Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pests... or pets?

I haven't posted in AGES, but here's what's been happening recently:

1) I watched How to Train your Dragon and it's now become my favourite animated movie ever (apart from the old Disney classics) - not only is the soundtrack (you go, John Powell) sweeping and breathtaking, the movie's message, albeit rehashed, is poignant and important. It takes but a friendship between a semi-tailed dragon (an incredibly mignon and Stitch-resembling dragon) and a viking-underdog to stress that we should never judge a book by its cover, but definitely embrace our own differences. Toothless and Hiccup are both outcasts, but are finally seen for who they truly are - HEROES!

2) I'm reading All The Names by José Saramago, a Nobel-Prize winning Portugese author. Saramago absolutely eschews quotation marks (or line breaks between dialogue for that matter), signifying new dialogue with only a comma and capital letter; this means I have to be painstakingly prudent when reading this book, but it's worth it! Besides from the fact that the main character is far from likable, Saramago spews out an intellectual sentence every few paragraphs, so I've got a whole bunch of quotes lined up on another post, which I'll release when I finish the book, along with a review.

3) I've fallen in love with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. by T.S. Eliot. I liked it before, but I'm now REALLY absorbed by it. Did a mini happy-jig upon realizing that it's included in this collection of poems I have at home. Tedious argument, insidious intent... the rhymes are astounding!

In the room the women come and go,
Talking of Michaelangelo.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

A Tale of Two Cities is similar to Great Expectations. In both novels, readers meet a cruel, domineering woman, and - true to Dickens - elements of gothic fiction. Whether they spill from the 'sharp female called La Guillotine' or are found at the bottom of the graves Cruncher digs, blood and death are prevalent during the French Revolution, the turmoiled time in which the characters of this novel live.


A Tale of Two Cities is a story of tyranny, self-sacrifice, and of course, love. It tells the story of two men, strikingly similar in appearance yet distinct in character: Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, an English lawyer. Darnay is wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit, but saved from a sure death by Carton (spoiler alerts: clever foreshadowing on Dickens's part) Both men fall in love with the Lucie Manette, the daughter of a French doctor, and although Darnay ultimately weds Lucie, the fates of both men, in the "shadow of the guillotine" (as the blurb on my copy eloquently puts  it) are inevitably intertwined.

Although many 'flat' (quote E.M. Forster) characters in A Tale of Two Cities simply do not undergo as much character development as Pip does in Great Expectations, the ingenuity of this novel's plot line and the eloquence of Dickens's narrative make up for all the minor foibles in this triumphant work. Just as how Cosette's plain nature does not impinge on the tremendousness of Les Mis, Lucie's one-sided disposition does not affect the ultimate achievement of A Tale of Two Cities either.

This novel was both difficult and lovely to read, the former due to Dickens's oft-archaic prose (not to mention the weight of the volume) and the latter due to the novel's perfect pace and mind-blowing revelations. All the motifs and imagery in the novel - such as the jackal, game of cards and knitting (perhaps I'll write separate posts discussing these motifs) are masterfully used to portend and symbolize the happenings in the novel. It is a truly rewarding - yet heartbreaking - 5-star classic.
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out...
A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Next to Virginia Woolf's The Years, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities presents one the best opening chapters I've ever read. The introductory paragraph not only introduces the theme of duplicity that continues to emerge throughout the novel (e.g. Darnay and Carton) but also fleshes out the setting of the novel and the condition of the incoming revolution.

Ah, reading Dickens once more and being entertained by Dickensian humor is the best way to spent a train ride from Tainan to Keelung.

Quotes so far:
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!
So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyse the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it.

Perhaps we all reappear, perhaps all our lives are impositions one on another.

I am a sucker for experimental books, esoteric as they may be -

From reading Loon Lake, E.L Doctorow reminds me fondly of Cormac McCarthy - both writers glorify violence with graceful (albeit recondite) prose that is - personally, at least - refreshing to read.

Set in America during the Great Depression, Loon Lake follows the story of Joe Paterson, a wandering 'hobo' who initially finds solace working for a circus before he, the "wiseass street kid," is ultimately "gone in love, gone in aspiration, gone in the dazzlement of the whole man, the polished being."

Loon Lake adopts a convoluted structure that bedazzles and frustrates readers. Only until the last two pages did I truly appreciate the effectiveness of the structure; the story is told with poetry, eulogies and an overall remission of chronological sequence. Although it is initially difficult to delve into, Loon Lake is ultimately a grueling and rough story of ambition, truth and one's ability to adapt.

Standout quotes from the novel:
The poem is a cry of the unborn heart. Yes, because the poem perfectly embodies the world, there is no world without poem.
I cite too the ordinary fears of mortality the inspection of a fast-growing mole on the side of the nose blood in the stool a painful injury or the mournful witness of the slow death of a parent all this is given to all men as well as the starting awake in the nether hours of the night from such glutinous nightmare that on'e self name relationships nationality place in life all data of specificity wipe out amnesiatically asiatically you don't even know the idea human it is such a low hour of the night and he shares it with all of us.
He wondered seriously if love wasn't a feeling at all but a simple characterless state of shared isolation. If you were alone with a woman your feelings might change from moment to moment but the circumstance of your shared fate did not change. Maybe that's where the love was, in the combined circumstance. [...] They knew it could incorporate passion or prim distaste, it might be joyous or full of rage, it might carry extreme concern of any kind, or unconcern, but it was presumed to survive challenge. All it was, was a kind of neutral constancy. [... It was] nothing grand, nothing monumental, and not a prison either, but a sort of sturdy structure of outlook, one that wouldn't break under the weight of ideas and longing feelings terrors visions and the world's awful mordant surprises.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Poor People

In an attempt to understand the "characteristics of poverty," journalist and National Book Award winner William T. Vollmann asks victims of poverty worldwide, "why are you poor?"

Some believe it is their destiny and some accept it as the corollary of an imbalanced society; regardless, it results in an inevitable "mutual class invisibility called segregation."

Although Vollmann's tone may at times seem egregiously pretentious and his writing repetitive, Poor People is an introspective, thought-provoking book enriched (ironically) by his distinct, poetic narrative.
“Life is an extended camping trip. With a leaky, inferior tent one runs no more risk of rain than anyone else; but if it does rain, the person in the cheap tent chances soaking in his sleeping bag, and possibly dying of hypothermia.”

Other books by William T. Vollmann: Europe Central, Rising Up and Rising Down

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Now you see me

The first 4 minutes of Now You See Me were exhiliarating - the final moments? Not so much.
The cast, firstly, was near-wonderful. The Michael Caine + Morgan Freeman combo took me down a much-needed Dark Night memory lane, Dave Franco does his brother proud (oh, they are so alike, it's heart-warming) and Woody Harrelson is the absolute gem of the Four Horsemen.

I'm a bit inclined - forgive my partisan views - to dismiss Jessie Eisenberg entirely but I must grudgingly admit that he was possibly the best actor in the film. The reason for my Eisenberg-enmity is this video. The interviewer was (annoyingly) untactful at times, but there was no reason for Jessie to be such a dick/misogynist.

Back to the movie - it was gripping and full of clever plot twists... except for, of course, THE FINAL ONE. Maybe it's just me, but Mark Ruffalo's character simply was not COOL enough to be THE EYE; why expose Dylan Rhodes as an incompetent cop, label him the staple antagonist (arguable) and then reveal him to be the hottest shot possible? Alma would've been a better 'eye.' On that note, Dylan and Alma's relationship was so unshippable (forgive me, this is the only time this term will appear on my blog) that it was cringeworthy (ditto). Melanie Laurent was dreadfully undermined.

This film was - in a matter of minutes - transformed from an entertaining spectacle to a classic avenge-my-father-mission with a hackneyed and (I quote) "simply unsatisfying" denouement.

What was the big deal with the eye and all the odd letters on the cards (a Hermit, Death, a High Priestess, and a Lover)? I see the jack-death connection, but the rest are not so obvious?

This is a brilliantly entertaining movie that needs a sequel to patch up gaps.