Monday, 11 July 2011

Julius Winsome by Gerard Donovan | Shakespearean words and violence

Julius Winsome has just been translated into Norwegian, and got the title Vinter i Maine. When it arrived at my bookshop I was immediately drawn in by the cover, and when we got a reading copy from the publisher, I knew I had to read it.

The story evolves around Julius Winsome, a loner who lives in the middle of a desolate hunting area in Maine. The novel begins as his four-legged companion, Hobbes, is shot, and Julius has to bury his only friend. Julius is in many ways a strange man, but his grief is authentic and I as the reader really emphatised with him.

The setting of this novel really underlines the themes. The isolation of Julius' cottage and his isolation as a person go hand in hand. We learn that Julius' mother died giving birth to him, and that Julius lived with his father in this cottage until his father passed away. He has literally grown up walled in by books, as book shelves go from one wall to the next. Julius was brought up rehearsing Shakespearean words, and sometimes hearing tales of war from his father and grandfather. Ironically, the Winsome men are men of few words (although they're vocabulary is larger than most people's). This again creates a gap between Julius and other people. The world makes more sense to him when he can describe it with Shakespearean words. However, he points out that when he uses the Shakespearean words, he might as well be barking, because people don't understand him. At one point he has a girlfriend, but she abandons him just as suddenly as she showed up at his door.

The use of Shakespeare's words is also connected to the violence of the story. Shakespeare's works are full of violence and treachery, and since Julius knows little of other people apart from malevolence and betrayal, he finds comfort in hiding behind the shield of words. This works both literally, as his house is a stronghold of books, and his haven, as well as figuratively, in that he uses the words to perhaps feel distinct and above others.

A strong theme in this novel is nature, and how we live with it. For Julius, the forest is part of him, almost. He is safe in nature, he can read it and communicate with it. Julius knows a lot about hunting, camouflage, weapons, yet he seems to have a strong distaste for hunters. It is as if the animals of the forest somehow are kin to him, and the hunters are overstepping this bond. After his dog Hobbes is shot, Julius is determined to find who shot him, and balance things out. An eye for an eye, so to speak. It is clear that Julius' solitude, which has survived the loss of mother, father, lover, cannot survive the loss of Hobbes. Ironically, Hobbes is Julius' last symbolic connection to other people, as it was his ex girlfriend who suggested he get a dog. Once Hobbes is dead, that bond is severed, and Julius' isolation is complete. The reaction is a revenge plot.

This novel is truly beautifully written. Julius is authentic, and as a narrator he is quiet but telling. The story is tender, despite its violence. Julius bares his soul to us, showing us his hurt and solitude without asking for pity. Despite his isolation, he is a reflected man; he knows what he is doing. And his acts of violence are, if not justified, then at least reasonable to himself. I also find him quite kick-ass, and would love to see a movie where the revenge hero inflicts a deadly wound on someone, only to quote Shakespeare to them. In his quiet way, this novel is Julius' demand to be seen and recognised by the world. I for one came to care deeply for him... And I was truly sad when the novel ended.

Read it.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Rush Home Road by Lori Lansen

Rush Home Road by Lori Lansen was recently translated into Norwegian by Juritzen Forlag.

I saw the book on the shelf, read the blurb, and decided that I had to read it. I was in for a pleasurable and moving journey through Addy Shadd's life.

Addy Shadd is in her 70s and suddenly finds herself responsible for 6-year old Sharla who has been abandoned by her mother. Her initial misgivings aside, Addy quickly comes to realise that she can love Sharla like a mother, and the two become central in each other's lives. Addy, because Sharla needs a mother figure who loves her and who will actually raise her right, and Sharla, because Addy needs a child in her life to come to terms with all the disappointments and sorrows she's faced.

A central conflict in the story is how Addy is literally forced to abandon her home town Rusholme, leaving everything she loves behind, to start alone elsewhere. Addy's character builds strenght as she goes along, but there is always this pull to rush home. However, the wounds connected to Rusholme run too deep, and Addy resists this pull.

The kindness of strangers is a strong motif in this book. Addy herself is an example of this through taking Sharla in, but her own experiences of being helped by strangers might be the reason for her openness. Addy leaves Rusholme without money or food, but her kind heart and honest soul makes people help her and take to her. Addy finds friends she comes to love, and she manages to start a new life.

I found it interesting how important food is in the novel. For Sharla, it is central because at her mother's place she was often barely fed, and when fed, fed badly. For Addy, on the other hand, food is attached to identity, place and memory. Food is what connects her to her family. The apple snow her mother taught her to make as a young girl, is her father's favourite, and Addy knows how to make it just right. Addy in turn teaches Sharla how to make it, to heal a wound inside herself. Further, Addy's cooking skills have helped her make friends and to be useful when she's had to rely on others.

The story evolves around how Sharla and Addy interact and change through each other's influence, as well as the story of Addy's life. At times the story is deeply moving, even shockingly so, but it also has a light and funny tone. The end of the book, in which Addy finally rushes home to Rusholme becomes a symbolic home-coming for the both of them, and is beautifully, beautifully written. This is a novel that really comes full circle and that lets the reader down gently at the end.

Simply a must-read. Have your Kleenex ready.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was my first classical read. And to this day, it remains my favourite. We read an excerpt in school, and watched the 1996 movie version, which I enjoyed. Later I borrowed the book from a phd friend of my aunts, and true love was found. Since then I've read the book a few times, as well as all the other Brontë titles.

In 2006 BBC made an excellent Jane Eyre tv series. They really managed to capture the passion, emotions and underlying tensions the book holds. I loved their use of colour, especially for Bertha and Blanche. The chemistry between Mr Rochester and Jane is simply outstanding and they really make the story come to life. As a whole, they make Jane Eyre more accessible to a more modern audience. oh, and Toby Stephens is my number one Mr Rochester to date. *blush*

A few days ago I went to see the latest Jane Eyre movie (2011). I had read some excellent reviews on it, and I was really looking forward to seeing it. I must admit, I was a little disappointed. Now, obviously, it is unfair for a movie of 2 hours to compete with a tv series of 4 hours. Naturally the movie has to convey in a much briefer period of time the book's essence. However, I cannot help but wonder at some of the choices that were made.

Bertha is all but invisible in the film. There are hardly any trace of her, and the famous "veil-ripping" scene doesn't happen here. I miss the tension built up in the series and I thought there would be more of her here.

A character that got a lot more room than I thought necessary, was St. John. And in fact, the focus on Jane's life after Thornfield, when she is taken in by St. John and his sisters have a lot more focus than I feel is warranted for such a short movie. I'd rather have more Jane and Mr Rochester than Moor House.

I actually liked Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester (although he comes nowhere near Toby Stephens), but something was missing in the chemistry between him and Jane. Mia Wasikowska makes a reliable Jane, and I really liked that she's young, but I miss some warmth and emotion from her.

One touch I really liked, however, is that they managed to include the lightning struck tree after the proposal scene. Nice touch!

All in all not a bad movie, but I guess I was hoping for something that was more influenced by how well done the tv series was. With classics, there'll be another remake in about 10 years, however, so I can look forward to a life time of Jane Eyre movies. And in the meantime I'll enjoy the tv series one more time on DVD.

Below: a treat. One of my fave scenes from the BBC version. Just showing a new side to Jane.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Pretty!

I LOVE the new series from Cappelen Damm, "Historiske Drama Romaner" and their covers. Beautiful, evocative and appealling.

You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but a nice cover doesn't harm sales!