Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

Where to start with this beautiful book?! Barney Norris, an award winning playwright, creates a deeply moving interwoven narrative, the characters of which are intricately connected after a car crash. This is a particularly moving and emotive book, and one I definitely could not put down. Having recently finished my Masters (yay), this was the first book I read that was not part of the syllabus, and it definitely did not disappoint!Five Rivers

The Salisbury setting also serves to connect the characters, with the opening chapter offering beautiful imagery of the rivers and tributaries, alongside local landmarks, that all contribute to the greater force of life that is the River Avon. This creates a parallel with the narrative and offers a beautiful metaphor throughout the text. The five characters that Norris seamlessly shifts from are all connected by some detail, great or small, meaning each individual voice contributes to the greater arc of the narrative.

Norris captures moments of life as it shatters, dealing with themes such as loss, love and memory. The characters come from all walks of life; a schoolboy to a flower seller, a farmer to an army wife. As a reader you become immersed in each individual story, despite the range of characters and diverse narrative styles presented, a true testament to the author. Each first person narrative offers an essence of humanity, further connecting the five individual stories. Therefore, the text offers a commentary on how we can all be troubled by our own individual traumas, alongside being thrust together by a cataclysmic event, such as a dramatic car crash.

Although falling under the genre of literary fiction, the poetic writing style enforces the accessibility of the work. The writing beautifully presents the complex plethora of emotions that are a constant feature of human life. Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain presents a lens which magnifies the smaller moments of life. Similar to my previous post on Porter, this work once again proves that literary fiction is not something to shy away from.

A short and sweet post, but this book is definitely one of my new favourites, and something I could easily gush on and on about. Instead, I hope this short introduction will inspire you to go on and give it a read – I really hope you will love it as much as I do! If you have read it, please do let me know in the comments below as it would be great to hear your thoughts!

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Why Literary Fiction Isn’t Scary: Max Porter’s ‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers’

IMG_4647So, as soon as I heard about this release from Porter I was dying (if you’ll pardon the pun) to read it. However, despite being an English student used to narratives that indulge in lets say ‘alternative’ techniques, I still felt a bit nervous that I wouldn’t ‘get’ what Porter was trying to do with his work. As chance would have it, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (2015), turned out to be on my MA reading list, so I had no choice but to be brave and undertake the text.

What I learnt was that the metafictive, non-linear structure and the multiple voices of the narrative are what makes this text so interesting. Grief belongs to the genre of Literary Fiction. The easiest way I understand this is that as opposed to offering an alternative world, Literary Fiction offers a comment on a particular part of contemporary society.  In this post I hope to demonstrate the things that might make this work seem inaccessible are exactly what allows it to make a comment on societies ideologies surrounding grief.

The text is made up of excerpts told from the Dad, The Boys and Crow’s point of view, both in the form of poetry and prose. Therefore, creating a polyphonic narrative. Early on Dad references that through the loss of his wife he was “becoming expert in the behaviour of orbiting grievers (…) It would be years before the knotted-string dream of other people’s performances of woe for my dead wife would thin (…)” (Porter, p. 4-5). There is a clear acknowledgement that there as a performative aspect to grief, a role you assume as a griever. The role of Crow holds up a mirror to this behaviour, which ultimately allows Dad and The Boy’s to grieve outside of this performative framework. They can mourn how they choose, without adhering to societal expectations.

The non-linear narrative in itself is reflective of mourning. Through my own personal experience loss is not something that works on a trajectory, where your ability to cope improves day by day. Grief is a chaotic emotional state. The story may not fit, but that is because Grief is representative of a tissue of different stories. Stories that we believe constitute our relationship with ourselves and others. This is particularly pertinent when the boys continue to age their dead mother, as a way of coping with their loss. In reference to their Dad after the mothers death they state “Dad told us stories, and the stories changed when dad changed.” (Porter, p. 62). However, later in the text The Boys seem to realise that in order to grieve the stories have to change, “before language was a trap (…)” (Porter, p. 67). Throughout the text, the use analepsis and prolepsis allows the boys to use stories from memory and fairytale in order to deal with the death of their mother.

This also relates to the metafictive quality of the text, another trope of literary fiction. The work engages with Ted Hughes’ Crow (1970). Also, in the opening of the work Porter amends an extract from Emily Dickenson’s poem That Love Is All There Is (1765). Porter replaces every use of the word ‘love’ by Dickenson with the word Crow, who I believe throughout the work is representative of grief. Porter himself frees the work from the trap of language whilst evidencing the parallels between emotions of love and grief. Enabled by the role of Crow in the text, The Boys and Dad edit and change the stories about their memories of the Mum, in order to grieve.

Hopefully, that didn’t get overly analytical! By picking out techniques such as the polyphonic and non-linear narrative, alongside engagement in metafiction, you can see how something that may initially appear to be a challenge to your reading experience can in fact enrich it. I really hope this encourages you to read Grief! This post has barely touched the surface of the rich complexities that this work has to offer, so please go and discover them for yourself!

As always, I would love to know what you think, particularly as this post is slightly different. Do you read literary fiction? If not, will you now? If you’ve actually read Grief I would love to hear your opinion! So please comment, like and share away.

Why You Should Read “52 Ways of Looking at a Poem” by Ruth Padel

Over the summer break I have been working my way through the reading list for my MA. Whilst there were lots of great fiction, it was Ruth Padel’s guide to reading poetry that I would really recommend to anyone.

Now, I know for some people when they hear the word poetry they recoil into their literary comfort zone, and I for one totally understand this. When I first started my degree the Intro to Poetry module was definitely the one I was most nervous about. I felt poetry was somehow too complex or inaccessible for me and that I would never ‘get’ what the author was trying to communicate.ruth-padel

However, this is exactly what Padel’s 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem addresses. The origins of the book can be found in the Independent on Sunday, when each week Padel would contribute her own reading of a modern poem, and explain how she came to her conclusions. Padel attributes the success of these original articles to poetry’s reputation  in contemporary society as  being something that is difficult, but then goes on to highlight that it is this difficulty, this working out, which is exactly what makes the poetic form pleasurable.

Alongside essays that offer an explanation of poetic terms and devices such as rhyme, metre and stanzas, Padel also discusses how poetry has developed and relates to current society. This is particularly useful for me as I’m studying a 21st Century Lit MA. I would argue though that this is beneficial for anyone, as it offers a context of the featured modern poems and allows the reader to place them within contemporary societal developments. Personally, I found Padel’s discussion of women writers particularly engaging.

Following the aforementioned essays, Padel then treats us to her analysis of 52 modern poems. She has also included a glossary at the back of the book, so people who are completely new to poetry can understand any terms she may use in her explanation. Having someone break down and explain how they have concluded what the poem could be communicating, and evidence how they have drawn this from the poetic devices used, has really helped grow my confidence in my own personal readings.

Padel’s work has made me realise that, like most literature, there is not a singular idea that you are supposed to be trying to draw out from the work. It’s about understanding how the poem works, and unpicking the technical devices and language in order to come to an informed analysis of the work. As I said at the beginning of this post, Padel shows us that it is this initial difficulty that makes poetry pleasurable to read. Love poetry or hate it, I urge anyone to give this book a go! I am pretty confident everyone will draw something beneficial from it.

Thank you so much for reading! I would really love to hear what you think so please like or comment below. What is your experience with poetry (good or bad)? Do you think Padel’s work would be something useful for you? Or do you love poetry- if so what is it for you that makes it so enjoyable? Let me know!

 

 

Review: Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

I haven’t read any non-fiction for a while, so when it came to taking a dip I decided Moranifesto would be a perfect reintroduction to the form. As part of my Literature, Film and Gender module at university we read Moran’s How to Build a Woman. I have also read the fictional How to Build A Girl, so was eager to see how this text compared.Moranifesto

First of all, I really enjoy Moran’s writing style. It is ridden with wit and honesty which is often sprinkled with anecdotes for good measure. Mornaifesto is a collection of Moran’s thoughts on current socio-political issues ranging from class conflict, to a personal favourite “Why Can’t Life Be More Like a Musical”. Each segment of the text is broken up into separate musings of particular topics, making it a diverse text where the reader is consistently confronted with something new. This is brilliant as you can read for hours with your attention grasped, due to the shifting subject matter, but alternatively could dip in and out as you pleased.

Another really enjoyable feature of the book is that often, when Moran is arguing a point, she uses personal experience as an explanation for why she thinks or feels a particular way. This was something I re-discovered that I enjoyed within the non-fiction genre. There is an opportunity to get to know the writer behind the words, thus intensifying the role of the author regarding the reader’s relationship with the text.

Did I agree with absolutely everything Moran said? No… But that’s not what is important here! It doesn’t necessarily matter if you agree with Moran or not on some of her points. The way she confronts and raises the issues of our time are done in such a personable way that it engages the reader and provokes their political consciousness. In my book, prompting questions about the society we live in is always a good thing! Moran has used her influence to engage those who might not otherwise question politics and the current state of society, which I think is fabulous.

Alongside these more complex topics, Moran also treats us to some hilarious tales, such as the time she popped over for tea at Benedict Cumberbatch’s house! The mixture of these light-hearted moments alongside the more serious are a perfect blend that keeps the book feeling fresh to the reader. It is this freshness and constant engagement that makes the book work so well- hoorah for Caitlin Moran!

 

So, yes, I would absolutely recommend! If you give it a go please let me know how you get on! I always love hearing your thoughts. Have you read Moranifesto or any other texts by Moran? What did you think? Please let me know your views in the comments! Thank you so much for reading.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Wow… where do I start with this book?! It has certainly become one of my new favourites
and I urge anyone to give it a read. A God in Ruins is beautifully written and Atkinson’s narrative technique is truly breathtaking.

I have read Life After Life by Atkinson prior to reading A God in Ruins. Atkinson describes the two works as companion pieces, as Life After Life’s main protagonist Ursula Todd is sister to A God in Ruins’ Teddy, who the narrative is centred around. However, you do not need to have read one before the other, the texts almost present separate versions of Ursula and Teddy’s reality. This works particularly well as Life After Life is focussed upon KA3the many different potential versionKAs of Ursula’s life. A God in Ruins, as Atkinson acknowledges, can almost be read as a new separation version.

The novel follows the life of Teddy Todd, however this extends to Teddy’s family also. Teddy acts as an anchor to the multiple lives of his family past and present, all offering their own individual struggles. The intricate treatment of time aides in providing a plethora of fragments centred around Teddy. Furthermore, the non-linear narrative allows the reader to gradually build a picture of Teddy’s life, from his childhood, his time as a World War 2 bomber pilot, right up to old age. It also means the book can never be predictable, you will be transported from being alongside Teddy in his Halifax fighter pilot straight into 2012 following the life of Bertie, Teddy’s granddaughter.

The narrative voice is also rewardingly complex, offering narration from Teddy, his family, such as his child Viola and his grandchildren. Also, a presumed authorial voice is subtly slipped into individual commentary adding an omniscience to the text, but also helps in creating Atkinson’s slippery use of time. The reader gains an understanding of the sometimes strained familial relationships as they are gradually allowed to read particular circumstances from multiple perspectives.

As a lot of Teddy’s narrative is based on his time serving in, and the aftermath of, WW2, war is a particular theme in A God in Ruins. There is not so much a focus on the war itself, but more so of the repercussions that are faced by the individuals in which the war touches, and how one can attempt to cope in the aftermath of such an event. Throughout the text Teddy reiterates he finds it difficult to imagine there being an ‘after’ the war. When you skip into Teddy’s future, you can see he struggles to return to life and function in this ‘after’.

As a side note, Atkinson has included a form of bibliography at the end of the novel. I love this as you can see where she drew inspiration from, such as sources from the National Archives. I find it so interesting that you can gain insight into the stories, fact or fiction, which Atkinson used to create the story of Teddy Todd, and ultimately the story of his war and his life.KA2.jpg

The power of literature also plays an important role in the text, which I found extremely rewarding. Littered in the narration are lines and references to real life texts and poetry, for example Bertie cannot help but recall lines from Wordsworth on her walk along The River Thames. Extracts from Teddy’s Aunt’s Adventures of Augustus, which she states is based on Teddy, are also included within the book. Atkinson does this to make a commentary on the power of possibility and imagination within fiction… which leads me to the amazing twist in the novel…

Not to worry! I won’t be sharing any spoilers! All I will say is that Atkinson’s point of possibility offered within fiction, within her fiction, becomes particularly poignant in one part of the book. I actually ended up gasping and had to set the book down. It has totally changed my perception (on what I can’t say- it’s a spoiler) and reframed the way I think about a particular matter. That is why I love this book. It has made a marked change on how I personally frame a certain issue, which I would argue is worth considering in our modern life time.

Reading this back and after several edits, I still don’t believe I can do this book justice! The best way you can experience it is to honestly read it for yourself. So please please do!

 

This post has bee quite a long one- so an extra big thank you if you managed to make it to the end! I would love to read your comments on what you thought of it, and please feel free to like and share too. Have you read something recently that made you just think wow? Has a particular book been the reason why you fell in love with reading? Fancy giving A God in Ruins a read- or if you already have- what did you think about the book? Make sure to let me know.

 

Adventure into the Apocalyptic

One thing that I love about studying English academically means I am confronted with genres I wouldn’t usually consider reading. Although I have enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (both fiction and film), I rarely choose to read Utopian and/or Dystopian fiction.

Apocolyptic Fiction.jpgHowever, in one of my modules this term we looked at Apocalyptic fiction, with particular focus upon Angela Carter’s The Year of the Flood (from the MaddAddam trilogy) and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I thoroughly enjoyed both texts and found them really engaging when applying a critical reading.

The Year of the Flood (TYofF) is the second book of Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, I haven’t read either of the others (Oryx and Crake and MaddAddam) but I certainly plan to over my summer break! Although I’m sure you will get a richer reading of TYofF if you read its prequel, I didn’t feel it was necessary in order to follow the plot. The story follows protagonists Ren and Toby, through pre-apocalypse to the post-apocalyptic environment. Through following their narratives and the interactions with the religious cult of the God’s Gardener’s and Adam One, Atwood really causes you to question if humanity is its own downfall, or if humans can ever change to survive a post-apocalyptic environment.

McCarthy’s The Road follows two unnamed characters; a father and son who are struggling to survive in the waste that is left in the world after an apocalypse. McCarthy doesn’t reveal what the apocalyptic event is, similar to the characters remaining nameless. However, I feel that the event that caused the apocalypse isn’t important. Perhaps McCarthy is offering a commentary on what becomes of humanity in times of extreme desperation.

In both instances, themes of capitalism and consumerism are particularly prevalent. I found analysing the use of these themes in both actually quite exciting, particularly considering the anxieties in our contemporary culture regarding humanities expanding consumerism and its ultimate impact on the environment.

I will definitely be re-reading these in the near future, and as I already mentioned, I can’t wait to read the other texts of the Atwood trilogy. Both books seem to offer so much that I can’t possibly absorb them all in one go!

So, the moral of this post is… DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY A DIFFERENT GENRE! I would never have read either of these books if it wasn’t for the fact they were on a module syllabus. But now I would definitely say both books make my top ten favourites! They have also spurred me on to chose a module for my MA next year which is all about Utopian and Dystopian fiction.

 

Thank you so much for reading! It means the world when I see people are enjoying and supporting my posts. Has this post tempted you to try a different genre or form? Have you recently discovered a new type of literature? Please let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share!

My Top Three Texts

As I am super busy with my final hand-ins and assessments for my degree, I thought I would do a round up of my top three favourite books. If you have been following my blog, you will notice I have already posted an Author Haul on Ian McEwan. So, to save repeating myself and boring you all, here my other favourites:

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1)The Waves (1931) by Virginia Woolf

I love love love Virginia Woolf, she was the focus of my undergraduate dissertation and I find her work within literary modernism truly inspiring. In particular, I really enjoy her focus on the interiority of character. She was one of the first authors to think of the text reflecting thoughts and feelings, bringing the reader closer to the life of her constructs.

My favourite fictional work of hers (I would highly recommend also reading her literary criticism) is The Waves. Written in 1931, The Waves is regarded as one of Woolf’s most experimental novels; which follows the lives of Bernard, Neville, Louis, Jinny and Rhoda. The narrative follows the characters relationships with one another and the natural world, and mainly consists of what many critics refer to as ‘soliloquies’, due to the rhythmical nature of the prose. Interspersed between these soliloquies are sections of descriptions of the natural world, focussing on water and light, which pose a close relationship to the characters subject matter within their soliloquies.

I found the intricate technique employed by Woolf fascinating, which means I couldn’t help but continue to turn the pages. On a more basic level, the close relationship Woolf inspires between characters and reader means you become really invested in the text!

 

2) Tristram Shandy (1759) by Laurence Sterne

I had never read any Sterne prior to university, however Tristram Shandy was on my reading list for the Georgian module. Many of my peers didn’t enjoy this text which I can understand due to its investment in John Locke’s philosophies. The text is also loaded with reference to Sterne’s wider reading, which I for one can say was lost on me at times. It is also a lengthy text- but persevere as I assure you there are brilliant moments!

Throughout Tristram Shandy, particularly in earlier editions, there are features such as the marbled and black page. There are also embellishments of Sterne’s illustrations, such as the squiggly lines (don’t laugh- it literally is a squiggle). These illustrated qualities of the text are said to be reflective of character feeling, for example (spoiler alert) the black page is arguably representative of Tristram’s feelings about Yorik’s death.

Perhaps I enjoy this closeness to character consciousness, through writing this post I have realised this is the theme that has drawn me to both books!

 

3) How to Be a Woman (2011) by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran’s non-fictional text is something I would encourage anyone to read. It poses the awkward questions that come along when becoming a woman in a hilarious fashion. Moran isn’t afraid to speak the truth and ignores social taboos- something really refreshing and honest to read. It is this combination of honesty and hilarity which has made it so enjoyable to read. As a reader I found myself relating greatly to the text alongside questioning some of my pre-existing ideals.

I have also read her fictional text How to Build a Girl (2014) which has similar themes, so although cringing at times (I wont spoil as to why) I found this book to be a breath of fresh air as well.

If you haven’t already I would definitely recommend a read of both!

 

As always, thank you for reading! What are your favourite texts? Have you read any of the above? It would be brilliant to hear from you so please like/share/comment to your hearts content!

 

Author Haul: Ian McEwan

Due to the nature of my degree, I am always reading, however I have a lot less time to read for pleasure. But, whenever I do find the time I often turn to one of my favourite authors: Ian McEwen!

So, why McEwen? Well firstly, without giving away any spoilers, I always love the big twist he includes within his plots. Despite being an avid reader of McEwan’s they always take me by surprise! I love the fact that regardless of which one of his texts I may be dipping into, each one brings something completely different- hence why I am kept guessing. I also really enjoy how easily immersed and invested I am with McEwan’s characters- I find them extremely relatable so I can’t help but to turn the page to find out what happens next. This is due to the plot placing the reader in a diverse and thought provoking setting.

Also, McEwan constantly tackles interesting and engaging subject matters within his fiction. As I mentioned, I do read him for pleasure, but he is also of academic interest. My Literature and Environment module had McEwan’s Solar listed on it’s recommended reading list, due to his engagement with eco-critical issues. During my A-levels I also read On Chesil Beach (which I really enjoyed). McEwan is critically acclaimed also, for example Amsterdam was the winner of The Booker Prize (1998) and Atonement was also shortlisted for the prize in 2001 (this was also adapted into a feature film directed by Jo Wright in 2007).

Atonement was the first book I ever read of McEwan’s and I had come across it completely by chance! I was on holiday and had read all of my ‘holiday books’, but the villa we were staying in had a bookshelf. I decided to have a nose around, when I came across Atonement. Recognising the title from the film, I thought I would give the book a try- and I am so pleased that I did!

So far, my favourite work of his is Saturday (not pictured as it is on my kindle). Saturday follows the story of Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon going about his daily life struggling to place himself in the post-modernist setting of the novel, engaging the reader in a setting of contemplation of modern life. But then, the problems Perowne considers come much closer to home…

I wont spoil it by revealing anymore, but hopefully that short synopsis gives some insight to why I enjoy McEwan so much!

I have a lot more McEwan to read, but I am enjoying making my way through his work! I am now currently reading Enduring Love. I’m only a chapter in so far, but I am loving it already!

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Thank you for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this post please like/comment/share away! Have you read anything by McEwan? If not, do you think you will now? Who is your go to author? I would love to hear from you!