and let mwe know, of you fancy, what books you think are light and fun.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I'll cross the sky for you...

Warning: this blog post contains spoilers. 

  This book people, I mean it. This book.
“You can be Han Solo," he said, kissing her throat. "And I'll be Boba Fett. I'll cross the sky for you.”
Simply put, Eleanor & Park moved me.

I don't know how else to explain it really. It took my expectations - already quite high - and it blew them out of the water. It's going to have to be something pretty special I think, to steal it's spot as book of my year.

Remember the first time you fell in love? Remember the first time he or she touched you, not in a sexual way, not even in an overly romantic way, maybe just the first time they held your hand? How you thought you might fall apart, how it seemeed like nothing could ever be the same again?

This book is about that. It's about love and it's about loss and it's about finding your place and surviving even when the odds are against you.

He wound the scarf around his fingers until her hand was hanging in the space between them.

Then he slid the silk and his fingers into her open palm.

And Eleanor disintegrated.

God, Rainbow Rowell, you know how to use your words.

Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.

It's just a beautiful, moving achingly intimate story and I came away feeling (and I know this sounds ultra dramatic, but hello, I am quite dramatic so stop acting all surprised please) changed.

It's a simple story. Set it the 80's, (the 80's. woop woop) it is at it's core, a high school love story.

Eleanor - bullied for her weight and her appearance and her background and Park - token Asian kid, except he's only half-Korean,  meet by accident on the school bus. What unfolds is one of the most incredible love stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading. As in actually ever. These are not your typical romantic leads and this is not your typical love story. There are no fireworks, no falling hard and fast. It's gentle and slow-building and at it's crescendo it takes your breath away. It's intense and it's intimate and it's so so real; it reminds you exactly what it's like to be young and to fall in love and the language, the narrative voice,  the descriptors, are just beautiful, so beautiful.

The way the story develops, from nothing, made me so happy, it hooked me in and it refused to let go. I barely breathed til I'd finished it, and when I did finish I was in tears. It's a story that perfectly shows how incredible first love can be juxtaposed against the awkwardness, the uncertainty that goes hand in hand with that. Likewise the depth of feeling between Eleanor & Park, the cautious way in which they move forward with each other is made all the more poignant when shown alongside the ugliness of some of the other storylines: the cruelty of teenagers; the ugliness of Eleanor's home life;  the way Eleanor and Park struggle to find their place: Park desperate for his Dad's approval and Eleanor desperate to be invisible.
It's all just so raw. The beauty of what is good is raw, the ugliness of what isn't is raw, the way these two teenagers navigate their lives and each other is raw.

It's raw, but it's perfect. Yeah, I'm saying that word. The 'perfect' word. I loved this book that much.

"You know?" he repeated. She smiled, so he kissed her. "You're not the Han Solo in this relationship, you know." 
"I'm totally the Han Solo," she whispered. It was good to hear her. It was good to remember it was Eleanor under all this new flesh.

"Well, I'm not the Princess Leia," he said.

"Don't get so hung up on gender roles," Eleanor said.”
  .
Since I found it initially via John Green's review in the New York Times, it seems fitting to use a quote of his, from TFIOS, to describe 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.”
That is exactly how I feel about this. Please read it. Please.
“Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused," then dead.
"I love you, Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be.”