Read and Review: Perfect People

Read and Review: Perfect People
  • Title: Perfect People
  • Author: Peter James
  • Published: 2011

Perfect People is a thriller novel from the acclaimed crime and thriller writer, Peter James.

After losing their four-year-old son to a rare genetic disorder, John and Naomi Klaesson are grieving, yet want another child – one who will be free from genetic diseases and as healthy as possible. Geneticist Leo Dettore offers them a lifeline: the chance to choose the perfect genetic makeup of their new baby – their sex, their hair colour, abilities, and so much more. However, the couple notice something is wrong too late, and they can’t turn back, because Naomi is already pregnant…

I read Perfect People in abut 2-3 days, because it really had me hooked. In an era where genetically modifying embryos is already a possibility, the notion of “designer babies” does not seem that much more of a stretch, and James capitalises on this.

‘There are certain things in life that happen that shouldn’t happen – which don’t need to happen – and which science can now prevent from happening.’ 

(Perfect People, p.15)

It’s difficult to speak openly about my response to Perfect People without giving away spoilers, but I’ll try my best.

It’s a good thriller, and whilst some of the plot twists I saw quite clearly, others caught me completely off-guard.

I liked James’ style of writing, although the description was too poetic in places for me: elaborate imagery doesn’t’ gel with the book’s attempted realism and authenticity. Also, at one point, he used the phrase ‘quite unique’ – a grammatically incorrect phrase that bothers me immensely.

The scientist Dettore was suitably creepy, along with the psychopathic, genetically modified children he breeds.

However, I felt that the inclusion of religious extremism as an antagonistic force didn’t work well. Whilst sects, cults and religious extremism can be incredibly scary (and is thus often used in paranormal horror), it just didn’t feel authentic in Perfect People. I’ve no doubt that there are real people in the world prepared to use extreme measures to campaign against issues like genetic testing, but James’ fictional cult, The Disciples of the Third Millennium, felt like it was purely inspired by imagination rather than inspired by research. This mean that for me, the mentions of gods, prophecies and Biblical passages just fell flat.

I would have preferred to see Dettore’s psychopathic children rise as an antagonistic force – perhaps against parents, adults or other figures of authority, and it’s a shame this wasn’t explored.

Despite my criticisms, I still thoroughly enjoyed Perfect People, and would strongly recommend it.

Another blogger I came across, wrote that Perfect People is:

‘A true morality tale [that makes] readers ponder their lot, to be grateful for what they have and to fear taking risks with scientific advances that might change things for the better or for the worst.’

(Keith Walters, BooksandWriters)

Thank you for reading!

– Judith

[BONUS] Read and Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

[BONUS] Read and Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • Title: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • Author: D.H. Lawrence
  • Published: 1928

Image via BBC.

As an English student at Nottingham, trust me, they make a big deal about D.H. Lawrence. He was born in Eastwood, near Nottingham, in 1885.

Furthermore, ‘The Manuscripts and Special Collections section at The University of Nottingham includes one of the world’s major international collections on DH Lawrence among its extensive historic archives and literary papers.’ (http://www.dh-lawrence.org.uk/collection.html)

Consequently, D.H. Lawrence is, unsurprisingly, on the syllabus. I’ve read a range of his short stories so far but I wanted to read his novels too, having enjoyed his style of writing. I decided to start with one of the most infamous and most controversial novels: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Connie and Clifford Chatterley, a middle-class couple, own the Chatterley estate – a large house, plenty of land, and a coal mine. When Clifford is paralysed from the waist down after World War I, this causes significant problems for the couple – mainly, no sex and thus no heir to the estate. Connie gradually becomes disenchanted with the idea of being ‘Lady Chatterley’, but feels guilty about leaving Clifford because of his disability. She seeks comfort from Mellors, the gamekeeper, which results in a sexual relationship and a scandalous affair.

I don’t think I enjoyed the story of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, mainly because I didn’t like the main characters.

Clifford behaves contemptuously to almost everyone who surrounds him and neglects his wife often. He favours discussions with his intellectual chums instead which of course, Connie could never participate in, because she is “only” a woman.

Connie and Mellors engage in an affair while they are both already married to others (albeit in an unhappy marriage), but “justified” promiscuity makes me uncomfortable still. Plus, despite the language used to describe the pair’s affections, I only ever saw the relationship as one-sided. It’s clear Mellors truly loves Connie, but as to whether Connie fully reciprocates these feelings for Mellors, I’m unsure about.

However, I did find Lady Chatterley’s Lover incredibly interesting because of the issues it raises, mainly the question:

Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover about sex?

Yes

Yes; the language is far too explicit for Lady Chatterley’s Lover to not be about sex (despite its infamy, I still didn’t expect language from the 1920s to be that clear-cut, which does nothing but reveal my own ignorance to the romance/erotica genre)!

The book is about the role sex has within marital and extra-marital contexts. Clifford sees marital sex merely as useful for the production of a child who will one day inherit his estate and continue the Chatterley legacy. Connie uses extramarital sex to experience, love, lust, desire, and freedom – all the things she feels she is lacking from her oppressive husband.

No

However, once the focus on sexual encounters is put to one side, Lady Chatterley’s Lover also raises issues of class and region – both which are common threads in Lawrence’s works.

Connie “transgresses” from her middle-class position to pursue a relationship with their gamekeeper, an indistinct member of the working class, with presumable “bad breeding”. In addition, Lawrence devotes a lot of time to exploring the dynamics of Connie and Clifford’s middle-class lifestyle, and why this is unfulfilling for both, as well as exploring the lives of other local working-class people in the area.

Mellors is fluid in his use of dialect. He uses Standard English when publicly interacting with the Chatterleys, yet uses a natural Nottinghamshire dialect when alone with Connie. Arguably, this reveals a deeper aspect of Mellors’ personality, but ironically, it alienates Connie. She is drawn to his use of language – his straight-talking manner with which he confesses his feelings – and yet she does not speak the dialect, she is restricted to Standard English, and so struggles to consistently understand him.


So is Lady Chatterley’s Lover about sex? Yes, but it’s also about so much more.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was adapted for the BBC in 2015, and you can read a review of that here.

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Thank you for reading!

If you enjoyed this post please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Goblin Market is a Victorian poem about two women, Lizzie and Laura, one of whom is tempted by the goblins that frequent their village to sell exotic fruits all year around. Laura becomes grievously ill after eating some of this fruit, and is saved by her sister’s bravery and heroism against the goblins.

To me, the most striking element in Goblin Market is its use of symbolism – of religion, of the patriarchy and, as an offshoot of this, the sexual oppression of women.

Firstly, Goblin Market’s religious imagery is overwhelmingly clear. The premise of the poem is that deceptive, supernatural creatures tempt a pure woman into eating a mysterious and forbidden fruit, which then has negative consequences. This is a direct parallel to the events in Genesis 3; the goblins symbolise Satan and Laura symbolises Eve.

However, there is a second layer to this religious imagery. Lizzie saves her sister by standing resolute in the face of the goblins’ horrid behaviour towards her, enduring suffering for the sake of Laura. She is described as ‘fruit-crown’d’ – an irony – because a crown is meant for royalty, highlighting Laura’s virtuous and honourable nature, yet it is made from fruit, the goblins’ “weapon” of attack. This may be a parallel to the ‘crown of thorns’ (Matthew 27:29) worn by Christ during the crucifixion, to mock him. Furthermore, during Lizzie’s attack from the goblins, she ‘utter’d not a word’, again imitating Christ’s behaviour when he was trialled by Herod:

  • ‘He [Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7)
  • ‘He [Herod] plied him [Jesus] with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.’ (Luke 23:9)

Secondly, although the goblins are in some ways supernatural, they are also described as ‘goblin merchant men’. The significance of calling them ‘men’ suggests the poem can also be read as a poem about the male oppression of women within a patriarchal Victorian society. It is important that while the goblins are running their market and earning money, both Lizzie and Laura are confined to the home, undertaking stereotypically female tasks, such as sewing, baking cakes and talking like ‘modest maidens’. This highlights the separate spheres ideology which was rife in Victorian society, that encouraged men to leave the house and work to provide for the family (in the “public” sphere)  whilst women were to stay at home as housekeepers and mothers (in the “private” sphere).

Yet there is more. Rossetti also highlights that within a patriarchal society, not only were women confined to their domesticated “sphere” of life, but they were also victims of sexual abuse. This is evidenced by the goblins’ attack on Lizzie. The goblins, whilst ‘grunting and snarling’, ‘tore her gown’, ‘held her hands’, ‘kick’d’ and ‘maul’d’ her in order to force her to eat their fruits. The goblins’ fruit is a metaphor for sex, and thus this distressing scene symbolises one of rape and domestic abuse, a scenario sadly commonplace within Victorian relationships.*

*A harrowing statistic: marital rape wasn’t criminalised in the UK until 1991.

***

Of course, there’s so much more that could be said about the poem. I enjoyed reading Goblin Market; it’s beautifully written narrative poem with vivid imagery and multiple interpretations. There are many other offered readings of the poem, but I think Goblin Market’s parallels with the Christian faith, and the message of female oppression are its most significant undertones.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

Please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

NTL Review: Twelfth Night

NTL Review: Twelfth Night
  • Title: Twelfth Night
  • Director: Simon Godwin
  • Broadcast: 6th April 2017

I went to see Twelfth Night, broadcast by National Theatre Live on Thursday night.

Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to write this review or not, – theatre isn’t my forte – but once I left the cinema, I had so many thoughts about the production and I wanted to share them.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night is a play which, for the first time that I’ve seen, truly foregrounds the Malvolio subplot of Twelfth Night – or should I say, the Malvolia subplot.

Tamsin Greig played Malvolia, a female representation of everybody’s favourite self-righteous and controlling steward. Although characters’ teasing comments about her Quaker-like behaviour were still included, Malvolia was less pious and more of a narcissistic control freak, which made for good humour for a contemporary audience. The infamous scene with Malvolia’s yellow stockings now included a musical number, and watching Greig flaunt about the stage to musical accompaniment, as well as the horror of the other characters, was wonderful comedy.

NTL 1 [Malvolia].jpg
Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

This gender swap is one of a few changes made to the original Shakespeare play and spotlights contemporary issues surrounding gender roles and sexuality; Antonio’s implicit homosexual love for Sebastian is given more prominence (the two share on onstage kiss), the Malvolia / Olivia narrative suggests Olivia’s potential bisexuality, and Feste is now a woman.

Doon Mackichan played Feste, although I thought her portrayal fairly standard. She was a comical enough ‘fool’, but I felt her humour was at its peak when in interaction with Sir Toby Belch, played by Tim McMullan, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Daniel Rigby.

Every aspect of Rigby’s Aguecheek was absolutely hilarious; his body language, his line delivery, his costume was all spot-on. Aguecheek, for once, finally had his own style and personality, which was such a refreshing change from other productions of Twelfth Night, in which Aguecheek is simply ridiculed, rather than developed as a character.

NTL 2 [Aguecheek and Belch].jpg
Left to Right: Rigby as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and McMullan as Sir Toby Belch. Photo by Marc Brenner via Twelfth Night Production Images.

However, I think the relationship between cruel mocker and light-hearted comedy is incredibly important in this production of Twelfth Night.

Before the screening, Greig said in a VT that Twelfth Night is a witty play with a continuously melancholic undercurrent, and I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Viola and Sebastian are torn apart from one another. Olivia falls in love with someone she thinks she knows, who turns out to be somebody different. Antonio admits his feelings for “Sebastian”, who in reality was Cesario, and is left rejected and crushed. Sir Andrew is repeatedly humiliated by Toby Belch’s manipulative schemes as well as repeatedly heartbroken because he knows he stands no chance at winning Olivia.  Malvolia comes to terms with her own sexuality and openly expresses her feelings for Olivia in front of the entire household, only to be laughed at, imprisoned and treated like a madwoman. Thus, Greig’s final line: ‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you’, had such poignancy, that I felt more sympathetic for the plight of Malvolia then I ever had before.

Godwin’s Twelfth Night was thoroughly enjoyable, brilliantly comedic, but also cleverly melancholic and thought-provoking.

In short, when can I see it again?

– Judith

If you’d like to read about more this production of Twelfth Night, you can click this link to go the National Theatre Live website, or read this article by Susannah Clapp in The Guardian.

Read and Review: 11.22.63

Read and Review: 11.22.63
  • Title: 11.22.63
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Published: 2011

11.22.63 is about Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher, who discovers a wormhole in his friend’s diner. The wormhole transports him to 1958, where Epping begins to adjust to 1950s life, as well as plot to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which happened on the 22nd of November, 1963.

It’s hard to summarise the genre of this novel. I think it’s an interesting combination of science fiction, historical fiction, political dystopia and alternate history. Although I don’t profess to be a science-fiction fan, I really enjoyed the science-fiction elements of this book, because they were not too abstract for the common reader to understand – they felt normal and believable, which I think is rare in books that tend to focus on time, space, aliens and everything in-between.

I also liked the historical and political themes; I studied American presidents as part of my A Level History course, and 11.22.63 provided a decent recap of this. It was also interesting to consider the repercussions of each and every seemingly small action had in the “grand scheme of things”.

Furthermore, despite 11.22.63 being set in a world a further 50 years in the past, the questions it raises are still just as significant today:

  • If you could change a terrible event in the past, not knowing the future consequences, would you? What if this triggers an equally horrific event later in time?
  • Is it better to learn from the past, rather than try and undo it?*

This reminds me of the famous quote by the philosopher Santayana: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. (Reason in Common Sense, 1905), p. 284

I also liked the length of the novel. It’s a big read, and took me a sizeable amount of time to get through, but I was kept captivated throughout and I was glad I had so long to enjoy the book for.

However, I thought there was an unusually high amount of explicit violence in the book – punches, stabbings, broken noses, and gun fights. I’ve read some of King’s horrors that do have high levels of bloody violence in, so on the one hand, this isn’t an unexpected feature in King’s writing. On the other hand, I naively thought those sorts of scenes would be unnecessary and therefore omitted from a non-horror book.

For me, the best part of 11.22.63 was the intertextual references to another of King’s books, IT, which is also set in 1958’s America, and the last King book I read, so I feel like I’m reading his books in some kind of weird order. I completely forgot that IT was set in this timeline, and to be drip-fed clues and references to another plot was really entertaining, although this isn’t a huge feature within the narrative of 11.22.63.

I also found the ending incredibly powerful; it’s rare for me to be strongly moved by a book’s ending (especially as most of them seem to end on cliff-hangers nowadays…) but I felt so sad for Epping, and the Dystopian America portrayed. I won’t spoil the ending for any who may wish to read it, but I was certainly affected by it.

I strongly recommend this book.

– Judith

Please click ‘Like’ or leave a comment, I really appreciate it.

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Christina Philippou

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Christina Philippou

This week, I interviewed Christina Philippou, a writer and university lecturer from the UK. She enjoys playing and coaching sport, spending time with her family, and reading.

Chris used to be a fussy reader, and read only contemporary or crime novels. She has since learned to develop her appreciation for a wider range of genres. “Now that I’m less picky, I’ve discovered books that I love, in genres I never would have considered in the past.” she explained, “I will read pretty much anything, except pure horror or incredibly upsetting stories. I’m quite new to the romance genre, although I think erotica novels are still a step too far for me!”

Chris began her own blog about a year and a half ago, although it feels like much longer. “Blogging is ingrained in my routine now; I have been doing it all my life!” she said.

 “I realised that I was reading and reviewing so many books that it would nice to be able to share my reviews on my own platform. I also like to document thoughts on my own writing journey.”

Chris is also a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Although RBRT’s policy is to only publish book reviews with 3* or more, Chris believes negative reviews have their place.

“This may sound controversial, but I think negative, constructive reviews are useful to both writers and readers. As a reader, I always look out for negative reviews, as I feel they tell me far more than the positive ones.” Chris said.

Yet despite her stance on negative reviews, Chris has had bad experiences in the past with authors who demanded she removed 3* reviews from her blog which were deemed ‘unfavourable’.

 “Nowadays, there are so many books available in the marketplace, that you simply can’t rely on the number of reviews to judge a book by.” she said, “I find looking at 1* and 2* reviews enlightening, and I can take away important lessons about how it was written, how well the plot developed, and so on.”

“Providing they are non-malicious, negative reviews are important, and that is why I give them.”

Chris is also the second writer I’ve spoken to who has a love of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. “The BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book-to-film adaptation, but there’s also a brilliant adaptation of Persuasion too!”

However, not only is Chris a blogger and book reviewer, she is a debut author. Her first novel, Lost in Static, was published in September last year. “I’ve always enjoyed writing; my book began as a simple creative writing project whilst I was on maternity leave, but now it’s developed into a novel!”

Lost in Static is the same story, told from four different perspectives. “I would describe the writing style as short and sharp, which is most likely a by-product of my previous job as a forensic accountant, where succinctness is key.” Chris revealed. “I’m a ‘no-frills’ kind of person, and I think my writing definitely reflects that aspect of my personality.”

Chris uses her blog to promote her book, as well as posting book reviews, interviews and suggestions for other writers. I asked her for her most important piece of advice for any aspiring writer reading this interview. She told me, “Write for yourself. It’s the best and most enjoyable way.”

You can find Christina Philippou on Twitter at @CPhilippou123 and her website is cphilippou123.com.

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Thanks for reading!

Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, and  don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more blog posts.

– Judith

Book Travelling Thursdays: Choose A Controversial Book

Book Travelling Thursdays: Choose A Controversial Book

Book Travelling Thursdays is hosted by Catia and Danielle on Goodreads. This week’s theme is: Choose A Controversial Book.

The last time I did one of these blog posts, I used my gut-instinct. I’m going to do the same this time; I’ve chosen Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler. For obvious reasons, this is a controversial book.

Whilst I haven’t read Mein Kampf, I learnt a little about it during my time studying the Third Reich as part of my A Level History course. It’s an autobiography published by Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party in Germany, 1925. In Mein Kampf, which literally translates as My Struggle, Hitler outlines his anti-Semitic, militaristic views, political theories, and his plans to make Germany great again (I wonder if any current parallels could be drawn here).

Although Mein Kampf is a book full of controversial and offensive statements, I don’t think people should shy away from reading politically-charged, or historical texts.

I’m fascinated by the history of this period, and I think it would be interesting to experience it from the first-person perspective of Hitler, as the only other sources I’ve read are books by historians, written many years later.

Unusually, I found a Goodreads member, Shane Brooker, who’d given Mein Kampf 5 stars. Here’s what they said:

‘A very interesting read. It gives some insight into the mind and thoughts of one of history’s most infamous men. I feel it is a must read for everyone wishing to know more about the years leading up to the Second World War.’

Here are a few book covers I found of Mein Kampf. I decided to choose book covers from different time periods, rather than different countries – quite frankly I’d been astonished if Mein Kampf was being published worldwide. I believe the first cover is the original, German edition, the second is a 1943 edition and the third is a contemporary edition from 2007:

My Photo [BTT2 1]                         My Photo [BTT2 2]                        My Photo [BTT2 3]

I can’t really say I have a “favourite” cover, although I do think it’s an interesting shift from a plain book cover, to ones that use photos of Hitler looking quite menacing. I wonder what the design choices behind these photographs were.

Do you think we should read more controversial texts, or should some books be left unread?

– Judith