Rebecca

Rebecca, a novel by Daphne du Maurier, is an engrossing tale told through the eyes of an imaginative young woman as she marries a wealthy English man, and discovers many sinister truths at his beautiful country estate of Manderly.

rebecca
A copy of Rebecca

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again”

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again” a simply but haunting line that sets the tone for the narrators recollections. The novel is also teeming with  quotable lines by the way. We never learn her first or maiden name, she is simply called Mrs. De winter after she is married. Even while her narration has just begun, and she still serves as companion to the tactless Mrs. Van Hooper, her tendency to present herself as a very naive, doubtful and imaginative girl is apparent. Well, she never really calls herself imaginative but hardly a chapter goes by where the narrator does not stop to immerse herself in fantasy. If these things irritate you, I doubt you’ll enjoy the novel.

manderley
A still from Alfred Hitchcock’s’ 1940 adaptation

Like everything else in the novel, things take quite a while to unfold, but eventually the narrator finishes her tales of how she married Max, or Maxim de Winter as he’s popularly known. She is still very doubtful and cautious, and Max isn’t very open about his emotions. With their large age difference, Max’s’ reserve, her constant worry and the shadow of Rebecca (Max’s’first wife) hanging over them  you’d assume their relationship was doomed to fail.

When the narrative reaches the vast, beautiful estate of Manderly, where Rebeccas’ presence threatens to leap from every corner, every fear that the narrator refuses to forget seems to be justified. This stretch of the story also introduces Mrs. Danvers, a character who instills the fear of propriety like no other. All is not as it seems in Manderly and the people are more sinister than the narrators many flights of fantasy dared imagine.

Mrs. De winter and Mr De Winter seem to develop a real relationship only as things threaten to get worse for them. It isn’t hard to see the major twists coming (I won’t give it away) but reading it is still thrilling. The many characters introduced, their kindness, their love for Rebecca and Manderly all become sources of tension, of a tragedy just waiting to unfurl itself. A friend declared I was reading this part so hard my eyes threatened to pop out.You’ll probably expect the ending and maybe even accuse it of being a conveniently happy one but Daphne du Maurier is able to translate the many quirks of the narrator into an endearing figure who you’ll be rooting for all across the end.

Some might argue that the ending wasn’t all that happy, the fate of Manderly, and the narrators craving for tea might have been the cause of many future worries and flights of fantasy but I disagree. It isn’t as threatening as the other problems the couples faced,it is no ultimatum, and it is nothing they cannot live without. And I have a feeling that the tragic is something the narrator craved deep down. Perhaps that’s why she loved those fantastic day dreams, those long looks back into the past.

young_daphne_du_maurier
A young Daphne du Maurier

1Q84-Book 3

One of the worst things I’ve done this semester is call Murakami the Japanese Paulo Coelho. It took me a long time to get around to finishing the last part of the trilogy. Partly because I had a lot of other things to finish reading and partly because I was afraid the trilogy would end up being disappointment.

The novel has mad ambition. It raises expectations and suspense like crazy. Halfway through the last part of the trilogy I worried that Murakami could not help but disappoint. The world and stakes keep intensifying at such a terrifying rate that you assume the only way a conclusion can be reached is through some conventional cop out ending. A few of my friends had read some short stories and novels by Murakami which they found rather disappointing which ruined my confidence in Murakami’s ability to tell a story. I wondered if I had been taken for a ride.

In 1Q84 Murakmai proves himself an excellent storyteller able to keep the reader hooked and create interesting characters. But I never felt confident enough to pass judgement until I got to the ending. There is so much going on that your just dying for a conclusive end to tie up everything- miracle births, tiny spirit men, miracle ejaculations, chapters where one of the main characters is a corpse, all the fantastic elements introduced in the previous novel mixed up in a world where death is very real, and very thing runs according to the girding rules of reality. The reality bit is very important, even works that revolve around “believable” settings tend to exaggerate and take things further than things would go in the real world. Here things are extremely realistic, something like buying a gun, disposing a body,surveillance aren’t things that are very easy to do. Even the pros need to extremely cautious and aren’t super efficient archetypes. There are two scenes where characters need to take taxis on  a busy freeway. In any other book this would barely get a line.Here this gets stares, questions, this is a risky, unusual step, that has people commenting on their odd behavior and people citing regulations, very few books would bother to depict this.

You’d be surprised that this extreme painstaking realism that does not ever take any liberties exists in a world with two moons in the sky, air chrysalises,phantom cable fee collectors etc. There is also a very elaborate play going hidden behind the plot. This might be Murakami playing with the story telling, what is called real in stories,how much the characters know about the stories they are in etc in general. Even if he took away the fantastic element in the story and the world he creates, the story or the romantic plot would still be fantastic and never happen in the real world. But you can be sure that this is what we’d call believable in any other book. The fantastic elements in the book, they exist and they  are extremely beautiful and very symbolic. I half  a mind to go through the book reading only the fantasy bits.It’s easy to lose yourself and start day dreaming about the sky as described in the book. I’ve been looking at the moon every day since I began reading the books.

There isn’t much that the reader discovers about Japanese culture. You learn about Japanese law but not culture. I don’t know if this is due to translation, if Murakami writes for an international audience. But this is not a bad thing. I can’t come up with any thing else I’d call bad about the book. A few chapters in I forgot ever doubt I had, blazed through the remaining chapters and went out to look at the moon.

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Murakami and I know a lot of people who think he’s overrated. I can’t comment on his other works but the 1Q84 trilogy is simply amazing and well worth the read.

The French Lieutenants woman

Reading John Fowles The French Lieutenants woman after George Elliots masterpiece was an excellent decision.

Its quite easy to see how they’re comparable- both take place during the same time period and in a way are quite similar in what they aim to do. Elliot and Fowles both have stories that take place in Victorian England and a ensemble of strong male and female characters. So what difference do you find between an 20th century American man and a 19th century woman who write on similar themes?

The obvious and cosmetic similarities first. Both use references/extracts from other authors/poets to give context to chapters. Elliot uses Classical literature apart from poets and authors from her time, Fowles uses scientists  apart from poets and authors from his time. Both involve love, marriage and ideas about righteousness. Both include slightly tasteless remarks about Jews and  seem a bit orientalist.

The most obvious differences are the ones that arise due to the fact that the author of the French Lieutenants woman is someone who is looking back on what is to him – history. He ,unlike Elliot, is able to look back without as much attachment or biases that arise from living during a particular age. So unlike Elliot he is not restricted to the niche that she is [That of the upper class]. This is not to say that Elliot is oblivious to the poorer sections of society, but she is more comfortable and concerned with the gentry,the clergy and merchants. Or maybe Fowles is just able to see things that would not have been though of being worth mentioning back then.  Fowles has the ability to look back, knowing what is going to happen and is aware of statistics and facts about the Victorian era that might have shocked most Victorians.

The most important tools he seems to have in his possession are his understanding of science and Marx. Science is used to address the way of life, religion, lifestyle and various Victorian habits. Since the novel is set in a time of change where technology was uprooting old styles of life, Fowles use of science is essential to let the reader know about the world the story revolves around. Fowles incorporates everything from evolution to psychology in a love story. A no mean feat.

Fowles is also able to sneak in some criticism of science, psychology in particular, arguing for the need to be more humane in its approach. He makes a good case for why not everything can be chalked up to insanity or hysteria.

There’s a lot of talk on morality and changing social hierarchy too. This is where Fowles seems to use Marxism the most. I think it was rather brave of Fowles to quote Marx and go about talking about class divisions during the era of McCarthyism. He uses it effectively adding his already excellent description of Victorian England. The differences between lower and upper class, the attitudes of the employers and social hierarchy are all elaborated on using Marxist critic.

Both authors are rebels- or nonconformists if your feeling really miserly. Elliot is breaking away from the expectations of the stories that women were supposed to write, from popular morality,happy endings, and criticized certain aspects of society. I’d say her novel is better because of characters and a story so intresting its almost hypnotic. However Fowles is clearing trying to do more with his novel. Elliot seems a softer rebel, she does break away but not radically.

Fowles regularly breaks the third wall, appears in the story [literately] and is at the mercy of where his characters want to go. Fowles is able to say a lot about the role of the novelist in a story, the way he/she plays god and what the novelist must do. The novel includes three very different endings.

The first is a very safe and Victorian one, the one you might have seen coming. The second is not as expected since it does involve quite a lot of moral decisions [and sex] Victorians disapprove of. It is still a very pleasant ending. The final ending is the one that seems to break from tradition the most. It isn’t a very happy one and you wonder if Sarah was crazy,Charles bitter or deluded etc. The last two endings are equally likely according to Fowles.

Offering the reader endings to choose from could be called lazy from any other author. Here it is done masterfully. You realize the book was only disguised as a Victorian novel. The author enters the story and explains his position, the traditional endings he is expected to write, the godlike role he occupies and he plays/ experiments with all these rules. Each ending throws up questions about authorship, traditional styles in writing.

Sex and women empowerment are the most important themes in the novel. Sarah is clearly struggling to cope with the rigid formality and repression in Victorian society. She longs for more freedom and her affair with the French lieutenant is an act of rebellion. Historical anecdotes repeatedly make it clear that few Victorians where as chaste as they claimed to be. Fowles at times seems to suggest that the Victorians had better sex than anyone in his century, I don’t think that’s really true. But it is interesting to see why he makes the argument. Sarah whatever her intentions is clearly a very strong woman who is an intellectual equal to Charles.

Watching Charles ,a Gentleman who exists in an age where Gentlemen are quickly dying out, deal with the rebellion against gender roles that Sarah causes is both an engrossing story and a very accurate description of the outlook towards changing Victorian morality during the time period.

The only real weakness I saw was his description of America. It seemed a little too idealistic and reeked of patriotism. It doesn’t really harm the novel it just makes you roll your eyes a little too often.

The French Lieutenants Woman is a fascinating read. It is a Victorian love story but more, it is a story about an Gentleman  in the 19th century but the story is driven by the strong female characters, its can be both a tragedy or a pleasant happy ending. Fowles has done quite a bit with a simple story and has done it masterfully.

1Q84 Book 2 July September

The last book ended with a cliff hanger that suggested the story was going to become more intense, and the many many questions that the first book raised would be answered. It did. Just not in the way you’d expect.

Murakami revisits what we already know while his characters try to understand the world they are in. The novel[within the novel], which was written in the first book, is elaborated on in a manner that makes you want go read the first book again and hit yourself for not seeing things more clearly the first time around. Yet again Murakami uses the novel that was written in the story to tell the reader where he/she should be looking. The readers like the characters do not receive any direct or complete answers. But make no mistake there is a lot of development.

The way this development works isn’t like the sort in most other stories. The development is extremely slow, minute and detailed. Because every single thing that happens in the story does something to alter the perception of the books characters, you never get bored or feel overwhelmed. The amount of detail and struggle, makes progression seem believable. It more philosophical progression than plot progression.

Few authors are able to repeat what has already been said over and over again and still make it interesting. Irrelevant and minute details in the characters individual stories grow in significance as they[ the characters] reflect on the changing world. Every time you look at a story again a few extra details you picked up as the other stories progressed change the meaning and relevance of everything you already knew. Anecdotes and idle chit-chit suddenly become incredibly important revelations that push the story in directions you would have never seen coming.

They also link up implied or unstated histories/stories as well, making the world far more and far more extraordinary. The fantastic difference ,between the real world and that of 1Q84, such as the two moons, air chrysalis etc blend in fantastically and do not actually make the story seem any less believable. In fact you might not care for them as much as for the love story that happens while the entire world around two people changes.

Everything in the first book is picked up, examined and elaborated on. These changes that encourage a sort of spiritual journey in both Tengo and Aomane, are the most interesting parts of the book. Their beliefs and motivations become as fantastic as the world around them. Perhaps this is why Murakami made the world around them so extraordinary, to try and show the reader how extraordinary certain beliefs can be even when compared to a sky with two moons.

The story moves slowly although it never seems to lose steam, Murakamis writing is again very essential in making it work. It isn’t easy to make you feel indifferent to a serial child rapist. However there are a few sentences that seem awkward at times, especially when talking about sex. And the idea that a person in japan would have croissants just sitting in their fridge doesn’t seem very believable to me. But I suppose croissants begin the most unbelievable thing in a story with two moons is a good thing.