For part two of my series on what I have read during 2016, I discuss three very different works spanning from the 17th century, through to the 1940’s to 2012 respectively.
Each of these works was read during quite a tumultuous period of time for me when I had moved to a new part of the country and was looking for a job, so it is interesting how revisiting them now has brought memories of those uncertain few months back. Can anyone else recognise different parts of their life based on what they were reading?
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how the first three books I read could be grouped together as works which reexamine the familiar. This time, I think a theme that runs through these book is characters adapting to new environments, whether in a literal way in the two survival tales or in the novella where a character is shown to be very different from the person they previously had been.
This book has been on my shelf for a while and was something I was putting off reading, in part as I mistakenly thought it was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and I found Kidnapped to be a very slow book to get into. This is not to say that Robinson Crusoe is a quick starter! It takes a very long time to get to the point where Crusoe is eventually stranded on the island. When it finally got going, I did find it to be a more enjoyable read than expected.
There is a LOT of detail and I think if I ever do become stranded on an island which comes with a boat with everything I need, seeds and soil in which they will grow, a fresh water supply and plenty of animals, plants and fish, I will be totally fine!
Reading the novel with a 21st century perspective, I think I got things from it that Defoe did not originally mean to express. For example, I found it very interesting when Crusoe was explaining to Friday about God and Friday questioned Crusoe’s beliefs. I read this as Friday, the ‘savage’, being the more enlightened of the two as he has the ability to question the beliefs ingrained into Crusoe’s culture, whereas Crusoe sees everything in Friday’s culture that is not familiar to him as being savage and he would never think of trying to understand it. Crusoe also seems blind to his own inconsistencies with his faith as he believes in God when he needs Him or when he thinks He has assisted him, but at other times questions the existence of God.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The nameless narrator of Truman Capote’s novella tells the story of the enigmatic Holly Golightly, a young woman who maintains her charmed existence living in a New York brownstone by befriending and accompanying rich men. On the surface, she seems to be a flighty, naive and superficial character but throughout the story the reader learns that her past is quite dark. I find it interesting how Holly’s reaction to her past is to create a new persona for herself and how she builds a whole new life in New York out of nothing.
One thing to be aware of, is that the famous film adaptation does not follow the original story very closely and there are in fact some major differences in tone and characterisation between the two works.
I think in terms of Holly’s quirkiness and childlike approach to the world, she can be seen in some ways as a predecessor to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. However, I would argue that in opposition to this character type in other works, she is the main character of her own story and does not just live to give a focus to the main male character. In fact, the Narrator really only exists as a character to be infatuated with Holly and to tell her story to the reader.
Life of Pi
Whilst reading Life of Pi I felt such a plethora of emotions, from wonder to horror through relief and sadness, that it left me feeling quite exhausted. It will not be much of a spoiler, as this is made clear from the cover, that Life of Pi is about a boy who is stranded on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only a tiger for company. Pi, so named after the french for ‘swimming pool’, is a character I found it very easy to like and I was really willing him all through the story to hold on and survive.
In the end, it is up to the reader to decide whether the story which Pi tells is what really happened, or whether his story is an allegory to cover up a much darker truth that can not be expressed.
I did feel quite disturbed at points in the book and at the ending because it can be very gruesome and visceral at times and turns the truth of what you believe has possibly happened on it’s head. The fact that I found some of it traumatic is testament to the writing and the connection I felt with the character. I think one of the strengths of the novel is in making the reader question why and how we invent our own life narratives and, if telling a story is better than telling the truth, is that the correct thing to do?
Thank you for reading. Do let me know what you have been reading recently!