22th October 2016
Hello and welcome to Book Club! First rule of Book Club: don’t talk about Book Club. Or do and share with your friends… that’s fine too. This is a series where I review a number of books I’ve read in the last month and share my thoughts on them, with as few spoilers as possible so that you can read and enjoy them just as much as I did! For October, I’ve got a really fascinating bunch, exploring gender politics, the English character and the idea of ‘hysteria’. Let’s get started!
Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita
Oh goodness, where do I begin? This novel is written from the perspective of Humbert Humbert; the hilariously misfortunate Parisian protagonist, who falls completely and utterly in love with a twelve-year-old girl. At first, I found the novel perverted and crude – to hear (or, read, in this case) the voice of a grown man lusting over a young girl is uncomfortable to say the least – but I soon became strangely accustomed to the writer’s tone. This is what I found especially interesting about the novel; the way in which overexposure leads to desensitisation for a consumer. Perhaps a parallel can be drawn here with the way that the media consistently sexualises women, and how that’s almost a norm in our society. The sense of entitlement presented by the narrator through possessive pronouns makes for a disturbing read, but the flamboyant tone and clever word play of the novel will captivate you. It’s a page-turner, to say the least.
Henry James – The Turn of the Screw
Recommended to me by my English teacher, this novella depicts an unconventional ghost story that chooses to focus on the psychological rather than the actual. A governess arrives at a new estate, left to look after two orphan children, but soon finds herself paranoid about the presence of some unwanted guests. The novel is ambiguous from start to finish, and will leave your brain doing front-flips trying to work out what on Earth just happened. Are the ghosts truly a threat to the children in the governess’ care or merely illusions of her susceptible and lonely mind? What can be certified, however, is the suspense this novella evokes in the reader, and the lasting chill when you close that final page.
E. M. Forster – Howard’s End
This is a tale of three very different British families whose lives unexpectedly interweave and, ultimately, collide with some force. Class warfare, the English character and the exploration of social conventions lie at the heart of this book, which is a truly provocative read. Forster calls social hierarchy into question and, in a great literary paradox, purports to be unconcerned with the English lower classes, while simultaneously drawing attention to them. It’s also very interesting to read this novel remembering that it was written before the First World War, and presents intriguing references to the German population, with a pre-wartime perspective.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman – The Yellow Wall-Paper
At just 20 pages, this is a very powerful short-story and a must-read for anyone interested in feminist interpretations of text. The story is composed of diary entries, documenting a woman’s journey to apparent insanity. However, the ending of the story can also be interpreted as depicting the woman’s triumph over her husband. He is dismissive and holds her in the ‘domestic sphere’, and the narrator’s language questions the stereotypes of a woman being irrational, as well as unqualified to make suggestions or improvements to her own condition. This is a condemnation of androcentric hegemony, and it’s brilliant.
And that concludes October Book Club! Of course, I could write about these books all day, but I don’t want to ruin them for you. Please do let me know if you’ve read any of these books and, if so, what you thought – I’d love to hear your own interpretations! Either pop me an email (on my Contact page) or tweet me @jackbenedwards. Thanks very much for reading, have a lovely day and, until next time, goodbye!
(P.S: I’m off to New York City today so add my snapchat jack_edwardss for plenty of pictures and updates!)
By Jack Edwards