Book Review: The Rainbow

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence is a novel about three generations of the Brangwen family living in Nottinghamshire. Children are born, children grow up, children get married, but through all three generations, the Brangwens struggle to feel content within the confinement of English society.

The Rainbow is written in D.H. Lawrence’s usual style; stories of ordinary men and women, regional accents, countryside descriptions of Nottinghamshire and sexual encounters.

Nothing really happens beyond births, love affairs, marriages, and deaths. The book is more focused on characters and relationships, particularly between lovers or spouses. There are quite a few marriages, yet none of them are particularly happy – characters get married quickly out of infatuation, then grow to despise their spouse or manipulate them. This is quite a sad and unfortunate portrayal of marriage.

Lydia Brangwen, then Anna Brangwen, then Ursula Brangwen – the key women of each generation – take about a third of the narrative each, as the book describes how each of them become increasingly unhappy with their role in society.

In particular, Ursula struggles to fit in to society because of the confinements placed upon women. She doesn’t want to stay at home; she wants to work and make something of herself. She also doesn’t seem drawn to the notion of true love or marriage. Subsequently, she finds herself in love affairs that lead nowhere, as she struggles to find fulfilment for her passionate desires. At one point, Ursula even questions whether what she really wants is to just be promiscuous.

Despite the theme of unhappiness and desperation for a purpose in life, which pervades the novel, the book doesn’t offer any answers.

The Rainbow is quite bleak: nobody is ever truly happy and it doesn’t end with a resolution. I probably would not have read it, were it not a book on my university reading list. I’ve read other D.H. Lawrence novels before, such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons and Lovers, and for me, The Rainbow does not stand out as much.

– Judith

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Themes in: Great Expectations

Great Expectations is the first novel I ever wrote a blog post about. It was written by Charles Dickens and published in 1861. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman (‘coming of age’) novel about the growth and personal development of an orphan nicknamed Phillip Pirrip, affectionately known as Pip.

Criminality

Crime is key to the novel. Firstly, as a young boy, Pip meets Magwitch, a criminal. From this encounter, Pip grows fearful of criminality. Even once he has grown up and, due to fortuitous circumstances, becomes involved in middle-class society, he is worried his childhood encounters with a criminal have tainted him forever.

Criminality also adopts different forms in the novel.

For example, Magwitch is a stereotypical criminal. He speaks with a local dialect, uses slang, is dirty and violent, and even threatens to cut Pip’s throat. Dickens draws on an obvious stereotype: if he looks like a criminal and sounds like a criminal, he probably is a criminal. However, this in itself is ironic; young Pip doesn’t even know what a convict is, so he does not make these assumptions, and helps Magwitch escape.

‘I put my mouth into the forms of saying to Joe, “What’s a convict?” Joe put his mouth into the forms of returning such a highly elaborate answer, that I could make out nothing of it but the single word “Pip.”

(Great Expectations, Chapter 2)

As a second example, Compeyson is not a stereotypical criminal. He looks like a gentleman, he is well-spoken, educated, charming, although perhaps a little arrogant.

Yet, (spoiler) when Magwitch reveals to Pip he and Compeyson are both criminals, and were involved in the same counterfeiting scheme, this is a complete shock. Magwitch was given 14 years in prison – Compeyson was only given 7, as Compeyson’s lawyer stressed the differences in social class between the two men; Compeyson didn’t fit the mould of a stereotypical criminal, essentially. Thus, Dickens is critiquing how his audience viewed criminality, highlighting that society is more complicated than just dividing people into “good” or “bad”.

Class

Speaking of class, this is also another interesting theme in the novel. Dickens critiques the binary notion of just “lower-class” and “upper-class”. Social mobility – whether rising in class or lowering in status – was increasingly possible in the Victorian period.

For example, Pip makes the declaration:

‘I want to be a gentleman’

(Great Expectations, Chapter 17)

As a boy, he is initially apprenticed as a blacksmith by his guardian and brother-in-law, Joe. When he suddenly receives finances from an anonymous benefactor, he moves to London as a young man and is able to better his circumstances, experiencing and enjoying city society. This highlights the extreme fluidity there is in social class, and challenges the notion that individuals are born and “trapped” in one way of live forever.

– Judith

Book Review: Room

Jack is five. He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.

Room is a fascinating book by Emma Donoghue.

‘Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.’

It is told from the perspective of Jack, a young boy who has had no experience of the outside world. All Jack has ever known is Room; it is the place he was born and the place he has grown up. To Ma however, Room is captivity.

As the book is told from Jack’s perspective, the childlike narration is instantly apparent. For example, everything is personified and viewed through the lens of a five-year-old’s imagination such as Room, Bed and Wardrobe. Some of the sentences purposefully lack complete grammatical sense, as Jack struggles to understand certain words, figures of speech, and abstract concepts. This brilliantly reflects not only children’s use of language, but how specifically a child with stunted development uses language.

I was at first worried this style would make it difficult to follow the plot, but I was quickly proved wrong – I struggled to put Room down and read it in just a few days.

“One of the most profoundly affecting books I’ve read in a long time” 

John Boyne, Author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Reading from Jack’s perspective was authentic and enriching. The switch between Jack’s reported speech and his private thoughts implicitly revealed information about how Jack and Ma came to be in Room. For example, Jack believes that while Ma was in Room, he was sent to her from Heaven, while the reader can quickly work out the truth of what happened. This implicit way of reporting certain events mirrors how parents at times avoid telling their children upsetting news, or the whole truth, to try and protect them.

My Photo [Room]
Room was adapted into a film in 2015, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Image via letterboxd.com

Jack is such a creative individual; he loves reading, hearing, and telling stories that teach him not only about Room, but a semblance of what the outside world is like. Ma has told him about real people, make-believe people, real things and make-believe things in an attempt to help Jack understand. However, this creativity is underlined with sadness; working out what’s real and what isn’t becomes overwhelming and confusing when Jack learns the truth. He is forced to relearn things, as well as learn brand new things because it is apparent the reality of the world clashes with the reality of Room.

‘“You know how Alice wasn’t always in wonderland?”

[…] 

“Well, I’m like Alice,” says Ma.

[…] 

Why’s she pretending like this, is it a game I don’t know?’

Jack’s emotions and thoughts are always so clear and raw, and so watching the deterioration and sadness of his mother’s mental health through his eyes – who has been holding herself together in Room for so long for the sake of him – was incredibly sad.

Room was a tense, gripping and emotional read. Despite having seen the film, and knowing the outline of the plot, I was constantly kept on edge by Donoghue’s writing and couldn’t wait to read what happened next.

I strongly recommend Room; I’ve never read a book like it before, and I doubt anything else I ever read will come close.

 – Judith