From One Blogger To Another: The Handmaid’s Tale Discussion With The Blog From Another World

From One Blogger To Another: The Handmaid’s Tale Discussion With The Blog From Another World

Image via Channel 4.

With the hit television drama, The Handmaid’s Tale, currently sweeping our screens, Patrick from The Blog From Another World and I decided to discuss the book and its adaptation.

The Handmaid’s Tale is based on Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian novel of the same name, following the life of Offred, a Handmaid living and serving the extreme Christian totalitarian system named Gilead. She is forced to have sex with her Commander each month, in the hopes she will be impregnated with his child and thus continue the population of Gilead.

I’ve only briefly discussed The Handmaid’s Tale before. In a nutshell, my opinion of the novel is that it’s I liked the subverted use of Christianity, which made for an interesting dystopian, but the feminist overtones are overly laboured.

Patrick however, has not finished The Handmaid’s Tale yet.

“I have read part of it, but not enough to provide an honest summation. I think watching this story with very little prior knowledge gives the series a real unpredictability. I will have it finished by the time the series is over though!”

This is not the first adaptation of the novel; The Handmaid’s Tale was adapted into a film in 1990 – a film I have seen, and did not enjoy. I think the decision to move from a film adaptation to an in-depth television drama was smart.

Patrick said, “I think this TV adaptation has allowed the writers to expand upon Margaret Attwood’s ideas and the world she has created. You can dive into the backstory of many characters and give everything a very modern update. I think it was the most obvious thing to do and has paid off enormously.”

The Handmaid’s Tale is not especially a long novel, but its television adaptation has been divided into 10 episodes.

In my opinion, this helps the narrative to be divided proportionally, so that the story is covered at an appropriate depth and doesn’t feel “drawn out”. I also like the incorporation of flashbacks to Offred’s old life, as these both emphasise the pain she is currently in at being separated from her husband and daughter and tie in to the current narrative as she hears rumours her husband may be found.

Yet, despite thinking ten episodes is a good length for the drama, I struggle to keep up with watching new episodes.

In the UK, The Handmaid’s Tale is aired on Channel 4, and available to watch on catch-up on All4.   Channel 4 is notorious for its advert breaks. This is a petty complaint, and not linked to the production of The Handmaid’s Tale itself, but regularly disrupting a show that is full of gripping scenes and high-tension to advertise the latest dishwasher or car completely ruins my immersion in the drama.

The frequent advert breaks have a dramatic impact on my willingness to keep up with new episodes, and this is a real shame.

Patrick also struggles to watch new episodes, but for a different reason.

“I have hit a bit of a brick wall with this series. I cannot fault it – honestly – but it’s just so grim that I don’t know when I’ll watch the next episode.” he said, “If The Handmaid’s Tale was six, rather than ten, episodes long, then the intensity of the rape and violence might be warranted. Instead, imagining another four hours of brutality is not the most attractive prospect now – sometimes you need a bit lighter entertainment.”

However, Patrick and I have plenty of positives to discuss about The Handmaid’s Tale too.

He said, “I have really enjoyed the performances from the cast. Elizabeth Moss has made an incredible Offred, and has created so much depth and emotion. Yvonne Strahovski has also made the character of Serena Joy much more sympathetic and poignant than I first thought. I think that Serena Joy is probably the character I watch with the most interest.”

On this, I have to agree. In the novel, Serena Joy was always presented as a harsh, standoffish woman who resented Offred from the beginning. Whilst this is present in the television adaptation too, we are also presented with a  vulnerable, emotional – and quite frankly, human – side to her that helps the audience to understand her motivations and feelings, and this, I think, was lacking from the book.

Patrick continued, “I also think many of the directing choices have been strong. The complex and jumbled chronology has added variety and context when needed. The writing is fantastic, really delving into the situation with uncompromising bleakness.

In terms of casting, Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is very impressive and I think Madeline Brewer as Janine is the most complex role. The women have the most material to work with, and the series as a whole is a really ensemble effort.”

The penultimate episode of The Handmaid’s Tale airs on Sunday the 23rd of July at 9pm.

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Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like.

If you’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale too, what has your favourite part been?

– Judith and Patrick

Read and Review: Swallows and Amazons

Read and Review: Swallows and Amazons
  • Title: Swallows and Amazons
  • Author: Arthur Ransome
  • Published: 1930

Swallows and Amazons follows the lives of John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker as they stay at a farm near a lake in the Lake District during the school holidays. They borrow a boat named Swallow to go sailing and make a camp on a nearby island. Soon, they find themselves under attack from the fierce Amazon pirates [also known to some as Ruth and Peggy Blackett], who sail a boat named Amazon. The two groups of children have many outdoor adventures, including sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and general piracy.

I really enjoyed this book. Swallows and Amazons is just a good, a heart-warming, children’s adventure story, in a similar league to other popular children’s series such as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (which I loved as a girl).

The children explore an island, forage for supplies, engage in a pirate “battle”, and learn about some buried pirate treasure.

Ransome’s writing style is witty, and this subtle humour permeates the narration and added to my enjoyment of the novel. His characters, although children, use sarcasm and sharp wit within their dialogue and this is brilliant.

When I started Swallows and Amazons, I was a little wary of, in a story set in the 30s, the 2 boys and 2 girls falling into simple and constrictive gender stereotypes. However, I was pleasantly proved wrong. Whilst Susan, as the eldest girl, is mostly responsible for the cooking*, all the other roles and responsibilities – such as tidying, fishing, sailing, washing up – are shared by the children as best they can. This is only amplified when the “pirates” Ruth (who’s pirate name is Nancy) and Peggy appear on the island, proving that little girls can be just as adventurous and pirate-like as little boys.

*Inner housewife moment: I actually really love the little details Ransome includes of the meals Susan prepares, the way the tents are made homely, and all the little supplies the children need. This was one of my favourite parts of the Famous Five series too, when Anne takes on the role of cook and homemaker.

I think my favourite thing about Swallows and Amazons is that, in Ransome’s narration, he takes the children seriously and never belittles their imaginative minds and games. For example, John Walker is not John Walker, he is Captain. The local village is not just a local village, they are savage natives.

This, I think, is the charm of older children’s books – from authors like Ransome, Blyton, and C.S. Lewis for example –  in contrast to children’s fiction nowadays. Yes, the childlike essence of the story naturally appeals to his primary audience of children, but the writing style, characters and plot are also incredibly enjoyable for older readers too, which I think modern children’s fiction lacks – it is written specifically with a 7 year old in mind, and no-one else.**

**Feel free to challenge me on this, this is my own experience: The modern children’s books I read when I was a 7 year old I’d never read again. The books that do stick in my mind as a 7 year old and I would read again are classics such as the Famous Five series, the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and so on.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Swallows and Amazons and read it in just a few days. There are 11 more books in this series, that I will probably / most definitely read in the future.

If you didn’t read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it.

If you did read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it again.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Themes in: Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips

Themes in: Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips

This is the final post in this series (for now) and my final book of choice is Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips. Crossing The River is an odd book to describe. It is a piece of historical fiction, with a trans-historical mode. This means that, whilst focusing on issues of colonialism and slavery, it collectively tells the stories of multiple characters, both black and white.  However, despite being a collection of different stories, they are all thematically linked.

Slavery

Phillips wanted to write about slavery involvement in the UK, so naturally, this theme is clear throughout Crossing the River.  At the start of the book, The Ancestor sells his children into slavery. The pairing of money and slaves is continued significantly in the characters of Captain Hamilton and Edward Williams. Captain Hamilton is the owner of a slave-ship who, ironically, believes slave-trading is wrong. However, the financial gains he makes from the slave industry is the motivation behind his continued involvement. Edward Williams is the owner of a slave plantation, who also believes slavery is wrong, and yet participates in the industry regardless. The monetary value placed on a human life, and the commodification of slavery is absolutely vile; apparently it is not enough to benefit from having someone fulfil each and every of your desires, a profit must be made too. Crucially though, the author is unbiased in their depiction of these characters. Their involvement in the slave trade industry is neither praised nor condemned, leaving it to the reader to respond.

Melancholy

Each story seems to have an undercurrent of sadness. The Ancestor sells his children, which breaks his heart. Edward and Nash are separated*, Nash’s letters to Edward are never responded to and Nash is given no reason as to why this is the case.

*It’s hinted Edward’s wife forced communication between the pair to end after she discovered the homoerotic nature of their relationship.

Martha travels across America searching for her daughter, and Joyce sadly gives up her baby. This melancholia is often paired with feelings of loss, abandonment, displacement and/or severed relationships – perhaps to reflect the feelings of slaves across history.  They have been taken from their homes, removed from their families, and forced to suffer at the hands of a slave master.

Journeys

Many of the characters undertake journeys in Crossing the River. There are two types of journeys however: physical and metaphorical.

Physically, Martha travels across America to find her daughter, Edward travels to Africa to find Nash, Travis travels from America to Britain because of World War II, and Captain Hamilton goes on sea voyages as a slave-ship owner.

Metaphorically, some of the characters make the “journey” from life into death. Furthermore, journeys may also represent the trans-historical mode of the novel. Taking a “journey across time” is a popular phrase to describe tracking certain events of themes through history.  By presenting multiple characters’ physical journeys and metaphorical journeys of self-discovery and freedom, Phillips provides the reader with a historical journey, presenting how the issues of slavery and race relations are still as relevant today as they were during the time of the British slave trade involvement.

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Thank you for reading this blog post! This marks the end of this little series, but I may well pick it up again at a later date.

I hope you enjoyed it – please click ‘Like’ if you did, or leave some feedback in a comment below.

– Judith

Read and Review: Sharp Objects

Read and Review: Sharp Objects

‘To say this a terrific debut novel is really too mild’ – Stephen King

  • Title: Sharp Objects
  • Author: Gillian Flynn
  • Published: 2006

I first read Sharp Objects after reading Gone Girl, due to the hype the film adaptation generated. Flynn’s writing introduced me to a style of thriller I now seek out by other authors too such as Paula Hawkins, Peter James and of course, more Stephen King.

Sharp Objects is the shortest of Flynn’s three novels, but is by far my favourite. I’ve only owned a copy of Sharp Objects for a few years and yet I’ve already reread it around 4 or 5 times.*

*Rereading novels is incredibly rare for me.

Sharp Objects is about a journalist called Camille Preaker, who is tasked with returning to the town where she grew up to uncover the mystery behind the murder of two young girls. Camille has barely spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother in years, but on returning to the town, finds herself reliving the psychological scars of her past in order to uncover the truth about the girls’ murders.

Warning: Sharp Objects, as one may be able to discern from the title and some book covers, deals with sensitive issues such as self-harm, abuse, and emotionally manipulative behaviour. If these are issues that may distress you, this is probably not the book for you.

I thought the pacing was good; on the shorter side, at 321 pages long, it means time is used efficiently. Flynn doesn’t write unnecessarily lengthy scenes and what is included adds to the story – both Camille’s own journey of recovery as well as the murder mystery.

I love the build-up and climax of this book, and every discovery Camille made was thrilling to me – even when I reread the novel now, I still get excited when the crucial plot points are revealed.

Furthermore, I empathise with the plight of Camille: a journalist struggling with the use of self-harm as a coping mechanism to combat the traumas placed on her as a child. I want to be a “proper” writer or journalist someday, and although I was never traumatised as a child, I understand the mindset of someone who uses self-injury to cope.

However, speaking of journalism, I wasn’t keen on the extracts of Camille’s articles included within the book. Flynn worked as a feature-writer for more than 15 years, and was still working as a journalist while writing Sharp Objects. Yet to me, when journalistic pieces are added into a novel, it never reads quite right because the two forms are so jarringly different.

Overall, I thoroughly liked the intriguing and disturbing story of Sharp Objects, the complex female characters and the topics the book draws attention to. If you liked Gone Girl, and want to be chilled by Flynn some more, I recommend Sharp Objects!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Guest Review @ Evangelical Times

Guest Review @ Evangelical Times

Hi there!

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am a Christian, and I’ve read some Christian books. One of my recent reads was Be Still My Soul by Nancy Guthrie. It’s a helpful book on the problem of pain: how to deal with and understand sadness from a Christian perspective.

I wrote a little book review about it, which was published in the June edition of the Christian newspaper Evangelical Times; if this is something you’d be interesting reading about, you can find it if you click here:

Thanks!

– Judith

From One Blogger To Another: IT Discussion With The Blog From Another World

From One Blogger To Another: IT Discussion With The Blog From Another World

This is the first part of another collaborative series with Patrick, from The Blog From Another World. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors, and he wrote one of Patrick’s favourite novels, Carrie. With the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the iconic horror, IT, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to discuss both the book and original film.

In case you are unaware of the plot of IT, here is a brief synopsis, courtesy of Wikipedia: ‘The story follows the exploits of seven children as they are terrorized by the eponymous being, which exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. “It” primarily appears in the form of a clown in order to attract its preferred prey of young children.’

Patrick said, “What I loved about the book when I read it was the detail. King puts a lot of effort into his character development.” I also loved IT’s length – King provides brilliant detail of the characters’ lives as the plot switches from the perspectives of Bill, Ben, Bev, Richie, Ed, Mike, and Stan as both children and adults.

“The novel deals with the passage of time and the impact that traumatic childhood events have on our adulthood.” Patrick explained, “For this reason, I think the dual time period narrative is very fresh and gives the story a real weight which certain other King novels are missing.”

This style of narration submerges the reader and effectively conveys just how terrorizing It is to each character. IT cemented my positive opinions about Stephen King; he writes thrilling and / or scary material incredibly well – be it in the simple description of a child’s feelings, or about the many forms It takes. Whilst not every passage contains a ‘scare’, enough detail is always given to put the reader on edge.

Pennywise the Clown, the most common form of It, is certainly a fantastic monster. Patrick said, “As an idea, he is terrifying, and sticks in my mind even now.”

“A great horror monster often makes more of an impression that the heroes, and Pennywise is no different. Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason, even Darth Vader – these characters are cultural icons more beloved than the lead characters in their respective films.”

However, no book is perfect. Patrick commented, “IT has an overabundance of the clichés which feature heavily in most King novels.” Examples of this include one-dimensional bullies, an alcoholic writer, and a disappointing resolution.

Despite my love of King, the more of his novels I read, the more I see these tropes reappearing – in particularly the English teacher / author who struggles with alcohol. Another significant example of this character type is Jack Nicholson from The Shining. Whilst this is drawn from King’s own experiences (and we are so often encouraged to write about what we know), I can understand why a repetitive reuse of these tropes would come to grate on readers.

IT was adapted into at TV miniseries in 1990, starring Tim Currey as Pennywise the Clown. It was made, at the height of, as dubbed by Patrick, “the Stephen King adaptation craze”.

I thought the film was alright. Visually, the appearance of Curry’s Pennywise was exactly what I had envisaged as I read the book, and I liked the fact there was an adaptation of such a good novel available.

However, for me, Curry’s actual performance often flip-flopped between mildly scary and pantomimic.

IT suffers from a lot of the problems which plagues the miniseries – too much time to fill, and not enough money to make it really frightening.” Patrick explained, “A lot of the performances are very goofy, especially Tim Curry as Pennywise. He’s just so flamboyant and crazy that he doesn’t really scare me.” He continued, “IT hasn’t aged well and some of it is unwittingly hilarious – I’m looking at you Talking Head!”

Finally, Patrick summarised his thoughts on the book and film with a phrase that every book lover longs to hear: “If you want the unadulterated IT experience, read the book.”

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like.

You can read the second blog post in this collaborative series with The Blog from Another World tomorrow, in which we discuss the trailer of the new film adaptation.

– Judith and Patrick

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Image via blogs.nottingham.ac.uk.

This post was written in advance, and is also the penultimate blog post on themes (for the time being).

I’m going to talk about the themes of war, class and gender and how these overlap across  England, My England, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, and Monkey Nuts – three short stories by the Nottinghamshire writer D.H. Lawrence.

Class

In Monkey Nuts, Joe, a young soldier, and Albert, Joe’s corporal have come back from the war and work together unloading hay. There are close, and unified in their working-class status; despite Albert being Joe’s corporal, Joe ‘never thought of [him]… as a master’. This closeness, whilst interpreted as some as brotherly affection, has led to others interpreting the relationship between Albert and Joe as homoerotic.* Nonetheless, this intense relationship which has flourished, regardless of social status, suggests how war was helped to somewhat break down the class system in Britain.

*There are further nods to this as the two live together and even share a bed.

In contrast, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter presents the relationship between people of differing classes completely differently. Firstly, the classes are geographically separate – Jack, a doctor, lives atop a hill in the village, whereas the working-class homes are below him in the valley, providing a clear metaphor that the working-class are also “below” him in all ways. Secondly, Jack finds visiting the working-class homes to treat the sick ‘stimulation’ for his mind. Free indirect discourse provides access to Jack’s thoughts; he thinks working-class are ‘emotional’, providing an interesting break from his own rational mind. The view that the middle-class are logical and intelligent, whereas the working-class are merely bumbling, emotional and a little odd is clearly discriminatory.**

**The fact that a working-class woman later throws herself in a pond probably doesn’t help matters.

War

England, My England is a story mostly focused on the theme of war. Evelyn is a middle-class man who joins the army, seemingly for something to curb his idleness and boredom – another suggestion that working-class lifestyle and labour is merely a “holiday” for someone belonging to a higher class. However, despite his wife’s enthusiasm and the general atmosphere of patriotism and excitement, Evelyn doesn’t share others’ favouritism of England, and is continuously upfront about what he’s going to do. A key sentence is ‘The distinction between German and English was not for him the distinction between good and bad’. This sentence is significant when context is considered. Lawrence was English, but his wife was German. As a result, Lawrence experienced lots of anti-German animosity because of his wife and was heavily critical of British propaganda. Lawrence saw war for what it was, and is: killing, and however, unsavoury that sounds, that’s the truth.

War is also a theme in Monkey Nuts. As previously mentioned, Joe and Albert are ex-soldiers, and work together unloading hay. Miss Stokes, a land-girl, passes them each day. This mix of both men and women in a working environment highlights how the war not only helped to partially erode class boundaries, but gender boundaries too.***

***If this was a history-themed blog, I could talk at length about women’s work in war and the women’s movement thanks to my History A Level, but it isn’t, so I won’t.

Gender

Following on from this, Miss Stokes is attracted to Joe and manages to hold power over him in such a way that she begins trying to start a relationship with him. However, she ignores his lack of interest and desire to be with her, and he is subsequently pressured into seeing her. This is a subversion of gender stereotypes, as it would be more common for a man to initiate the process of courtship a woman.

Similarly, in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, Mabel (the working-class woman mentioned earlier) is rescued from the pond by Jack. He resuscitates her, takes her to his home and lies her by the fire and fetches dry clothes for her. Upon waking, Mabel interprets his life-saving actions as a declaration of his love for her. She begins to urgently repeat, chant and insists to him that ‘You love me’. Again, through free indirect discourse, we learn that Jack is categorically not in love with her, he merely saved her life as his duty as doctor. He is shocked at Mabel’s increasingly affectionate actions, such as kissing and embracing him. This increasingly predatory behaviour causes Jack to admit that he does indeed love her, so as not to upset the emotionally fragile Mabel.

In these two different stories, Lawrence has created female characters who initiate romantic behaviour, regardless of whether the men want it or not. I find this incredibly interesting, although I am not certain as to the reason behind this choice. It strikes me as a subversion – perhaps to emphasis to a male readership how truly horrible sexual assault and/or unwanted advances are, perhaps for another reason entirely.

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Thank you for reading this blog post! Those are my summarised thoughts on the three stories.

I hope you enjoyed it – please click ‘Like’ if you did, or leave some feedback in a comment below.

– Judith