The Dickensian Second Coming

“The chain of events, the links in our lives – what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do – all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

One does not embark on reading a John Irving novel lightly…

Is Avenue of Mysteries my favourite John Irving novel? No. Is it still worthy of a 5-star rating? Is it still better than 99% of the books I’ve read in my lifetime? Yes…because it is a John Irving novel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a writer and an avid reader because of John Irving. He is one of my all-time favourite authors in the world, and I am absolutely and consistently blown away by each and every novel he writes. He quite frankly is the modern day Dickens; somehow he has managed to write 14 novels, all with vastly different characters and plots but with a distinct Irving style that is sharply recognizable and unlike anything any other authors have put out. Irving is a truly unique voice in literature, and he painstakingly crafts narratives that are sweeping and vast, but with these minute details and intricacies that he reveals with enviable patience and calculated insight. Honestly, a John Irving novel is not a book you can pick up flippantly, or decide to read just for the hell of it – you have to be prepared, emotionally, physically (his books are looong and heavy, especially if you have them in hardcover!) and mentally to embark on a journey that will sometimes be tedious and daunting but will definitely be rewarding!

In his long and established career, John Irving has produced some incredible novels. My personal favourite is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a novel that I actually read twice in the span of one month when I was in grade 12. That novel changed my whole life – it gave me this drive and determination to become a writer because I felt this desire to make something as brilliant as Irving did. I know now that I will most likely never achieve that, but John Irving has always been on this pedestal for me because he is the absolute pinnacle of everything I find impressive and enthralling about literature…he is everything I have ever wanted to be as a writer myself.

John Irving cares about his characters and his stories. I read once that he actually writes all of his novels out by hand, which I have major respect for – as I said, he is thoroughly connected to the stories he creates, and he is committed to delivering tales that are massive in scope but intimate in description. Irving at once provides readers with the idea that they have been on a lifelong journey with his characters, while simultaneously making them privy to the tiniest, most private thoughts of those characters’ minds. Somehow he manages to both create stories that are HUGE and very very small. He is a true genius in that sense, and his characters are more real and fleshed out than some of the actual people I know.

I’m lucky enough to be getting the chance to see John Irving in person at the beginning of September, at one of my favourite buildings at my former university, and this is what encouraged me to pick up Avenue of Mysteries this past week. I actually bought the book when it first came out, in 2015, so needless to say, it has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for quite some time. That’s because, like I said before, you have to be in the proper mood to read an Irving novel. It’s the same as with Dickens – you don’t just pick up a Dickens novel off your shelf randomly because it’s such a huge commitment and you know it will take so much effort and brain power to read. John Irving novels are the same – you have to be ready to read something incredibly dense, but to also read between the lines. John Irving reveals things out of order, a tiny snippet at a time, and so you have to be ready, as a reader, to pick up the pieces and patiently wait for everything to come together.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Avenue of Mysteries is a remarkable novel…but then again, every John Irving novel is. Having said that, Avenue of Mysteries is not the John Irving novel I would rush out to recommend to others because it somehow didn’t feel that concise or cohesive. It felt a bit scattered to me, from the beginning, and I think that only readers who are familiar with Irving’s style and appreciate how disjointed his narratives can sometimes be will be able to appreciate Avenue of Mysteries. In many ways, I felt that it harkened back to Owen Meany (for example, Juan Diego’s sister Lupe distinctly reminded me of Owen Meany, from the way she spoke to her sometimes flawed premonitions about the future), but it wasn’t as polished of a novel. I understood that Irving’s focus was the inconsistency of dreams and memories, and I know he intended to make the novel feel like a real mind fuck for the reader (excuse my harsh language, but can anyone think of a synonym for “mind fuck”?), but I just can’t help but feel that if you don’t know Irving, you won’t get this novel at all. I wasn’t disappointed by that because I do believe I know Irving and I didn’t struggle with this text for that reason, but at the same time, I think Avenue of Mysteries is a bit less accessible and generally appealing than other Irving novels. It feels like a novel written by Irving for diehard fans of Irving!

Again, I will state that Avenue of Mysteries is brilliant, in its Irving-ian way. This also means that it’s pretty brilliant in a Dickensian sort of way too, and once again, I was struck by just how similar to Dickens’ style Irving’s is. At the same time, Irving is not playing an imitation game; he’s not trying to emulate Dickens’ style, he just writes in the same sort of style naturally, and seemingly effortlessly. I can pinpoint one aspect of Irving’s style that is so Dickensian in nature: his repetition of concepts associated with his characters. Juan Diego is never simply Juan Diego – he is always “Juan Diego, dump reader”. Edward Bonshaw is never just Edward Bonshaw – he is always “Edward Bonshaw, the parrot man” or “Senor Eduardo”. Irving creates these characters with unique facets and talents and personalities, and then he labels them, and constantly reminds the reader of these labels so that they become intimate friends and allies of the characters. However, Irving is calculated about when he chooses to use these epithets – he reiterates them at crucial moments, in the middle of specific paragraphs, in order to remind his reader of particular pieces of his characters’ identities at moments when they are most relevant and significant. Nothing is coincidental or random in an Irving novel, and this is something Dickens does too, particularly in his largest novels like Our Mutual Friend, and it creates the sense that, as an author, he knows his characters better than he even knows himself. Irving somehow manages to recreate this sort of feeling without seeming to steal from or cheat Dickens. I’ve never known a writer to so closely resemble one from the past the way Irving does Dickens. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his novels are very verbose (which is something that I clearly appreciate and can relate to as a writer)! There are times when reading an Irving novel that you have to stop and ask yourself, What is he trying to say? And then you can rewind, unpack, dissect and finally move on…it is a process that takes time and an inherent love for literature of the most literary kind. Reading an Irving novel is not, ever, an easy task…but then, the best things in life often aren’t the easiest, right?

I recommend that everyone read an Irving novel in their lifetime, but I also know that very few readers will. He’s certainly not for everyone, and Avenue of Mysteries is the ultimate example of that – it is a novel that you will either really love or absolutely hate because it is everything an Irving novel is on steroids…it is the most Irving-est of all the Irving novels. I for one LOVED it, but then again, I love anything and everything Irving touches.

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

“‘What did the Virgin Mary ever actually do? She didn’t even get herself pregnant!’” ~ Lupe

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ If it’s by Irving, it will always get 5/5 from me!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Ends With Us ~ #JNGReads

This has been a year of me reading books that I don’t feel qualified to review.

It started when I read Thirteen Reason Why earlier this year. Although I have suffered from anxiety since my early high school days, I have never felt such all-encompassing depression that I have contemplated suicide. I could not relate to Hannah’s emotional or mental state while reading the novel, and while that did not affect my overall enjoyment of it whatsoever (I do not feel it is necessary to identify with a character in order to connect with them or enjoy reading their story), it did make me feel like I had no place reviewing the novel or giving it a numeric rating. The novel wasn’t my favourite for many reasons, mainly because of how it was written, but I didn’t feel like I could actually critique it because of how important the subject matter was and how imperative I believe it is that everyone, particularly teenagers, read the story.

How do you review something that you think everyone needs to read, even if you didn’t love it and for reasons far more significant than enjoyment?

I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question, and I certainly didn’t have it when I read the novel It Happens All The Time just a short while ago. That was another novel that dealt with such important subject matter as rape and consent, and I felt totally inadequate reviewing it, considering that I have been lucky enough to never find myself in the positions of the main characters. Again, I felt that the subject matter was so poignant and timely that every reader should pick up the novel, but I didn’t absolutely love how the story was articulated or how the characters’ narrations were portrayed.

Now, here I am again, trying to review a novel that just shouldn’t be reviewed. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is so much more than a romance, and I’m actually thinking that it was a mistake to choose this as my first experience of Hoover’s writing. As far as I know, Hoover is an established and much loved romance writer, but It Ends With Us is apparently a departure from her usual style and genre. In this novel, Hoover decides to investigate the more complicated, complex and tragic side of a relationship, and the romance between the two main characters takes almost a backseat to their struggles.

I should warn you all that SPOILERS are ahead. If you don’t want to have any idea of what happens in It Ends With Us before picking it up, I urge you to stop reading this review here.

It is nearly impossible to talk properly about It Ends With Us without mentioning that it focuses on domestic abuse. Not only is domestic abuse a huge part of the upbringing of the main character and narrator, Lily Bloom, it also becomes a component of her own marriage to Ryle Kincaid. This is where the novel becomes both heartbreaking and profound – Hoover chooses to not just write an average, mundane, cookie-cutter romance; she chooses instead to focus on the nitty gritty of an abusive relationship, and investigate the emotions that a woman being physically and mentally abused would endure. There are a lot of romance novels out there, but very few that do something interesting, that actually talk about important topics, and Hoover totally turns the romance genre on its head and does a complete 180 with it.

I wholeheartedly respect that and I found her treatment of domestic abuse fascinating and enlightening. I love and appreciate novels with grey area – my favourite characters are the ones who are not simply black or white, good or bad, perfect or irrevocably flawed.

“‘There is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things.’” ~ Ryle

There was not a moment in the novel that I thought that Lily should leave Ryle, just as there was not a moment when I thought she should not leave him – I had no idea what Lily should do because although I tried my hardest to put myself in her position, I simply could not. My experience and identity as a reader is limited in that way, and so I could sympathize with Lily’s circumstances and wish that she would find happiness, but I could not decide for her. That is the most hard-hitting aspect of It Ends With Us; Hoover expertly and subtly comments on the notion that people are far too easily inclined to judge others, to pronounce opinions on other people’s situations without having any real idea of what it is like to properly be in them. There are many people out there who would say of a woman in Lily’s position, Why doesn’t she just leave him? There are many people who would blame Lily for not walking away earlier, for not standing up for herself. But how many of those people have lived through a relationship like Lily and Ryle’s? How many of them have had to rip themselves away from the person they love, even if they know it is technically the right and most healthy thing to do? Hoover teaches us all, her readers, her audience, to critique less and support more, to be there for others without trying to control them, to practice compassion rather than judgment. I respect so much that Hoover has chosen to use her popularity as a romance writer to draw attention to an issue that is far too often overlooked and misunderstood by society at large.

Having said that, the reason why I find it so hard to traditionally review It Ends With Us is because there is one aspect of the story that bothered me a little bit (only enough to lower my necessary Goodreads numeric rating by 1-star, mind you). This particular detail is the aspects of the novel pertaining to Lily’s somewhat romantic relationship with Atlas, her first love. While I definitely do NOT think Ryle’s jealousy was justified or was an excuse for his treatment of Lily, I did feel that Lily’s interactions with Atlas and her reminiscing on her teenage relationship with him, both before she began dating Ryle and during her marriage, took away from the poignancy of her story with Ryle. Hoover’s decision to oscillate between scenes in which Ryle and Lily develop their relationship (both positively and negatively) and scenes of Lily thinking about Atlas and being confused by her lingering emotions for him frustrated me on many levels. I felt that the storyline with Atlas took away from the gravity of Lily’s situation with Ryle in that it drew attention away from the severity of what she was going through. It almost trivialized how difficult her life became after Ryle’s most horrible incident of domestic abuse because Lily’s admission that she wished she could easily feel something for Atlas without so much stress and trauma and confusion surrounding her brought the story back into a traditionally romantic domain that I wished it would severe all ties with. It just overall toyed with my emotions in that I was feeling hurt and scared for Lily but then hopeful that her and Atlas would “get together” in the traditional sense – it didn’t feel right to have these thoughts, which is thankfully something that Lily recognizes as well, but I found myself wishing that Atlas wasn’t even part of the equation. I ironically struggled more with the romantic moments of It Ends With Us than with the powerful moments because I grew to accept that it was not a generic romance novel and so it frustrated me to be offered tokens of romance novel stereotypes amidst such deep and meaningful subject matter. I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I feel that if It Ends With Us began and ended only with investigating Lily’s relationship with Ryle, it would’ve felt slightly less disjointed and would’ve made me feel more consistently emotional and heartbroken.

I’ll repeat, though, that It Ends With Us is still extremely poignant and important in that it is NOT just a romance novel. It is so much more and it is a book that I would undoubtedly recommend to women, and encourage them to pass on to their mothers, their daughters, and their friends.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*One more note… I went for a run partway through reading It Ends With Us, and a song came on my iPod that made me think of Lily. It was the song “Night So Long” by the band Haim from their newest album Something To Tell You – the deep and powerful instrumentals and the haunting harmonies made me picture Lily taking a walk in the dark, contemplating her emotions and her future. The lyrics also seemed to resonate with her experiences in the novel, so I thought I would share a few here…

“In loneliness, my only friend

In loneliness, my only fear

The nights end

Then I say goodbye to love once more

No shadow darkening the door

Until your memory is gone

The night, slow, long…”

~ “Night So Long”, Haim

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – #JNGReads

I’ve wanted to read Jenny Han’s young adult novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before from the moment I saw the adorable front cover. And yesterday, I finally read it…all in one day.

I should be clear, that rarely happens for me. I’m really not the type of reader to finish a book all in one day – work and life obligations usually get in the way, and ever since graduating from my Master’s, I haven’t had the will power or desire to blast through a story. I’ve preferred to take novels more slowly and not pressure myself to get through them so quickly or within a strict timeline.

But, every now and then, a book is so easy and effortless to read that it begs to be finished all in one day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that book – it is written in such a fluid and engrossing style that I couldn’t put it down, that I sped through the beautiful pages (truly, the font is just gorgeous) faster than I have in a very long time. Han’s writing is elegant and simple, but her narrator, Lara Jean Song Covey, is an endearing character whose voice it is easy to get swept up in. The plot flows smoothly, with moments of excitement and uncertainty planted naturally within the 355 pages, and the dialogue is witty and clever in so many places. Lara Jean’s conversations with her friend Chris, her fake boyfriend Peter, and best friend and former crush Josh, as well as her two sisters Margot and Kitty, are realistic and detailed, from chats about zits and Christmas cookies and puppies, to conversations about more serious topics like sex and death and betrayal. Every aspect of the novel is human and real, and I was engrossed in Lara Jean’s life from the first page, and especially impressed by how details of her past were interwoven seamlessly amongst the present day narration.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the quintessential young adult romance – and I know just how successful it is at nailing this genre because I read a novel that failed just this year. As I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I couldn’t help but compare it to Stephanie Perkins’ book Anna and the French Kiss, which I honestly did not like at all. That is a VERY unpopular opinion and I don’t want to start ranting about it all over again because it will ruin the warm and fuzzy feeling that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before gave me, but suffice it to say that I found all of the characters in Anna and the French Kiss to be seriously bratty and annoying, particularly the narrator Anna. Placing Anna in contrast to Lara Jean was very enlightening because it emphasized to me how successful Han was in creating a genuine and likeable narrator – Lara Jean is noticeably flawed, and she is still growing and learning in many ways, but she is also trying her best to be a kind, good person. She isn’t entitled, she doesn’t take life or love for granted, and she doesn’t take herself or her teenage struggles too seriously. Yes, she is mortified when the love letters she writes to her past crushes are accidentally mailed out and her feelings are revealed to them, but she is logical enough to not fall apart, to continue her relationships, to strongly stand before these guys and try to navigate the issue without fearing of her emotions or theirs. Lara Jean is really quite mature, and I think it is easy for the reader to feel inclined to cheer her on!

I really liked Lara Jean very much. I’ve read some reviews where readers have said that they disliked her because she spends much of the novel lusting after her sister’s boyfriend, but I have to severely disagree on that. Lara Jean very quickly realizes that her feelings for Josh are buried in the past, and she does everything in her power to avoid hurting her sister. She does not try to steal Josh from her, she does her best to think of him only as a friend, and I think ultimately she succeeds. Teenage love is complicated and not so easy to navigate, but I think Lara Jean is very mature about her complex relationship with Josh and I believe she acts in ways that are respectful to her sister. I was impressed with how sophisticatedly Lara Jean handled this complicated situation, and I found little to criticize her for in this instance.

I will say, though, that the highlight of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, for me, was not the romance. Lara Jean’s crushes and her pseudo-relationship with Peter are really sweet and cute, but it would’ve ultimately bored me if they were the only, or even the central, focus of the novel. Instead, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before focuses heavily on the Covey family, on the dynamic between siblings Margot, Lara Jean and Kitty and their father. It is absolutely fascinating to see these characters interact, and I was blown away by how realistically Han describes the family life in this story. Margot was an impressive character, a truly inspiring older sister figure, and I found her relationship with Lara Jean, especially in the end when they momentarily fight and must make their way back to each other, to be incredibly heartwarming. The stand out character, however, was Kitty, in my opinion. This 9 year old girl is absolutely hilarious and such a firecracker! Her voice was so distinct, but not too juvenile, and I was so impressed by her one liners. I found myself laughing out loud at so many points because of the adorable and surprisingly adult things Kitty said, and her maturity in interacting with her sisters and father was uniquely portrayed. I have never encountered a child character like her in literature and I would be so interested to read a novel all about her and have a chance to see her grow older. She was undeniably my favourite part of the whole story (and I am really glad she got her puppy in the end – it was well deserved)!

All in all, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was an impressive young adult novel. So many young adult novels fail to hit hard, to take their readers seriously and present them with complex and intricate characters whose personalities need to be unraveled and analyzed. Han doesn’t underestimate or belittle her young adult readers, and I appreciate the scope of her novel, how she chose not to just present a simple and cute love story but instead decided to also explore the inner workings of a strong and inspiring family. I may not rush out to buy the second and third novels in this series (mainly because I have many books on my To Read List at the moment), but I will definitely pick them up eventually because I would be happy to visit Lara Jean’s world again. Her and her sisters were characters unlike any I have encountered in recent years, and I look forward to getting to spend time with them again soon.

I highly recommend this one, to young adult readers and to older readers as well – definitely check it out before the movie adaptation, which is currently in the works, comes out!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

It Happens All the Time ~ #JNGReads

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany is a book that I don’t feel comfortable reviewing, for multiple reasons. Allow me to explain…

Hatvany’s novel deals with such important topics as rape and mental health, and so it is very difficult to write a review of a story that tackles such deep and significant issues. In a similar vein to how I felt uncomfortable reviewing Thirteen Reasons Why, I feel that It Happens All the Time is the sort of novel that should not be reviewed or rigorously critiqued and should instead be read by all adults. It would be impossible for me to say which demographic I recommend it to, because I recommend it to all readers, young and old, male and female. It would be difficult to pull apart any elements of the novel, to break apart the traits and actions of the characters, because so much of the novel’s strength and poignancy comes from the fact that the characters are flawed (some much more than others), and that there are two sides to and different opinions about every story. It Happens All the Time is not the kind of novel that, in my opinion, can be reviewed for its plot devices or structure or style because everything pales in comparison to the subject matter it investigates and the insights it offers. It is a novel that should be on every reader’s bookshelf and that parents should be encouraging their children to read, once they reach an appropriate age. It is a story that needs to be told, and then discussed at length.

So, for those reasons, I find it hard to write a traditional review of Hatvany’s novel or give it a concrete rating. The novel was a very quick read for me, and I did struggle with connecting to certain characters, particularly Tyler, because I felt that the synopsis gave away some crucial details that ultimately clouded my opinions on the characters from page one. Having said that, I was moved by the story, I was shaken and rattled by it, especially in the most tragic chapters, and I was called to question my own beliefs and assumptions. That is the mark of a great novel, most certainly, and yet I can’t quantify this experience by giving it a number of stars (although I have, for the sake of the Goodreads system). As I said, this is a novel that must be read, and so it transcends the concepts of enjoyment and pleasure and achieves status as a novel that educates and inspires and makes readers better.

Furthermore, there are so many readers who could write better “reviews” of this novel than me, and many of them have. I was touched by so many of the comments I read on Goodreads about this novel, and they certainly opened my eyes to just how prevalent and relevant the subject matter of Hatvany’s story is. One review in particular really stuck with me though and my thoughts were drawn back to it in each moment I spent reading It Happens All the Time. This review was written by a Goodreads friend of mine, Chelsea Humphrey, and it was her honest, heartfelt and touching words that really pushed and persuaded me to pick up Hatvany’s novel as soon as I could. Chelsea’s review is, in every way, more thought-provoking than mine could ever be, and I believe that even those who haven’t read It Happens All the Time will take something away from her review (follow the link above or at the end of this post to visit Chelsea’s blog and read it). I suggest you all read her review, whether you intend to pick up the novel or not, because it is intensely meaningful and eye-opening!

On that note, I must say that my biggest source of hesitancy in writing a review for It Happens All the Time comes from the fact that I have never been in Amber’s position, I have never experienced the turmoil and pain she goes through. This is not to say that a reader must have personally experienced every aspect of a story in order to understand or enjoy it, but I do feel that in the case of topics such as rape, it is extremely difficult to fathom the circumstances and emotions surrounding them without having experienced them firsthand. I did absolutely feel empathy for Amber and tried my hardest to put myself in her shoes, but I understood my limitations, I accepted the fact that I will never ever be able to comprehend her anxieties and fears and depression without having lived them myself. I don’t feel comfortable at all pronouncing judgment on her actions or choices, because I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. I don’t feel that there’s any room for judgment in this novel whatsoever, for that reason, and I would find it impossible to contradict or criticize how the characters were portrayed because I have never been in their places. What I think is most thought-provoking and powerful about Hatvany’s description of both a rape survivor and her perpetrator is that each and every character is so human, so flawed and so realistic. There is no clear cut, neatly wrapped right or wrong, and every character exists in that gray area that we so often struggle with in real-life.

I don’t know if any of what I’ve said even makes sense, but I will try to sum up my jumbled thoughts as best I can. Read It Happens All the Time! Especially if you are someone who has never experienced the topics it investigates… Read It Happens All the Time! Have your parents read it, pass it along to your brothers and boyfriends, and encourage your children, both male and female, to read it when they reach an appropriate age. Give a copy to your best female friends, and to your best guy friends too, and start a conversation. Talk about what happens to Amber, and what happens to Tyler too, and even if your opinions vary or you can’t see eye to eye, discuss every nuance and detail and start the conversation. This is where Hatvany’s story will prove most significant: in the conversations between readers and their friends and family members. If each of us passes along our copy and challenges the person we’ve given it to to investigate their own assumptions and ideals, then we will be one step closer to making our world a safer place.

I highly recommend this one, to absolutely everyone!

Chelsea Humphrey’s review of It Happens All the Time, from her blog The Suspense Is Thrilling Me:

https://thesuspenseisthrillingme.com/2017/03/28/review-it-happens-all-the-time/

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Thirteen Reasons Why – #JNGReads

I want to start this review by stating that the reason behind my critiques and average rating of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is the writing style, and has nothing at all to do with the subject matter. I am a firm believer that suicide is absolutely something that must be discussed with and among young adults, and although I know the Netflix adaptation of the novel has received some criticism from parents and teachers for sensationalizing suicide, I feel strongly that this topic must be addressed and not avoided or feared. Young adults deserve for their anxieties and sources of depression to be acknowledged, and we also owe it to the young adult generation to encourage them to read texts and watch films and television shows that will draw their attention to the dangers of bullying, ridicule and prejudice, and that will encourage them to be mindful of their own actions and behaviours. These aren’t issues to shy away from, especially in our current age of social media, and I for one am very happy that there are authors like Asher out there who are eager to push the envelope and get people talking about tough and scary subject matter. For its unvarnished and unafraid portrayal of teenage depression, Thirteen Reasons Why gets a lot of respect from me.

Having said that, I could not give Thirteen Reasons Why a four-star rating, and that is mainly because I found it very hard to follow and felt myself constantly comparing it to another, very similar young adult novel that I read this year, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Before I Fall deals with the topics of bullying and teen suicide and investigates them in just as much depth as Thirteen Reasons Why, but, in my opinion, it was a better book and the narrator Samantha Kingston’s voice was more unique and clear. I found myself becoming very emotionally and viscerally attached to Sam and her story, and, unfortunately, that profound connection was missing from my reading experience of Thirteen Reasons Why.

I think this is mostly down to the fact that Clay’s first-person narration of listening to Hannah’s tapes is inter-spliced with Hannah’s narration on the tapes themselves. I know that Asher was probably intending for this style to come across as a conversation between the two main characters, a way of meshing their voices, blending them, and offering a stream of consciousness sort of perspective to the reader, but I felt that the style just missed the mark here. Rather than building a bond between Clay and Hannah that I found devastating and tragic (which I believe was the intention), the constant oscillation between Clay’s thoughts and Hannah’s was incredibly jarring and took me right out of the narration on the tapes. I kept feeling as though my understanding of Hannah and the stories she related was being interrupted, almost as if I was reading along and then literally had a family member or friend or random person sitting beside me at Starbucks come bursting up and start talking to me of unrelated topics. It quite literally felt like having my reading distracted by external forces at times, and I found myself thinking that I wished Clay’s narration was omitted entirely. Although I found Clay to be a sweet and endearing character, most of that I gleaned from Hannah’s description of him on the tape devoted to him, and I think the entire novel could’ve offered a more seamless and moving experience if all that had been presented to the reader was a transcript of Hannah’s tapes and nothing more. I just never had a chance to connect to Hannah, to get to know her or live inside her skin, because every time I came close to empathizing with her, my attention was snatched away by Clay’s internal monologue and his own preoccupations, frustrations and sadness. I feel that Clay’s narration wholly and utterly diluted Hannah’s, and that is why I preferred Before I Fall, which was told in a truly emotional but concise and clear first-person style that encouraged and helped me to live in Sam’s shoes, to effectively reside in her head.

I don’t know how much of that made sense and how much of it merely verged on disgruntled rants and ramblings, but I have to say that I am disappointed by the writing style in Thirteen Reasons Why because it prevented me from feeling for and with Hannah. I guess that is the best way to sum up my feelings toward the novel: the subject matter was important and poignant, but the articulation of it was frustrating, confusing and disjointed, in my opinion.

The thing is, what’s tricky about critiquing Thirteen Reasons Why is that I almost feel bad or guilty for giving it an average rating because, like I said, the subject matter is anything but average. By saying that I didn’t like the way the novel was written, I fear that I may discourage some readers from picking it up, and I sincerely hope that is not the case. Thirteen Reasons Why is absolutely the sort of book I would encourage my teenage daughter or son to read, and I do believe that encountering this subject matter in written form is probably preferable to watching a TV show about it because the novel does at least provide more depth and intricacy than a visual medium would. Having said that, I would equally encourage my daughter or son to read Before I Fall, which I feel is a stronger novel – in either case, though, I would be willing and eager to enter this sort of conversation with my child and remind him or her that actions have consequences, that words and decisions affect and can hurt other people. That is the strongest lesson I took from Thirteen Reasons Why: none of us live in a bubble, what we do and say matters and has an impact on others. Even Hannah, who we may be inclined to view as a victim at first, chooses to release tapes that are damning and complicated and dark, and so she is also a contributor to the complex world of rumours and gossip and unreliable perspectives. Nothing is black and white or straightforward in Thirteen Reasons Why, and even the victims are guilty in many ways of their own (I’m thinking of the two tragedies that happen during the party Hannah describes at the end of her tape collection, and in which Hannah is at least somewhat complicit), and I believe this focus is what makes the novel so hard-hitting in the end.

One other criticism I’d like to address is something I read in some other reviews on Goodreads. I noticed that a few people have criticized Hannah for ending her life for reasons that these readers feel aren’t serious or valid enough. I find that sort of critique to be quite callous and unnecessary. The crucial thing to remember about anxiety and depression is that they follow no specific formula and are drastically different for each individual person who struggles with them. Speaking as someone who has dealt for many years with anxiety, I know that it is often “illogical” in the sense that there are few people who would understand or sympathize with why certain things give me anxiety, particularly when my mind is fixated on things that are so subtle and seemingly minor that they’d hardly concern anyone else at all. But that’s the thing, my mind works differently from everyone else’s simply because everyone has their own mind and their own way of seeing things, and I would never judge someone else for being nervous or worried about something that I myself could deal with or overcome. Mental health is so personal, and I think that the beauty of Thirteen Reasons Why is that it explores the fact that even the littlest and apparently most insignificant words and actions can have much more weight than we can imagine. So, if Hannah felt compelled to end her life because of her experiences with the people she mentions on her tapes, that is so sad and unfortunate and heartbreaking, but it is not for anyone to judge or justify. That’s just my feeling on that particular critique.

Overall, I encourage people to read Thirteen Reasons Why and to not be afraid to put it in the hands of their children. As long as the dialogue about it is open and honest, I feel there are more lessons to be learned from this novel than risks resulting from reading it.

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Before I Fall – #JNGReads

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is probably one of the best young adult novels I have ever read.

I should qualify this statement by saying that I am very versed in the young adult genre. I’ve enjoyed reading young adult novels since high school, and even though I am really no longer a young adult by any standards, I still find novels geared at teenagers to be quick and enjoyable reads. For the most part, I’ve mainly encountered young adult novels that are light, airy and fun, but there have been those novels every now and then that blew me out of the water with how provocative they were (How To Love by Katie Cotugno, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu and Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld immediately come to mind, but there are many others of course).

Before I Fall has to be one of the hardest hitting young adult novels I’ve ever read, if not the hardest. One thing I have to say is that I was supremely lucky in that I was never bullied in high school. I wasn’t exactly popular and didn’t go to all the crazy parties, mainly because I was studious and more academically inclined, but I had a lot of acquaintances and many friends, several of whom I’ve held onto in my adulthood. I was also most certainly not a “mean girl”, and I never bullied anyone else, so I knew that Before I Fall would fascinate me because it would allow me to get into the head of the type of girl I never was in high school. And, I have to say, what I liked best about the novel was how vivid Sam’s first-person narration was. I truly felt as though I was inhabiting her mind and watching it process everything she was going through in real-time, and I think Oliver mastered Sam’s voice and made it very distinct and unique.

What was most breathtaking (and mostly in the sense of leaving the reader shocked) was how detailed Oliver’s descriptions of the actions of Sam and her friends was. Oliver picks apart every nuance of their “mean girl” personalities, and she provides the reader with just enough of a backstory for each of them to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. These characters left me very conflicted, and that was mainly because I knew so much about their troubled family and home lives, and could see firsthand how insecure and uncertain each of them were. Although it would’ve been easy, as a reader observing from an outside perspective, to hate Ally, Elody and especially Lindsay, it was hard to do so because I was so absorbed in Sam’s mind and her feelings for her three best friends seemed to stem from such a genuine place. I should explain – while I am absolutely not the type of person who could be best friends with a girl like Lindsay who would spread rumours about other students and ridicule them to the point of dangerous consequences, I somewhat began to understand why Sam was so close to her and loved her so dearly. Many of Lindsay’s actions are disgusting and reprehensible, but we are also given these wonderful descriptions of the moments when her and Sam are bonding like two average 17 year old girls, and it’s almost heartbreaking because it’s impossible to blame Sam for loving her best friend. She has grown up with her, and although she realizes throughout her journey in the novel that Lindsay is flawed beyond measure, she still can’t shake this connection to her. It’s sad in so many ways, but it’s also uplifting to watch Sam try to help Lindsay become a better person. I wish Sam had done more of that in the novel, but I also enjoyed watching Sam rediscover herself, and I don’t think I would change the moments of Sam’s internal healing for more moments of her with her friends in the end.

The main reason I picked up Before I Fall is that I saw the trailer for the soon to be released movie adaptation. It reminded me in many ways, probably due to the premise, of the film If I Stay, based on the novel of the same name. I didn’t get a chance to read If I Stay before seeing the movie, which I enjoyed very much, and I didn’t want to miss out on reading Before I Fall. When I found the book in the 40% Off Bestsellers section at my local supermarket, I mean, I couldn’t resist. I am very happy that I picked it up because I believe it is a book that undoubtedly needs to be read by as many young adults as possible. Hopefully more people who have read it, and those who see the movie, will spread the word because the approach Oliver takes to tackling the subject of bullying is extremely valuable in our day and age. There are far too many teenagers out there who are lost and crippled by self-consciousness and anxiety, and Oliver’s novel not only offers glimpses into the lives of these individuals, but also delves deeply into the thought process of the people who ostracize them. It really made me sick in many parts to read what Sam and her friends do to their fellow students, and it quite frankly shocked me to think that these are things that happen in schools everywhere. It’s simply revolting and it needs to stop, and I think that literature has the capacity to change society if enough people pay attention to and learn from it. There is much to be learned from Before I Fall and I would maybe even go so far as to say that it should be included as mandatory reading in grade 9 English classes.

The best word to describe Before I Fall, I think, would be haunting. It really does get under your skin, and you start to feel for the characters in ways you never expected. I highly recommend it to any young adults, and to parents of young adults, for that matter – there is so much to learn from the story!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Always – #JNGReads

I won’t be uploading a full post this week, for several reasons, but I did finish a book today and wanted to let you all quickly know what I thought of it. Here is the mini-review I wrote for Always by Sarah Jio on Goodreads

I was originally intending on writing a detailed review of this book, but I’m honestly a little confused by it (particularly the incredibly rushed ending), and I didn’t want to put something needlessly negative into the world. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, and although I had high hopes for it, it didn’t become a favourite. Rather than going into detail about why that’s the case though, I thought I’d focus on the positive, and leave my one favourite passage from the novel here instead…

“And then you meet someone who is different than your ex in almost every way, and you wonder if you can do it. You wonder if you can love the way you did so long ago. You’re not sure, but you try, and when you do, when you force yourself to go through the motions, you realize that your heart – asleep for so long – is groggily waking up, like a bear fresh out of hibernation. You’re alternately hungry and grumpy, disoriented, a bit lost. It surprises you when you feel the spark again. And though it might not burn as hot as it did so many years ago, as it did with the man who loved you when you were wide-eyed and twenty-five, it burns steadily now. It keeps you warm. And one day you start seeing rainbows again. One shines out your window at work. Another when you emerge from the grocery store. A double one fills up the entire sky when you’re having a glass of wine after a long day at the office. And that’s when you realize that your heart, beleaguered, weighed down with baggage of all kinds, is ready to try again. And so you do.”

Although the ending of the novel seemed to contradict and belittle this passage entirely, this one particular idea was very moving to me.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Gillespie and I ~ Close Readings — #JNGReads

As I mentioned in both of my blog posts from last weekend (you can read them here and here), the end of 2016 sort of got away from me.  Although I spent the week before Christmas curled up at home or at the Starbucks across the street from my house, reading my current novel with ardor and interest, once Christmas hit, I was absorbed in family activities and spending time with SS, and I didn’t have much time to devote to my book.  I’m back at work now, though, and while that is depressing in many ways, it means that I will be getting back to my daily lunch breaks spent with my current read in the Starbucks just steps away from my office building.  (Needless to say, green tea is becoming a bit of an obsession for me!)

What is that current read? you may wonder.  Well, if you follow along with me on Goodreads, you’ll know that after reading a fun but surprisingly poignant novel Christmas at Tiffany’s, I delved right into a darker and more complex dramatic narrative.  I picked up the novel Gillespie and I by Jane Harris at the exact same time that I bought Christmas at Tiffany’s and I have been eager to read it ever since.  The synopsis on the back cover of the book was what intrigued me: it is clear from just the short description that the novel will be a mysterious, psychological thriller set in the Victorian era.  I had no idea just how interesting and engrossing the story would be, however, and I have been thoroughly taken in by the tale, and more specifically by the surprising narrator, Harriet Baxter.  Harriet is a surprising character because I thought I had her all figured out, only to realise that she is perhaps a bit more sinister and less innocent than I expected.

Some context is required, I suppose, to explain what this blog post is going to be all about.  In Gillespie and I, Harriet Baxter tells the story of her relationship with the Gillespie family, specifically with the artist Ned Gillespie, his wife Annie and their two daughters, Sibyl and Rose.  For the first half of the novel, things are relatively pleasant and simple enough, as the reader hears about Harriet’s interactions with the family, told from her vantage point years later, as an old woman.  Then, almost all of a sudden, little hints are dropped by Harriet that there is a greater purpose to the telling of her tale, and when Rose goes missing, it becomes clear that Harriet is recounting the story in order to get out her version of the events that transpired.  Here, the plot becomes very interesting, as the reader begins to suspect, for reasons both stated and implied, that Harriet may’ve had a hand in the kidnapping of young Rose.  When Harriet is arrested and put on trial, she continues to assert her innocence, but the reader is still nagged by the sense that something is just not right.

I am currently at the part in the novel when Harriet is on trial for Rose’s abduction.  Although she is adamant that she was wrongfully accused, I don’t know what the actual conclusion or verdict is just yet, so I feel like I have put on my own detective hat and am trying to piece together what role Harriet might’ve had in the crime.  For that reason, I am on high alert, and my reading of her narrative has become quite suspicious.  She is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, and what is most fascinating about an otherwise mundane story is that there is this added layer of unease and uncertainty.  As a result, I’ve decided to provide you with a few choice passages from the novel in today’s post.  I will do a short close reading of each of these passages to portray to you exactly the sense of mystery and skepticism that surrounds Harriet as a narrator.  I’ve missed doing close readings since my university days, and Gillespie and I is a perfect source of inspiration for this sort of literary investigation.  So, here we go…

1) “Under normal circumstances, [Annie] might have left the girls in the care of her maid, but, unfortunately, the Gillespies had been obliged to dismiss Jessie, the previous week.  It so happened that Annie’s Christmas gift from Ned — her silver bar-brooch, with the baroque pearl — had gone amissing.  Annie wore that particular piece of jewellery only on special occasions, and its disappearance might not even have been noticed for a while had I not, one evening, requested another look at it.”

This passage is one that first elicited suspicion and curiosity in me.  It seemed very strange that Harriet should have been the one to draw attention, albeit in an allegedly coincidental manner, to the fact that Annie’s brooch was missing.  Considering that the fact that Jessie no longer works for the Gillespies means that Sibyl and Rose were left to attend to themselves at the time when Rose was kidnapped, it seems far too strange that Harriet would’ve played a part in this whole drama.  Did Harriet ask after the brooch on purpose, knowing that Jessie would be blamed and fired, in order to set the whole crime in motion?  Who knows…but there is at least evidence to suggest that this may be the case.  It is also unsettling just how much Harriet has noted about Annie’s habits, particularly that she only wears the brooch on special occasions, and this gives the sense that Harriet is always hovering, watching and taking stock of the Gillespie family’s routines and activities.  Her descriptions of the family are far too specific to be nonchalant.

2) “One can only imagine how wretched the old lady must have felt: the pangs of dread, churning her stomach; the actual physical ache, in the region of her heart; a tremble in the hands; the bitter taste at the back of her throat; and the ever-present sensation of nausea.  These are the kind of symptoms, I suppose, that must have plagued her.”

How is Harriet able to describe guilt with so much detail?  The very physical, tangible manifestation of this complicated emotion is something Harriet seems to know well.  Although she is not placing herself in the role of the person who should feel guilty, in this instance, she describes the sensations as though she has felt them several times and in such a vivid manner.  Is that not, then, suspicious, considering that she still feigns innocence?  It is especially notable that Harriet uses the phrase “I suppose”, as if to divert the reader from her trail and reassert herself in an innocent light.  Is this believable, though, or is the reader put even more on their guard by Harriet’s anxiety about being guilt-free?

3) “Back in early February, when I had first seen the list of witnesses for the Crown, there were one or two names that I had recognised as persons who might hold slight grudges against me.”

Okay, so what is going on here?!  This woman who we have basically been encouraged to believe, as readers of her personal narrative, has a spotless character, now appears to have a hidden past of some kind.  It is obviously possible that Harriet is entirely innocent in everything and people just wrongfully judge her, but isn’t it hard to believe that sort of thing, given the other hints and clues we’ve collected (for example, in the passages above)?  I should say that these three points in the novel are mere samples of the strange, unsettling moments in this story…and now that I’m looking for them, I seem to find suspicious statements on every page.  Perhaps I am overthinking things, but I feel that this novel is remarkable in that it forces the reader to question absolutely everything.  This is not a comfortable reading experience, by any standards, but it certainly is a compelling one.

So far, I would highly recommend Gillespie and I to those readers who like a jarring and complicated psychological thriller.  I’ll let you all know what I think as I reach the conclusion.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

A Different Kind of Bride

havisham

“But, as every girl growing up understood, her wedding day was the most significant she would know: a woman’s crowning glory.”

Havisham, Ronald Frame

A little while ago, I finished Ronald Frame’s novel Havisham, a prequel to Dickens’ much loved masterpiece Great Expectations and a book that I picked up on serious sale at my local Chapters.  I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I was particularly fascinated by Frame’s portrayal of the young Catherine Havisham.  It is a novel that I would absolutely recommend to fans of Great Expectations because it offers just that little extra bit of history about a character whose background is shrouded in much mystery.

In that same line of thought, I believe that the one defining and extraordinary feature of Havisham is the narrative voice that Frame creates for the young Miss Havisham.  Allowing Catherine to speak in first person was a masterful choice on Frame’s part, as it gives her an opportunity to speak distinctly, to take ownership of her personal story and the decisions she makes.  Rather than being an intriguing character in a larger work, Catherine Havisham becomes the centre of her own world, the focal point of a plot that is replete with its own mysteries and misunderstandings.  Miss Havisham is undoubtedly a character that is complex enough to warrant this sort of exploration, and I think that allowing Catherine to speak for herself adds many more layers to her already impressive personality.  Catherine Havisham is an educated, strong and defiant woman with a mind for business and a steely resolve, and although as readers we know that her story has a heartbreaking ending, we are also offered a glimpse into her powerful mind, which is a lot healthier and more robust than we probably would’ve expected.

What is also wonderful about Catherine’s voice is that it is clearly her own; it is a narrative voice unlike any I’ve encountered in a contemporary novel in a very long time.  Frame artfully mixes Victorian-style speech with references to classic poetry and imagery that are unique and vivid.  His descriptions, through Catherine, of physical surroundings, other characters and feelings and emotions are detailed (in homage to Dickens, no doubt) and quite beautifully crafted.

“Did the trees droop by nature’s will, or because I told them what my feelings were?”

“I floated through the day, never so light or carefree, hopeful to the very tips of my fingers and toes.”

Catherine’s narration is also wonderfully cadenced: her lines, both spoken and internally narrated, take on a very poetic quality, which aligns well with her haunting and spectral quality.  She is a narrator whose voice is at once bewitching and relaxing.

“But I was afraid every time he left me, not just unhappy.”

“My imagination threw a caul of gentle thoughts around him, to protect him…”

The one criticism of the novel I remember reading on Goodreads is that one reader said she could not connect fully with Catherine because she never found herself even remotely liking Catherine’s love interest, Charles Compeyson.  Well, with that I must agree.  However, unlike this reader, I think the fact that I disliked and was extremely suspicious of Charles from the start increased my sympathy with Catherine and my overall connection to her.  I have been reading novels (such as Jack Caldwell’s The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men) and watching television shows (such as ITV’s new series Victoria) recently that have presented me with models of wives and domestic life.  As someone who is engaged and will be married next year, I must admit that the image of Miss Havisham, a not-quite-bride forever suspended in the moment of 9:20am on her wedding day, was not the model of bridal bliss I was eager to encounter.  Having said that, I grew to love Catherine Havisham because I felt her heartache, I was outraged on her behalf, and I understood that the loss of the sort of love that leads to marriage (even if I didn’t like the man she had chosen) would be utterly devastating.  I was wary of Charles from day one because I’ve read Great Expectations and I knew things weren’t going to end well on the romantic front for Miss Havisham, but I could still identify with Catherine’s loneliness, with her desire to find a partner, to have a bit of her burden unloaded on someone she could trust and feel close to.  I didn’t believe that Charles ever properly respected or appreciated her, but I felt how solitary her existence was, and I knew that she craved support and attention, so I didn’t fault her naivety whatsoever.  On the contrary, I felt closer to her because I wanted to protect her from the outcome that I knew was inevitable.  I couldn’t do that, and so I found Frame’s novel so much more emotional and meaningful for the predictable ending it was required to provide.  I would say that the fact that Charles was despicable only made me adore Catherine more.

“He evaded me now because, I realized, he always had.  I had been in love with someone I had half-imagined to life, half-invented myself.”

And come to adore Catherine, I did.  I didn’t expect to become so close to someone like Miss Havisham, who is portrayed as so cold and calculated in Dickens’ original text.  I was drawn to the humanity in Catherine Havisham though, and I think that is testament to Frame’s remarkable knack for writing and mastering his narrator’s voice.

“I sometimes thought that I disappointed him.  He would have liked me to be more of a ‘Miss Havisham’ than I was.  Had he been directing me in a play, he would have heightened the effects.”

I was originally going to say that my one qualm with Frame’s novel is that it extended into the storyline of Great Expectations.  Originally, I wasn’t pleased that Frame chose to explore the famous Miss Havisham of Dickens’ novel in the final hundred pages of his own.  I wished, at first, that he had finished the story after Catherine’s fall into depression, after she remade herself into the ghost-like and miserable Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, before she invited Estella to her home.  I felt that delving into the world of Great Expectations made Dickens’ spectre of a character too human, and this bothered me as I have always appreciated the mystique around Miss Havisham’s character.  Now that I’ve had a chance to think about this more, though, I do like that I now have a new perspective on Miss Havisham.  I know that there is humanity in there, that there is a woman inside the figure who walks endlessly around her breakfast table.  There is feeling there, even if Miss Havisham tries to portray herself, especially to Pip, as frozen.  She has sentiments and regrets and yearnings, and I believe that Frame is very respectful of Dickens’ invention by exploring what lies within Miss Havisham’s soul.

As I said, I am very happy that I stumbled upon this novel and gave it a read.  It added yet another layer to my appreciation of a literary classic, and further informed my understanding of a character I thought I would never have answers about.

❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Alias Grace – #JNGReads

If you watched my Instagram story from the beginning of this week (I don’t have Snapchat, so I actually found it kind of fun to use the new Instagram story feature!), you’ll know that I finally finished Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I recently wrote a blog post about the difficulties I was having getting into the story and acclimatizing to Atwood’s often tricky narrative voice, but I am happy to say that I grew to really enjoy the novel and I am quite happy that I stuck it out and read all the way to the end. According to Goodreads, I started reading the novel on July 19th, so it took me just under a month to finish it, which is not bad for a 550+ page novel, especially considering the fact that I work full-time.

Here’s a more comprehensive review of my thoughts on Alias Grace

Alias Grace is a very interesting and thought-provoking novel, and I would probably say that it is my favourite Atwood work that I have read to date. Although I struggled in the beginning, for about the first 100 pages, with the writing style (for example, the lack of quotations and proper punctuation during Grace’s narration) and with all the details that seemed arduous and much too wordy, I really developed a feel for the story as I delved further into it, and I became accustomed to Grace’s manner of speaking and to the various narrative voices that Atwood employs. I also started to become more invested in the plot, and I put on my own detective hat for a while, trying to piece together the information about the murders of Nancy Montgomery and Thomas Kinnear. As I reached the point in the novel when Dr. Jordan listens to Grace’s narrative about her life and the events surrounding the murder, I was able to start to investigate my own feelings about Grace and speculate about her degree of guilt. I haven’t reached any definitive conclusions, even after finishing the entire story and allowing myself to consider each point of view, but I will say that I don’t think Grace’s involvement in the murders is clear cut and I don’t know that I think she is entirely guilty or innocent there is certainly some grey area in between, and I believe Grace inhabits that space.

Probably my favourite aspects of the novel were the portrayal of Grace’s complex personality and psyche, as well as the description of the setting…

Grace Marks is a remarkable and fascinating woman. I know that Atwood based as much of the novel as possible on fact, and I do understand why 19th century individuals would have been intrigued by Grace’s story and would have lined up to see her. I am very conflicted about my feelings toward Grace – as I said above, I don’t know if I believe her to be solidly guilty or innocent, and I do think she made several very poor decisions during her time working for Thomas Kinnear. There were undeniably moments when she could have revealed James McDermott’s plan and saved herself from becoming an accomplice to murder (if that was in fact her only role in the crime). However, even despite the ambiguities surrounding her involvement, I found myself empathizing with Grace and feeling sorry for her. She had a rough, uncomfortable childhood, especially during her immigration to Toronto, and she was forced to become an adult at a very early age and learn to provide for herself. This ultimately led to her employment at Kinnear’s home, and I think she felt reluctant to leave her position, even when there was suspicious activity, because she felt as though she didn’t have a home to call her own. She was a woman, or a girl rather, trapped in unfortunate circumstances… And I do mean trapped. I don’t think Grace had any other choice but to be in the position she was in, as her options were very limited, and I cannot imagine being a girl of the age of 15 or 16 who has no family, friends or even acquaintances to rely on or receive advice from. It’s my opinion that Grace got mixed up in a bad situation because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time…but I also believe that Grace had no other option and that she would have ended up in dangerous circumstances regardless of whose house she worked at. Having said all that, I can understand why Atwood was haunted by Grace because I feel that she must’ve been severely misunderstood in her time, and I think it is a testament to Atwood’s immense skill as a writer that she took the time to thoroughly research Grace’s life and document its details with impressive accuracy.

As far as Dr. Jordan goes, in terms of other main characters, I found him to be a complex character mainly because he was often very hypocritical and ended up totally surprising me with his actions toward his landlady Mrs. Humphrey. I thought I had Dr. Jordan’s identity pegged at the beginning of the novel, as a studious and lonely doctor, but many other layers of his personality were revealed, and it turns out that I didn’t really know him at all. He had a much more sinister side than I ever could’ve expected, and while this caused me to respect him less, I found him to be a more interesting character because of it.

The greatest source of interest, for me, in the novel was the treatment and description of Toronto and its surrounding areas, including Richmond Hill (where Thomas Kinnear lived). I found it fascinating to read about my own city and imagine what it was like in the 19th century. Although this novel is not at all written in the Victorian style, it does describe the 19th century in vivid detail, and I often lost myself in imagining the streets of Toronto in a completely different light. I also felt the urge, after finishing my reading, to visit some of the sites mentioned in the novel. I wonder if Thomas Kinnear’s house still stands in Richmond Hill and if his and Nancy’s graves can still be found at the Presbyterian Church. I wonder if the streets I walk on my way to work or during daytrips downtown are the same ones that Grace Marks walked. And if I ever visit the Kingston Penitentiary, will I see the very spot where James McDermott was hanged? There’s nothing quite like reading about a familiar setting and experiencing this discomfort when it becomes unfamiliar and unrecognizable to you. I think it informed my understanding of Toronto’s history to get a glimpse into what it was like to live here 200 years ago.

I have heard that Alias Grace is being made into a TV series, and I think that is a great idea. 550+ pages is a lot to get through, especially when the writing is so dense, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for not being able to undertake the challenge. But Grace’s story, and particularly Atwood’s treatment of it, is very unique, and I think many people would find the plot interesting and intriguing. I’ll definitely be giving the show a try.

Finally, I should mention my least favourite aspect of the novel… Any and all reference to Susanna Moodie. Her text Roughing it in the Bush was the bane of my existence in university, and I cannot shake this sense that she was an incredibly annoying woman!

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart