Stardust ~ #JNGReads

“The events that follow transpired many years ago. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, but she was not yet the black-clad widow of Windsor: she had apples in her cheeks and a spring in her step, and Lord Melbourne often had cause to upbraid, gently, the young queen for her flightiness. She was, as yet, unmarried, although she was very much in love.”

~ Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

Bless you, Neil Gaiman, for that paragraph alone!

Stardust is a remarkably pleasant and enjoyable fairytale by acclaimed and beloved author, Neil Gaiman. As a fan of fairytales of all kinds, from Disney’s versions of tales such as Beauty and the Beast to ancient poems detailing the adventures of Sir Gawain, I found Stardust to be thoroughly entertaining and I would highly recommend it as a quick but fun and adorable read to young adult readers, as well as older readers with a youthful and fantastical spirit.

I should mention that I have never read any other works by Gaiman. I was encouraged to read Stardust by my brother, who recently became a big fan of Gaiman’s work after reading American Gods. My brother thought that American Gods wouldn’t really be my cup of tea, however, so he passed Stardust over to me as soon as he finished it. My husband recently devoured and loved Gaiman’s graphic novel “Sandman”, and so he too was excited for me to delve into Gaiman’s catalogue. There is no doubt that Neil Gaiman is a literary genius, with a versatile writing style that is equally impressive and awe-inspiring, and Stardust was certainly a well-written, well-constructed and imaginative work that I believe deserves a high rating for its uniqueness and creativity, as well as its flow and easily digestible structure.

Having said that, while I was not familiar with Gaiman’s writing before picking up Stardust, I had seen (albeit years ago) the film adaptation of this fairytale. Normally I would hesitate to pick up a book after seeing the movie version because I often find the movie clouds my judgment and perception of the original written text if I do this, but in the case of Stardust, I felt that I had seen the movie so long ago (when I was in high school) that it made sense to read the text and then revisit the movie. I was sure that I had forgotten enough of the movie to make the book interesting to me in its own right. And that is, in many ways, true – there were several aspects of the tale that I had forgotten entirely, a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming at all, and the things I did remember from the film (such as the ending, for example) were altered and different enough in the book that I found I could enjoy the written story in and of itself. Nevertheless, there were elements of the movie that I did have some memory of, which I found lacking in the story – for the first time ever, it seemed to me that the film adaptation delved more deeply into the histories and backgrounds of certain fascinating characters, such as the witch and the sky-ship captain (played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro in the movie, respectively), and I felt while reading that I only had a half-formed, very weak understanding of these characters. I also felt that in the movie version, the relationship between Tristran Thorn and the star Yvaine is fleshed out better and more organically and naturally. I almost felt as though, although the book was definitely entertaining and enjoyable, there was some sort of spark missing from it.

I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads that implied that for these reasons the film adaptation of Stardust is better than the book…I wouldn’t go that far! I think that in this particular case, one really must look at the movie and the book as two totally separate entities. The book is, according to Gaiman’s own admission in the Introduction, a tale he sat down to write spontaneously and probably completed in a few hours. It’s almost the outline of a tale more than a story itself – it serves as more of a summary, a rubric for a fairytale that has immense room for expansion. I think that’s what the film adaptation did: it took this very short, tiny novel and fleshed it out, imagined scenarios and events in the peripheral that Gaiman certainly hints at but doesn’t delve into himself, and it made those real, depicted them in a way that honours and pays homage to Gaiman’s actual text but also gives it more depth and life. The movie is, then, more of a love letter to the book than an adaptation of it.

With all that said, I really did enjoy Stardust very much, and I am glad that I read it. I do absolutely think I’ll read more of Gaiman’s work, particularly in other genres to get a sense of his versatility. Overall, I would call my reading of Stardust an unequivocal success!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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The Dead Husband Project ~ #JNGReads

“Rare to see people so raw, so exposed, reality stripped bare like that.”

I really don’t have much to say about The Dead Husband Project…because it is brilliant and anything I say about it will pale in comparison to what it actually is.

I picked up Canadian author Sarah Meehan Sirk’s collection of short stories on an absolute whim. I hadn’t heard of it, or her, before seeing the book in Chapters one day and being taken by the gorgeous cover, dark black sprayed with beautiful flowers of rich reds and blues. I wasn’t intending to buy a second book on this day, but I turned to my fiancé and said, I have to have that book – look how beautiful it is! Little did I know that the words inside were even more beautiful.

Short stories are not easy to write…believe me, I’ve tried. There is something so difficult and daunting about writing a short story, about trying to create a vast story that will fully engross a reader in a very limited amount of pages. Each word in each sentence of a short story is so very important because there aren’t that many of them available to tell a particular tale, and the short story writer must have a grasp of language akin to that of a poet – words and images must be chosen with the utmost care and never wasted. There are extremely few writers, in my opinion, who have mastered the short story genre, who have been able to make me feel things in the span of 40 pages that most 400 page novels have not, and these are the writers that I have always revered and looked up to, that I have tried to emulate in my own writing. Munro. Gallant. And now, Sirk.

Sarah Meehan Sirk is a genius. Her writing absolutely blew me away. When I’ve reviewed short story collections in the past, I’ve given ratings to individual stories, but I can’t do that in this case. Suffice it to say that there are not enough stars on Goodreads or on the planet to rate The Dead Husband Project. It is, for me, at the caliber of Munro’s Runaway (quite possibly the greatest short story collection ever published), and considering that it is Sirk’s first publication, I am incredibly eager to see what she will produce next. I would be really hard-pressed to pick a favourite story from The Dead Husband Project because literally every single one touched me and left me awe-struck. Sirk’s subjects are at once creepy and realistic, her protagonists flawed in character but flawlessly characterized. There are stories that are so inexplicably bizarre that you can’t help but ruminate on them for hours after finishing them, and there are those that are so sad and heart wrenching that you want to forget them as soon as you flip the last page. There is such vivid and pure human emotion in these stories that it is both painful to read them and impossible not to. Sirk knows something that few others do about human nature: she knows how to inhabit it, how to get into the minds of the most varied and peculiar personages, and she is clearly comfortable exploring sentiments that most humans try to ignore or deny.

If I had to pick stories that stood out from this collection (not favourites mind you because, as I said, I loved them all), well I wouldn’t want to because they are all so heavy hitting, but I could. “Barbados” haunted me for miles after I exited the subway, where I read it. It left me breathless and anxious and scared. It made me feel like my past could and would come back to snatch me up and suffocate me, as it does for so many of Sirk’s main characters. It made me afraid of former versions of myself and of the probably foolhardy decisions they had made. “In the Dark” left me raw and vulnerable. It painted such a true and realistic portrait of anxiety that it made me introspective. It forced me to examine my own anxieties and fears, and view them from an outside perspective, one that was a little less understanding and a bit more cynical. It made me see what other people, those who aren’t quite as compassionate and don’t live inside my head, might see when they look at me. “The Date”…that story I find very difficult to talk about. It left me feeling physically ill and petrified. My severe childhood fear of robots notwithstanding, this story opened my eyes to the dangers of technology, to the tumultuous and traumatic future we might all be headed towards. It made me look at love differently, it made me consider new forms of love that might spring up in decades to come, and the new forms of acceptance they will require and necessitate.

Reading The Dead Husband Project left me irrevocably changed. I am a different human for having read it, not necessarily better but in no way worse. The best description would be to say that it damaged me, it scraped me down to the core, it turned me inside out and made my heart race with exhilaration and nerves and excitement. It was one of the most all-encompassing, disturbing and visceral reading experiences I have had in recent years, and it has left me with much to contemplate.

The Dead Husband Project is not for the faint of heart because it will shock and overwhelm you. But, oh, is it ever worth it because it is one of the most riveting and powerful pieces of literature I have ever encountered. An absolute must read!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

What’s The Buzz? The Most Underrated Books (…in my opinion!)

Recently, I was on Goodreads, about to add a fellow reader with similar bookish interests to mine as a friend when I was bombarded by his Friend Request Question. I think these questions are a lot of fun (I set one for my profile too) because it gives you a chance to immediately get to know the person you’re becoming friends with, and gain some insight into their reading habits and preferences. I also enjoy answering these questions because they get me thinking about my own love of books and different genres that I’ve encountered.

This particular Goodreads user’s question was very challenging, though! It asked:

What underrated book would you recommend?

For the life of me, I could not think of an underrated book to recommend, which struck me as really peculiar! I don’t think my reading preferences are all that cliché or common, and while I definitely enjoy checking out buzzworthy books, I also like to pick up novels that are more obscure and not as mainstream. Nothing came to mind when I was faced with this question, however, and so I decided to dig into my Favourites Shelf to garner some ideas…and in so doing, I discovered a bunch of underrated or unappreciated (in my opinion!) novels that I thought I should be listing and recommending here on my blog as well. I was reminded of a bunch of stories I read that I haven’t seen many other people picking up, and it struck me as a darn shame! So, with that said, here is my list of a few underrated or less popular books that I ADORED and recommend to anyone who’s looking for something new and unexpectedly awesome to read…

Poignant and Timely Non-Fiction

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, to be perfectly honest, but one book that totally blew me away was Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This could have a lot to do with the fact that my fiancé was born in Iran, but I think it has more to do with Nafisi’s very unique approach to non-fiction: she describes her struggles, and those of many women living in Iran, through the lens of various literary works she secretly read during her time living in the Middle East. It was absolutely fascinating to rediscover novels I had read and enjoyed through the eyes of a woman living in a much less liberal and open-minded society, and I learned a great deal about Persian culture and the troubled Iranian government through the guise of literature.

Acclaimed Theatre

There is no play out there that has touched me as much as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Yes, I know this play is extremely popular and critically acclaimed, but I would say that it is underrated because I just don’t know of many readers who rush to pick up theatre. I have never been more moved by a story than I was by Angels in America though, and it touches on such a variety of topics like religion and sexuality and politics, that there is truly something in it for everyone! There are so many great lessons to be learned from this text and I am convinced that anyone who picks it up and delves into it becomes a better person for it!

Perfectly Paced Short Stories

There’s no doubt that Alice Munro is the ultimate short story writer, and she is undoubtedly my favourite. However, I am equally a fan of fellow Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant, and her collections Montreal Stories and Varieties of Exile are forever favourites of mine. Gallant’s style is very similar to Munro’s in that she focuses on the ordinary and mundane, but highlights the extraordinary and interesting about it. She takes the most everyday activities and characters, such as a woman commuting to work on the subway, and infuses them with a special quality that immediately connects the reader to them. Plus, her use of language is gorgeous and very similar to Munro’s, so if you are a fan of Alice Munro, I guarantee you will love Gallant’s short fiction as well.

Poetry from the Distant Past

Poetry is probably the literary genre I have the least amount of experience with, and most of my reading of poetry has been for literature courses rather than for pleasure. Having said that, I have encountered some truly EPIC poems in my day (I’m think of a certain Paradise Lost, as an example) and one of my favourite, lesser appreciated long poems is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This is the quintessential medieval tale, with references to King Arthur and his valiant Knights of the Round Table, and although I had to study it for a class, I absolutely fell in love with the tale and with the adventure and, of course, with chivalrous Sir Gawain. This is definitely a fun one and it is so easy to get swept up into the tale!

Tear-Inducing Children’s Lit.

Why not throw a picture book on this list? Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is a story I grew up having read to me and is probably the first book I ever encountered in my life. It is touching and moving and lovely, and I swear, everyone needs to read it to their kids. It’s a classic, in my opinion!

Hard-Hitting Young Adult Lit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, EVERYONE should read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It treats the same subject matter as Thirteen Reasons Why, but, to me, is a far superior novel. It is deep and engrossing, and the main character Sam Kingston is easily relatable but also hopelessly flawed. I can’t say enough good things about this novel, and the film adaptation (starring Zoey Deutch) is equally good! If you only pick up one book from this list, make it this one!

Heartbreaking Romance

If I say too much about The First Last Kiss by Ali Harris, I will cry. It is a tearjerker in every sense of the word, but it is also a uniquely structured and stylized romance. The way it is written makes it truly stand out (by focusing on telling the stories of different first kisses between the two main characters), and I have it on my list of favourite novels of all time…considering that I’m a big rom-com reader, this should tell you something, since it clearly stands out!

Midnight Mystery

Although The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is technically a Victorian novel, it is the ultimate mystery that I think rivals stories told my Agatha Christie and more contemporary mystery writers. It is a story that instantly draws the reader in, with its family politics, deceptions and unreliable narrators, and there are so many different narratives that it never gets boring. The reader is swept up in a mystery that is genuinely difficult to solve, what with all the competing theories swirling around between the many characters, and it is a truly fun and suspenseful ride. I adore this novel and I’ve read it several times…knowing the end result doesn’t even phase me because the ride is the best part!

Haunting Historical Fiction

I’m going to label The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson a historical fiction novel, although it also contains fantastical elements and is a contemporary novel, so really it fits into three categories. Whatever genre it is, it is without doubt one of the best novels I have EVER read, and this is all down to the remarkable narrator. He’s so flawed, complex and complicated, at once detestable and so loveable, and I was so moved by this novel that it has left a permanent mark on my heart. It’s an emotional and troubling story, but it is so worth the read because it will truly blow you away! HIGHLY recommend this one!

Crazy Classic

Jude the Obscure is one messed up novel…but what else do you expect from an author like Thomas Hardy? I have a lot of favourite Victorian novels, and there are other novels by Hardy that I prefer, but Jude the Obscure is totally underrated in that barely anyone reads it, as far as I know. Readers are more inclined to pick up Tess of the D’Ubervilles (and with good reason, of course), but they forget about Jude entirely even though it seems to be Hardy’s darkest novel. Honestly, I can’t even explain some of the crazy stuff that happens in this book, but it is just so dark and gothic and really worth picking up if you’re into classics.

And finally…

Oh Canada!

Being the extremely proud Canadian I am, I had to include an underrated Canadian novel on this list, and I chose The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables, and I have huge respect for that story, but in my opinion, The Blue Castle is just better. It is more adult and sophisticated, and it also features this indomitable and fierce female character, Valancy Stirling (what a great name, eh?), who I instantly fell in love with! She actually became a role model for me and I admit that I think about her often when I’m in social or professional situations that require me to have a bit more backbone than usual. I don’t think many readers know about this novel and that is a serious shame because it is at once hilarious and profound and entertaining. And, talk about girl power, because Valancy knows how to hold her own, no matter who she is up against…I LOVE IT!

Let me know in the comments below if you plan to pick up one of these underrated novels…or if you already have, let me know what you thought and if you too would recommend it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

The Love Object – #JNGReads

The Love Object is a collection of short stories by Irish writer Edna O’Brien that I picked up on a total whim when I was in Indigo a few weeks ago. I haven’t tackled a short story collection in a very long time, but I have always been incredibly fond of the medium. Alice Munro (I think we can all agree this woman can do no wrong – makes me proud to be Canadian!) and Mavis Gallant are literary geniuses in my opinion, and when I dabbled in creative writing classes myself in university, I always chose to write short stories rather than delving into any longer pieces (or shorter ones – I’m definitely not a poet!).

The trouble, for me, with reading a short story collection is that there will always be standout stories that are memorable and will go down as favourites, but there will also inevitably be those stories that are very difficult, and sometimes even painful, to get through. Having read a fair number of novels recently, I had to get myself into the flow and necessary mindset for reading short stories again, and I found it very tedious to finish the stories I wasn’t particularly fond of in The Love Object. I just felt that they lagged and lasted a lot longer than I wanted them to. At the same time, there were stories I devoured and never wanted to end, and those were the moments when I wished I wasn’t reading a short story collection and that I could live with those characters for a little while longer. For these reasons, I find it very hard to give a rating to a collection of short stories, because of course there are stories I really didn’t enjoy and would give a very low rating to, while there are those that I absolutely adored and will want to tell all my fellow readers about for weeks to come. To try and combat this issue of giving such a general rating to a large collection of stories of very different styles and genres, I’m going to pinpoint a few of O’Brien’s stories that I LOVED and a few that I really did not understand at all; the combination of my feelings towards all of these stories will justify my overall rating.

Stories I Didn’t Like At All

❥❥ (out of 5)

(I should note that O’Brien is, without doubt, a masterful storyteller, so even the stories I didn’t personally like are still worthy of a reasonable rating. O’Brien has a way of describing and focusing on elements of life that the average person wouldn’t even notice, and it is quite fascinating, even if I didn’t always enjoy the subject matter.)

1) Shovel Kings ~ Just plain boring! I feel like I had come to expect more from O’Brien by the time I got to this story.

2) Brother ~ So very confusing and hard to follow!

3) Inner Cowboy ~ Similar to Shovel Kings, and not in a good way.

These three stories were, for me, quite boring and I was just happy to be done with them.

Stories with Unexpected Subject Matter

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

1) Plunder ~ Extremely emotional and unlike anything else in the collection; tough subject matter that O’Brien treats with grace and sympathy.

2) Black Flower ~ I was genuinely surprised by this one and the relationship it describes. I was also very curious about the main characters and almost felt that the story was too short because their feelings and actions didn’t seem justified or properly explained.

Stories I LOVED!!!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

In order from the story I loved the least to the one I loved the most…

6) A Rose in the Heart of New York ~ Very sentimental and moving! I nearly cried while reading this one because it was such a complex and emotional take on a mother-daughter relationship. (Honourable mention to My Two Mothers, which seemed to be the same story, just retold.)

5) Paradise

4) The Love Object

~ These two stories seemed somewhat interchangeable and very similar in feel and tone, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

3) Madame Cassandra ~ A very well-written internal monologue. It was so vividly portrayed that I could almost see an actress performing it on stage.

2) Manhattan Medley ~ I got into the heart and soul of this narrator, and it took my breath away!

1) Long Distance ~ I loved loved LOVED this short story!!! It was a complete game changer for me, early on in my reading of the collection, mainly because it was so reminiscent of a Munro or Gallant story. It had beautiful pacing and imagery and was so very haunting. Although the characters were nameless, we as readers get so close to them, almost inside them, even in such a short story. This is a masterfully written text and is gorgeous in its simplicity ~ a snapshot of love in a moment in time. Long Distance is a story with subject matter that I myself have tried to write about many times, but I will never be able to come close to creating a story as genius as the one O’Brien tells!

O’Brien’s writing style is abstract, in the sense that the reader has to put together the threads she drops to try and paint a complete picture of her characters and settings. Each story has a tragic and heart wrenching quality, and I can see why so many other authors, such as Munro and Philip Roth who are both quoted as praising the collection, are so impressed by her. My one real annoyance is that I never quite understood any of O’Brien’s titles and didn’t feel like they ever really fit with the story they represented – but titles are a tricky thing, and I’m sure she had her reasons for selecting them, so I won’t hold that against her or my favourite stories.

Overall rating: ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

My Mother’s Secret

I recently finished another very short novel that I received from my fiancé’s father about a month ago. My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick is a novel that I had seen advertised many times on public transit and that looked quite intriguing to me. It chronicles, in a fictitious manner, the true story of a woman named Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter Helena who hid and saved two Jewish families and one German soldier during WWII. They lived in Sokal, Poland at the time and the novel uses the narration of Helena as well as three of the hidden men to document the trials and tribulations of this small makeshift “family”.

The subject matter of this very short (only 188 pages) story is very interesting and poignant. It is fascinating to learn of the strength and bravery of these women. I have read many accounts of the Second World War, especially in high school, but I had never heard of these two women, and so I was gratified to learn their story. I believe this would be an excellent novel to teach in late elementary school (around grade 7 or 8) or in high school history classes as it really does give an important and memorable insight into the lives of those who were directly affected by the horrors of WWII. It could easily be taught alongside The Diary of Anne Frank.

Having said that, the only objection I have to this novel is how simplistically it is written. The prose is extremely straightforward and simple, and it really does feel as though the story is told for a younger audience. While the novel does explain many details of the subjects’ daily lives, it is told in such a generic manner and absolutely no real internal monologue is provided. Events are documented in almost journalistic fashion, and even when Helena discusses her love for her eventual husband Casmir and her devastation over the death of her brother Damian, there is a noticeable void of emotion and sentimentality. The facts are reported and stated, but there is no opportunity to delve into how any of the narrators feel.

I am conflicted about this story. I felt that I learned a great deal throughout my reading, but the writing style was not at all memorable to me. It was choppy and too bland at times, although the events that occurred were very significant.  If I compare this to other stories I’ve read about the war, such as Night by Elie Wiesel, I find that this story will leave a bit less of an impact on me, but only because there was no emotional content that really tugged at my heart.

I would definitely recommend that people read this book to gain greater knowledge about the events of WWII, but they should approach it as they would a newspaper article or documentary, with little expectation of character development.

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Unworthy? – #JNGReads

“He is a good man. She will be a good woman.” – from “Behind the Mountain” by Evie Wyld (in Reader, I Married Him)

I hope you don’t think I’ve given up on writing about love and romance because of the more literary posts I’ve been writing lately.

No, I’m just as obsessed with and enthusiastic about love as ever, and I still seek to find relevant romantic tips in every book I read. Today, I’m going to share a quote from “Behind the Mountain” by Evie Wyld, one of the many stories in the collection Reader, I Married Him (which I reviewed two days ago and talked about last week), which resonated with me because of its mention of an element that I think is essential in any successful relationship (whether it be with a significant other, a family member or a friend).

~ Goodness ~

Being good is something that society seems to be taking for granted these days. In my humble opinion, far too many people have forgotten that a little kindness, sympathy and empathy can go a long way. What’s worse, in my opinion, than the fact that strangers treat each other nonchalantly, not even raising their heads to give a genuine “Hello!” on the street, is the fact that relationships today seem to be largely devoid of compassion. I’ve ranted about my dislike for Tinder enough here on the blog for you all to have a sense that modern day dating is not my favourite enterprise. I tried it, believe me, and up until I met my incredible fiancé SS, I was pretty convinced that I would never have a decent relationship (if I even had one at all). I basically gave up any hope of True Love, a gorgeous wedding, a devoted marriage and a loyal family. For me, as the hopeless romantic I am and believing in the power of True Love to overcome all obstacles, this was a very sad, pessimistic and depressing time. I just couldn’t make myself believe that love was out there for me, though.

In hindsight, this seems quite ridiculous, but I do feel that I had good reason to be less than enthusiastic about love in my early twenties. It’s just that, every single guy I met turned out to be a royal a**hole! (Hopefully none of them read this little blog, but I find it unlikely, so I feel okay about saying that!) It’s not that they were horrible guys inherently – not at all – I like to think I have better taste than to like a terrible person. They just seemed to be preoccupied with and interested in things entirely different from what I wanted, and while that’s completely fair, they chose to go about revealing this to me in ways that were anything but good.

It is NOT okay to hurt people, and it is definitely NOT okay to be okay with hurting people. What I find nowadays, though, both from my own experience and from stories my friends tell me, is that people feel it is okay to be mean and rude and cruel in relationships. Maybe they don’t actively think about it (I like to believe that most people would choose not to be mean if they realized they were doing it), but nevertheless, most people today are very laissez-faire about treating others, even their significant others, well.

I think, most of all, what this quote from “Behind the Mountain” makes clear is that being in a relationship requires augmenting your standards of behaviour. Being in love goes hand in hand with being a better person, with striving to be the best, most affectionate version of yourself. Without that desire and drive to be a person worthy of the love and respect you receive in return a relationship can easily crumble, fall apart, and irrevocably wound each party. And for what? Why not, instead, let your heart be open and good, and let love flow in?

Happy Sunday Everyone!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Reader, I Married Him – Stories Inspired by Charlotte

As promised, here is the detailed review of the collection of short stories inspired by Charlotte Brontë, Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier. I liked this collection a lot – I found all of the stories to be very unique, and although I sometimes craved a closer connection to the work that inspired them, Jane Eyre, I did thoroughly enjoy entering each of the different worlds. Some of the stories truly inspired me and I would absolutely recommend this book to any fans of Charlotte who are looking to take their knowledge of her text a step further.

❥❥❥ The Epigraph = “For Charlotte, of course.”

Foreword (by Tracy Chevalier) = of Jane = “we can relate to her, and cheer her on.” !!! friends with Jane Eyre

  • “Who can resist a character like Jane Eyre?”
  • “The mouse roars, and we pump our fist with her.”
  • “Reader, I married him.” = interesting identification that JE is asserting self and agency here; she does the choosing (read my blog post on this concept here)!
  • “Always, always in these stories there is love…” Count me in!

My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley

  • Woah! Reminds me of an Alice Munro story. Such a strange, troubled dynamic between Jane and her mother, who seems to be a bit of a Mrs. Reed and a Bertha figure! This Jane is also defiant, claims the man for herself, and is strong, intelligent and unwavering despite her surroundings!

Luxury Hour by Sarah Hall

  • seems quite random and unrelated to Jane Eyre. I have to give this one more thought, as it puzzles me. I suppose it would be like JE meeting Rochester in the street if she married St. John = a flash of passion, a flashback of love that never dies.

Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore

“I have not yet lost my voice.” Jane as the villain.

  • scene of Bertha rubbing her face with the red satin ribbon is so touching and sad. I almost cried at this story! It made me enraged to think of Grace with Rochester, but it also made me madder than I ever expected to think of Bertha locked up all alone.

Danger Dogs by Kristy Gunn

  • I like the idea of Rochester appearing to be “all tough and mean” but just needing to be loved = he is sensitive. This story isn’t my favourite because it doesn’t have much meat to it and is too fast-paced BUT the voice of the narrator is so distinct. You can tell she isn’t a writer and that style must be hard to convey in a story.

To Hold by Joanna Briscoe

  • this story is so sad and makes marriage seem formal, devoid of love and only focused on convenience and having a companion for aid in life = True Love is outside marriage and forbidden.

It’s a Man’s Life, Ladies by Jane Gardam

  • another bleak picture of marriage. The connection to Jane Eyre is vague here!

Since First I Saw Your Face by Emma Donoghue

“‘Or should I say, Edward married me?’” Opposite of JE. Minnie had no agency in marriage and was “‘picked…out’”.

  • narrator, Ellen, like any modern woman, is astonished by lack of choice in marriage.
  • Minnie = “‘I’ve never been responsible for my own life.’” = woman has no identity in marriage.

“‘I say Love is God.’” YES!!!

  • This story seems a bit gratuitously entered in this collection. Yes, it presents a marriage without female agency wholly unlike JE’s, but since Mary Benson was a real person, the connection between her life and Jane’s story seems a bit random and forced. I very much enjoyed the story and Ellen’s ideas about love and marriage (which evoke Jane’s strength, opinion and defiance) though!

Reader, I Married Him by Susan Hill

“Security was all I ever longed and struggled and schemed for…” “If I did [achieve it], it was through men, not through my own effort.” = it is very problematic for a woman to require men to feel safe, rather than finding it within, as Jane comes to. = marriage is an institution meant to create security, but does it always?

“look at me and judge me from a time when women had so few options.” = but JE had few options too, but she still married on her own terms!

“‘I want to inhabit you, have all of you’” = does love mean losing yourself and your autonomy/identity?

“People who are so comprehensively in love often want to dominate and overpower.”

The Mirror by Francine Prose

  • making Bertha into a parrot is hilarious and clever, and probably a lie Rochester would try to get away with.
  • this is what all Jane Eyre fans want: a glimpse into Jane and Rochester’s married life, albeit imperfect.
  • Prose does a nice job of quoting the original.
  • Jane’s obsession with Bertha is made into madness by Rochester = he insists that Bertha died BEFORE Jane arrived at Thornfield = a bit inconsistent with the fact that Jane saw Bertha after the wedding in the original though! ???
  • I really hope JE and Rochester were happier in marriage than this!

A Migrating Bird by Elif Shafak

“I cannot help but suspect that while I am wasting time here, my real life awaits elsewhere.”

  • this is an impossibly tragic and moving story about religion and love and issues with the two. I loved it but it hurt my heart!

Behind the Mountain by Evie Wyld

Takes place in Canada!

“He is a good man. She will be a good woman.”

  • unhappy marriage again!
  • quite random and again, no clear connection to Jane Eyre.

The China from Buenos Aires by Patricia Park

  • well into the story, and I am still wondering what at all it has to do with Jane Eyre!!! (very frustrating!)
  • maybe the fact that Teresa decides to leave Juan…but that is because (UNLIKE with Jane and Rochester) she does NOT believe she loves him.
  • truly, I struggle to find the link to Jane Eyre here = not my favourite of the stories!

Party Girl by Nadifa Mohamed

  • very interesting from a cultural perspective.

❥ “I took him in my arms and let the light in.”

  • short, simple and to the point = I enjoyed it! Although it seems only vaguely related to Jane Eyre.

**Sure, all of these stories are about love, and mostly about women navigating love, relationships and their identities, as is JE. BUT is that enough of a connection to say they’re all inspired by Charlotte’s text? Do they all have Jane Eyre essence?

Double Men by Namwali Serpell

  • I like the flow and tone of this story A LOT! Well written!

“the willingness to be hurt that marriage breeds in you” = such a sad and tragic story! And very unique in many ways.

Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark by Elizabeth McCracken

“The point was not to stay whence you came, but to move along spectacularly and record every stop.”

  • a story of two drastically different marriages which is very interesting. Bruno is gruff but so sweet and I was very fond of his relationship with Ernest! This story was both funny and terrifying at times.

My Favourites of the Collection…

Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers

❥ Edward Rochester’s perspective! WOW! This is every Jane Eyre fan’s dream!

“From our first encounter she provoked in me thoughts of other worlds.” ❥

  • all of the references to the original are perfectly placed and made new!
  • Bertha and Rochester had a child? A clever idea to explore!
  • this story is a masterpiece that all lovers of Jane Eyre must read!

Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier

  • I love this story! It paints a wonderful picture of a serene, simplistic moment in the English countryside.
  • the references to Jane Eyre are perfect and subtle (such as Poole being a location) and it is amazing to see JE and Rochester reimagined in a contemporary setting. Jenn and Ed are surprisingly unique and well developed for such a short text. Ed is very witty!
  • this story had all the passion for and devotion to Jane Eyre that I felt most of the other stories lacked.

❥ “A governess full of inner strength who marries a completely inappropriate man.”

  • I want more of what happens in Ed and Jenn’s relationship/future!

Transference by Esther Freud

❥ “‘You started to glow,’ he said, ‘and I saw you, and I wanted you to know that you are loved.’”

❥ “You can love someone in a pure way. You can hold them in your heart and nothing has to happen.”

  • I was engrossed and sucked into this story. It was so psychological and conflicting, but written with such honesty. I loved it!

The Mash-Up by Linda Grant

  • issues and conflict in planning a wedding/setting up a marriage. = Ali is Persian (not Muslim); with my own Persian boyfriend, this story speaks to me personally!
  • both main characters are NOT religious (even almost atheist = Richard Dawkins is Ali’s parents’ idol) BUT they must still navigate culture and custom to create their own wedding.
  • Okay, so this story is basically about my life and my future wedding! LOVE IT!

❥ “We were married; I had married him, the love of my life.”

  • Oh dear, the wedding ends in opinionated chaos! What a nightmare! But it does make for a good story!
  • Oh gosh! I hope my wedding is nothing like this…but it was a very entertaining story!

The Self-Seeding Sycamore by Lionel Shriver

“A widow of fifty-seven had both too much story left, and not enough.” A snapshot of the imminent end of every marriage (in death).

“the grief had been so immersive…that it verged on pleasure.” What does one do after a spouse dies?

  • this story is so beautifully and poetically written. The tone and style are very memorable and stuck with me.

“But a firm purpose was fortifying.”

  • quite funny as well! This may be my favourite!

***I am starting to see that the stories don’t have to directly reference Jane Eyre in order to deliver an equally fascinating picture of unconventional romance (like that of JE and Rochester).

The Orphan Exchange by Audrey Niffenegger

  • Audrey Niffenegger is my second Charlotte, my other literary soul mate, my artistic idol, the woman who gave me a story that rivaled Jane Eyre for my affections, another female character (Clare Abshire) to learn from and model myself after! She is the reason I bought this collection to begin with; Audrey Niffenegger writing about Jane Eyre?! Sign. Me. Up!
  • exploring Jane’s time at Lowood = the beginning of the novel, rather than the marriage at the end.
  • a fascinating, more emotional look at how Jane may’ve felt for Helen Burns.
  • orphans as guinea pigs or sex workers or maids? Niffenegger paints a horrifying picture! Also a picture of grief and mourning the loss of a first love.

❥ “When it eventually became legal, Reader, I married her.” A lovely story about a genuine and moving romance! Niffenegger knows how to create love in tough circumstances.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Strong Jane – The Lessons Charlotte Taught Me – #JNGReads

“The mouse roars and we pump our fist with her.”

– Tracy Chevalier’s foreword to Reader, I Married Him

Reader, I Married Him short stories

I’m knee deep in the last work I’ve decided to read to commemorate Charlotte Brontë’s 200th birthday, and since today is May 1st and the month of April (Charlotte Brontë Month) has come to an end, I figured today was a good day to wind up my talk of Charlotte’s impressive literary career…for the present, that is.

I started reading the collection of short stories entitled Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier, this past week. A detailed post with small reviews of each particular short story in the collection is coming soon (watch this space!), but I wanted to take the opportunity today to discuss Chevalier’s foreword to the stories and address some points she makes that really resonated with me. If you can’t tell from the title, this set of short stories is inspired by Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre, specifically by the first sentence of its last chapter.

“Reader, I married him.” – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

That has to be one of the most perfect lines in all of literary history, particularly because of its simplicity and its bold and honest declaration. Chevalier and her fellow female writers take this significant line and manipulate it, play with it, pay homage to it, in a set of stories that are as unique as they are interesting. I’m eager to share my specific thoughts on each story with you, but for now, I want to focus on what Chevalier has to say about this line, in her role as editor of the collection, and what this statement from such a feisty, strong and defiant narrator means for all women.

Quite a while ago, when I engaged in my millionth reading of Jane Eyre, I wrote a post outlining exactly what Jane’s story taught me (you can read the post here). I cited lines from the novel and described why they spoke to me, why they stuck with me, and how they shaped me into the woman I am today. Jane Eyre gave me, and continues to give me, the confidence to be a woman with force and passion, a woman who is ruled by her emotions but who uses them to strongly and assertively take on the world. Jane may be plain and little and quiet, but her personality and character are overwhelming and otherworldly. She is a force of nature.

These are facts that Chevalier rightly identifies in her foreword. She discusses how revolutionary Jane is as a character, how she gives womankind a model of fortitude and determination that was unheard of in the 19th century. I agree with Chevalier wholeheartedly on these points. But what Chevalier also notes, that I hadn’t ever considered (strange, I know, since I feel like I know Jane Eyre inside and out), is that Jane’s simple statement in the last chapter is a final, direct and explicit representation of her agency.

~ Reader, I married him. ~ It’s a beautiful line because it is romantic – it calls to mind images of love rekindled, obstacles defied, happily ever after. But according to Chevalier, it is also constructed in such a way as to give Jane all of the power and, more significantly, all of the choice. By placing herself as the subject of the sentence and her beloved Mr. Rochester as the object, Jane is asserting that she chose to marry Rochester; she was the one who decided that she wished to be married to him, that domestic life was something she wanted. Jane married Rochester, and, unlike how it must’ve been for so many women of her time, she did so on her own terms.

There’s no point arguing – Rochester always wanted to marry Jane. From the moment he fell of his horse Mesrour and encountered her, he was bewitched, enchanted, mesmerized. And although he had some convoluted methods for gaining her affection, he was willing to defy customs, propriety and law to make her his wife. But Jane has morals, she has a conscience – and more than that, she craves freedom. She will not allow any conditions or circumstances to hinder or limit her, and so she must consent to marry Rochester on her own terms and in her own time, when the situation is amended to suit her best.

“‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.’”

– Jane Eyre

And, this is what Chevalier rightfully sees in Jane and argues that her defiant statement that she married Rochester articulates. At the end of the novel, in the final chapter that sums up what her life has shaped up to be, Jane has achieved that ever important power to choose. She is a 19th century heroine who will not consent to a marriage that doesn’t suit her, who will not engage in employment that doesn’t please her, who will not live in circumstances that aren’t comfortable for her. More than anything, she is a woman who makes her own decisions, who gets married when and how she wishes to the person she loves. For young women, or for women of any age, it is important, as Chevalier suggests, to remember this valuable lesson: that we, just like Jane, are always in control of our own destinies.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Green Dwarf – A Study of Young Charlotte, Part IV

The Green Dwarf

The End.

I have now finished reading every work by Charlotte Brontë that I can get my hands on. Her novels have been my old companions for years, her poetry took me no time to delve into at all, and now I have come to the end of my study of her juvenilia, the short stories and novellas she wrote in her teenage years. I’ve recently written detailed reviews of The Secret, The Spell and The Foundling, and today I’ll be documenting my thoughts on The Green Dwarf, written down as I was in the process of reading.

I have to say, I had higher hopes for The Green Dwarf, probably because it’s green. I really hoped that it would be my favourite of the four juvenile works I own, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. I found that there were too many loose threads, too many moments of seemingly random narration that I couldn’t make sense of. The plot jumps around a lot, and although everything is pretty clearly connected at the end, the process of reading isn’t all that smooth because of the various stories that don’t seem totally related initially.

But, let’s not forget that this is a novella by Charlotte Brontë, and so I loved it even if it wasn’t my absolute favourite. The style is so totally Charlotte that I enjoyed the cadence of the sentences, and I appreciate that Charlotte puts such intricate detail into each of her characters. The novella tries to accomplish a lot, and it delivers a few surprises in the end, so overall, I did enjoy it. I just preferred her other novellas and stories to this one.

Here are my notes, written while reading The Green Dwarf:

  • Charles Wellesley is this story’s narrator too (along with The Spell) = he has been sick and this explains why he has not written in awhile = mirrors CB’s life because she was away at Roe Head School.
  • a random and slow start = what does Charles’ day have to do with the story the synopsis describes?
  • reference to feud between Charles and Captain Tree (narrator of The Foundling) = CB writes as two enemies, depending on her mood I suppose.
  • Marquis of Douro (Arthur, Charles’ brother = also Zamorna) is featured! = antipathy between the two brothers.
  • “Of course, Bud, according to the universal fashion of storytellers, refused at first…” = Wellesley is planning to tell story told to him by Bud, not “in the original form of words…but strictly preserving the sense and facts.” = some artistic license to the narrator.
  • conversation between Bud and Gifford is so random! I have no idea what it has to do with the story in the synopsis!
  • Lady Emily Charlesworth has enormous potential and mental faculties BUT, as a woman, she is doomed to be married and focus on pretty, feminine accomplishments. “…that’s the way of all women. They think of nothing but being married, while learning is as dust in the balance.”
  • anecdote about Napoleon is VERY random and out of place! So far, the structure and trajectory of this story confuses me immensely!
  • Lady Emily = “Her form was exquisitely elegant, though not above the middle size…” = another small but beautiful woman.
  • episode of boy selling his soul to the devil is very random (if that’s even what’s happening) and seems unnecessary = lots of moments in the story do not “fit” together!
  • Lady Emily’s lineage is confusing and inconsistent = is Lord Charlesworth her only relative or is Bravey her uncle, as CB indicates in the passage about the African Olympic Games?!
  • S’death visiting Colonel Percy = another random, loose thread to the story.
  • “Rogue – Percy, I mean…” = another narrator reveals a character’s true identity = is Colonel Percy none other than Alexander Rogue (Marquis of Douro/Zamorna’s enemy from The Foundling)?
  • detailing of history of Ashantee tribes and prince Quashie is evidence of Charlotte’s admirable commitment to creating vast backgrounds for each of her characters – and keeping them all straight! However, this divergence from the main plot seems very random and it is hard to tell where in chronology it belongs!
  • “It may now be as well to connect the broken thread of my rambling narrative before I proceed further.”
  • details of Duke of Wellington’s war with Ashantees seem so out of place in this “love story” = they could form a different work altogether!
  • the threads tie up rather conveniently and too quickly…BUT then CB has some surprises in store! [SPOILERS!] = Colonel Percy is in fact Zamorna’s enemy Alexander Rogue! = and Andrew (main character’s servant, the green dwarf) is Captain Tree (Charles Wellesley’s enemy and the narrator of The Foundling).

To sum up my thoughts on the story, I have to say that the surprises at the end were worth the journey. It’s a small text, amounting to just over 100 pages, and so it is definitely a fun and light ride that reveals much of Charlotte’s experimentation and growth as a writer.

My final comment on Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia will be to rank the stories in order of my preference…

4) The Green Dwarf

3) The Foundling

2) The Secret

1) The Spell

I would definitely recommend any and all of these texts to true fans of Miss Brontë! It is fascinating to get into the mind of the young Charlotte, and it develops an intimacy between the reader and this formidable Victorian author that is valuable beyond words.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Critical Charlotte – #JNGReads

“I am sensible that my tale is totally devoid of interest…” – The Foundling, Charlotte Brontë

A lot has been happening on my blog recently, and I hope you’ve all been keeping up!

This past Thursday marked the 200th birthday of Miss Charlotte Brontë! I posted a commemoratory entry on that day (you can read it here), and I also continued, just yesterday, my study of another piece of Charlotte’s juvenilia, the novella The Foundling. Even though Miss Brontë’s significant birthday has come and gone, though, I have no plans to stop studying her works, and I still have a few more posts I’d like to write before the month of April (CB Month, as far as I’m concerned) is over.

To continue my discussion of the third work in her juvenilia that I delved into, I’d like to discuss one particular quote from The Foundling more closely. The quote above is presented by the narrator of The Foundling, Captain Tree. I’ve learned from reading Charlotte’s juvenilia that one of her interests in her younger years was to try out different narrative voices; she writes from a myriad of different perspectives in her juvenilia (for example, as aristocratic ladies, doctors, children and adults), and it seems that her objective is to test her limits and push herself artistically to develop voices outside her own personal identity. Although the narrators are not always totally distinct, mainly because they do not always have an active role in the story and are instead relating events that they have seen or merely heard about, it is commendable that Charlotte feels the need to exercise her gift and challenge herself as a writer and creator.

What is more interesting, however, is the fact that Charlotte, through her various narrators, seems not to think very highly of her own work. Although it might seem like statements such as the one quoted above are calculated and designed to encourage the reader to pity the narrator and find value in his/her tale, Charlotte makes similar statements multiple times throughout her various juvenile works, and so it appears that she is truly self-conscious about her ability to tell a story. This isn’t altogether hard to believe – Charlotte was in her teenage years when she penned these tales, and she intended for them only to be read by her brother and sisters, so it’s fair to assume that she wouldn’t think very much of them or believe them to be intriguing masterpieces. On the contrary, she probably thought them trivial, fun and inconsequential – hence her desire to make her narrators apologize every now and then and admit that their stories aren’t that fantastic.

I spoke in a recent post about how it feels somewhat treasonous to read Charlotte’s juvenilia, specifically because she did not intend (as I said above) for any member of the general public to read them. These works were conceived well before Charlotte became Currer Bell, and she never was given the chance to revise or edit them with a larger readership in mind. That fact made me feel uneasy when reading descriptions of romance and love and relationships between men and women that the young Charlotte envisioned, but I am made even more uncomfortable when I encounter statements like the one above that suggest that Charlotte was herself uncomfortable with these works. She didn’t feel that they were worthy of any time, and so she probably also did not believe them to be an adequate representation of her skills or talents. Isn’t it then wrong for these sorts of works to be published without the author’s express consent?

As I stated in my post about my discomfort while reading, it’s hard to accept the argument that these works should not have been published because fans of the Brontës are so eager to get at them somehow, to find a way to penetrate the minds of these literary geniuses. It’s unfathomable to pass up the opportunity to understand a young Charlotte, to get to know the young woman before she was famous and a calculated artist. Having said that, it’s still important to remember that these works were less cultivated and practiced – and so, for anyone who feels the need to be unjustly critical of Charlotte’s juvenile pursuits, I would encourage them to think about what Captain Tree says and remember that these works were never really meant to compare to Charlotte’s greatest masterpiece.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart