Don’t Touch ~ #JNGReads

I got Don’t Touch at Chapters 3 days ago, on sale for $1.50. That is both a travesty and a blessing.

It is a travesty because Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson is an excellent young-adult novel and it is worth much more than $1.50. So much more.

It is a blessing because if the book wasn’t on sale for $1.50, I never would’ve spotted it and decided to pick it up. And, I am lucky to have had the chance to read it.

Don’t Touch is a complex, intricate and deeply moving story about a high school student and aspiring actress, Caddie, who suffers from severe anxiety and OCD. Caddie’s anxiety is so all-consuming that she has convinced herself, after her parents’ separation, that she cannot touch anyone without dire consequences. Caddie purchases gloves, she wears long sleeves and pants even in the oppressive heat of summer, and when she develops a crush on her classmate Peter and is cast as Ophelia in her school’s production of Hamlet opposite Peter in the title role, she does everything within her power to avoid getting close to him. Caddie is the narrator of Don’t Touch, and so the reader is able to develop a very intimate relationship with her, hearing her innermost fears and turmoil at wanting to engage with Peter and her other friends, but not feeling as though she is able to.

There were moments in Don’t Touch that brought tears to my eyes. I don’t suffer from severe OCD, but I have friends who do, and I myself suffer from anxiety. I am learning recently that my struggle with anxiety (which began at the start of high school) is so much less severe and difficult than what so many of my peers have to endure on a daily basis, but I do believe that mental health is all relative, and my anxiety sometimes feels like the most horrible thing in the world, at least to me. I luckily have never been in Caddie’s position where I fear touching others, but I do understand the frustration that comes from having this one fear playing over and over in your brain, no matter how hard to try to get it to stop or how logical you try to be. Anxiety isn’t really logical at all, or at least it isn’t in my experience, and I was deeply touched by Caddie’s narration of her inability to calm herself down even when she knows her anxieties are nonsensical, silly and impossible.

Rachel M. Wilson writes about anxiety well, with heart and respect. She mentions in her Author’s Note that she herself suffers from OCD, and that is clear in her careful treatment of mental health struggles that she is familiar with them. I only wish her book got more hype because I believe it is the exact sort of text that teenagers need to read. If I had read something like this book in high school, it may have helped me comprehend my anxieties and understand that they are not as uncommon or embarrassing as I originally thought. I don’t mean to say that a book like Don’t Touch would’ve cured me, but it would’ve made me feel a bit more “normal”…whatever that even means.

Caddie is a strong character, despite her anxieties, and what is most profound is the message that ailments like anxiety or OCD do NOT make a person weak, but rather they can make them impressively strong. Caddie goes through a lot and she doesn’t always come out on top of her anxiety, but in the end, she has developed methods to cope with it and she is able to touch people and enjoy this proximity. She comes a long way, but what is most special and poignant about her progress is that she seeks help, from her mother, from her friends, and from a trained professional. She eventually realizes that power comes from talking about her anxieties, from taking the power away from them, and she becomes vocal and unselfconscious in her discussion of what is plaguing her. This was beautiful to see and an incredible message for anyone who suffers from anxiety or OCD to be left with: that speaking about it, owning up to it and in a way embracing it, is the first step toward wellness.

“Talking about fear takes its power away.”

I would highly recommend Don’t Touch to anyone and everyone because it truly blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to find it so sharp and touching, but it was, and I think it is worthy of a lot more attention. Spend $1.50 on it, spend $15.00, spend $50.00…but whatever you do, pick up this book!

❥❥❥❥(out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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The Persian ~ Le Personnage Principal of A Christmas Fairytale

All signs led to him.

“I was immensely interested by this story of the Persian. I wanted, if there were still time, to find this valuable and eccentric witness. My luck began to improve and I discovered him in his little flat in the Rue de Rivoli….I also went into the past history of the Persian and found that he was an upright man, incapable of inventing a story that might have defeated the ends of justice.”

~ The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux

Long before I read a single Victorian novel, I was obsessed with a different story. The musical The Phantom of the Opera was my absolute favourite story from the moment my grandfather first took me to see it when I was in elementary school. Something about the heartbreaking love story (which is so similar to my favourite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, in many ways) touched me profoundly, and my passion for the music, characters and eventually the original French text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra has been ingrained on my heart for what feels like my entire life. I sincerely believe in the power of music on the human soul, and the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera has very much been the soundtrack to my life – it is the music I instantly turn to when I am stressed, the opening notes from The Point of No Return are my alarm clock tone, and I have derived infinite pleasure from seeing the musical on more than half a dozen occasions, in many different cities around the world.

Years later, when I started studying the French language, I picked up Gaston Leroux’s novel and flew through it. This was a turning point for me, when I realized that I did in fact understand French…and that I absolutely adored the language. I would not be even close to where I am today, in terms of my education and my career, if I didn’t speak French, and I credit my desire to pursue the language all throughout my schooling to my first experience of reading and loving Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The text branded itself on my heart alongside Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous music.

I remember distinctly when I was in third year university and stressed out of my mind studying for my French exams (ironically). That was the year that the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera was performed at the Royal Albert Hall (again, ironic, considering that the venue is named after one Prince Albert of England), and lucky for me, it was broadcast by Cineplex at a theatre only 10 minutes away from my home. I bought tickets as soon as I learned they were on sale, and since I was single at the time, I dragged my mom with me to the theatre. I was truly and utterly blown away by the production, and I became attached to the portrayal of the characters by Sierra Boggess, Hadley Fraser and most particularly Ramin Karimloo. Karimloo performed as The Phantom, and although I will always be loyal to my first Phantom, Colm Wilkinson, Karimloo totally blew me out of the water with his incredible voice and tortured portrayal of one of my favourite characters. I was obsessed, and I went home and Googled him immediately, purchasing as many of his CDs as I could. I learned that Karimloo was Iranian born and had moved to Toronto when he was a child. He grew up in Toronto, where he first saw The Phantom of the Opera, and because of Colm Wilkinson, decided to pursue acting and singing. I didn’t know much about Iran, but somewhere in my searching I read that Iranians are often referred to as Persian…whatever that meant. It certainly wasn’t relevant to me at the time.

Flash forward to just over a year later, when a bookish girl who believed in nothing more than True Love sat down across from a kind, gentle, loving boy. He asked for her phone number, after only moments of speaking to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. In an attempt to get to know this new guy who had entered my life and who seemed to be taken with me, I started texting my now fiancé before our first date, asking him some key facts about himself. One of these questions was his nationality, to which he replied Persian.

Persian… Persian… I scratched my head at that one and asked my mom where exactly Persia was on the map. Turns out, it isn’t on there anymore and my mom (who is Lebanese) explained that Persian people hailed from Iran. Then, it hit me…Ramin! He was Persian! Well, if that sexy, brilliant singer was Persian, then I was certainly planning to give this new guy a chance. I went on my first date with SS with an open mind and heart. (Imagine my disappointment, though, when I learned early on that he couldn’t sing. Haha!)

It wouldn’t be until years later, when I was studying the text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra again that it all came back in a flash. The Persian…arguably the most influential and significant character in Leroux’s novel. He is written out of the musical adaptation for reasons of keeping the plot concise, I can only assume, but he is the character that is responsible for most if not all of the action in the novel. He is the one who guides Raoul down to the Phantom’s lair to save Christine. He is an intimate friend of Erik, the Phantom. And, he is only ever referred to as The Persian. How could I forget this character? And if the text of this novel was stamped on my heart…then perhaps a Persian man was there too, long before I ever met my very own Persian man in real-life.

References to Persian rugs and artifacts abound in Victorian literature too. They’re seriously everywhere. Was I perhaps, then, being led toward SS throughout my entire life?

It’s funny how Fate works. I remember vividly that in high school, I was constantly looking for signs from the universe that my crush was my future husband. If his name was whispered in my vicinity, or I saw an object we had talked about or that was somehow associated with him, I took it as this notice from Fate that yes, in fact we would end up together. But, needless to say, we didn’t, and in the years before I met SS, I often wondered what the point of all those signs was. Now, I realize, I was looking at the wrong signs; I was being distracted, led away from realizing that a Persian man had always played a role in my life, from childhood, and that one Persian man in particular would become the love and light of my life.

There are tricky and problematic things about Iran, no question…but now that I know a thing or two about Persian people and their culture, I can say that they are warm and genuine, caring and good, and I am very lucky to have a number of them in my life. Ramin, of course, with his voice that soothes me when I’m stressed. And, my fiancé especially, whose very presence in my life is something I consider a real miracle.

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

If We Were Villains ~ #JNGReads

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a unique and engaging mystery novel, but unfortunately it failed to grip me quite as much as I thought it would.

It is nearly impossible to say anything about this novel’s plot without including spoilers, so I will keep my summary short. If We Were Villains follows the story of Oliver Marks (the narrator) and his 6 fellow students as they attend an acting program geared specifically toward performing Shakespeare. We first meet Oliver as he is being released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence for a crime related to a tragedy that occurs during the students’ senior year at Dellecher. Oliver then recounts his story and the events leading up to his convictions, and we as readers piece together the story as we move closer toward Oliver’s trial and entrance into prison. In this sense, we already know the outcome/end of the story before it has even really begun.

This is a fantastic and fascinating premise for a mystery novel, and my issues in getting into the story did not have anything to do with the plot, which I found very intriguing. Rather, I found it very difficult to connect with any of the characters because I could not bring myself to like them or care what happened to them, including Oliver himself. Now that I sit down to write this review, I am finding it almost impossible to describe why I didn’t love the novel or the characters because each one of them was interesting enough. Each character had their own quirks, background and personality, but for some reason, they all fell flat for me and I found myself getting annoyed with them more than anything. I found Alexander to be irritating and thought his jokes weren’t funny and were poorly timed; I thought Meredith was self-centered and very difficult to get to know because she was such a total femme fatale stereotype and seemed to have no more layers than that; and I found that Wren and Filippa just faded into the background and didn’t stand out to me at all. Arguably, the three most interesting characters are James, Richard and Oliver, but I found James to be too much of a good guy, Richard too overdone as a villain, and Oliver just plain whiny. That was maybe the hardest part of the novel to accept, for me: I expected Oliver to be this super intricate character, and I wanted him to rival the unreliable narrators I’ve encountered in such great novels as The Moonstone and, more recently, Gillespie and I. Instead, all Oliver seemed to do was get overly nostalgic and sentimental, idolize and dote on his fellow students, and overall absolve all of them of any of their guilt because he held them on such a high pedestal. It grated on my nerves at points and also made it hard for me to care about Oliver…which meant that I didn’t feel any real eagerness to learn why he ended up in prison or any anxiety about his situation because I sort of assumed his own stupidity landed him there.

Moreover, although I love Shakespeare and I’m the first to appreciate a quote from one of his plays coming from either the mouth of a real person or a fictional character, I found it totally heavy-handed how often Oliver and his school mates quoted the Bard. Sure, I get it, they are theatre students and they only act in Shakespearean plays, and having them say a couple quotes here and there in conversation would’ve been cool, but a significant portion of their dialogue came straight from Shakespeare’s plays (not to mention the scenes when they are actually acting on stage and large chunks of the plays are transcribed). This just made it even harder to connect with the characters because none of them really had a voice of their own. I felt like I knew Shakespeare better than any of the characters by the time I finished If We Were Villains. Not to mention the fact that since the quotes were interwoven into every day conversation, I found myself having to pause and dissect exactly how they fit into the scene I was reading and why the character would’ve chosen to speak that specific line. This was a jarring experience and took me right out of the drama and mystery every time it happened.

That being said, If We Were Villains is an enjoyable enough book. It’s not awful by any means, and I actually quite liked the plot, even if I didn’t like the characters. I think I should also note that I recently finished the Six of Crows duology which features such a strong cast of characters, all working together, that it was hard not to compare the 7 main characters of If We Were Villains to the strong and diverse group in Six of Crows. I’m sure there are many readers out there who would have better luck with If We Were Villains, and indeed, there are some rave reviews of it on Goodreads, so I encourage readers who like unique thrillers or who have a particular fondness for Shakespeare to give it a shot. Hopefully you’ll find something to connect to in it!

❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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

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

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

What underrated book would you recommend?

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

Poignant and Timely Non-Fiction

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

Acclaimed Theatre

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

Perfectly Paced Short Stories

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

Poetry from the Distant Past

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

Tear-Inducing Children’s Lit.

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

Hard-Hitting Young Adult Lit.

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

Heartbreaking Romance

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

Midnight Mystery

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

Haunting Historical Fiction

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

Crazy Classic

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

And finally…

Oh Canada!

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

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

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

My Literary Maidens

Apologies are in order…big time!

I am so so sorry that I have been MIA on the blog for almost a month. Trust me, I get it – this is no way to show my appreciation for all you lovely readers!

However, allow me to promise you that a giant, mammoth of a book review is on its way VERY soon. If you follow along with me on Goodreads, or if you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I’ve been buried deep in the world of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series for quite a while now. That’s the reason for my lack of posts – I’ve been so enthralled with my reading, so eager to delve into my book and not put it down for the entire night, that I haven’t actually had anything else to review (although I know this is no excuse, considering I could’ve offered you some lifestyle posts in the meantime – massive apologies again!). I even chose to skip right past writing a review for the second novel in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury, because I just wanted to blaze right into the third book instead. And, I did exactly that – I am about two hundred pages away from completing A Court of Wings and Ruin, and my heart is already breaking at the thought. I have so enjoyed living in this world, with Feyre and all of her friends, and I simply do not want it to end. Hence why I have been reading extremely slooowly, savoring every last sentence and image and adventure.

Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time – and I swear, a book review of the entire ACOTAR series is on its way.

Having said that, when I realized a few days ago that I haven’t posted anything here in almost a month, I was horrified! I knew I had to get something out to you, and I also knew that I needed to exercise my writing muscles again, lest they get out of practice. So, on to a bit of a different topic… Here is another wedding-related post for you all…

“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated.”

~ Pygmalion

Left to right: Lady Camille, JNG, Lady Courtney and Lady Kailah ❥

I count myself well and truly lucky to have some of the most wonderful friends a girl could ask for. My three best friends, my maidens, my bridesmaids, are among the most inspiring, beautiful and kind women I have ever known, and not only are they a constant source of pride for me, they also treat me with this unwavering respect and love. At times it is overwhelming to fully comprehend how loyal and dedicated they are to me and to our friendships, and they have each been the most incredible helpers throughout my wedding planning experience so far. To borrow from the idea presented in the quote above, my bridesmaids treat me like an absolute queen and make me feel so remarkably special, and I will forever be grateful for that. I cannot wait to return the favour at each of their own weddings! (Note: You can read a detailed post introducing and describing each one of my bridesmaids here.)

Not a single thing in the world could persuade me to change the three women I selected as my bridesmaids because they are the most perfect women that ever walked the planet. Having said that, there is one thing that could persuade me to increase their number – to add a few more ladies to my maiden fold – and that would be if my three favourite females from literature could jump out of the pages of their individual works and become real-life women. I recently found myself thinking about this, wondering which three heroines I would select to join myself and my bridesmaids in all of the wedding planning and events. And, there was absolutely no question – three literary heroines popped into my mind without hesitation, and I truly believe each of these women would fit in so well with my three best friends because they are all quite alike. I like to think I keep very good company, and I believe that even these women of the fictional world would adore my real-life bridesmaids instantly, and vice versa.

~ So, here we have it, my selections for My Literary Maidens (in no particular order, of course). ~

Jane Eyre

“Reader, I forgave him at the moment and on the spot. There was such deep remorse in his eye, such true pity in his tone, such manly energy in his manner; and besides, there was such unchanged love in his whole look and mien—I forgave him all…”

Was there any doubt that Jane Eyre was going to be on this list? Well, there shouldn’t have been. Jane Eyre is the one literary character that I will always owe so much of my personality, my morals and my convictions to. If I wasn’t such a chicken, I’d already have this Charlotte Brontë inspired tattoo on my skin that I’ve been dreaming up for years now, because that authoress is someone I will forever be indebted to. Jane Eyre, and the novel named after her, taught me so much about love, about soul mates, and about sacrifice. She presented a strong and dignified example to me at the most critical time in my life, when I was just leaving high school, and her story emphasized to me that it is possible to find an all-encompassing love that consumes but does not overcome you. Jane Eyre taught me that love is not an easy road, that there are countless obstacles on the way to finding it and also within a relationship, but that True Love means forgiveness, it means being strong enough to stand up for your love, to fight for it. To have Jane Eyre stand beside me on my wedding day would mean having a true role model in my midst, it would mean acknowledging that fortitude is an aspect of True Love that I will always apply in my own life.

Clare Abshire

“I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?”

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel that I also read when I was finishing up high school, and it is without doubt on par with Jane Eyre in my green heart. Clare Abshire is a source of undeniable inspiration in that novel, if only because she is constantly waiting for her love (time traveler, Henry DeTamble) to come home to her. Clare puts up with a lot of turmoil and tragedy in her relationship with Henry, and she faces every obstacle with unfailing resolve and impenetrable will. She is the very definition of a strong woman, and she has always been a model for me of how to overcome jealousy, uncertainty and insecurity. Clare is so confident in Henry’s love for her that she doesn’t let the little things, like ex-girlfriends in his life, or even the big things, like his regular absence, to get to her. She has a lot to face and get through in loving Henry, but she tackles each situation with a calm that is utterly remarkable. Clare Abshire taught me that love means being patient, it means waiting for The One and then hanging onto him through thick and thin, being his rock, his anchor. To have Clare Abshire stand beside me on my wedding day would mean acknowledging that True Love really can conquer all, and that the right love will survive all obstacles of time and distance.

Eliza Doolittle

“Aha! Now I know how to deal with you. What a fool I was not to think of it before! You can’t take away the knowledge you gave me….Oh, when I think of myself crawling under your feet and being trampled on and called names, when all the time I had only to lift up my finger to be as good as you, I could just kick myself.”

I admit, it was a bit trickier for me to come up with my third literary bridesmaid…but only for about two seconds. Then, it dawned on me, what better bridesmaid to have than the original flower girl, Eliza Doolittle of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Eliza isn’t your classic romantic heroine whatsoever, and that’s what makes her a character that taught me so very much about love and relationships. I read Pygmalion for the first time after starting university, but I’ve been a fan of My Fair Lady since I was something like 6 years old, so Eliza Doolittle has always been a mentor to me. And what a remarkable and unique woman she is – Eliza Doolittle is a woman who does not stand down, who is not flattened or trampled on by any of the men around her. Although she is fond of her professor Henry Higgins, she refuses to have her personality muddled or diluted by him, and she is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Her main objective throughout the entire play is to better herself, to lift herself up in society, and while her pseudo-partner Higgins assists her on her journey and gives her the tools to be a better version of herself, she is the one who gets down and dirty, who battles every day with society’s expectations and uses her indomitable will and strength to get ahead and make a name for herself. Eliza Doolittle is one of the strongest female characters that exists in literature, and that comes from her defiance of societal norms and her desire to question and interrogate the social structures around her. To have Eliza Doolittle stand beside me on my wedding day would mean acknowledging that True Love does NOT mean losing your identity or becoming a mere domestic goddess. It would mean acknowledging that being a woman in love, being a wife, does NOT mean giving up on your dreams or stifling your passions. It would mean proclaiming that the right husband, the right partner, will give you wings to fly and build your own name, for yourself.

With friends like these, how could a girl go wrong? My three real-life best friends and my three fictional ones are the pillars of my personality, the puzzle pieces that go together perfectly to make me into the woman I am today, the one that my fiancé fell in love with. Without each of them, I would be nowhere close to who I am at this moment, and I am so honoured that each of them will play a part in my Big Day…because believe me, I plan to make Jane and Clare and Eliza a real presence on my wedding day, even if they can’t be there in person…so stay tuned for posts about that in the future!

See you all again very soon, I promise!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

Pipe Dreams

“And so it came about that Eliza’s luck held, and the expected opposition to the flower shop melted away. The shop is in the arcade of a railway station not very far from the Victoria and Albert Museum; and if you live in that neighborhood you may go there any day and buy a buttonhole from Eliza.”

Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw

My Dream Home (Victoria College)

If only I had Eliza Doolittle’s luck.

I don’t think there’s a person on this planet who hasn’t considered what they would do if they won the lottery. Sure, people probably consider different amounts and try to determine how much they would require to quit their jobs and be comfortable for the rest of their lives, and these values certainly vary from person to person. Then they decide what they would do with this money…Would they travel the world, see the greatest sites in every continent? Would they buy a home by the ocean, in a forest, in a famous city? Would they donate a large sum of it to charities, hospitals, people in need? Or would they live just as they do now, all the while knowing that they will never have to worry about providing for their loved ones?

I know exactly what I would do with my lottery winnings, and I have known for many years. At one point, I thought that, if I had all the money in the world, I would immediately apply for and pursue my PhD. I would be on a plane to Oxford tomorrow, copies of Jane Eyre and North and South packed in my suitcase, wearing a cozy cardigan. After meeting SS, my goals changed slightly, and I realized that I didn’t really want to do my PhD, not because I didn’t have the money readily available for it but because I didn’t have the time to devote to it. I believed, and still do, that my time could be better spent nurturing an incredible relationship and building a humble but secure family life. When I thought about winning the lottery with SS, I knew that the first thing I would want to do was get married immediately; obviously, we’re in the midst of planning our wedding, so we can afford this exciting party anyway, but I knew that if we won the lottery, we could travel to Paris and get married beside the Eiffel Tower, or we could have our reception in a secluded and gothic English castle. And we could take our honeymoon in Japan, like SS has always dreamed of. We could have a wedding with the character we’re trying to recreate here in Toronto with a bit more ease and immediacy. And we could start our married life, the life I now know I want more than any other, that much sooner.

Now that we are in the process of planning our wedding, though, I know that if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t change a thing about the wedding we’re having. I firmly believe that it is going to be perfect, exactly what both SS and I have always envisioned, so I wouldn’t spend any more or less money on it. It is going to be exquisite just as we have it planned.

So, my priorities for my lottery money have changed again…

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll already know what I would do if I won the lottery tomorrow. I would set myself, and SS, up in a home right across the street from Victoria College at the University of Toronto. It would be the exact home featured in the photo above, a home just like the one Henry Higgins lives in in My Fair Lady (check out the scene I linked on my Twitter page yesterday to get a sense of the type of home I’m talking about). I have a bit of a love affair with doors, and this home would have a solid black one, with three small steps leading up to it and a black gate in front. Flowers and small shrubs would surround the porch, and the entrance would lead right onto the sidewalk, right into the heart of downtown and close to the beautiful campus I spent so much time at and grew to love so dearly. We would entertain our dearest friends here, having dinner parties at Christmas, the outside of our lovely home covered in wreaths and poinsettias and sparkling lights. I would invite my best friend CV over for tea and we would curl up in luscious armchairs by the window with our favourite novels. I would walk to work every morning, all the while knowing that my dream home was waiting for me upon my return. And I would continue to work, not in an office, not on a tight schedule, but somewhere pleasant and warm and inviting, just for the fun of it. I would find the nearest flower shop, one similar to the gorgeous shop in my hometown of Whitby (which is actually hiring a part-time sales associate at the moment…tempting!), and work there basically for free since I don’t need the money anyway. I would just want to wear pretty dresses every day, and fresh blooms in my hair. I would want to brighten people’s days by offering them a free flower every now and then (paid for with my newfound fortune, naturally), and strike up conversations with my favourite customers. I would live a relaxed, stress free life, but one that would also leave my children amply provided for.

Oh, what a dream! Not dissimilar to Eliza Doolittle’s in Pygmalion: a simple life, replete with the comforts of a loving home and work that is truly enjoyable and fulfilling. It’s the best life I can possibly think of, not too extravagant, just right for me.

Probably I should start buying lottery tickets if I actually want to have a shot at this life! 😉

What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow? Let me know below; I’d love to hear!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Madman in the Attic – #JNGWatches

Hello again dear Readers! Today I have a special blog post for you all about a wonderful piece of theatre I experienced last night.

My boyfriend SS and I like to go to plays every Valentine’s Day. Rather than buying each other expensive and unnecessary gifts, we like to give each other a fun, exciting night out – a night of arts and culture. Last year, we went to see the play Once which was beyond incredible! The music was lively and so well performed, and I really enjoyed the story, although the ending was beyond depressing (and not at all filled with True Love, much to my disappointment).

This year, I received an update from Mirvish Productions that the play Gaslight was coming to Toronto. I’m not going to lie, I had never heard of Gaslight and had no particular passion for seeing the story performed. I did, however, notice that two actors from the immensely popular TV show Game of Thrones were starring in the production: Owen Teale and Ian McElhinney. SS is a HUGE fan of Game of Thrones (it’s the first show he forced me to watch when we started dating) and I knew he would be super interested in seeing these two actors live. I thought that maybe this could be the Valentine’s Day production we were looking for!

Then, I started to research the story more and discovered that it was, in fact, Victorian! I was instantly convinced – we had to see this play! As I read more about it, I also learned that it had a hugely gothic influence, complete with mystery, intrigue and madness. SS and I bought our tickets.

And boy, am I happy we did! We saw the play last night at 8:00pm, which is a perfectly gothic hour, not quite the dead of night but decidedly not daytime. The Ed Mirvish Theatre felt intimate, gloomy and quiet, and you could literally hear a pin drop. I think everyone in the audience was amped up to be taken on a horrific journey. And we were – from the moment the play started, we were engrossed in a typically morose and macabre Victorian setting: the set was replete with vivid burgundies and yellows, the furniture was grandiose, and the glow from the gaslight created an eerie atmosphere. The first actors to appear on stage, Flora Montgomery (who was perfect, perfect, PERFECT as a Victorian mistress) and Owen Teale, began with such reserved passion that it was immediately obvious we were going to witness some impeccable acting ability. Once Ian McElhinney entered the story, the humorous element increased, but there was still such an air of thrill and excitement, and the fast-paced dialogue was totally engaging to keep up with.

Now, these are some random impressions, but I should try to be clearer with my opinion: I LOVED this play! Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, and I was afraid that the Victorian era would not be adequately represented – but, believe me, it was. This play is labeled as a thriller, and a lot of people would be surprised by that. Most people I encounter think that the Victorian era is all prim propriety, decorum, women in high collars and corsets. This is, obviously, quite true. But what people don’t realize is that the Victorian era was incredibly macabre and gothic – some of our greatest horror stories originated in this time period (I’m looking at you Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde!), and I’ve spoken enough about the new TV series Penny Dreadful that you should all understand what I mean. Another huge interest in the Victorian era was mental illness and instability or, more simplistically, madness. The Victorians were obsessed with assessing whether or not people, particularly women, were mad, and so many pieces of literature were obsessed with depicting “mad” characters. Jane Eyre is actually one of the best representations of this.

So, I’m familiar with madness in Victorian literature – but I had never witnessed a Victorian character going mad before my eyes, until last night. Yes, Penny Dreadful treats mental instability, but that comes at the viewer through the lens of a TV screen. Last night, Flora Montgomery’s character was driven mad in front of the entire audience – and Owen Teale’s character was proven to be mad, an obsessive lunatic who roamed his attic endlessly and tiresomely, through the investigations of a witty and articulate Victorian inspector. This is a familiar Victorian storyline: detective investigates crime scene, determines that someone is mad, and will not stop until that madman (or, more often, madwoman) is found and apprehended. But to see this all acted out was so fascinating…to be a part of the journey and investigation was such a thrill. It sort of felt like I had become a Victorian detective myself, or at the very least, a spectator watching the crime unfold. I was immediately sucked in, and I made sure to follow each one of McElhinney’s speeches as closely as possible, so that I could decipher the clues myself.

Gaslight was incredibly entertaining in every way. SS said that he could not believe how quickly the 2 hour production went by, and we both agreed that the actors from one of our favourite TV shows were brilliant and convincing. But, to me, the real star was Flora Montgomery. Victorian women are seriously dear to me in every way – I fancy that I would’ve liked to be one myself – and I think she portrayed a troubled but courageous 19th century woman perfectly, from her manner of speech to the way she carried herself to her moments of strength amidst mania and hysteria.

All in all, I would give this production 5 brightly shining gaslights out of 5. It certainly represented my favourite era in a very exciting manner!

The glow of the gaslight reveals all.

The glow of the gaslight reveals all.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

Introductions – #JNGListens

“…no thoughts within her head, but thoughts of joy! No dreams within her heart but dreams of love!” – The Phantom of the Opera

In most relationships, there’s always that tricky moment when you have to introduce your new love to your first (and usually former) love. This is exactly what I had to do yesterday. In my case, however, it wasn’t a situation where I wanted my current boyfriend, SS, to hate my first love and feel competitive. On the contrary, I still love my first love too, and so I desperately wanted them to get along and learn to love each other.

If you read Friday’s blog post, you’ll know what I’m talking about – my first love, the love I developed from childhood and have held onto for so many years, is not another person, but rather the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera. In Friday’s blog post, I detailed how truly important and formative the musical was for me, and how I continue to give it an extremely important place in my green heart.

So, naturally, when I brought SS with me yesterday to see the play, I knew that it was his first time ever encountering the story, the music, the characters, all of it, and I so badly wanted him to love it, to see in it exactly what I saw when I was a child. SS and I have similar taste in most things (except for graphic novels and Star Wars, really), so I was quite confident that he would find the play very interesting and intriguing. The problem was that I myself hadn’t seen the new production of POTO, complete with new and updated set designs, and I had no idea how the actors would portray my favourite roles…and, perhaps more importantly, if their voices would be adequate to make the music sound as perfect as I know it to be.

I’m happy to say that both SS and I were truly impressed by the whole production, and SS has been eagerly asking me questions about the story and expressing interest in seeing the musical again soon! 😀 YAY!

Let me start by saying that the new set was absolutely, beyond words INCREDIBLE! It was so unbelievably intricate, with this sort of spinning design that allowed for multiple different sets to be hidden all within the one stage. The set designers expertly recreated so many different rooms of my beloved Opéra Garnier: the Phantom’s lair was dark and sinister, but also full of candles, and luxurious burgundy and black fabrics, especially fitting to a Parisian style; the manager’s office was richly upholstered with gold and red hues; the roof of the opera house was complete with gold statues and even seemed to be delicately accented with a bit of snow. My favourite set had to be the one used during the Masquerade scene: the entire set was transformed into a room of mirrors, very similar to the one that can actually be found in the Opéra Garnier. There were golden statues all around, which reflected brilliantly in the mirrors, and it really brought me back to my time at the Opéra Garnier. I was so ridiculously impressed by how everything moved and operated to allow the actors to move effortlessly between the different parts of the set, and to allow my friend the Phantom to play tricks from above and below and all around.

So, the visual aspect of the play was a HUGE hit, especially with SS who is so interested in set design and has a very artistic nature. The chandelier was also newly designed, and it was sparkly and full of diamonds…and when it fell from the ceiling, with flashes of fire and light, it was truly dazzling! I admit, I missed the old design of my favourite chandelier, but the new one definitely got the job done as well!

And what of the actors who played my three most favourite roles? The entire cast was absolutely incredible (shout out to Carlotta and Piangi, as well as Messieurs Firmin and André, who were truly hilarious!), and the actors who played the Phantom (Chris Mann) and Raoul (Storm Lineberger) hit the notes exactly how I wanted them to – they evoked the exact feelings I was hoping for, and they played opposite each other really well. The audience really got the sense that the Phantom and Raoul are totally different men, each with something unique and intriguing to offer to their ingénue. The actress who played Christine was Celia Hottenstein at this performance, and she was excellent as well – she had a powerful but delicate and lovely voice, and she really shone during Think of Me and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. She perfectly nailed the combination of innocence and strength that is so crucial to Christine’s character, and I thought she looked very elegant in all of her incredible costumes!

Overall, I’d say that the production was a hit! Obviously, I have my favourite Phantoms (Colm Wilkinson forever and always, and recently Ramin Karimloo) and Christines (particularly Sierra Boggess, but also Rebecca Caine), and I will never stop hearing their voices when I play the famous songs in my head. But, every new production has a new cast of wonderful actors, and I was not disappointed with yesterday’s performances whatsoever! I was very impressed and so so pleased…and the main thing is that SS was moved and totally in awe of the whole production! I think he very quickly became a Phan!

And that’s all that matters to me, in the end! For the first time in my life, I allowed the man I love to experience and become acquainted with the music and story that has made me into the woman he loves. It was a risk, but it all went perfectly…and now, I will never have any passions or loves to hide from the man I hope to have beside me forever. As my #JNGListens quote from today suggests, there was so much love in that theatre last night for me, and all of my hopes and dreams were totally fulfilled!

The Phantom of the Opera

With a full heart,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

By Heart – #JNGListens …over…and over…and over…

Today, I’ll be interrupting the recent Christmas cheer here on the blog to discuss one of the greatest influences in my life.

I know that’s a pretty bold and serious statement to make, but I think it’s definitely true.  The piece of pop culture that I’m about to talk about has been a significant part of my life for longer than anything else.  Yes, I fell in love with Jane Eyre as soon as I encountered it, but I did not meet that incredible novel until I was in my last year of high school.  Of course, I’ve always adored Beauty and the Beast, but my obsession with Disney comes and goes, and I feel like my child-self on certain days more than on others.  But, my passion for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera knows no bounds and is constant and fervent.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this play and have a piece of its music playing on repeat in my mind.

My obsession began when I was just a little girl, probably around the same age Christine Daaé was when her father first introduced her to the Angel of Music.  My grandfather (most definitely not my father who basically hates musicals of any kind) decided to bring me to the production of POTO in Toronto.  What possessed him to bring someone so young (I can never seem to remember my exact age when I saw it for the first time, but I want to say that I was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old) to a play of that genre, I will never know…but I will forever be grateful.  From the moment I heard the opening piece of music, I was totally taken and captured.  I was, quite frankly, in love with all of it…the story, the orchestrations, the lyrics, the beautiful sets and costumes…the whole thing left me intoxicated and forever changed.

And since that first performance, I have thought of the play and the story at least once a day.  The music became a source of comfort and solace to me – in my high school years, when I was plagued by homework and when I was upset or confused about the guy I had a crush on or an altercation with my friends, I would turn on the first version of the soundtrack I ever purchased (or rather, my wonderful grandfather purchased for me), and lose myself in Colm Wilkinson’s gorgeous and moving rendition of the Phantom.  As I entered university, I had the chance to see the 25th anniversary performance of the play at the Royal Albert Hall from my local movie theatre (another National Theatre Live performance), and I immediately grew to love Sierra Boggess as the innocent but strong Christine and Ramin Karimloo as an attractive and tormented Phantom.  I remember watching at least one clip from this performance every evening that I was in my final year of university – after spending long and grueling days studying, I would wind down and get ready for bed with Boggess and Karimloo, who had quickly become my favourite actors to portray two of my dearest friends.

I was also equally obsessed with finding ways to see the play.  In Toronto, we don’t have the Phantom running all the time, like they do in New York or London, and that’s something that I’ve never been able to fully accept.  It is probably better for my wallet because, realistically, if POTO was constantly playing in Toronto, I’d be going to see it at least once a month.  But, I’ve had to content myself with seeing it every time it returns to Toronto, and I even made sure to see it on Broadway when I made a trip to New York in my third year of university.

Phantom in NY #1 Phantom in NY #2

The strangest thing about my obsession is probably the fact that I can’t pinpoint why exactly I love this musical more than any other.  When I was younger, in elementary and high school mostly, I desperately wanted to be a musical theatre actress.  I took drama and vocal lessons and I envisioned this whole future for myself, playing all the roles I adored and had memorized all the words for.  I dreamed of being Eliza Doolittle and Eponine and Elphaba, but I knew that all of these desires stemmed from my urgent wish to portray Christine Daaé.  I knew all the words she sang and spoke in POTO by heart (I still do!), and I just wanted to wear her costumes more than anything!  I held onto this dream from the first time I saw the play until grade 10, when I realized that my voice was okay (that’s probably generous actually), but not anywhere near good enough to stand out at an audition.  My passion probably wouldn’t be enough to land me a role with such substantial technical requirements.  And, to be honest, it broke my heart a little that I would never be able to fulfill my dream…and it breaks my heart a tiny bit more every time I see the play and watch someone else perform the role that I’ve always coveted.  But, the point is, the narrative I constructed of my future was shaped for such a long time by The Phantom of the Opera, and honestly, I think it still is…

…because, if I have to be really critical of the whole situation, I think that quite possibly I was meant to love The Phantom of the Opera because I was meant to study and become passionate about the French language.  Not long after I saw the play originally, I discovered that it was based on a French novel by Gaston Leroux.  Now, naturally, at the time I wasn’t old enough to read the novel in the original French because I only had a few years of French class under my belt.  But I eagerly read a translated version and I absolutely adored it!  Something about the French culture just absolutely spoke to me and gave me chills, and I became so interested in the Opéra Garnier and in the culture of the 19th century in France.  When I reached my grade 11 French class (because, obviously, I couldn’t give up studying French if it was Christine Daaé’s language), I got the opportunity to read Leroux’s original French novel for the first time, and I loved it even more.  The language was beautiful, eloquent, and just as passionate as the subject matter.  I knew that I had found my niche, the language and culture that I wanted to study and make a part of my life.

And, I have!  I use French on a daily basis now, and I am always beyond proud that I am able to speak quite fluently and with confidence.  I truly believe that I owe at least part of this to my exposure to French culture at such a young age.  And, isn’t it a coincidence that Leroux’s novel takes place in the 19th century in France?  Isn’t that startlingly similar to the 19th century, or Victorian era, in England that I devoted the English half of my brain to studying?  So yes, I would say that POTO opened my eyes to a new language and a new time period, both of which have become fundamental aspects of the person I am and will always be.

Now, you may be wondering, why would I bring all of this up right now on the blog?  Well, the answer is simple: TOMORROW I will be seeing The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, for probably the millionth time!  Yes, that’s right, the play has returned to my hometown, and I have tickets…and yes, you guessed it, I’ll be going with my dear grandfather, the man who gave me this gift of music from the start.  I cannot wait, and if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll notice that I’ve been quoting lyrics from the play all week…lyrics that I am able to document from memory, by heart.

Obviously, a full review of this recent production will appear on the blog on Sunday.  But, to leave you all now, I’ll share one final anecdote.  Two summers ago, you’ll all remember that I took a trip to Europe with my friend SN.  Arguably the most important and exciting stop on our trip was Paris, the city I had longed to visit since I was a child.  You’ve probably guessed by now, but my main priority in going to Paris was to visit the Opéra Garnier, to see that beautiful building that inspired my favourite novel and play, that location where my dear Phantom (known as Erik in literary circles) was supposed to have lived.  My expectations were SO HIGH, dear readers – I had an image in my mind of how that opera house had to look, and I so did not want it to be destroyed.  More than anything, I needed to see the famous chandelier, hanging right above the stage, and I wanted it to be everything I had imagined.

And oh, it was!  It was MORE than I imagined – the opera house was absolutely perfect, right down to the red velvet seats, the flickering lights, the dark passageways.  It truly was like stepping into one of my favourite works of fiction, and I never wanted to leave.  I got to see the inside of the Opéra Garnier, the outside in daylight and at nighttime…and I got to visit with my beloved chandelier, which looked absolutely, 100% exactly the way it looked every time I saw the play adaptation!  I was amazed, mesmerized, shocked to find that everything was just how I wanted it to be!  I’m surprised SN was able to drag me out of there…I could spend my whole life in that one building and be perfectly content!

...and it can be very pretty, as an outsider looking in. Buchanan's characters, who are on the inside, feel differently.

I hope that wasn’t too much gushing for you all on a Friday…but, after all, what is this blog for but to gush and rave and rant with intense emotion and feeling?!

Talk to you all again on Sunday,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Be True

Good morning Dear Readers and welcome to another pseudo-JNGReads post!

Today I’ll be posting a quote, but it’s not from a piece of literature that I’ve read (or at least not recently)…it’s from a piece of literature that I saw acted and performed.

Yesterday, my brother, my boyfriend and I went to a local movie theatre to watch the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve seen NT Live performances before, most notably the staging of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall which will undoubtedly get its own blog post sometime very soon, and I have never been disappointed by the experience! I think the whole concept of the NT Live screening is brilliant: as a viewer, you get the opportunity to watch a live screening of a play or musical or ballet or opera or any such similar event from the comforts of your nearest movie theatre. So, for example, yesterday afternoon, BBG, SS and I were able to watch Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet from our suburban town in Canada, all while he was performing at the Barbican Theatre in London, England. Isn’t that just incredible?! Obviously I would’ve loved to be able to go to London and see the production live, but that sort of spontaneous travel isn’t possible for most people, and the NT Live screenings give viewers from all over the world the opportunity to participate in monumental theatre events with the utmost convenience. I already have a whole list of other NT Live screenings I’m hoping to see before the end of the year!

Now, on to a review of the play itself…

Make It So

It was just as incredible as you would expect with an actor as talented as Cumberbatch fronting the whole ensemble. He was a remarkable Hamlet! I’ve only see Hamlet performed once before, but it was a university level production…and although it was quite good, it was nothing compared to the production yesterday. Cumberbatch absolutely lived and breathed the role of Hamlet – he was so believable as the tormented Danish prince, and I could not comprehend how easily he would burst into tears and then how quickly he would collect himself and become effortlessly composed. I believed him instantly as a young man who had gone mad with grief and anger, and he was also able to infuse humour into many parts of the story. I haven’t actually read Hamlet since my final year of high school (more on this later…), but I have always loved the play and so many of the quotes replay in my mind on a regular basis. But, to hear those quotes spoken and expertly articulated by someone as skilled as Cumberbatch was truly enjoyable! Here’s one of the quotes that spoke to me so vividly yesterday (as it did when I first read the play years ago) and that was so precisely articulated by Cumberbatch as to make it more poignant than ever before:

“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet, Shakespeare

Isn’t that line just so true? Part of what I love about Hamlet’s character is the fact that he really recognizes the power of a person’s own mind – he fully realizes that the mind is a place where thoughts and worries and doubts and fears can replay constantly and without cease, and it is up to the person themself to work through these thoughts, to frame them in a way that will either be beneficial and easily overcome or in a manner that will be totally detrimental and destructive. I just love this idea! I’ve always been an introspective person, and I spend a lot of time in my own head, working things out, revisiting the same ideas over and over to get control over them and manage them…and a line like that just makes this sort of activity seem normal and necessary and healthy. It’s also helpful in that it encourages a person to be optimistic, to remember that if something seems insurmountable and difficult, it can be got over and dealt with if you just take the time to think about it and spin the negative into a positive within your own psyche. What a profound piece of advice from a troubled prince!

Silence…

…is not something that there was much of in this production of Hamlet. The actors were loud, the music was forceful and the staging was lively. Every single one of the actors was so committed to their role, and the actresses who played Ophelia and Gertrude really stood out to me because they were passionate about delivering their lines and fearless about portraying their emotions. There were multiple moments when these women wept (I don’t think Ophelia ever stopped crying, to be honest!), and in moments of intense feeling and anguish, all of the actors would scream and rage in the most realistic display of emotions I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing was quiet about this play, or calm, or subtle. The stage was even filled with dirt for the entire second half of the play, and I was amazed that the actors were able to sludge around in the mud and still deliver their lines perfectly. The cast was comprised of some extremely talented professionals, and they all held their own opposite Cumberbatch…there was such strength in every performance!

Papa Polonius

And finally, I should get to today’s main quote and explain the reason why Hamlet has always touched me so deeply.

Okay, yes, Polonius is a bit of a ridiculous character. Most of the time, he’s just raving about random stuff and he makes some of the most terrible decisions in the entire play (which is saying a lot!). He’s basically like that father or grandfather figure who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but you listen to him to be polite…and then, occasionally, he does say something really truthful and you can’t help thinking that maybe he really was brilliant all along.

Well, I really like Polonius, and I happen to think that he provides some of the greatest moments of wisdom in the whole play. My absolute favourite quote comes from Polonius, and it is definitely a motto that everyone should live their life by.

Be True

“This above all: to thine own self be true…” – Hamlet, Shakespeare

When I first read Hamlet during grade 12, I was struggling with who I was and who I wanted to be. I had some not so supportive “friends” at the time who made me feel really guilty and insecure about a lot of aspects of my personality, and I knew that once I entered university, I had to figure out what parts of myself I wanted to keep and cherish, and what pieces were better left inside my high school’s walls. I wasn’t a partier at all in high school, I definitely did not like the idea of “hooking up”, and I still only drink on very rare occasions these days, and I found myself being criticized almost constantly because I allegedly didn’t know how to have any fun, was too obsessed with school and my grades, and thought I was too good for everybody else because of my desire to always be as responsible and mature as possible. I don’t know if as a girl in grade 12 I owed it to myself to “live a little” and go to a couple parties and not focus all of my energy into my tests and essays…I don’t know what my life would’ve been like if I had chosen a different path when my “friends” critiqued me. What I do know is that, at the time, changing my personality felt utterly impossible. I just couldn’t fathom doing things any differently because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea whatsoever. Yes, I felt tormented and there were many moments when I was even fed up with myself, almost wishing that I could’ve been the type of girl who didn’t care so much about the future and who was willing to take more risks. But, it wasn’t in my nature, and even when I desperately wanted to spend my night partying and meeting guys rather than studying, I knew that there was a reason my heart (not yet fully green, but getting there) wanted me to stay home. When I got to school on the Monday mornings after party-filled weekends, I always discovered why: I wasn’t overly fond of the stories I heard about what went on at these parties, and I was always grateful that I hadn’t been around to witness my friends or my crush or the girl or guy I had to work on a project with acting in a manner that I could only describe as foolish.

I don’t want to sound stuck up (lest my “friends” actually turn out to be right!), but I just didn’t understand the point of getting drunk and making decisions that you’d definitely regret in the morning, and I still don’t. But, oh, how I struggled with being the girl who always turned down invitations to parties, who arrived at prom by herself instead of pre-drinking (Is that what it’s even called?), who had no event to go to after graduation. I wasn’t alone without choosing to be so – I had “friends”, but I just didn’t feel like I could be 100% true to myself around them.

And, that, I was learning in my English class through the wise words of Polonius, was what I needed to do. If I wanted to live well and live fully, I had to be true to myself 100% of the time, in every circumstance. I held onto Polonius’ words as a sort of mantra – I had to believe that if I just stayed true to myself, I would one day find my niche, the place I was meant to be and the people who would love me with all my formerly unpopular opinions. And, I’m pleased to say, I did. I thrived in university, I met people who loved studying as much as I did. I was able to say proudly, No, sorry, I actually don’t drink, without seeing looks of disdain and annoyance. And, when I was invited on a trip to New York City during my third year of university to study Chaucer manuscripts at establishments like Columbia and Princeton University, I stumbled upon a beautiful silver necklace in the gift shop of the gorgeous Morgan Library with Polonius’ words engraved elegantly on it (pictured above). I knew right away that I needed the necklace – I had remained true to myself, upon Polonius’ instruction, for so many years, and I finally felt happy with and confident in the woman I was becoming.

To hear those words spoken yesterday…well, it meant a lot. Now, I’ve fully become the woman I always wanted to be and I know that it’s all down to the fact that I have always known myself.

Happy Sunday Dear Friends – stay true!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart