Monday, 20 March 2017

A Rant about the 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' Film

When I first read Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, I was completely blown away. I hadn't felt that in love with a book for a long, long time. It had both mystery and action, the magic helped to fuel the fantasy whilst the photographs added to it's wider narrative as a historical puzzle. It is a world in which the matriarchy is celebrated through the ymbrynes. They are mothers in their role as guardians for the children, keeping them in the womb-like spaces of the time loops. Yet they express a degree of agency over their spaces, and the women are both the protectors and the hunters; leading as well as nurturing.

So when I finally decided to watch Tim Burton's 2016 film adaptation of the book, I was genuinely disgusted to find that what I was watching was a rewrite of the original story that strips most of the female characters of their power and strength, and puts men in the role of protector and savior. Because apparently that's what we need more of. Throw some casual racism in there too and what you're left with is an enormously problematic film which reflects the complete state of the mainstream film industry in all it's horrendous elitism. I did a video reaction to the trailer once it was released which you can watch here, but the following is my full diagnosis after watching the movie in it's entirety.


One major difference from Riggs's novel is the decision to swap the powers of Emma and Olive. In the books Emma is able to radiate heat from her hands, whilst Olive (who is considerably younger) is lighter than air, and needs to be weighted by lead shoes at all times lest she float like a balloon into the sky. What Emma's peculiarity gave her was the ability to be both feminized through her relationship with Jake, but also masculine in her combat abilities in the use of her body parts as deadly weapons. Emma here does not compromise on either but the two exist in harmony. She is able to exist as a powerful and dangerous women capable of romantic expression at the same time. The dynamics of her romance with Jake aren't based on him "saving" her, but rather on the two fighting side-by-side on equal terms. In the film, Emma is now the one who floats meaning that Jake quite literally pulls her along on a string whilst she is helpless to follow. Their relationship is further thrown off balance through Jake's new reliance on weaponry to kill the hollows rather than knowing Emma is powerful enough to kill them on her own, forcing him to constantly have to "save" her through points in the film because her new power is quite honestly bloody useless.

To expand on this, her peculiarity doesn't even quite make sense to me in this adaptation. Olive's original peculiarity was simply that she floated like a balloon, however at one point in the film Emma claims that her peculiarity is to "control air". I don't know if this was a decision made by the filmmakers to try and make Emma more 'exciting', but if she could control air then why does she float rather than fly? Doesn't really make sense, does it? Because then she wouldn't need to wear those huge steel shoes that keep her on the ground. Instead, the points in the film where she really 'controls' air occur when she is either trying to save both Jake and herself, or when she's involved in a romantic scene with Jake. It figures, doesn't it?


I'd like to draw your attention to the image above in which Jake pulls his new girlfriend along on a rope and point out that she is in fact wearing a dress. This begs me to ask that if you're aware at any point you were liable to begin floating into the sky, why would you wear a dress? Whilst I am aware of a woman's freedom to wear a dress whenever she chooses, the issue here is of practicality. The answer for why is simple - the filmmakers must exaggerate Emma's femininity in order for it to be seized and consumed by the men that surround her (because that's totally the reason all us girls wear dresses). Not only is she romantically involved with Jake, but also with his grandfather, and with Enoch. It seems that every girl over a certain age needs to be paired off with a male in order for them to have a happy ending, and apparently Emma needs three!

Enoch (spoilers) ends up with Olive at the end of the film whose age has been raised specifically for the purpose of their romantic involvement. Whilst I liked some of what they did with Enoch's character, I really disliked the awkwardness of the romance between he, Emma and Olive. Firstly, Enoch in the books was very anti-social and very morbid, and this was the defining feature of his character. The film version upped his age which I didn't really mind, because it gave him the kind of moody teenager edge which I think suited his personality and peculiarity. But the film centered his 'moodiness' on the fact that Emma preferred Jake over him, setting him up as a semi-villain to Jake because they are both in competition for the same girl. And nowhere does Emma seem to have a say on the matter, by the way, just kind of doesn't even notice that there are two guys attempting to emasculate each other to they can win her affections. Of course, one assumes that Emma would be happy which ever guy came out on top, because god forbid she voice her opinion on whether she even wants to date in the first place.

Enoch only ceases to be bitter once he realises that all along he didn't actually love Emma, but he loved Olive who had silently followed him around for the entire film without once standing up to him or having the power to match him emotionally. The film can't end on a happy note until the guy is tamed by the innocent, over-feminized character that has been overlooked for the entire story, and decides to pick her as his second best seems he can't have Emma anymore. And Olive is just completely fine with that, doesn't say a word against it. She is so painfully passive through the entirety of the film that I couldn't even start to convince myself it was for a good reason.

You might be thinking that at least Olive has some redeeming qualities in the fact that she now has some super cool heat hands which she can blast fire balls from, right? Wrong! The one time that Olive gets to use her power to harm someone, I kid you not, she walks up behind them and says "sorry to interrupt" before placing her hand gently on them and proceeding to burn them. Apparently, women in this universe aren't allowed to do anything against a male without first apologising for their actions, even though the male has literally killed and eaten thousands of children. Olive then subsequently becomes symbolically dominated by the wight as her heat cannot penetrate their ice-cold aura. So in her end, her peculiarity has been completely useless against them all along, so what was literally the point of even giving her one in the first place. When she lies almost frozen to death, the thing that wakes her is Enoch's small kiss on her cheek, because apparently the heat from her blush is enough to melt the ice but the red hot flame coming from her hands isn't.


I also need to take a paragraph to address the racism in this film, which Burton has been called out upon before and who has openly admitted that he doesn't like having black characters in his films, because they don't 'fit'. If that doesn't make you ill already, then you'll love to hear that the only black character in the film is the villain who is, in the end, killed by his own kind. There's always that argument that people have that because it's set in the 1940s there "logically wouldn't have been any black people around in that time period". No, shut up. Stop erasing people of colour from history. The remaining characters are all so overwhelmingly white through the use of pale cinematography that I wondered if they were ill.

There were a few redeeming qualities. I loved the casting of Fiona and Hugh, and Fiona at one point genuinely strangled a grown male just using plants which was the highlight of the film, to be honest. The first half an hour was also good, which is the part of the plot where the mystery of the photographs and the missing children is set into place. Although this was done better in the novel, the film made some attempt at preserving this sense of mystery and it gave me a small feeling of nostalgia for the book.

I'd say that if you loved this novel, you might have similar problems with the film that I had. Then again, everybody seems to love this book for different reasons and so the film might be your cup of tea. I'd go into it with an open mind though, and encourage you to problematise the gender and racial dynamics present through-out the film. It's not okay to let this kind of stuff slide for the purposes of entertainment, and the more we call it out the closer we get to the reputation that people of colour and females deserve in the film industry.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Some Thoughts on Trainspotting

On Friday 27th January I went to see T2 Trainspotting - the long awaited sequel to Danny Boyle's acclaimed Trainspotting which has achieved cult status across multiple generations. This was the first day it was out in cinemas, and I went to see it so early because I have a special kind of love for this film that I really can't describe. There's so much to say, so much to consider. And of course, I was incredibly fearful that the sequel was going to change my opinions on the original film and I wouldn't be able to watch it in the same way again. But that's not what happened.

I can't remember the first time I actually watched Trainspotting, but I know I stayed up late. My eyes were heavy and blurring from tiredness but I was so enchanted by what I was watching that I refused to go to sleep. The film centers around a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland, all trying to get themselves clean so they can get their lives together. The famous "choose life" line from the film is a parody of the 80s slogan that hovered it's way through the decade. Yet it's not as simple as it might seem. If we "choose life", we choose conformity, we choose getting a nine-to-five job, a nuclear family, a mortgage, a gym membership. Trainspotting, among other things, seeks to problematise what it means to choose life, whilst also exposing the devastating reality of drug-addiction caused by the insufficiency of 80's culture.


It is honestly a wonderful film, and has come to define a complete generation. As reader of cult novels I was desperate to get my hands on the book, and devoured it as quickly as I could. Many people find it impenetrable as a result of the language; it is written in a number of regional dialects, mostly Scottish, meaning that if you aren't accustomed to the accent it might be difficult to read. It took the same kind of work that reading A Clockwork Orange took, and I know that writer Irvine Welsh was significantly influenced by Burgess's novel when writing Trainspotting. It takes getting used to, but once you begin understanding the language you can really begin to appreciate the text.

When I heard there was going to be a sequel to the original film, I was understanding concerned. There always seems to be a need to make a sequel to things - to 'one up' the original. I already knew that nothing could beat the original film, but knowing that both Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor were heavily involved in the production kind of lifted my hopes a bit. As the release date got closer, Welsh began engaging with it on his Twitter more often, tweeting photos of the cast and movie poster. Then the trailer dropped, and it was wonderful.


When I finally saw the film, I can't tell you how proud I felt of Danny Boyle. Somehow, he'd made a sequel without trying to be better, and instead T2 paid homage to the original movie. Film shots were echoed, such as the one where all four friends are stood on the train platform with the mountain in the foreground. The film closed with a shot of Renton (McGregor's character) starting to fall backwards akin to the way he does in the original as he succumbs to the euphoria of the drugs, but in the sequel he catches himself before he falls and starts to dance. He dances to a remastered version of Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life', making sure we know that this is a distinctly modern film. It stands apart on its own, and it's relevant to a completely different era of consumers.

What I loved the most were the motifs that ran through T2. Trainspotting opens with the main characters running for their lives away from a police officer who is chasing them. In the sequel, Renton takes up running as a way to keep fit. He runs because he wants to, he chooses life that way. When he is hit by a car once again in a remake of the way it is done in the first film, he smiles and laughs at it, because not only are we reliving it as an audience, but he as a character, and as an actor, is reliving it too.

All in all, this film was about nostalgia. It was about looking back at the film from 20 years ago, and making a film with the exact same cast in real time, and paying homage to the fact that time has passed. Danny Boyle said himself that this film wouldn't have worked if any less than 20 years had passed, and I agree completely. I came out of the cinema so pleased with how the film had ended up, and it reignited my love in Welsh's fiction. I think one reason is the fact that this was explicitly a sequel, and not a remake of the original. Perhaps this helped them to stay away from the mindset that they had to make it an exact copy of the first one. I've recently bought the novel that T2 was based on, Porno, and plan to read it very soon.

If you haven't checked out Welsh's novels, I really advise you to do so. I've just finished rereading American Psycho for university, and I'm also part way through IT by Stephen King. This weekend I'm heading home and so will be taking Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy home with me for the weekend. I recently watched both adaptions of that film, and think the differences between both were very interesting. I love Hardy and feel like I don't read him enough. If you decide to read Trainspotting then let me know on your thoughts - I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

I've Known Trenches

When I think back to my first experience of World War One poetry, I think about my time as a drama student at the age of fourteen. I used to attend a weekly drama class in which we'd put on shows, perfect monologues, create sketches and perform songs. One evening, we were tasked to make a short scene based on the action of a poem. The poem was called 'Dulce et Decorum Est', and it's a poem that, fittingly, has haunted me ever since I encountered it. I remember the five of us working on the scene misreading the poem at the time, and believing that somebody actual stumbled and drowned in a large body of water.

Now, writing an 8000-word dissertation on the poetry of Wilfred Owen, I only look back on this memory and smile at it. There's a kind of poetic irony at how little the poem meant to me once the class was over - I didn't give a second thought to it. Now, whenever I hear somebody begin reading the first words of that final stanza, I get this feeling inside my chest that I can't quite describe. It makes me want to act, want to move, want to write.


My experience of the First World War goes back further though. In 2010, I went on a trip to France and Belgium with my school to see the battlefields of the war. Yes, we walked through the trenches that had been trodden by actual British soldiers who had fought there. Some of the places I saw were Arras, Ypres and Thiepval (above). The graves, like Flanders Fields goes, went "row on row", and didn't seem to stop. A frightening army of white. I gawped up at the columns of names etched upon the stone walls and couldn't understand how so many people lost their lives to a cause that hardly seemed justified. I didn't know of Owen or Siegfried Sassoon at that point, and whenever I look back on the photographs I regret not cherishing the experience more than I did.

A few years later my Mom made me read Pat Barker's Regeneration. It's the story of Craiglockhart Hospital - a real place - which treated shell-shocked soldiers in the First World War. The book follows a number of patients, including war poets Owen and Sassoon, and I absolutely fell in love with the novel. I was only happy to be told that I'd study it again in A-level and have since read and reread the book multiple times, constantly underlining and adding post-it notes where I can squeeze more in.

A-level was really where I fell in love with the poetry of the First World War. I discovered Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney, among others. It was also where I first heard about the Surrealist movement which is currently a huge interest of mine. The day we got to study 'Dulce', our teacher asked if any of us had read it before. I remembered it from that day in drama class, and thought myself a kind of expert. But I think the only way you understand what Owen is really trying to say is if you take out a microscope and really dissect what he's trying to do, especially in the context of a modern war. It is something I'm only just beginning to understand inside my dissertation, and something that has taken me this long to grab hold of.


The best moment was then actually meeting Pat Barker, the author of the book that started my obsession with the war poets. It's funny to see me coming so far - from that girl who didn't have a clue what she was doing as she wondered among mazes of white graves with a camera, to the person now who went all the way to Scarborough to find the plaque dedicated to him on the hotel wall where he wrote 'Disabled'. I like to think that what I didn't find in France, I found back here on my home soil in finding that.

Presently, among spending a year studying the literature, I've experienced and learnt so much about the culture of the First World War. I went to a Dadaist recreation of the Somme on it's anniversary, and saw some of Paul Nash's artwork in the York Art Gallery. Its commemoration during these four years is one that I am truly grateful to be a part of, both because it gives me a framework for my argument, but also because I reminds me what I'm writing this for, and reignites that first love I had for it.

I adore my journey of discovering Wilfred Owen, and I tell it with both a sense of nostalgia but also knowingly looking towards the future. Whilst it seems like at the moment I'm heading very quickly into the next step of my career, my past experiences with his work seem to be expanding further back in the same way. Everywhere I look, I have been bracketed my his work and his person, whether I know it or not. It reminds me of the men in 'Dulce' caught in the suspension of a gas attack - cursing forward through the sludge, but also looking back at the Five Nines that drop softly behind me.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

My adventure into the lives of the Literary Brat Pack continues! Jay McInerney is a novelist linked with Bret Easton Ellis, not just in how they write about similar things, but also in the fact that they hung out a lot together. In fact, McInerney appears as a character in one of Ellis' later novels Lunar Park. The era and subjects that they write about are really interesting to me, and I'm not really sure why. They write about the 80s, and more specifically about being young and lost in the 80s.

My friend Amy recommended me this book and I'm so glad she did. I feel like I would've stumbled across it sooner or later, but it's appeared in my life at the right time. Many reviews I read of this compared it to Less Than Zero, which is a natural comparison - both novels were the first to be published by their authors, both deal with youth, drugs and alcohol, and both have an experimental and transgressive style of writing. This reviewer also went on to say that in a competition between the two, Bright Lights might just clinch it, and I have to say I kind of agree.


The first thing that struck me about this novel was the narration - it is told from a second-person perspective, which I've read before, but never to this degree. As you read, you become the young man who is wandering the streets of New York, going to clubs, drinking an obscene amount, snorting coke off a mirror. There is no sense of distancing yourself from what happens, because this is exactly what the narrator cannot do. The feeling was abnormal to me at first, but once the first 'story' was over, I completely understood.

There was also something tragic about this novel, as there always is with novels about this era. The characters perform the same actions over and over again, swallowed up in a haze of hedoism. The main character tries his best to be a writer, to be like one of the greats that he reads and hears about, but doesn't understand this is not reality. Drugs and alcohol give him an illusion that everything is fine, whilst simultaneously making him feel like he is screwing up absolutely everything in his life. It seems to be the theme of the century, 

I loved reading about the characters because of how disjointed they were. The main character works in the fact department of a magazine, despite wanting to work in fiction. But he gets through it by bringing coke to work, by turning up still drunk and by never getting his work done on time. His coworkers are no better, using drugs and alcohol similarly to make things seem bearable. It is ironic that the intoxicants in the end get him fired from the one thing he was using them to escape. I especially liked the part where his brother comes and visits him. Though for a moment it seems like fresh air has been let into his apartment, his brother is soon caught up in the same stream. New York City is a place which harbours this lifestyle for him, and it acts like a black hole - once you are in that space, you can't help but return to it's lifestyle.

The whole novel just makes me want to read more from McInerney. At the moment I'm reading The Rules of Attraction by Ellis and it's wonderful. The whole group of writers definitely display New York City as a place with a completely distinct life of it's own. There's a sense that if you haven't been here, then you won't get it. That's why the second-person narration works so well, because you feel half sympathetic and half disgusted by what you are reading about.

My local Waterstones is having a 20% off sale soon, and I'm planning on picking up Lunar Park and T2 Trainspotting. I saw the new film a few days ago and it was brilliant - there's so much I can say about it and it's going to be the subject of my next post. For some reason, I'm really interested in drug culture. It's all symbolic, I promise.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Why I Could Never Be A Minimalist

Recently, I watched a video by Ariel Bissett that discussed the idea of minimalism, and she asked herself if she could ever be a real minimalist whilst owning so many books. It's a great question, and in her video she pulls apart the very definition of minimalism and wonders how far one has to go with the concept in order to identify themselves as such. She brings up some great points, and so I'll leave the video down below so you can watch it for yourself and form your own thoughts.


But it also made me realise something quite important - I could never be a minimalist. As she talked through the video I felt myself looking around at the room I was sitting in. My bedroom; every wall is plastered with postcards, posters, and magazine cuttings. Ornaments sit on every single free surface available. My books spill off the ends of the shelves and find homes stacked up at the back of my best. Everywhere I look there are clusters of things. There is nothing minimalist about it.

After this I watched The Minimalists documentary which you can find on Netflix. It examines our consumer culture, our obsession with owning things and having possessions, thinking that it is going to fill some void in our life and make us happy when really, it isn't. The two men in the documentary decide to give up all of the things they don't need, and live on the bare minimum. The whole documentary, honestly, made me extremely uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, but I'll get on to those later.

Like Ariel, I looked at the definition of 'minimalism' and tried to figure out what it meant to me. As The Minimalists define it on their website:

"Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

I started seriously panicking. Does having so much stuff make me just a slave to consumer culture? Am I brainwashed, and is that why I buy so many books? Do I own all of those stuff because it creates an illusion of happiness for me? I thought about the amount of Beatles' t-shirts I have, the ones I bought during my discovering of sixties music as a teenager. The amount of times I've bought a book twice because I love it so much. My collection of Buddha statues that reminds me of my spirituality every time I look over at it. None of that, none of those feelings, are things I had to be ashamed of. They are all part of who I am, and my identity.

I love to obsess over things, whether that be people, books, art movements, ideas, movies, cities. All my life I have loved devoting myself 100% to every interest I have. It's part of my perfectionist nature - I either go big or go home, I don't partake in moderation, and that's a part of me that is never going to change. To be minimalist, I'd have to be content with balance, and that goes against every fibre of my being. In the documentary, one of the men interviewed said that we've begun to define ourselves through what we own rather than what we do. But are they really so separate for me? I bought myself a Wall-E mug with my birthday money for the simple reason that I want to express my love for that film.

And that's what it all comes down to - love. I have so much love for the things in my life, and owning them is my way of honoring them. I want to have my Rolling Stones poster, but I also want my Moby Dick poster, and I also want my Star Wars poster. Yes, I don't need three posters, but to me they aren't paper and ink stuck to a wall. They are my emotional connection to the things that have changed and moulded me as a person. It's not like I've substituted their pictures for the music, or the words, or the films, but every time I wake up and see them on my wall I can experience that euphoria of them simply being in my life, and knowing they have framed the decisions I make every day. Owning things like this is how I keep what I love close to me. People can walk into my bedroom and can instantly see my passion for books, my passion for art, and my passion for music.

So it brings me back to the definition of minimalism. I can't rid myself of life's excess, because I live for that excess. My personality is the most devoted and excessive that I know of, and getting rid of this would not help be achieve happiness, fulfillment or freedom. I would feel lost. I would feel like a blank slate. Of course, if I threw my Smiths t-shirt in the bin it doesn't stop me listening to them, but it part of me feels like if they meant that much to me, why would I be willing to give up something that represents what they do and make me feel? Minimalism would never be a match for my need to attach emotion to objects, for all things to become part of me and part of my world. My possessions and my excess is how I show my devotion, my passion, and most of all my love.

This isn't about consumerism. This isn't about needing the newest model of iPhone, needing the most expensive car or the most amount of dresses. It's about that collection of pebbles I picked up off the beach I used to go to as a ten-year-old, and keeping it. It's about those pictures my friend Sarah drew for me I keep up on my wall. It's about the cards that my friends have handwritten to me and sent to me over the years. It's about keeping framed all of the photos you took on your trip to Barcelona. It's about buying three copies of a book that you read because it changed your whole life forever, and you adore it so much. It's about the time my friend Jessica bought me coaster with Richard III's face on it because it made her think of me. It's about the abstract and the emotion behind the possessions, not the value. Not the money. Sometimes it's not even about buying. It's not about trying to use objects as a replacement for happiness, but using them as a reminder of the happiness that people have given you in your life. It's about sentimentality.


Art movements are a different thing entirely - I like studying minimalist art. It's just another example of something else I'm interested in. I never understood it before, but now I like to envision how a multitude of thoughts, messages or ideas can be portrayed on what seems like such a limited canvas. Minimalist art is just one other thing I add to the collage of my head, even though my mind doesn't partake in the motions itself.

Above is a minimalist piece my famous artist Mondrian. This painting used to be on the wall in my primary school and I would walk past it every day, wondering what it was trying to be. I'm not much closer to understand it, but I'm so glad I took the time to closer understand myself. It's quite funny now, thinking how this picture also brings back memories and emotions from my time as a child. There's so much so say about minimalism in general, and I honestly have nothing against the movement and think it's criticisms of Wall Street wolves and material goods are spot on. I just think you can't have stuff so black and white. Things can never be that minimal.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

I like to think that after doing a whole module on Gothic and Horror literature, I can spot a gothic novel from a mile off. A lot of them contain a special recipe of gothic elements, like doubling, the sea, varying degrees of incest, tragic accidents, ghosts, dysfunctional families, etc. When I started writing my own gothic novel, I planned it out to include as many of these tropes as I could and what I came out with was something I'm incredibly proud of.

It was a genre I grew close to, and seeing The Loney on the shelves in Waterstones I was tempted to buy it a number of times. It was only when it won the Costa Book Award that I finally did. I read previous winners such as Elizabeth Is Missing which I thought was amazing, and other reader friends of mind had recommended The Lie Tree saying even though it was a children's book, it was one of the best things they'd read in a long time. The bar had been set high - probably the reason why I didn't like it.


The Loney itself is a place by the coast that has harboured mystery for the whole time the narrator has known of its existence. He, his family, and a group of others from the local church return to The Loney in order to pray for a cure to the narrator's brother's illness. What struck me from the offset was the sheer amount of gothic elements crammed inside - an isolated setting by the sea, two young siblings, one ill and often 'ghostly', religion, vicars, creepy locals. It was one thing about the book that really married together for me, and after only a few chapters in I was very impressed with the atmosphere that Hurley had conjured. It sometimes occurs to me that gothic novels are reserved for it's 'Golden Age' in the 1800s, but this really proves me wrong.

Despite being draw in by this, alone it wasn't enough to sustain me through the next 300 pages. I kept waiting for something to happen, some twists and turns in the story, some periods of tension, but it didn't come. The whole thing seemed to be as barren at the landscape in described, which was a complete disappointment. Although there was a plot somewhere in here to do with discovering a cure for the brother, none of it interested me.

One of the main problems was that we didn't spend enough time with the brother to really want to know what happened to him. I got the impression that the narrator had a deep love for him, but that didn't transfer to the reader. There was no sense of danger or urgency from anybody, instead they were trapped in isolation which in turn made it seem like anything that happened to them didn't matter. The framing characters, such as the mother and vicar, were characterised well, yet they were all equally flawed and I didn't particularly like them as people. I didn't want them to succeed, I only wanted to understand what was going on.

I gave up on this book with less than 100 pages left, because nothing had yet made me excited to keep reading. Although the opening hooked me, I think the author relied on the atmosphere too much and didn't pair it with a better plot. Sometimes books without plots are fun to read because the characters really interest me, or the writing is sometimes particularly good, but this novel was entirely dull for me and if you aren't desperate to read it, I wouldn't recommend. 


I would, however, recommend Elizabeth Is Missing which I mentioned previously. It is about a woman with dementia who remembers a woman called 'Elizabeth', and gets herself involved in a murder case. It's a brilliant, contemporary novel and the elements are woven together wonderfully. At the moment I'm reading Tipping The Velvet which is for my university course, and next I'll be having a review up for Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. I feel like I need to gush about a book after spending this whole review slating one, but you can't love everything, can you?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis has become one of my new favourite writers. I can't wait to read more of his work, which is why this year I've challenged myself to read all of his novels. There is something about his minimalist style that resonates with me - his criticism of things in a way which is so obvious, but at times has gone way over people's heads and created controversy. His work is littered with symbolism and meaning between the lines, and being a literature student, that's the kind of thing I just love.

I read Less Than Zero for the first time last year, and didn't enjoy it. This was because I just didn't read it properly. At the time I was finishing up second year of university, starting a play, and had a lot on my mind. I didn't have room to fully digest what I was reading and sped through it in a couple of days. The next Ellis novel I read was American Psycho a few months later in November, and I was completely obsessed. I'd never read anything like it. It opened up the flood gates towards other postmodern writers and really made me want to read the rest of his work. Of course, this meant rereading his first novel Less Than Zero to see where I'd gone wrong with it.


I like to start reviews out by explaining the plot, but in Less Than Zero there isn't one. Even Ellis himself says the closest thing to a plot here is the main character Clay trying to get his money back from Julian, which doesn't really occur until the last fifth of the book. And honestly, plot in this book wouldn't really make sense, because that would imply that the characters had a sense of purpose. They don't - each one seems to just move through life without really interacting with each other. They talk but don't really hear what they're saying. Their lives are streamlined, but also random and disjointed.

When I first read this I just didn't get it, and I think the one barrier with Ellis' works are that you really have to get what he's trying to say otherwise the story goes over your head. It's why he received death threats after finishing American Psycho, because those people didn't understand the satire of it. With Less Than Zero, I didn't understand the tragedy of the disconnection. It's vaguely gothic in the way they all walk about like ghosts, taking drugs, going to parties, and nothing ever seems to change. It's like they are trapped. Like one critic I read says, friction creates heat, but there is no friction between the characters, and this leaves them suspended like they are in a block of ice.

Clay and Blair were two characters I really ending up liking to read about. A bit that stood out for me was the way that Clay suddenly realised he was exactly like everybody else. He had bleach blonde hair, a tan, was young and good-looking and hardly ever sober. He manages to escape by leaving Los Angeles, yet when he visits again for Christmas he is forced to tan again, and rekindle his chemistry with Blair. It's so easy to slip straight back in to the life he knew before because none of it has moved anywhere since he's been away.
"People are afraid to merge in highways in Los Angeles.
The opening line above is something I think really captures the depth of Ellis' writing. He's well known for his minimalist style and it works so well for him. This one line captures the fear of connecting - the fear of 'merging'. They know if they merge then things will have to change, things will start to go in a direction, and none of them want that because they are caught up in a nihilistic perception of themselves. Then there's the sense that it's only in Los Angeles that it happens, and for Clay is is. In New Hampshire he has a purpose, and it's only when he returns to the bubble of Los Angeles that the people around him seem less willing to engage, like it's trapped in some kind of loop. And this is just what the opening line gives us; Ellis has a style of writing which you can choose to read on a surface level or search for deeper meaning, just like his characters, and it's fascinating.


I watched the film not long ago - it was okay. It became apparent about two minutes in that it was going to be nothing like the book, and so if you want to watch it I'd try and distance yourself from the text. It's more inspired by the book than anything. I watched the film of American Psycho too and it was WAY better. Hilarious, entertaining, and although it didn't quite live up to the astonishment of the book it was a great film.

I've started reading things for my university course now, namely The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and then soon I'll move on top Tipping The Velvet. There's something in the back of my head though which is telling me to read Jay McInenerney and I also really want to read the Trainspotting sequel because of the new film that's coming out. I don't know, I might be able to squeeze them in someone. So little time and so many books to read.