Review: The Sense of an Ending

What’s worse, forgetting or not understanding?

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Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending, is an interesting study of memory and time. The prose is simplistic but beautiful, which is my preferred type of writing. The words on the page sing together, and some of the quotes are so perfect I want to tuck them away in my pocket forever (“what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed” is a first page example).

This novel is about forgetting and remembering, as the narrator, Tony, tries to piece together his youth and understand why exactly it is that he has been left in his ex-girlfriend’s mother’s will, and why it is that she has left him his old friend Adrien’s journal. The plot itself is not the most exciting or interesting, but I don’t think the plot is the point of the novel: it is simply a device used in order to understand and explore memory and time.

My favourite part of this book is how Tony does not hide the fact that he does not remember the entirety of his “factual” recounting of his early adulthood. Tony freely admits that he made up parts of a conversation as he only remembers certain words that were said. I love this because I always wonder how narrators in novels can remember exact conversations from years and years ago when I can’t even remember what we were talking about an hour ago. Memory changes with time, the novel explains, and we only remember what we choose to, and a lot of the time, our memories are not based on reality, but on what we have learnt and felt since then.

The biggest problem with this novel is that despite the deep psychological themes, the actual plot and characters are rather shallow and dull. It reminds me, in some ways, of old philosophical literature, where the point is not the story but rather what the story reveals of humanity. This is not a bad thing, but character-driven works with strong plots and philosophical themes tend to be more interesting and easy to read, in my amateur opinion.

Most people are afraid of being forgotten, but I am deeply afraid of forgetting. The Sense of an Ending, although not a thrilling or exciting read, dives deep into this fear and examines the human ability to change our reality to only view what we want to. Time does not change with age, but memory does. Despite being a rather simple and basic read, The Sense of an Ending is a book that, I feel, will stay with the reader for a long time.

3 forgotten childhood memories out of 5

How to Build a Girl

Do you ever read novels that aren’t at all what you expected?

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I’m going to start off by saying that I thought I would really like this book and I… didn’t. How to Build a Girl is not a bad novel, but it’s not what I wanted it to be. I blame this on the book description which does not suit this novel at all. The description makes it seem as though Dolly is some badass bitch who devours men and does whatever the hell she wants. In reality, Dolly never actually feels present. Johanna never seems to give this promised Dolly control, and (minor, minor spoiler here), Johanna doesn’t even start “having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men” until the last 150 pages or so. The description is, simply put, not a description of the novel, but of the type of novel the publisher thinks adolescent girls will want to read.

I didn’t dislike this book either, though. There were many things this novel does right. One of my favourites is how open this novel is about sex– from a female point of view! Masturbation is mentioned and described all the time, which is absolutely wonderful. We need more books talking about female masturbation in a casual and open way. As well, Johanna is fat, but this fat-ness does not really seem to bring her down. Like all people, there are moments when she is insecure about her body but, for the most part, being fat is simply an aspect of who she is, and it does not stop anyone from being attracted to her, and it does not stop her from feeling sexy either. Johanna is broken and a bit of a mess, but she is a teenage girl, trying to “build” herself into an adult and I absolutely love how she is characterized in that sense. She feels real, and I could see a lot of myself in her.

However, I felt like the plot was extremely bland. I didn’t really care about Johanna’s reviews, or her adventures with bands and writers. After a while, her sex escapades began to be rather dull too. In fact, the story I found most interesting gets all but dumped at the end of part one. I want to hear about her family living in poverty. I want to hear about her mother’s Postpartum Depression. I want to hear about Krissi, and what he is dealing with as he too tries to build himself. In the end, I didn’t care about Johanna’s story, which might be the biggest mistake a novel can make.

How to Build a Girl isn’t a bad book, and I can see it helping a lot of young adults find their voices and themselves. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot I wasn’t particularly thrilled about. Overall, I think this is a decent book, and it’s a nice, light read, but I don’t think it’s as good as it promises to be.

2.5 brutal music reviews out of 5

 

Book Review: The Song of Achilles

So I just finished The Song of Achilles. And by “just finished” I mean I finished reading it about five minutes ago.

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This novel is a “retelling” of Homer’s Illiad, but it only actually tells the story of The Illiad within the last 100 pages. I read Homer’s work 2 years ago, in my Introduction to Classicism class. At the time, I enjoyed it, and my love grew stronger with time. I love The Illiad, and this novel, perhaps surprisingly, did not disappoint.

The Song of Achilles focuses on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, and is told from Patroclus’s point of view. The author chooses to make the homoerotic subtext in Homer’s work explicit, and she does it extremely well. Their relationship develops slowly, and their love is so deep that it becomes easy for the modern reader to understand why Achilles throws away his pride to avenge Patroclus (is this a spoiler if the story is 3000 years old?). Their relationship is tasteful and complimentary, and it’s so refreshing to see a side of Achilles that is often ignored. Plus, reading about queer relationships is always more fun than reading about straight ones. The only other thing I want to say is that the love between Achilles and Patroclus is one of the strongest I have ever felt, and The Song of Achilles turns the Illiad into a great, beautiful, and tragic love story.

The novel can be enjoyed by itself, but I feel like a background in classicism and The Illiad makes it much more enjoyable. Little references pop up from time to time, and the foreshadowing is absolutely delicious. I loved The Song of Achilles, and I found that it really strengthened, and reminded me of, my love for the Illiad, so I highly recommend reading both. The Song of Achilles is extremely easy to read, as it uses modern terms and simple language, so for anyone new to Greek myth and literature, it might be more accessible, but I do recommend reading Homer at some point in your life.

For me, the ending is the most important part of a novel, and The Song of Achilles is a perfect example of why. The ending is completely fulfilling; it is an ending done right. The novel is enjoyable, and great, but ending heightens the entire novel and takes it from “good” to “fantastic.” I love an ending that makes me cry, and this novel did exactly what I expected it not to do: it made me cry. The last chapter or two touched my heart and by the last paragraph (which I had already read several times as I wanted to know where this story ended), I had tears dripping down my face. The simple writing style feels more sophisticated here; it is still simple, but beautifully so. And most importantly, I can feel the emotions between the words, emotions that do not have to be said. It’s beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

4 out of 5 Greek heroes.

 

Review: Reconstructing Amelia

I finished Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight yesterday. A few months back, I found it on  list of “novels we couldn’t put down” or something of the likes. I do admit that this was a novel that I ran through (it took me 2 days) but that doesn’t necessarily make it… good.

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I do not dislike this novel. But it’s one of those books that didn’t leave a lasting impression and I’m going to forget about 2 months from now.

Reconstructing Amelia is an easy read, and it’s a quick read. The language is very accessible, and the characters are full enough to enjoy, but they are not extremely complex and layered. Each character you meet has a “hidden” side to them, which makes the novel interesting as it is the characters that really drive the story. The plot is pretty basic, and could be extremely deep and disturbing, but chooses not to be. While I was reading it, I came up with a million possible resolutions to the “who killed Amelia” question (and the other questions that come up throughout the novel, like who Ben is, and who writes gRaCeFULLY), most of which were incredibly disturbing and interesting. However, the novel kind of disappointed me by going with a more tame resolution (although there are some strange and disturbing aspects in this resolution as well). My biggest issue, however, was that I didn’t see the ending coming. In a lot of these mystery novels, I can guess the ending to some degree, but this one I didn’t. When I get to the “twist” in mystery novels, I want to be shocked, but I want to see all the clues that came along the way in a quick flash before my eyes (such at the end of  The Usual Suspects). This did not happen in Reconstructing Amelia, and I’m not sure if that’s because I missed all the clues, or if it’s because there weren’t any to begin with. Either way, because I didn’t see it coming, or didn’t see how it came together, I found that the conclusion was extremely anticlimactic; a deflated balloon.

What I did love about this novel was the writing style. I love mixing the past with the present, and having Amelia herself narrate her last few days. The pieces come together slowly, as both Amelia and Kate work to put the puzzle together. The writing is extremely accessible as it is not overly complex or wordy, yet still sophisticated. The only thing that bugged me was the texting because… seriously? Why do adults all think we young people text like illiterates? That’s so 2008.

Reconstructing Amelia is not a bad novel, but it’s not exactly life-changing. If you’re looking for a quick, engaging read, then Amelia is your kind of book. And with beach season coming up, it’s the perfect companion for you while soaking in that sun.

3 teenage gossip blog entries out of 5.

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

It’s been about a month since I’ve watched this movie so bare with me.

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I read the novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a couple of years ago, sometime after I had read The Fault in Our Stars. I was very interested in “sick fiction,” and I had also read another cancer YA novel whose name escapes me. As expected, these novels are tragic and beautiful, which is what any novel should strive to be if you ask me. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was different, though. I wasn’t reduced to a sobbing puddle when I read its final word, nor did my heart pain in my chest. No, when I finished reading, I simply felt…. empty.

This emptiness often occurs after I finish an astounding book that defies all of my expectations. These books are never what I anticipate, so I usually have no idea how to emotionally respond. It can take me days to weeks to months to form opinions on them, as they keep floating back into my consciousness. They never leave me. They haunt me, they move me, they change everything for me. And these novels are always my favourites.

I think it took years for me to feel this way about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Actually, I know this. It took me until a month ago, when I finally gained the courage to watch the film adaptation.

The movie really solidified these confusing feelings I had towards the novel by telling the story in a beautiful and unique way. I have never seen a movie quite like it. The first person narration (including naming the “sections,” or chapters in the book (or in a movie)! Amazing!) is extremely effective, as it feels like this intimate story is being told directly to you. The viewer doesn’t lose the intimacy the novel provides, as the viewer is still able to access  Greg’s thoughts and emotions. Now, as a book purist, I would still recommend the novel in order to truly sink into Greg’s character, but the movie does an extremely satisfying job.

I’m going to take this moment to state that the acting in the movie is phenomenal. The actors not only look like teenagers, but they also act like teenagers. For the first time in ages, I felt like my teenage self (and self today, who am I kidding?) was accurately represented on screen. The sarcasm, the repressed emotions, the explosion of emotions, the crude jokes… this is how teenagers are, and the script as well as the actors and the director deserve kudos for portraying real people.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a novel that does demand viewing, as who doesn’t want to see these homemade films come to life? The movie does an excellent job presenting them, making them progressively more and more sophisticated, but still unpolished enough to know their purpose and intent. One of my personal favourite parts is the music, because it really does change the mood and the perception of the scene. I’m thinking particularly of the last few scenes here, which did something the book never did– they make me cry. As I watched and as I listened, I was moved in a way that the book could not move me. I was reduced to a sobbing mess, my heart hurting for people I would never meet, yet I somehow know. My conclusion is that visuality is essential to this story; a story about film, and the ability of storytelling to change lives, whether it be oral, visual, or a bit of both.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a story that will stay with you for a long, long time. It is unique, and it is not cliche despite how it may initially appear. It is a story about life. It’s not a romanticization, or idealization. This story hurts, because this story feels true. It’s not a story about cancer, but a story that displays cancer, and growing up, and the unfairness of it all.

But most of all, it’s a story that teaches us to look beyond and see; things are never what they appear to be.