Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Gold Bug, a short story by E. A. Poe


"I say the singularity of this coincidence absolutely stupefied me for a time. This is the usual effect of such coincidences. The mind struggles to establish a connection—a sequence of causes and effect—and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis. But, when I recovered from this stupor, there dawned upon me gradually a conviction which startled me even far more than the coincidence."

About the story: The Gold Bug is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and is the first story in his Tales of Mystery and Imagination collection (which I am currently reading.) Poe is supposed to have submitted this story to a writing contest and won a prize of a hundred dollars, making it one of his most widely read and appreciated stories, during his lifetime.

Summary: William Legrand, the narrator's friend, leads a curious life on Sullivan's Island near Charleston, South Carolina. He lives in a small hut, which he himself built, and along with an old man called Jupiter, engages himself in activities like gunning and fishing; not to mention searching for unique shells or entomological specimens. It is on one such quest that Legrand captures and gets bit by a unique little bug, that seems to be made of pure gold. A month after this incident, the narrator notices his friend still acting very strangely. When Legrand forces the narrator to go on a long expedition into the forests with him, carrying the bug along with them, the narrator is most certain of his friend's insanity and has all sorts of questions going through his mind; What caused this insanity? Was it the bug-bite? Where were they heading? (which you would have to read the story to answer!)

My Thoughts: The story is very unique and lovely, and the atmosphere, quintessentially Poe; eerie and dark. I loved that though the story is a treasure-hunt, it doesn't focus on what treasure they found and what they did with it, but the element of mystery and the "drum-roll" or suspense that is built up on the way.

I loved the eccentric characters and the narration. What I really appreciated, was that the narration is very precise. You find out close to nothing about the narrator, making it easy, even, to relate to the story; I could easily put myself in the narrator's shoes. Also, the narrator sticks to the one story and skillfully avoids writing anything irrelevant to this plot; in fact, even the names of characters other than the ones critical to the plot aren't mentioned.

Poe was known to have an intense interest in cryptography; and I could see that from the story. The detailed descriptions of the code-breaking and puzzle-solving were very intriguing and entertaining. The descriptions are vivid and there is a tinge of humour to the writing, though the language does take some getting used to.

The story also had " 53(85;8*+6*3 "
Read the story and break the code to figure this one out! (Did this convince you to read the story?)
This is definitely one of my favourite short stories by Poe and certainly a must read!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood


This review is a part of the Dystopia 2012 Challenge hosted at The Bookish Ardour.

"A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier, once. They've removed anything you could tie a rope to. "


About the book: The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, which was first published in 1985.

Summary: (from Goodreads) Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. 
But all of that is gone now...

My Thoughts: This may seem like a very halfhearted review and I do not blame you for thinking that. I don't usually tend to write reviews about books I don't like, unless they're review copies, in which case I have to. It's because I am mostly unable to think of anything to write. But since I read this book as part of a challenge, I decided to go ahead and write the review.

I have seen this book compared to Orwell's 1984 countless times. I won't try to tell you how wrong those comparisons were; I merely want to show how wonderful I expected this book to be. What I got, instead, was very clumsy writing; not to mention very little character development and an average plot.

The book starts out painfully slow. The writing is childlike, with short pretentious sentences, too many metaphors, an inconsistent narrative and for some reason, no quotation marks. The authors tries too hard to sound beautiful, scary, touching. Throughout the book, the reader is kept in the dark about most important things, and instead presented with a whole lot of irrelevant details. Till the very end you don't get a clear explanation of why the world is this way, what drove the characters and we never find out what happened of half the characters.

So much of the plot is withheld for so long, and I can think of no other reason why the author would do this than to attempt to keep the audience intrigued. I wasn't intrigued, just confused, slightly irritated and sort of amused. The only reason I kept reading the book was because I had to find out if the mystery ever ends.
I wish the book had a more intricate plot, or better developed characters. The book would make a much stronger statement, if only all the underlying themes such as gender, sex, caste, class and patriarchy were, in fact, underlying. I like books that have a point to make, but not if the message starts to hinder the plot and character development. I appreciated the basic premise of the book, the world that the author has tried to create and the impact she's tried to make; but that basic idea was the only thing I am completely certain I liked.

If someone asks me how I find this book, I won't say I hate it, because I don't; I would just call it okay.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton


"He remembered a hornbill, which was simply a huge yellow beak with a small bird tied on behind it. The whole gave him a sensation, the vividness of which he could not explain, that Nature was always making quite mysterious jokes. Sunday had told them that they would understand him when they had understood the stars. He wondered whether even the archangels understood the hornbill."


About the book: The Man Who Was Thursday is a metaphysical thriller written by G. K. Chesterton. It was first published in 1908, and is often considered to be the author's best work.

Summary: The Man Who Was Thursday is the story of Gabriel Syme. He is a poet-turned- detective from Scotland Yard, who goes undercover to infiltrate the Council of European Anarchists. The Council consists of a group of eccentric characters, whose codes names are the names of the seven days of the week; Syme becomes the new Thursday. It is now up to him to stop the planned assassination of the Czar and the French president, without getting caught in the process.

My Thoughts: The Man Who Was Thursday is less than 200 pages and a quick read. It is also a fun read! I read the book in one sitting. When I was done, I couldn't exactly form full-sentenced thoughts. The words that popped up in my mind were.... Nightmarish, literally. Wild. Bizarre. Surreal. Intriguing. Witty.

What I found wild was the fast pace, the kind that makes the book seem less like a metaphysical thriller and more like a spy novel. The plot races across the pages. The novel is an allegory, a great one, because it does not even try to convince you that it is literal. It is, at times, strange and eccentric and that makes it even more fun. You cannot miss a single detail and you just have to read between the lines. There are times when you lose track entirely of the many twists and turns in the plot; I'll admit I was sidetracked a couple of times and I had to re-read a couple of paragraphs, but it's intriguing how each time you re-read something, the deeper, intended meaning becomes clearer. The language is beautiful, though it does take getting used to. If not anything else, this book lets you experience the author's way of simply playing with words.

Look at it one way and it's a mystery novel, otherwise it's a satire, or even a thrilling fantasy. The emotions involved in the book and the ideas about laws and religion and war, humanity and anarchy are all still very relevant. So whichever way you look at it, though written in 1908, the novel is timeless. I couldn't write more about the plot or the ideas, without spoiling the book for you. This book is certainly a must read.

This review is a part of the What's in a Name Challenge for "something on a calendar" hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Prince's Tale is SO overrated


There. I said it, and I do think it is. I see how this goes against the planned Valentine's Day strictly lovey-dovey posts, but this is one love story I certainly did NOT like. Finding out Snape's 'big secret' was probably the worst part of reading the Deathly Hallows for me. Well, until the movie came out and I was made to watch the incredible Alan Rickman actually cry like a baby. Quick question Rowling, why did you have turn such an amazing, complex character into a soppy teenager? WHY!?


Let me take you back seven Hogwarts years. I loved Snape from the moment he was introduced, you know, ever since when Harry saw him in the Great Hall and his scar hurt. The malicious, badass Slytherin professor who does everything in his capacity to make Harry's life miserable, and in spite of being described as greasy-haired and icky, is portrayed by Alan Rickman. What's not to like?

Actually, it's not the part where he turns out to be on Dumbledore's side that bothers me. That's one 'twist' we all sort of expected; I mean, you didn't really think he fooled Dumbledore, did you? I wish it wasn't because of love though, because a mushy love story just doesn't fit in with such a badass character.
It's funny how Snape suddenly goes from 'an adult who bullied you, not to mention all your friends, for seven years' to 'a great man you ought to name your kids after'! And all because he had a crush he couldn't quite get over.

Sure, he loved Lily. I bet Lucius loved Narcissa; doesn't make either of them saints. Did everyone who read 'The Prince's Tale' not read 'Snape's Worst Memory'? When James Potter was a troublemaker, Snape was a budding Death Eater. Did he not care about Lily when he turned into one? And when he told Voldemort about the prophecy? When he asked Voldemort to spare Lily and just kill her child? And in Hogwarts, after supposedly turning super-good, it wasn't just Harry, whom he bullied. Snape tortured every person he set his eyes on who wasn't a Slytherin.

Snape wasn't evil, true. He stayed loyal to Dumbledore till the very end. But he was definitely not the hero he is made out to be. I mean, think about it, if it had turned out, that the prophecy was actually about Neville Longbottom, Snape would have switched loyalties in a heartbeat...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Love

Edit: This post is infested with Spoilers! Don't read ahead if you haven't watched the series. 

Willow - The one boy that’s really liked me, and he’s a demon robot. What does that say about me?
Buffy - It doesn’t say anything about you.
Willow - I mean, I thought I was really falling…
Buffy - Hey, did you forget? The one boy I’ve had the hots for since I’ve moved here turned out to be a vampire.
Xander - Right, and the teacher I had a crush on? Giant praying mantis.
Willow - That’s true.
Xander - Yeah, that’s life on the Hellmouth.
Buffy - Let’s face it, none of us are ever gonna have a happy, normal relationship.
Xander - We’re doomed!
Willow - Yeah!
[They all laugh, though their laughter quickly becomes nervous and stops..]

This post may be ten years late, (and ten pages long... sorry!), but I'm still going through with it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) is probably my favourite television show ever. If this makes you roll your eyes or smirk or go 'ew, really', then you've never seen the show, or worse, only seen the movie. I don't like love stories, which diminishes my stock of Valentine's Day themed posts considerably. What I do like are witty, romantic sub-plots, which this series is full of. I know it's old, but what the show lacks in effects and technology, it makes up for in the ingenuity of the plots and the amazing script. It's not a love story, because it's more like an action-story about the Slayer and all her fighting and saving the world stuff. The trio, Buffy, Willow and Xander, fight demons on a regular basis, guided by Watcher and high school librarian, Rupert Giles. Sunnydale high is situated directly on the Hellmouth, a place where all the evil in the world converges. And isn't that what high school is like, anyway?
Still. BtVS has got a lot more to do with romance than it initially lets on. A witch in love with a werewolf; a witch losing control of her powers, using dark magic, and wanting to end the world when the love of her life dies; a thousand year old demon girl falling for a human boy; a vampire restoring his soul for a human...

The vampire-in-love-with-a human concept is old news, now. I haven't seen it as deep and insightful ever as in Buffy. In Buffyverse, when a human is turned into a vampire he loses his soul or conscience, his ability to care, making him just a ruthless killer. Angel, however, is a vampire who is cursed with a soul, to make him eternally suffer for his sins.
Buffy can't help being attracted to him (I mean, have you seen David Boreanaz?) They kiss and he turns into his vampire self. Being the slayer, she sets out to kill him, until she finds about the curse that keeps him "good". Their relationship develops and when they have sex, in that moment of perfect happiness, the curse on Angel is revoked, turning him ruthless again. He begins to terrorize Buffy and her friends, and plans to destroy the world. Prior to a huge fight, Willow somehow restores Angel's soul, but it's too late. Buffy kills Angel. He is banished to a Hell dimension, where he seemingly spends an eternity before mysteriously returning to Earth, a few months later. Though Buffy and Angel get back together, noticing the effects he has on Buffy's life, Angel decides to leave her; hoping that she would be happier without him. And unlike most vampire-human love stories, he goes for good. He loves her enough not to risk her life. She keeps loving him till the very end, though. I think Buffy and Angel make the perfect example of forbidden love, the most real one at any rate.
With Angel gone and high school over, Buffy is at a turning point in her life; soon, she meets the perfect guy, Riley Finn. Riley is an agent in a top secret government operation to capture, study and incapacitate demons. Riley already knows about the supernatural world and Buffy finally finds a human boyfriend, whom she can be completely honest with. Soon, though, Riley begins to think of himself as a liability to Buffy. Seeking thrills (and also, assuming Buffy loved Angel because he was a vampire) Riley lets a female vampire feed on him, which later turns into a sort of addiction. Buffy finds out and their relationship ends when Rileys leaves Sunnydale.
The third big romance for Buffy is another vampire, Spike. After Buffy is magically resurrected from the dead by her friends, she feels lost and lonely. Spike is everything Buffy hates about this world, and the only one she can talk to. They start a violent, sexual relationship. Buffy breaks it off, when she realizes that she is just using him to get over her own suffering. Afterward Spike almost rapes her, losing her trust completely. Wanting to prove that he is good enough for Buffy, Spike undergoes a series of trials and - wins back his soul.

Spike returns to Sunnydale completely crazy. He is haunted by the memories of the people he tortured. When Buffy learns about his newly-acquired soul, she lets him back into her life. They never develop a relationship again, though they are close. He is her only support, when everyone else turns their back on her. In their very last fight, Spike dies to save the world. And when's he's about to die, Buffy holds his hand and tells him that she loves him. He goes laughing in the face of death, becoming a true champion.
Spike: A hundred plus years, and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of - you. Hey, look at me. I'm not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it's not because I want you, or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are. What you do. How you try. I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you, and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You are a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy.
Now that's true love, or unconditional love, or sometimes true love, which doesn't really work out because the time isn't right. You know, some love stories end happily, some not so much. But the thing is, I love they way they are written. It's not that original, true, but it's very grown-up, mature, well thought out.
I love how every single thing has an in-depth explanation, how carefully every single action is filmed and how all the seasons are sort of related and tied together. It's what I feel when I read Harry Potter, like the entire plot was planned first and then divided into seven parts. Which is crazy, because, of course they didn't plan the tv series beforehand! But must be some show if it makes you think that...
More than anything, this is one of those shows that knows it has to become super-intense and dramatic at times, but makes up for all the cliches by laughing at itself the next moment. You may think that the dialogues are cheesy, you're just not in on the joke.
Angel: I saw you before you became the Slayer.
Buffy: What?
Angel: I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps... and... and I loved you.
Buffy: Why?
Angel: 'Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe... to warm it with my own.
Buffy: That's beautiful. Or, taken literally, incredibly gross.
Angel: I was just thinking that, too.