Cruel Beauty ~ #JNGReads

Reading Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. I knew I would really struggle to write a review of the book as I was reading it because I knew I’d never be able to fully remember or encapsulate just how weird and confused it made me throughout my reading experience. For that reason, about a third into the story, I decided to start making notes about what I was thinking and feeling as I read, and these are the notes I will present to you as my “review” of sorts. I have to say, I am still 100% confused by this novel because I don’t at all know how to make sense of the plot or the characters or any of it. I am not at all confident in my rating (which you’ll find at the end of this review) because in all likelihood it was heavily influenced by how emotional the ending of the story was and doesn’t take into account how bland and utterly confounding parts of the plot were. But, that being said, I think the purpose of reading is to challenge oneself, and this novel was undoubtedly a challenging one because it forced me to consider what elements I believe make for a great story. Is it a complex plot, or can those sometimes become too ambitious and convoluted? Is it complicated characters, or can they sometimes tend toward hypocrisy and create frustration? Is it a romance that is all encompassing, or can those sometimes become over-the-top and melodramatic? Is it an ending that leaves you raw and uncertain? I can’t say I know any of the answers to those questions, but Cruel Beauty most certainly has all of those things – it was at once vast and overly ambitious, beautiful and annoying. It is a contradiction in so many ways…and yet…I didn’t hate it…or at least, I don’t think I did.

My Thoughts As I Read

As of pg. 125

– Nyx’s internal monologue is grating because her character is not complex enough. She ruminates on the same issues over and over (very redundant!), for example hating her sister and father and aunt and lusting after Shade. However, her monologue never actually leads her anywhere!

– The writing style seems all over the place and is disorienting. Some aspects of the plot are poorly explained, for example the concept of Hermetics and the demons and why the sky is paper… Huh?!

– I really like Ignifex BUT there isn’t enough of him so far! I find Shade boring so I want more Ignifex!

So far, this is at 3 stars for me = no emotional connection or investment on my part yet, but I am still hopeful and intrigued.

– Things I want to learn more about at this point in the novel: 1) Ignifex’s bargains; 2) Ignifex’s past lives; 3) demon lore/explanation of when Ignifex came into power to be more fleshed out

As of pg. 144

– Although the “final prince” storyline is not very fleshed out and not at all well explained, I am so curious in spite of myself!

pg. 164: Literally within the span of one page, Nyx talks about hating and loving Astraia. Just when you think she is growing, either for good or evil, she backtracks. ANNOYING!

– Then an allusion to Ignifex’s masters that gets dropped…when do things come together?

* I will say, Hodge paints the rooms well, like the dripping wet library…BUT her references to mythology are too frequent, jarring and heavy handed.

* I feel like Hodge has a lot of good and intriguing ideas BUT she tries to cram too many of them into one book and it makes the plot feel heavy and cumbersome.

– I will say, I do love how Ignifex talks. I do feel that he has a distinct voice. He is unique from any main male characters I’ve encountered in a while; weirdly, he reminds me both of Josh from The Hating Game and Rhysand from ACOTAR…but he still isn’t quite as intriguing as either of them!

– Finally, a moment that had me slightly breathless and emotional, when Nyx and Ignifex were under the true sky, lying together in the grass, I’m a sucker for simple romance!

pg. 192: Oh lord, Nyx’s internal monogue is sooo repetitive!

As of pg. 238

– Things are finally getting A LOT more interesting. Codes are being cracked and lore is being explained. A romance is blossoming! This is what I wanted from page one…but is it too little, too late?

~ “And I was his delight and he was mine.” ~

– VERY reminiscent of Jane Eyre.

– I’ve read reviews that say that Nyx and Ignifex’s banter gets less witty and entertaining as they fall in love, and with that I must agree. What a shame!

As of pg. 269

– I like Astraia way better than Nyx actually! At least she has conviction and is more of a fighter. Honestly, I am 100% more intrigued now than I have been at any point before this.

– Nyx is so confusing! She will always love Ignifex and yet she is resigned to hurting him…but her mind flip-flops so easily and constantly. CHOOSE ONE THING AND JUST STICK TO IT! It is hard to keep up with her!

As of pg. 300

– I still feel like I barely understand who the Children of Typhon and the Kindly Ones are. I feel like everything will remain unexplained.

~ “I kissed him back like he was my only hope of breathing.” ~

– Okay, that quote is a good one!

……

WOAH! This ending is actually breaking my heart because I hate it when a lover loses her memory and is separated from her beloved! Could this redeem the whole story?

As of The End

– Okay, WOW! That ending was gorgeous and haunting and heart wrenching and dark and convoluted yet so simple. It sort of made the whole messed up story worthwhile because it was strangely beautiful and moving, that image of love holding on for dear life. I think it redeemed the whole novel for me. Wow! The most confusing reading experience I have ever had!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

How do you even make sense of that? Like, do those notes even make any sort of sense? I have no idea! Truly, this book is just so utterly baffling – if I think too much about it and try to sort my feelings out, I think I might go crazy. I think this book is designed to make you go crazy as a reader – it’s like, you know that movie Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise that literally made no sense but was oddly brilliant and impossible to look away from? Yeah, that’s the film equivalent of Cruel Beauty. It was like impossible to decipher but impossible not to want to.

ARGH! I. Just. Do. Not. Know. *siiiiiigh*

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

Stalking Jack the Ripper ~ #JNGReads

No one is more disappointed in this book, or in my reaction to it, than I am.

I desperately wanted to love Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, and really I should have. It is the exact sort of historical fiction novel that would normally be right up my alley: a look at Victorian London during the tumultuous time of Jack the Ripper’s reign, as told by a young woman struggling to break free of societal norms and pursue science, forensics and academia. Doesn’t that sound like something I would absolutely love, as the intense and passionate pseudo-Victorian I am? Shouldn’t I have felt a strong connection to the narrator and protagonist Audrey Rose Wadsworth, especially considering that I have often imagined myself living in the Victorian era and have fancied that I might be a bit of a badass amateur detective too? Well yeah, all of that is true…but for whatever reason, I could not connect to Audrey Rose (on the contrary, I found her extremely annoying – more on that to come), I was not at all attracted to or intrigued by her love interest Thomas Cresswell, and I found it very difficult to follow what little action there was in the plot. Argh, I am actually so frustrated because I feel that this novel had such potential considering the awesome premise, but it just totally failed on every account for me – to be perfectly honest, I could barely keep my mind from wandering as I read and Maniscalco’s writing style and Audrey Rose’s voice in no way captured my attention.

Honestly, what a mess – the novel probably isn’t that bad in theory and I know my opinion is really unpopular, so there are a ton of people who really loved this story, but I just could not get into it, no matter how hard I tried. And that makes me so sad! Reading Stalking Jack the Ripper was, for me, a very similar experience to reading Anna and the French Kiss earlier this year. Anna and the French Kiss is a novel that so many readers absolutely adore and rave about, and my expectations were so high when I picked it up. That’s what made it even more disappointing when I found myself getting seriously annoyed by Anna and hating her crush St. Clair. I wanted to love them, but that meant that I felt like I was constantly trying to force myself to find the story enjoyable. And I don’t think you should ever have to force yourself to love a book…that sort of excited feeling should come naturally!

If I’m being truthful, I disliked Stalking Jack the Ripper for the same reasons I disliked Anna and the French Kiss: I found the narrator and female lead to be insufferable and insipid, and I found her love interest to be flat and boring. That really is an unpopular opinion because I have read so many reviews where readers said Audrey Rose was fierce and inspiring and Thomas was swoon-worthy…but I’m just left thinking, Huh? What did I miss?

Allow me to go into why I disliked each of these characters so that you don’t think I’m an immature reader who just felt like hating on a popular novel. Let’s start with Thomas – he is the absolute most bland love interest I have ever encountered, except for the previously mentioned St. Clair. I truly do not get Thomas’ appeal whatsoever. He’s supposed to be this freakishly intelligent, Sherlock Holmes type character, but all of his deductions are seriously lame. It’s like he’s grasping at straws half the time when he deduces anything about Audrey Rose, like, for example, saying that her mother must have died and her relationship with her father must be strained because she plays with the ring she always wears. Like what? Or that she must’ve been visiting Bedlam Asylum because she has rust stains on her hands. I was seriously confused by Thomas’ train of thought for about 95% of the time he was present in the novel, and it felt like Maniscalco was trying desperately to make him resemble Sherlock Holmes but failing miserably because, let’s be honest, she isn’t Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle, so how could she possibly replicate those sorts of thought processes? I don’t know, it all felt like a poorly done parody to me, and I didn’t even find Thomas’ attempts at flirtation to be that intriguing because it felt like it was coming out of nowhere. One minute he’d be focused on his allegedly brilliant thoughts and then he’d come out with a very weak flirtatious line about Audrey Rose’s lips or something equally cliché. I mean, colour me bored and unimpressed…I read most of his dialogues with Audrey Rose with one eyebrow raised, thinking, Where on earth is this even going? In my opinion, Audrey Rose and Thomas had absolutely 0 chemistry, and I think the novel simply did not need a love interest for Audrey Rose because she would’ve had the exact same adventure in every way without Thomas. Why are love interests always gratuitously slipped into young adult novels for the sake of it? I’m done with it…make the love story interesting and productive or don’t put it in at all please!

Having said that, Thomas had one funny line in the novel that I actually liked…ONE line in 320+ pages. *sigh*

“‘It’s been as pleasant as a fast day in Lent, gentlemen.’” ~ Thomas

Okay, on to Audrey Rose, one of the most annoying and air-headed protagonists I have ever encountered. I’m not going to go into detail about how she literally stumbles on every clue toward solving her case without any actual effort or agency – other reviewers have done that better than me, so be sure to check out their reviews on Goodreads. What I will say is that everything about Audrey Rose seemed to be a huge contradiction. She is the actual definition of the whole “The lady doth protest too much” idea. Basically, Audrey Rose wants to study science, she wants to be part of the male dominated profession of forensic science, she wants to attend classes and make a name for herself. That is great, totally encouraged, go you, Audrey Rose, girl power! However, what irked me to no end is the fact that Audrey Rose goes on and on about how, despite being into science, she still loves the finer things in life while simultaneously criticizing others for loving those finer things. Don’t misunderstand me: I am all for Audrey Rose being a badass serial killer hunter and still wearing makeup and pretty dresses and drinking fine tea. Trust me, I am that person who likes wearing pink frilly blouses to hard rock concerts; if anyone gets having multiple layers to one’s personality and a variety of different passions and interests, it’s me. But what got to me is that Audrey Rose will talk about wanting to be able to wear makeup and pretty dresses while using her brain, but then go on to look down upon her female peers who wear makeup and pretty dresses. Audrey Rose is, quite frankly, a snob because she seems to have this idea that if a woman is going to be girly or prim and proper, she is wasting herself because she isn’t pursuing something seriously academic. But really, this is the exact same thing as people implying that Audrey Rose can’t be a beautiful woman and be a scientist: BOTH of these things are stereotypes and BOTH of these reactions are caused by prejudice and judgment. If a woman wants to use her brain to become the best party thrower in Victorian England, that is her right, but Audrey Rose seems to think this is not a worthwhile enterprise, so she criticizes it to no end. It would be one thing if Audrey Rose was totally against the luxuries of being of a higher class…maybe then it would make sense for her to criticize the women around her because she is doing everything in the name of science and intelligence…BUT this isn’t even the case because Audrey Rose herself states that she loves being of a higher class on multiple occasions, so it comes across as her being super conceited and thinking that only the way she goes about being of a higher class is the right way. It’s just pompous and came across as super annoying to me! I got to the point where I wanted to punch Audrey Rose in the face a few times for being so judgy – she was actually more of an asshole than characters like her Aunt Amelia who were supposed to be the old-fashioned, judgmental ones.

Anyway, I identified a few quotes where Audrey Rose was being particularly judgmental and stuck up, and I’m going to include them below, lest you all think I’m just being rude! Obviously, any text is open to interpretation, so maybe I’m just being touchy about all this, but it got to me and seriously hindered my reading experience.

  • “‘You speak as if you’d like to throw away your good name and swash the decks yourself.’” = So apparently, if science isn’t a person’s chosen profession, Audrey Rose is going to scorn it. Let’s say her brother Nathaniel did want to give up his high class to become a sailor…would that be so bad? Audrey Rose seems to think it’s worthy of mockery. And obviously she doesn’t like the idea of giving up lavish luxury very much herself.
  • “‘Their biscuits are my favourite for tea,’ I said.” = In the middle of a murder investigation, all Audrey Rose can think about is how good certain biscuits are when she has her tea. Talk about first world problems!
  • “I couldn’t control my lip from curling at his ability to ignore the cesspool of filth that had been wiped all around the glass. God only knew what kind of disease he was potentially being exposed to.” = When visiting a bar in the lower class area where many of Jack the Ripper’s victims were found, Audrey Rose can’t help but focus on how dirty and unsightly everything is…because that should really be the major concern of a detective who is meant to be helping the lower class people, not being disgusted by them!
  • “gathering my skirts like silent witnesses” = I’m sorry, but this is the worst simile ever! Does that idea even make sense?
  • “Her hair – somewhere between caramel and chocolate – was twisted into an intricate design about her crown. I’d love to fashion mine in a similar way.” = Oh, so you do love looking beautiful, eh Audrey Rose?
  • “If only life’s problems could be solved with a frilly dress and a pair of slippers. To hell with the world around us, so long as we looked our best.” = This is a great example of Audrey Rose being a pompous ass – her tone is so sarcastic and mocking, but this is only pages after she’s talking about how she wants to try out a hairstyle like her cousin’s. I mean, come on – can’t she be a little more accepting, the same way she’d like others to be? No, instead she is an actual snob!
  • “Here I was, playing dress-up while Uncle was in the asylum and a murderer was butchering innocent women.” = I don’t think you can have it both ways, Audrey Rose! Yes, you can be beautiful and smart, but you can’t criticize people for loving the finer things to the point of obliviousness and then do the exact same thing yourself…because it is ANNOYING!

Ugh, I am so over this novel! I am really mad that I didn’t like it, and I am 100% frustrated by the fact that I didn’t seem to get this novel. What an utter disappointment!

“‘There’s nothing better than a little danger dashed with some romance.’”

Agreed…but sadly, this book has NEITHER!

I’m really tempted to give it 1 star…but I’m not a heartless guttersnipe, so I’ll bump it to 2 because it was at least a quick, short read and Audrey Rose’s outfits sounded pretty. UGH!

Also, if you’re looking for a book that does everything Stalking Jack the Ripper attempts to do but better, read A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro!

❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green (and VERY Disappointed) Heart

A Truly Unexpected Favourite ~ A Court of Thorns and Roses ~ #JNGReads

What on Earth did I just read?!?!?!

I rarely do this. I rarely sit down and write a review only moments after finishing a book, especially if it’s after 10:00pm on a weekday, but this time, I just couldn’t resist.

I am in shock – complete and utter, mind-bending, soul-altering shock – from what I experienced. Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow.

I have to admit, I was expecting to enjoy Sarah J. Maas’ novel A Court of Thorns and Roses. Read the description of it, online, on Goodreads, anywhere you can find it – it is a novel right up my alley: a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a strong and defiant heroine, battling it out against unique and terrifying villains, all in the hopes of saving her beloved. Sign me up. My only source of hesitation when picking up the novel was its genre – fantasy is not my thing whatsoever (Unpopular opinion time: I struggle to get through episodes of Game of Thrones that my fiancé finds incredible and heart wrenching, because I find that show DULL!), and so I had this feeling that I would like ACOTAR, but that I wouldn’t love it.

Well, I was freakin’ wrong on all accounts, and I am more shocked than anyone about it (except, perhaps, for my fiancé who can’t believe that a book of high fantasy had me gasping and writhing on our couch). Holy ****, I don’t even know how to describe what I’ve just experienced. This book is INCREDIBLE and I LOVED it!!!

Okay, how to put into words the emotions that are currently swirling in my chest… I have no idea. I need to try to be calm and rational about this, but it is so so hard, and if you’ve heard of ACOTAR at all or read any reviews, you’ll know why I’m so shaken. It is just that good. Like I said, I was NOT expecting to react this strongly or be this sucked into a fantasy world, but Maas’ writing is so intricate and detailed and consuming that I couldn’t stop myself from being overtaken. And more than that, I am completely overwhelmed by the story – it delivered every possible emotion; I felt horror and fear and anxiety and joy and love; it was romantic and funny and suspenseful and terrifying. It was everything, absolutely EVERYTHING that literature and fiction should be because it effortlessly transported me to another world. I was so enveloped in Feyre’s world that I almost forgot where I was at times, that I was able to ignore my real-life anxieties and obligations and go on a wonderful and awesome adventure. This, this, is what reading is all about!

Alright, let me try to properly articulate what I loved about A Court of Thorns and Roses… Everything!!! No, focus, be more detailed than that…

~ I loved the world, the setting. This surprised me more than anything. As I mentioned, I’m not one for all that fantasy stuff, and although I don’t mind reading about a fairy every now and then, I can’t say that I crave entering mythical or magical lands all that often. Having said that, Maas creates a world that is recognizable and relatable, but tinged with just enough magic to make it intriguing. Fantasy truly is the perfect word for it because I felt like Prythian was the ideal place to live, full of human comforts and familiarity, but also laced with wonders and immense beauty. I totally felt like I was living there because Maas’ descriptions were so breathtaking, and to be frank, I’d like to head back there right now.

~ I loved Feyre. I’ve heard criticism of her, and I’ll admit that I was SUPER annoyed when she couldn’t figure out the simplest riddle in all of existence, but she kick assed and I loved it! She is a strong, defiant and utterly brave female character, and she is about a million times more resourceful and resilient than her male counterparts. This is the type of female character that we need in this day and age, and when things got ridiculously intense at the end of the novel, I was on Feyre’s side every step of the way. I think she made all the right decisions, and I was in awe of her heart and her passion. I like to think that I’m similar to her in many ways, in my loyalty above all things, and she really did inspire me to stand tall and walk with my chin held high under all circumstances. Go Feyre!

~ I loved Rhysand. This is probably shameful, but this is where I’m at by the end of this epic novel. I don’t understand Rhysand, I have no real idea what he’s up to or what’s going on, but I like him. He’s mysterious and I just know that he’s misunderstood and has a kind heart way underneath his pale skin, and I’m sorry, but any time I sense even a bit of Mr. Rochester in a male character, I’m going to fall for him. It’s complicated, definitely, but I feel like something good is happening between him and Feyre, so I’m just going to go with it. He was there for her when it counted, when no one else was, and for that, I give him points. And, also, this scene…I mean, come on, I didn’t stand a chance…

“The pain shot through my bones again, and through my increasing hysteria, I heard words inside my head that stopped me short.

Don’t let her see you cry.

Put your hands at your sides and stand up.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t move.

Stand. Don’t give her the satisfaction of seeing you break.

My knees and spine, not entirely of my own will, forced me upright, and when the ground at last stopped moving, I looked at Amarantha with tearless eyes.

Good, Rhysand told me. Stare her down. No tears – wait until you’re back in your cell.

….Good girl. Now walk away. Turn on your heel – good. Walk toward the door. Keep your chin high. Let the crowd part. One step after another.

I listened to him, let him keep me tethered to sanity…”

~ I wanted to love Tamlin. I think I was supposed to love him, but in typical Victorian heroine fashion, I let a more interesting male character distract me. Tamlin was bland, if I’m honest, and he didn’t really do much of anything. Even his “romantic” interactions with Feyre weren’t all that spicy or intoxicating. However, I understand that it was important for him to be the likable good guy in order for Feyre’s willingness to die for him to be believable. If anything, though, I saw him as more of a plot device to get Feyre Under the Mountain, and that was just fine – but, the fact is, I’m not enamoured with him and I’m more interested in Feyre’s personal journey in the coming books than with her relationship with him.

~ I loved this entire reading experience. I can’t emphasize enough that A Court of Thorns and Roses delivers exactly what every reader should want: a true escape. I was whisked away to an entirely different realm and I was absorbed for every single second of my journey. The final third of the novel is full of such suspense and agony and uncertainty that I was actually shaken and left totally unnerved. I found it hard to concentrate on anything else, or even to sleep, because I kept dwelling on Feyre’s dilemma – it was that intense.

This reading experience was passionate for me, all encompassing and profound, and I am so glad that I decided to buy the second and third installment of the series this past weekend so I can dive back into the story right away. There must’ve been flaws with this novel, I’m sure there were, but I can’t even think about them because I’m too overjoyed and excited about how intricate the story was and how many new friends I’ve made in its pages. This reading experience was simply breathtaking, and I would highly recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses to any reader that wants to get away for awhile and be consumed by a world both different from and yet satisfyingly similar to our own.

On to the next novel – but seriously, I’m cracking open its spine tonight!

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!

JNG

Girl with a 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

So Far, Not Good

I’m in probably the worst position an avid reader can be in right now…

I am not enjoying my current read.

If you follow along with me on Twitter or Goodreads, you’ll know that I started reading Margaret Atwood’s Victorian-esque novel Alias Grace last week. My choice to read this book was completely random: I had just finished Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and I didn’t have a clue what book I would read next; I saw Alias Grace sitting on my bookshelf and impulsively picked it up, placing it in my work bag to begin reading on the bus the next day. Alias Grace did NOT come highly recommend, however; my brother eagerly gave me the book after completing his Canadian Literature class this past year. He hadn’t actually read it because it seemed “too long and boring”, so he thought he would just dump it on me for my blog. Not exactly a stellar review, eh?

I have to preface everything I am about to say by admitting that Canadian Literature is not my favourite. I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned this on the blog before (I’ve actually been writing this thing for so long that I sometimes forget what I’ve told you all – imagine that!), but my mark in my Canadian Literature class from second year university is a black spot on my academic record that I will never recover from. Okay, I actually got a good mark by most people’s standards – it was a B+ if you must know – but considering that it is the ONE B amongst all the other A’s I achieved in 5 years of study (including my Master’s), I think it’s fair for me to be a little bit upset about it. (*Overachiever problems, clearly!) I also stand by the fact that I deserved a higher mark because the essays I wrote for that class were among my favourite in my entire academic career. I’m convinced the TA had something against me and my writing style, but I have yet to prove this – it was also very gratifying to take classes with this same TA during my Master’s and realize that my opinions were in fact just as valid as his. Anyway, I digress, no need to get more enraged by this. The point is, although I love the short stories of Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, and I have enjoyed a Canadian read here and there, it’s not my absolute favourite style of literature.

Now, in theory, that has nothing at all to do with Alias Grace, which does take place in Ontario but which is set in the 19th century. I mean, we all know that is a time period I am very interested in, and it should be fascinating to read about how my favourite era played out in my own country. It should be fascinating, but, if I’m honest, I’m not finding the story all that fascinating just yet. Actually, no, I shouldn’t say that – the plot itself is very cool: the story investigates the life of Grace Marks, a housekeeper turned murderess who kills her employer and fellow housekeeper in cold blood. Yeah, I think that sounds intriguing too!

However, here’s another startling admission: I am not a fan of Margaret Atwood’s writing. I have read many of her works, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale in high school, then onto some of her short stories in the aforementioned Canadian Literature class, and even including her novel Cat’s Eye which I read randomly one summer. So I’m experienced with Atwood’s writing style. The issue is that I don’t particularly like it – her stories are interesting enough, but her writing seems so dry to me, and Alias Grace is especially written in a sort of catalogue or documentary style. I’m really struggling to get through it for that reason. It feels a lot like homework to read this novel, which is not exactly what I was looking for in a summer read.

The problem is, everyone seems to be excited about me reading this novel. Everyone and their mother is liking my Goodreads status or Tweets about it, so obviously enough people think it is a good book. I’m just not there yet, and the thing is almost 600 pages, so I’m hoping my opinion changes really soon.

Here’s the question: keep plugging away or give up now while I still can? I’ve never been a quitter, so I think I need to give this one a more solid effort!

Wish me luck!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Janille Reads Jane – Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey

I have to make a startling admission which I’ve probably already alluded to here on the blog: I am not the biggest fan of Jane Austen.

I am one of those people who is loyal to Charlotte Brontë, who loves Charles Dickens, who enjoys long and eloquent descriptions full of emotion and feeling. I’m not really that fond of concise narratives that sum things up in a single paragraph, that tell me what a character is thinking and feeling rather than showing me through their actions. I like sentiments over logic, lengthy descriptions over summaries. And I find that Jane Austen usually offers the latter.

My assessment was no different yesterday afternoon when I finished Northanger Abbey. I have now read all of Jane Austen’s books except Sense and Sensibility, so I feel that I can profess an astute opinion on them. Don’t get me wrong, her stories are iconic and I have adored movie adaptations of them, such as the version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley and Matthew McFayden, as well as modern adaptations like the Youtube series Emma Approved. However, I just do not adore Jane Austen’s writing style. It is too clipped and concise and ironic, which I believe leaves it void of emotion. There is no real substance, no depth to the characters, in my opinion. The concepts are good, but they are told in catalogue style, as if Austen wants to simply list the events and summarize them without exploring their detail or complexity.

Northanger Abbey was probably destined to be a novel I wouldn’t love because it toyed with and critiqued the archetypes of gothic novels. However, I hoped to learn something about the gothic genre from it and expand my opinion. Instead, I found myself struggling to connect to Catherine Morland – I just wasn’t given enough to work with; her speeches were short and to the point, and her romantic feelings were described in a few sentences or less. Her fear at being separated from her lover, Henry Tilney, was momentary and brief, and their profession of love was entirely omitted and was instead summarized in one paragraph. I love ardent confessions of undying love, and Northanger Abbey sorely lacked this.

It also lacked direction, in my opinion. It started off as a pleasant tale about a young woman entering society, then became a pseudo-gothic novel set in an abbey, then it was concluded with convenience and efficiency. The scenes were interesting enough, but they were short-lived, and I never had a chance to fully immerse myself in any of the plots or intrigues.

I should say that I still enjoyed the novel more than most others I’ve read and more than other Austen novels. I just wasn’t blown away by it and although I’m glad I can say I read it, it’s not one of my absolute favourite portrayals of the time period. I do intend to watch the movie adaptation with Felicity Jones though, so that may increase my affections a little.

Are you all too disappointed in me for not being a Janeite?

❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Haunted – #JNGWatches

As the summer gets into full swing, all of the TV shows that I watch (and there aren’t many) wind down and come to an end.  In recent weeks, I have experienced two very significant season (and, in one case, series) finales that left me utterly breathless, and I figured that today was as good a day as any to give you all my thoughts on them.

* Warning: Penny Dreadful and Outlander related SPOILERS await you… *

  • The End of Miss Ives

The first great loss I experienced during this TV season was the end of my favourite series of all time, Penny Dreadful.  In a means that I can only call sneaky, Showtime and creator John Logan decided to create a series finale without alerting any of the fans beforehand.  Imagine our surprise, then, when our beloved heroine Miss Ives died in the conclusion of the final episode of the third season.  I knew as soon as her lover Ethan Chandler shot her that the series was coming to a close; although each of the actors and plots was incredible, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives was the heart and soul of the show, and it simply could not continue without her.

Although I was devastated and greatly saddened for weeks after watching the series finale, I was struck by how beautiful and artfully constructed the entire series was.  I think it is most ironic that I wrote a blog post gushing about the characters and the writing only a few short weeks before the series came to an unexpected close, but I stand by every statement I made in that original post.  Penny Dreadful was a series unlike any other: moving, powerful, visually intriguing, suspenseful and extremely well done.  The commitment of the actors and crew was evident in every single scene, right to the difficult and depressing end.  I do agree with many viewers that there were still multiple storylines that could’ve been explored in future seasons, but I also don’t mind the fact that the show ended on a high note, that it ran its intended course and finished on the top of its game.  The final scene was also incredibly touching, and Rory Kinnear expertly portrayed all of the emotions of the fans as he sat by Vanessa’s grave and mourned her on behalf of all of us.

I will mourn Miss Ives myself though, and the days following her death were very sad for me.  I know, she’s only a fictional character and I shouldn’t become so emotional about people that “aren’t real”.  I’ve heard this argument many times before.  I always respond to this statement, however, by reminding people that characters can very often become friends.  I spent many years with Miss Ives, I watched her struggles and fear, I witnessed her growth, and I grew to genuinely care about what happened to her.  I do believe that she had to die in order for her trials to come to an end, but I still felt as though I lost someone very dear to me in the process.  Her character was an inspiration to me in many ways, and I won’t soon forget this show.  It will absolutely continue to be one of my favourite shows of all time, and my respect for Eva Green as an actress knows no bounds.

  • A 20 Year Silence

~ I am really not a fan of lovers being separated. ~

Another show that came to an end just this week is Outlander, based on the popular series of novels.  I wrote a blog post about the TV adaptation a few years ago, when it first started, and I have to say that I have continued to be impressed by the series for the last two years.  I have only ever read the first novel in the series, back when I was in university, and although parts of the TV show are a bit too historical and detailed for me (for example, all the information about the various battles), I do feel a strong connection to Claire and Jamie and their love story has really entertained me.  The show also has some very powerful episodes that have left me heartbroken, angry and worried for my favourite characters, and there has been some absolutely spectacular acting on the part of Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies, who is a force to be reckoned with as Captain Jack Randall.

Now, this show isn’t coming to a definitive end and has actually been renewed for two more seasons, which is very good news because the season two finale left me shaken.  I am still haunted by it.  If you’ve read the books, you’ll know the general story, but because I stopped after the first novel, I had no idea that Claire returns to the present and is separated from Jamie for…TWENTY YEARS!!!  This seems totally absurd to me, and the scenario is made even worse by the fact that she raises their child with her first husband Frank, all the while hiding this monumental time travel secret from said daughter, Brianna.  Like…what?!?!  The season two finale played with all of my emotions: I was really sad at times, I was excited and happy to learn that Jamie was still alive, and I was nervous and anxious about how Brianna would take the news of her father’s true identity.  It was a rollercoaster to say the least, and I was immediately sucked back into the story after wavering a little during all the political discussions and battle scenes that made up this season.

My visceral reaction to the finale is mostly down to Caitriona Balfe’s incredible performance as Claire in this episode.  It goes without saying that Sam Heughan was perfect as Jamie, and the scene where Claire and Jamie say Goodbye to each other almost tore my heart in two.  It is so clear to the viewer that they assume they will never see each other again, and I was moved by how passionate their acting was.  Balfe really shines in the episode when she is alone, though, in those quiet moments when Claire visits various places in Scotland that remind her of her life with Jamie.  She is in mourning and it is so evident that her heart is broken.  My favourite scene was the one when she sits on the front steps of Jamie’s home, Lallybroch, and sees a vision of him standing in the distance.  It was absolutely exquisite.  Balfe’s performance at Jamie’s supposed grave was also very moving, and it was beautiful to watch her speaking to Jamie and filling him in on the twenty years of separation and of their daughter’s life.

As I said, I’m really not fond of any separation between lovers, fictional or otherwise.  If someone told me today that I would have to be separated from my fiancé for the next twenty years…well, that would feel a lot like a death sentence.  Despite the fact that, yes I know, Claire and Jamie aren’t actually real, their love is in my opinion; they might be characters, but they have feelings and sentiments that are expressed and portrayed to fans, and so it’s not so easy to dismiss their anguish or turmoil.  I’ve been thinking about Claire and Jamie all day, wondering if they will be reunited, when it will happen, and how they will each hold up in the interval.  Forgive me for caring so much about characters, but it’s just far too easy for me to empathize with them, to place myself in their positions and feel their pain right along with them.

And now, the cold spell begins.  Penny Dreadful is lost to me forever, Outlander is on hiatus…and no other TV shows really interest me all that much.  When you’ve encountered such intricate and detailed storytelling in some TV shows, it is so hard to sit around and watch others that just don’t meet those standards.  So, for now, I wait…and maybe tackle all those books on my To-Read List in the meantime.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

Bellman & Black

Bellman & Black

I’ve just finished the Victorian-esque novel Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield and I have to say that I was extremely impressed by it.

I’ve read many reviews (most of them on Goodreads) stating that this novel was dry, boring, uneventful and a complete waste of time. I could not disagree more. I feel that the readers who wrote these reviews may not be totally experienced with the Victorian genre of novels, and may not truly understand that 19th century literature was not always exciting, enchanting or full of fantasy and extraordinary events. Yes, of course, novels like Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist with their madwomen in attics and fanciful characters like Fagin and the Artful Dodger exist, but there are also those Victorian novels that simply tell the tale of every day life in the 19th century, that choose to focus on one man who is unusual but not altogether very special and tell a tale about his life and struggles. Take for example novels by Dickens such as Our Mutual Friend and A Tale of Two Cities – these novels have become iconic because of the mastery and intellect of their creator, but if you sit down and break them down into their rudimentary components, any reader will find that they are less than extraordinary tales. What does Our Mutual Friend really do but follow John Harman/Rokesmith around London? One entire chapter is devoted to watching him as he walks around the city and contemplates his life. A Tale of Two Cities does much the same, following characters in two different locals, yes, but not doing much more than detailing their personal struggles and trials.

I believe that Setterfield’s novel does exactly the same thing with the character William Bellman, and I found it to be an incredibly accurate, scholarly and loving depiction of 19th century society. Bellman is a fascinating character, even if his story is slow and repetitive at times. Yes, he spends most of the plot completing business, either at his mill or his funeral parlour, but this is what makes his character so interesting and unique – we, as the readers, are called to analyze the actions and decisions of a man who doesn’t do very much, and decide if his success in such a cloistered routine is truly worthwhile. It is true, Bellman wastes much of his life (as his strange “partner” subtly points out to him in the novel’s conclusion) and some may argue that he therefore wastes a perfectly good story – but I would rather choose to believe that the poignancy of Bellman’s story comes from the fact that he accomplishes much technically while simultaneously accomplishing very little emotionally. He has wealth and esteem, and yet he lacks feeling and connection and humanity. He is as complex as any character created by Dickens, and Setterfield allows him to fully inhabit the Victorian era without restraint.

Setterfield is, for this reason, a masterful writer in my opinion. She writes like a Victorian novelist. I have read her first novel The Thirteenth Tale and I thought the exact same thing about her writing style then. Setterfield clearly loves Victorian literature and she isn’t afraid to try to mimic it. Luckily, her strong diction, clever juxtaposition of images and ideas and the smooth, rich pacing of her style mean that she mimics such a prolific genre with class and respect.

Some readers have also argued that Bellman & Black is incorrectly marketed as a ghost story. I wholeheartedly disagree. No, it’s not a ghost story by contemporary standards, but it is indeed a gothic novel in that it deals with dark and macabre themes. It might not be scary, necessarily, but it is eerie, it does leave the reader with a sense of being unsettled and disjointed and contemplative. Perhaps there is no real “ghost” figure, but does Bellman not become a spectre of himself through his losses and turmoil? Is Black not a haunting figure, even if he is merely internal and psychologically fuelled, who follows and torments Bellman’s every move?

I think that readers have been unfairly harsh toward this novel. I had high expectations going into it, and I was not disappointed in the least. It brought me back to reading my favourite Victorian classics. It gave me the same feeling that reading A Christmas Carol for the first time did. No, I was not afraid, but I was moved, curious and entertained. In that regard then, I think Setterfield’s second attempt at novel writing was very successful!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Wonderful – #JNGWatches (…and is obsessed!)

“Vanessa Ives: Stay with me tonight.

Ethan Chandler: And tomorrow?

Vanessa: I promise you, we will be less afraid.”

– Penny Dreadful

Union Station

I’ve raved about my favourite TV show before on the blog, but apparently I’m not quite done gushing yet…

Penny Dreadful is hands down, no question, the most incredible TV show I have ever seen. Every single aspect of the show, from the remarkable actors to the detailed sets to the dialogues and attention to detail, is flawless. I’ve mentioned my love for the show and the characters (many of whom I’ve loved through literature for years), but I think it’s time to break it down and describe the precise reasons why I enjoy this show so much…and am so eager to get you all to watch it too!

The Words

Penny Dreadful is one of those rare TV shows that is written impeccably. It feels more like a piece of theatre or like a Victorian novel being read aloud than like a TV show. Perhaps the fact that it is a Showtime series, and not one on network television, has something to do with this, but I’m more inclined to think that the beauty of the way the show is written has everything to do with creator John Logan. Logan is quite literally a genius, and I believe that the world’s foremost Victorian novelists like Dickens and Mary Shelley would agree. Logan not only accurately and lovingly pays homage to some of the greatest literary characters of all time (more on this in a moment), but he puts words into their mouths, and into those of his own fictional creations such as Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler, that are 100% truthful to and appropriate for the Victorian context. Although the series is often raunchy and dark, it is always genuine and authentic. This loyalty to the Victorian setting and genre does not take away from the poignancy of the story, however – on the contrary, Logan gives his characters such profound, modern and applicable lines that a modern viewer can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that their own preoccupations and concerns are being represented in a more ancient context. Logan is a writer of astonishing caliber, and even the simplest lines and scenes in the show have given me chills.

“Ethan Chandler: You will not die while I’m here. You will not surrender while I live. If I have one goddamned purpose in my cursed life it’s that.

Vanessa Ives: You are one man.

Ethan: More than that and you know it. We are not like others. We have claws for a reason.”

– Penny Dreadful

The Characters

As I mentioned a moment ago, John Logan, in creating Penny Dreadful, pays homage to the most unique, wonderful and interesting characters of English literature. While he creates his own fictional beings who are equally exciting and engaging (particularly the show’s protagonist, Vanessa Ives, as well as her fellow strong female lead, Brona Croft/Lily – more on them in a moment), he also borrows from the Victorian era’s greatest stories to reimagine the lives of some of literature’s most fascinating characters. From the beginning of the series, Victor Frankenstein, his Creature, as well as that formidable vampire Dracula have been focal points. However, Logan also borrows from lesser known texts, such as Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and in so doing, he introduces a modern audience to the strange and enchanting tales of an era that is often stereotypically perceived as prim and proper. In the most recent season, Logan decided to introduce the viewers to another much loved character, a certain Dr. Jekyll – once I learned that Dr. Jekyll was going to be featured on the show, I rushed to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel (which I had been meaning to do for years), and I am so impressed with the way that Logan investigates Dr. Jekyll’s troubled past, before he gives in to his alter ego Mr. Hyde. Logan treats these characters with such love and affection, cherishing them, allowing them to speak for themselves, but also placing them in circumstances that are new and require accommodation and adaptation. This take on some of the characters I have grown to admire is absolutely breathtaking and novel.

The Players

This brings me to my main reason for prizing this show so highly – the wonderful actors. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such incredible performances in a TV series. I’ve spoken about this before, but Eva Green (who stars as Miss Vanessa Ives) has to be the greatest actress of modern times. She is extremely versatile – one moment she is sitting quietly, composed and collected, and the next she is possessed, tortured and crazed – and she truly gives herself over to her performance without restraint. There have been several scenes in the show where she has taken my breath away, and in a recent episode (3×05), she conveyed more emotion and turmoil with her eyes alone than I have seen most other actresses express in full feature films. She deserves recognition of all kinds for her flawless portrayal of Vanessa Ives.

Having said that, another actress in the show gives Green a run for her money. Billie Piper as prostitute turned fierce immortal Brona Croft/Lily is absolutely unreal. I’ve encountered Piper in films before, most notably the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, but I have never seen her in a role so strong and forceful. Her manner of speech alone is confident and collected, but she also clearly portrays the turmoil and emotional pain of her character. There are so many moments when she addresses male characters with such ferocity, and it is amazing to behold a Victorian woman standing up for herself and her peers. This fact is really down to John Logan as well, who has made a huge focal point of season 3 the struggle of Victorian women to rise up and obtain their own status and freedom. By creating strong female characters and allowing such talented actresses to play them, Logan is providing the modern female viewer with models of strength and confidence.

**My apologies for the explicit language in the following quote.**

“Brona/Lily: We flatter our men with our pain, we bow before them, we make ourselves dolls for their amusement, we lose our dignity in corsets and high shoes and gossip and the slavery of marriage! And our reward for this service? The back of the hand…the face turned to the pillow…the bloody, aching cunt as you force us onto your beds to take your fat, heaving bodies! You drag us into the alleys, my lad, and cram yourselves into our mouths for two bob when you’re not beating us senseless! When we’re not bloody from the eyes, and the mouth, and the ass and the cunt! Never again… will I kneel to any man. Now they shall kneel to me.”

– Penny Dreadful

The rest of the actors and actresses are equally incredible, from those who play more minor characters like Hecate Poole (actress Sarah Greene) to Rory Kinnear, Josh Hartnett, Harry Treadaway, Reeve Carney and Timothy Dalton (a legend, and a dashing Mr. Rochester as well) who round out the male leads. I’ve never been more impressed by their performances than I have been while watching season 3. And, speaking of Dr. Jekyll and Dracula (aka Dr. Sweet), Shazad Latif and Christian Camargo do an excellent job of inserting themselves into the cast in the current season – their acting caliber is exquisite and so they fit right in with the established characters. They also have some formidable shoes to fill, playing such iconic characters, and they definitely have no problem with such an undertaking.

I honestly can’t say enough about this show – that much is probably obvious! I highly recommend it, not just for those who love the Victorian era, but for anyone who is interested in good storytelling and masterful acting. My father doesn’t have any interest in the Victorian era whatsoever (strange, I know!), but he has called this his favourite TV show of all time – if that isn’t proof enough that the show is pretty great, I don’t know what is.

Check it out if you haven’t already, and if you have, let me know what you think of it in the comments below.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart