Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bag of Bones

It hasn’t been too long since I read a Stephen King book (Hearts in Atlantis) but I’ve just had the pleasure of finishing yet another one; Bag of Bones (732 pages).

The narrator, Mike Noonan, is a bestselling author and Stephen King does a great job of making the character well rounded as this is an area he knows particularly well (being a best selling author and all). I can honestly say it is through Mike that the story is worth the read, without his view on the events of the novel the first half would have been very difficult to get through as the action is very minimal and slow.

The other great thing about this novel is the subtle switch from the normal action around the characters to the more supernatural occurrences. I think this adds to the ‘fear’ the novel is supposed to give the reader. The horror isn’t constant but creeps up slowly as your make your way through the chapters. Even King himself states, in his ending comments regarding his hope that the novel provokes sleepless nights, “It gave me one or two, and ever since writing it I’m nervous about going down cellar” (King 733). I can’t say I was scared reading this book but if anything I’ve ever read, or watched, gave me a little shiver it was Bag of Bones.

Although I mentioned that Mike Noonan made this book for me it is the 3-year-old girl who the novel centers around, Kyra Devore, that made me feel more attached to the action and feel for the problems of the characters. She is honestly the cutest character I have ever read about. For example, when Mike jokes with her, after she tries to jump on him, “Don’t tackle your own quarterback!” I couldn’t help but hold a small place in my heart (the bit saved for fictional characters, apparently) for Kyra as she runs around screaming “Don’t taggle yer own quartermack!” (King 461).

On a final note, I have to express my love and hate relationship with epilogues. Sometimes I hate them because they can ruin that perfect ending the novel had with a pointless chapter that only puts a sour taste in the mouth (or mind, if you will). The epilogue in Bag of Bones however is exactly what the novel needed, although it didn’t wrap everything up (because if it wrapped up some things it would have gone a little too far and moved into the area saved for fairy tales and stories of rainbows and unicorns) but provide answer with those ‘what happened?’ questions I was left with.

All in all a long but most worthwhile read.

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-671-02423-X

King, Stephen. Bag of Bones. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles

I’ll start of by saying I have read Oedipus/Oedipus Rex/Oedipus Tyrannus/Oedipus the King a number of times over the years but this is the first time I have read all of Sophocles’ Oedipus Plays; Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

I have always loved the story of Oedipus but now I see that I sadly never got the full picture of the narrative. The story does not end with the self-blinding of Oedipus but continues into his later life (as in Oedipus at Colonus) and with his children (as in Antigone).

I can safely say I mostly dislike the majority of the characters in these plays. Although they can sometimes appear as ‘good’ (as with Creon as the innocent party at the beginning of Oedipus the King and sympathizing with Oedipus after his world falls apart at the end of the same play, for example) they are mostly terrible people; except for Antigone.

Antigone plays a major role in the second two plays and is the most purest character out of everyone that appears. It is hard to really make a judgment of character from plays so old (due to the beliefs and expectations of societies changing over time) but it is safe to say that in my modern reading of these plays she is the only character that I hold any sympathy for.

After taking the time to read all three plays in order I can now express my belief that all three plays are needed to fully appreciate the story Sophocles was trying to give.

Although I fully enjoyed these plays, the one thing I really gained from reading the version translated by Paul Roche was his introduction to the work. He takes the time to explain the process and difficulties when translating. I have never understood why there are multiple different translations of older, or foreign texts, because I always believed there should only be one ‘correct’ translation. Roche changed this for me by explaining how it is not just about translating words but translating the work to entice the same feelings as the original. This can be seen when he describes his process;

“It is not merely meanings that a translator has to match but feelings, and for this there are no rules that he can follow- he can only depend on his ear. And to do this he must be a poet.” (Roche xiii).

That explanation gave me a much better understanding of this process and I suppose will make me respect translators a little more in the future, especially seeing as he translated Antigone first just to get into the same spirit as Sophocles (who wrote the plays in a different order than they are read; 1) Antigone, 2) Oedipus the King, and 3) Oedipus at Colonus).

These plays were originally wrote over 2,000 years ago so I can’t say anything revolutionary about the work but they should definitely be read at least once by everyone (especially those with an interest in the Greek classics).

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-452-01167-1

Sophocles. The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles. Trans. and Ed. Paul Rouche. Toronto: Plume, 1991. Print.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Northanger Abbey

I have just read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (199 pages) and, for a quick and easy read, found it very enjoyable.

The novel is a coming-of-age story of Catherine Morland, a lovely higher-middle-class young lady, as she grows up during a stay in Bath and, later, in Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen successfully detaches herself from the heroine and uses this to make a comment on the process of reading and writing novels (seeing Northanger Abbey was originally wrote in 1798-99 when the novel was in one of it's earliest forms).

Although she is narrating the story, Austen continues to comment and reflect, to the reader, on what is happening in the novel. She makes it clear throughout that the characters are fictional. For example, this can be seen in the early introduction of Catherine;

"it may be stated for the reader's more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be; that her heart was affectionate" (Austen 7)

In regards to reading novels, she makes Catherine an avid reader of the novels of the time (especially those of Ann Radcliffe- whose novel The Mysteries of Udolpho I am planning on eventually reading) and has her decisions/ beliefs/ understandings of the world around her formed from what she learns when she reads. For example, her idea of General Tilney being a secret murderer is formed after reading gothic novels;

"Catherine's blood ran cold with horrid suggestions which naturally sprang from these words. Could it be possible?- Could Henry's father?- And yet how many were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions!" (Austen 146)

She only holds these ideas due to trying to find the 'twist' in real life that would be evident in the novels she reads.

There are two things I want to comment on (one negative, one positive);

1) Getting the negative out of the way quickly, if a novel needs notes (for references to people, words that aren't used anymore, etc.) don't include them at the back of the book!

I honestly get so frustrated having to skip to the back of the book to find what a 'tamboured muslin' is or the definition/explanation of some other simple, yet somewhat necessary, word. Why not just include them in footnotes? So much easier!

That's the end of that negativity!

2) Here is the positive! My favourite thing about reading older novels is discovering words that aren't used often anymore (for example, I couldn't stop saying/writing 'dig', 'digged', 'digging' after reading Jack Kerouac's On The Road).

For this novel the two words I loved where; 'agreeable' and 'disagreeable'.

Imagine if these two words replaced positive and negative words today. After hearing someone call someone a 'douchebag' on television I now keep changing it (in my head) with disagreeable. Oh how much more sophisticated it sounds!

Anyway, all in all, although it wasn't the most gripping of novels it was quite enjoyable to read! This was my second Jane Austen book (previously read her novel Emma), so I am not the most informed reader to say if it is as enjoyable as her other books but it definitely wasn't as good as my last Austen read!

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-460-87434-9

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. London: Everyman, 1994. Print.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hearts In Atlantis

I just finished Stephen King's Hearts In Atlantis (672 pages) and, as a big King fan, very much enjoyed it... to a degree.

Although it isn't evident from the flap of the book (on the edition I read anyway) this book is a collection of 5 short stories/ novellas. The whole books spans from the 60s right up to the end of the 90s and each story has a small link to the others (mostly through characters).

The stories are;

1960 Low Men in Yellow Coats
Central Characters- Bobby Garfield, Ted Brautigan, Carol Gerber, John "Sully" Sullivan, and the 'St.Gabes Boys' (including Willie Shearman)

1966 Hearts in Atlantis
Central Characters- Peter Riley, Carol Gerber, Stokely "Stoke" Jones, Stanley "Skip" Kirk, Ronnie Malenfant, and Nathan "Nate" Hoppenstand

1983 Blind Willie
Central Characters- Willie Shearman and Carol Gerber (referenced in flash-backs)

1999 Why We're in Vietnam
Central Characters- John "Sully" Sullivan, Ronnie Malenfant (referenced in flash-backs), and Carol Gerber (referenced in flash-backs)

1999 Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling
Central Characters- Bobby Garfield and Carol Gerber

The first story, Low Men in Yellow Coats, fulfilled my urge to read something supernatural from Stephen King and a link to his Dark Tower series always warms me up inside. Although the action isn't the most gripping, King still (as always) kept the story interesting and also provided the basis for all the other four stories to make a lot more sense.

The things that holds all these five stories together is Vietnam (before, during and after). Due to not growing up in North America, I can't say that my knowledge of Vietnam is the greatest but the four stories following the initial story of Bobby Garfield gave it a 'face' that I haven't seen before.

My only disappointment was with the story Blind Willie. The action unfolds over a 24 hour period and instigates that the action that takes place over these 24 hours is like every day in Willie Shearman's life. This is most evident in the parallel between the very first line; "He wakes to music, always to music" (King 529), and the very last line; "the clock-radio wakes him to the sound of the "The Little Drummer Boy"" (King 589). This ties the story up nicely but leaves one empty question (and that is where my disappointment stems from) is what is Willie planning to do in the following weeks as he thinks to himself; "There is no need for [his wife] to know what Willie Slocum may be doing the week before New Year's" (King 588). Yes, Willie's wife may not need to know, but I do!
Then again, I might pick up a King novel in the near future and find the answer I am looking for, until then I guess I'll wait.

The whole story is wrapped up very nicely in the final segment, Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling, leaving me quite satisfied.

Hearts In Atlantis isn't a very typical King book and shows a reflection of where his story telling will lead in the 2000s (with books like Duma Key, Lisey's Story, and Blaze (although technically a Bachman book)). Even though the book was great, I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for those Stephen King 'newbies' as I believe a lot of my appreciation stemmed from my previous enjoyment of his work.

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-671-02424-8

King, Stephen. Hearts In Atlantis. New York: First Pocket Books, 2000. Print.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I am currently sat here in my living room taking a well earned break from trying to remember all of the novels, poems, and plays I have studied (since returning back to University in January) for some exams this coming week.

I realized, not to long into my studying, that; a) this would have been a lot easier if I had wrote about the texts straight after reading them, and b) I read way too much to really remember exactly how I feel about each piece when I look back on them months (or years) down the line. Although I could simply keep a little journal by the side of my bed, or in my bag, and record feelings, insights, and all the things in-between, I asked myself "Am I not from a self-centered generation that believes everybody wants to know everything that each person around them is thinking and doing?"

You bet I am!

So from now on, each novel or play I read I will be posted on this little blog. I am not sure if I will also cover any poems I read because I am not a huge fan of poetry (nothing against it- just a personal preference), but maybe the ones that I really enjoy. I do not promise to give any amazing insight to help you grow as a connoisseur of fine literature (not that everything I read could be counted as 'fine literature' anyway), or help you get an big A+ on a term paper, but maybe I will intrigue you to read something that you hadn't considered before!

Not everything I cover will be brand new to me, they may just be re-reads, but I will post when I've finished each text. So I won't be looking back at a text through the muggy glasses of time.

So for now, bye!

Matthew Dunleavy