It’s the final day of the My Life In Books Challenge. Yesterday I went through my top 5 texts I studied at AS Level as a Teenager. Today is Part 2, if you will, as I’m going through my top 5 texts that I studied at A Level!
In 5th place is: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Unlike my AS Level year, I actually enjoyed the majority of texts I studied, and so ranking them in order of preference was quite a difficult decision-making process.
Wuthering Heights is about two passionate lovers separated by the cruel expectations of Victorian society, forcing them into prosperous marriages and suffering eternally.
Or, Wuthering Heights is about a darkly mysterious child who is treated like a monster and grows up to fulfil this expectation, pitiless revenge on all those who ever wronged him and perpetuating misery.
Personally, I favour the latter interpretation.
I’ve read Wuthering Heights quite a few times, and I even referenced it during my 3 Day Quote Challenge. I like the story, although it does get very confusing with the various characters and children who all have annoyingly similar names and spend their time travelling to and from Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. It’s a Gothic text, but at the same time, it is so unconventionally Victorian – curse words, references to the Devil and the Supernatural, and the clever, vengeful actions of Heathcliff. The reason I ranked it in 5th place is because I simply do not enjoy the lengthy outpourings of emotions and the awkward love triangle between Cathy, Heathcliff and Edgar.
In 4th place is: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I’m really not a fan of feminist literature, especially anything written around the time of second-wave (man-hating) feminism. Everything in every story can be blamed on the patriarchy. Because reasons.
The Bloody Chamber is a collection of mostly Gothic short stories – I’ve mentioned the book before, as one of its stories, The Snow Child, inspired me to write my own short story based on a fairytale. You can read it here: https://readandreview2016.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/short-story-white-winter-mist/
All of the stories are filled with violence or explicit sex references – in a similar way to The Monk by Matthew Lewis (another book I’ve reviewed!), although Carter describes it in a much more modern way (naturally). However, despite these negatives, I enjoyed how Carter subverted conventional fairytales and make them seem twisted or scary, or just skilfully adapted them for a more adult audience.
In 3rd place is: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is a feminist dystopian novel about Offred, a woman living her life in the new society of Gilead, part of America which is now ruled by a totalitarian state. Gilead’s rule is based on a twisted form of Christianity, but it also has some parallels with Nazism.
I really enjoyed reading The Handmaid’s Tale – I thought the feminist overtones were really laboured though (we get it Offred, you are literally trapped in subservience to man, you don’t have to tell us every 5 minutes). However, I liked Atwood’s interpretation of a subverted Christianity – the place names, the sayings, the focus on reproduction – there were so many intertextual references; she’d obviously done her homework. The use of religion reminded me of some paranormal horror films and novels, which experiment with just how extreme and dangerous religious fanaticism can get.
I am critical of the ending however – it doesn’t tie up the loose ends nicely, which I prefer, but it didn’t really leave enough of a cliff-hanger for me. It seemed an almost lazy way of finishing the plot, under the guise of creating “suspense”.
In 2nd place is: Macbeth by William Shakespeare
I’ve talked about Macbeth before on my blog – I listed my 10 favourite quotes from Macbeth, my favourite play, in recognition of Shakespeare Day. Call me old-fashioned, but I passionately believe we should still study Shakespeare.
Macbeth is a tale of ambition, witchcraft and tyranny. It’s bloody and creepy and I like it. It makes you feel things. I feel anger towards Macbeth’s actions, I feel no sympathy for Lady Macbeth and think she is a wretched woman, I feel as if I gravitate towards Banquo and his concerns about God and morality. I feel satisfaction as the play draws to a close, as Shakespeare fulfils the traditional tragic structure
My A Level exam was closed-book as well, which means I could not take my texts into the exam and so I had to remember quotes by heart. For me, Macbeth was the easiest to learn. I’ve read and studied it before, and the quotes are easy to remember thanks to the rhythm and rhyme of each line.
In 1st place is: 1984 by George Orwell
Similarly to The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 is a Dystopian novel set in a totalitarian state, following ordinary citizen Winston who secretly opposes Big Brother, a not-so well-hidden depiction of Stalin and his communist regime.
I really loved this book. Politics isn’t really my thing, but the representations of infamous political regimes, like Stalin’s communism or Hitler’s Nazism, included in dystopian novels is fascinating! I really wanted Winston to succeed in his secret plans to bring down the regime, and I felt genuine shock at the plot twists that Orwell included, and where he placed them. However, I found the extracts of the fictional book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, boring to read because it was written in a non-fiction style of the era Orwell was writing in, and I couldn’t get my head around most of it.
If I had to pin down a specific element of the book I enjoyed the most, I would have to say the motif of the popular nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons, to create a build-up and suspense for Winston’s imminent discovery and capture.
And there we have it! I really enjoyed creating this series; it was a great chance to look back on books I haven’t read for quite a while and recollect my opinions about them.
Have you read the books on my list? What was your favourite? Share your thoughts below!
Until next time!