Friday, March 5, 2010

Girl, Interrupted.

I watched this Academy Award winning film yesterday for the first time. I found it to be an incredibly moving piece, and was surprised by the way in which it impressed itself upon me in a permanent way. Angelina Jolie is famed for her depiction of Lisa, labelled a sociopath, in this film, but it was Winona Ryder's portrayal of Susanna Kaysen that resonated with me, perhaps for the reason that Susanna's character is not especially unrecognisable.
Girl, Interrupted is the movie adaptation of the real-life memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who was placed into the care of a mental health facility after a suicide attempt. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Susanna resists the facility in whose care she is placed, and is inspired and mesmerised by fellow patient Lisa's radical manipulation of those around her. In denial of her disorder and furious with her life both inside and outside of the hospital, Susanna's journey to mental health is a struggle in which the hospital staff, therapists and other patients participate in, and at times, appear to hinder.
The film sheds light on the way in which mental health was viewed in the sixties; arguably a mixture of emerging acceptance and lingering predjudice. It is also an example of the way in which a seemingly healthy person may be suffering under the surface, perhaps unknowingly.

I don't want to summarise the plot too much, or to analyse too heavily its details, as I feel that for many, that ruins the purpose of the movie. In this post, I just wanted to commend the film for being a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of the journey through which people with mental health issues must struggle. It is refreshing to see the staff of a mental health facility being portrayed in a positive light, for they deserve nothing less in this modern era (Nurse Rached, be gone!).

I think the title of the film, and the memoir from which it is derived, is incredibly apt. Girl, Interrupted is demonstrative of the way in which one's life may be temporarily, or permanently, interrupted by the presence of mental health issues, and brings about the notion that, in order to move on, these issues must be managed and worked with with nothing less than the utmost of diligence and care, as is depicted with finesse in this wonderful film.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Burned: A Verse Novel

It's hard not to pull out the literary critic's jargon when assessing this novel, but I'm trying not to let the structuralist in me win out over my appreciation of this incredible book, so here's a quick rundown of the plot:

Pattyn is a seventeen year old girl, the eldest of seven in a strict Mormon family. Hopkins is staunch in her depiction of Mormon women as submissive to men, naming them as "slaves" in some places, and she brings this to the forefront as Pattyn's primary conflict. After a typical teenage tousle leads Pattyn to be expelled by her abusive father to the countryside of Nevada, she is opened to the realities of life outside of Mormon doctrine. Growing closer to her nurturing and damaged aunt, Pattyn is exposed to the sorrows and joys of a life ruled by personal choice, and not religious law. Finding freedom, "forever love", and a new perspective of herself, Pattyn becomes a new person. The reader shares in this tentative journey as the protaganist reveals the pleasures and revelations she experiences as she emerges from underneath the oppressive influence of her father's misogynistic and abusive interpretation of Mormon doctrine.

Seemingly as soon as she has established herself in her new Nevada home, Pattyn is called to her familial one to take care of the eighth baby her mother has borne. This brings about changes Pattyn dreads, and the relaxation and relief she experienced in her time away from her zealous and abusive father weakens her against his influence.

Featuring a shocking and arguably fitting ending (which I would do no justice to attempt to describe), Burned is both traumatic and beautiful. I wouldn't really label it as a true tragedy, though there are certainly elements of the tragic within its pages.

It is, of course, in my nature to pay homage to Hopkins' incredible poetic structure. To a poetry novice such as myself, the words initially read in a straightforward manner, and very few verses rhyme, or have apparent rhythmic devices. However, the way in which the poetry is laid out invites the prose to be read twice, with a deeper, consolidatory meaning often concealed in the secondary reading of a piece.

Ellen Hopkins' verse novel Burned is a triumph of the genre, and a masterful exposition of the turmoil and joy faced by the protaganist Pattyn as she navigates her way through crises of religion, love and family. Burned presents what feels like a snapshot of the life of a Mormon girl in prose which is innovative both in a literary and visual context. It is a sad tale, but one which is peppered with moments of true joy and lightheartedness. Possibly a very different use of poetry to one you may be accustomed to - at least it was to me.

[It warrants warning, also, that Hopkins' depiction of the Mormon Church is very extreme. It is not a subject I claim to know much about, and I understood the portrayal contextually - that is, as part of a fictional story. Thus, it follows, that I should register my understanding that this is not, by any means, a complete or accurate portrayal of the Mormon Church, but simply an interprative one.]

I'll leave you with this quote from Burned; it is taken from the section of the novel where Pattyn has lost her virginity to the man she truly loves. Her struggle with the religious and personal implications of her decisions are evident in the way she describes it as follows:

I cried for what
I had lost,

my best-kept secret,
given away.

I cried for what
I had gained,

the knowledge of Eden, irrevocably

Happy reading!

claire. x.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Truth About True Blood

Charlaine Harris's paranormal romance series, referred to as the Dead in Dallas or Sookie Stackhouse novels before the True Blood TV show, was largely ignored before director Alan Ball picked it up. Not so ignored, however, that I didn't devour them in the transitional period between primary and high school. A viewer of True Blood would perhaps be shocked that a twelve year old had read the novels which inspired the gritty show, and to be honest, so am I, now. But at the time, I thought they were sweet, cute stories about a pretty waitress with a vampire boyfriend and an unwanted telepathic ability, somewhat like Matilda, of Roald Dahl fame. Hence, when I first watched True Blood, I was appalled at the raw, confronting manner in which it was portrayed, and refused to watch any more. I thought Alan Ball had got it wrong, and that my tweenaged interpretation of the Sookie Stackhouse novels was far more accurate than this gritty portrayal of life in the South with legalised vampires.

Here is where the truth about True Blood lies. True Blood (the title now encompasses the novels and the show) is not merely a predeccessor to our current, somewhat softened, vampire romance model. It is a fertile social commentary which provides intrigue and possibly more moments of sadness and contemplation than suspense and thrill (although those are there too). It has more parallels with Harper Lee than it does with Stephenie Meyer, and series creator Alan Ball has imbued the characters and relationships established in the novels with more meaning and clarity onscreen than you probably thought possible in a show centring on vampires.

The creation of synthetic blood in Japan has brought about the legalisation of vampires across the globe. However, vampires face predjudice in various forms as they attempt to "mainstream" and re-integrate with communities populated by humans. Such is the case for Bill Compton, whose return to his original home of Bon Temps (pronounced "Bohn To-ahm". Sort of.) brings about a flurry of commotion. Upon entering Merlottes bar, workplace of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, he begins a deep flirtation and eventual romance with her.

Their dalliance is met with contempt from those around Sookie, including her hedonistic brother Jason, her enamoured boss Sam, her abrasive friend Tara and the local police. When several women, known "fangbangers", are murdered, suspiscion falls heavily upon Bill, and Sookie is forced to make decisions she never anticipated.

At this point, I'm sure you've realised that the setting of True Blood in Louisiana is no accident. The Southern American societal depiction conjures considerations of segregation and predjudice perhaps like no other in Western contemporary culture, thanks to Harper Lee's landmark masterpiece. I would never be so presumptuos as to hold True Blood up to To Kill A Mockingbird, but I acknowledge and admire the progressive commentary it provides on similar issues. The series has been acclaimed for its honest and unashamed exploration of drug use, sex, homosexuality, alcoholism, and small town mentality (more so the bad and ugly than the good), and all in accompaniment with the underlying ideology of society's continuing resistance to accept minorities.

Laced with characters which range from the likeable to the despicable, True Blood is probably not for everyone. But I urge you to give it a second try, as I did, if you found that you did not enjoy it the first time. However, this time, look not for the sweet moments in the vampire relationship between Bill and Sookie, for there are few - these vampires are as real as we're gonna get, and they do not sparkle. Instead, search in True Blood for those valuable insights into societal mindsets which refuse the onset of the new, and push away the different, in whatever form. I hope that you'll see in it the value that I now have!

I hope this isn't too much like a literary essay...I find that I miss very much the exploration of texts and the exposition of underlying messages in them. I'm craving complex books and series and the moment! Let me know if True Blood has grown on you, or if you liked it from the start!


Sunday, January 10, 2010

An Absence and Some Promises

Hello to all those patient enough to still be reading my blog,

I've been away from it for a while, as I've had a busy Christmas and New Year; I was away from home for a few weeks, and didn't have my regular access to my computer. Needless to say, when my laptop and I are happily reunited, I'll be updating on the books I've read (there are a lot of them, and a number of fantastic ones), some of the movies I've seen (Avatar was incredible, and the Lovely Bones was quite emotional for me...) and Christmas chaos in retail.

For now, I thought I'd post my New Year's resolutions, as a tribute to the time I've missed here, and also, hopefully, in order to motivate me to keep them throughout the year, given that I've published them!

1. Learn to drive. I know, I know, how can I not have got my license already...the truth is, I just never needed, nor wanted it. So I never got it! I live very close to the Busway here in Brisbane, and I have access to everywhere in the city and beyond that I could hope for, all two minutes walk away. However, the time will come soon when I will be moving out with my boyfriend, and may be removed from my beloved Busway, so I guess this is a must do this year.

2. Learn to cook. I want to be able to cook basic meals and some nice ones, as well as biscuits and cakes and things. I'm aiming to be healthier this year, and this is one way to get started on that! My gran bought me the Women's Weekly Complete Cook book for Christmas to get me kick-started!

3. Attend the gym twice a week. This is a pretty obvious one, I guess. Keep fit, make use of my gym membership, etc, etc. I've been going good with it so far thanks to a work friend who has taken on the task of being my personal trainer! She's going to make a great PT when she's qualified!

4. Never be afraid of failing at uni again. This one is easily achievable; I was so frightened I had failed a course - I had to take an exam again due to illness on the day and I was certain I had failed. I was wrong, thankfully, but I never want that feeling again!

On top of these, I plan to keep saving money for moving out, and all those sorts of big things, as well as planning to stay away from situations which make me stressed. Stress takes a physical toll on me, and I end up becoming ill from it (as do most people, I guess), so this year, I plan to stay as far away from stress as possible!

On a different topic, I'm working with some designs for my tattoo. I plan to get it underneath my ankle bone on my left ankle (so that when I'm a teacher, it can easily be covered by my favourite ballet flats). I have always loved cherry blossoms. I studied Japanese from grade two, and was introduced to them from a young age. I would want my tattoo to be delicate and fine, and to have no heavy black on it at all. I want to make use of white inks, and to find the perfect pink colour. I will design it myself (well, before the tattoo artist finalises it, anyway). I've been fascinated by tattoos at the moment, and would love to hear about yours, if you have some, or if you plan to in the future. I love hearing the stories behind people's tattoos - for the most part, if you choose to ink yourself permanently, chances are you've got a good story behind your choice! I like this design, but by no means is it what I will finally have... Thoughts? More updates soon. Love Claire.xx

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Have a Bad Week

Welcome to How To Have a Bad Week 101. In order to past this course, you must undertake the following:

1. Fill your week with an immeasurable amount of stress - this may be related to exam pressures, family issues, concern over friends, and a lack of time spent with your boyfriend due to his new position. For maximum results, all of the above should be undertaken.

2. Attempt to fit in study around this.

3. Attempt to fit work around this. (Please note: it is highly unlikely that you will be successful in steps three and four if you have successfully completed step one).

4. Become sick. If you have undertaken the above steps correctly, step four should be a natural occurence.

If you have completed steps one through four, you have fulfilled the requisites for How To Have a Bad Week 101. The secondary course following this subject is How to Feel Better and Recover 202. The following are necessary in order to ensure optimal outcomes for this course.

1. Step back, and realise that exam concerns are easily put to rest.

2. Take a short break and return to study fresh-faced.

3. Realise that your work friends are extremely supportive, and relax, because they will help with your shifts.

4. Take some cold and flu medicine, get some light exercise and drink more than your usual amount of tea.

5. Watch Veronica Mars.

6. Look forward to the good things in the near future.

It is likely that, in finishing all of the tasks set out for you in How to Feel Better and Recover 202, you will have completed your week. It may have been a tumultuous one, but it's over, and you can now move on.

Last week was long and hectic, but it's over now. It finished on a good note; Szilveszter and I went to a friend's house, and we played Battle of the Sexes and had a few drinks. It was a triumphant win for the girls; the boys, when asked where the female scapula was, came to the conclusion that it was "something they do their eyes with". It is, of course, the shoulder blade, which is in the same place as the male's, obviously...

I have plenty of good things coming up over the next few weeks, the first of which is Szilveszter's 24th birthday party on the weekend. I can't wait to catch up with our friends, both old and new! Then on Sunday, Szilveszter and I have booked two nights away at the Crown Plaza at Surfers Paradise to celebrate both his birthday and our two year anniversary of being together. I can't wait to relax at the coast (even though, unfortunately, it will be Schoolies...), it's my favourite place to be. This afternoon is my work friend Ella's formal, and my mum is styling her hair for it. I'm excited to see her all dressed up for her formal! Then in early December, I have a couple of Christmas parties; one on a boat cruise down the river with my mum's work and some of my work friends (our parents work together), and then our Famous Footwear one at the coast, which is semi-formal, how exciting! During the day, on that same day, I'll be returning to my prac class for their Christmas party at the local bowling alley. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to all of it.

I love Veronica Mars at the moment. I'm late to catch onto most trends, unfortunately, and I realise she had her boom a while ago, but still. Anything where the protaganist is an outcast is generally guaranteed to click with me.

Hoping everyone's had a good week!

claire. x.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Lovely Weekend, Actually.

Today I've given myself a day off. As I've mentioned previously, I've been busy with uni assessment and study, prac and work, so this weekend, I took some time out and decided to give myself a break so that I'll be fresh for my last few days of prac and study for my one and only exam on the 14th.

Friday night, I went to a Halloween party at Garden City, where I work. Szilveszter and I ordered costumes online for pretty cheap, and I had a Queen of Hearts dress. I've always been a bit fascinated with Alice in Wonderland, so I was glad to come by the costume, which had a ribboned bodice and a skirt made of playing cards. Szilveszter was Batman, and after a few drinks, felt that he embodied the role appropriately. It was a great night, and the costumes were most certainly the highlight. I caught up with a few people I hadn't seen for a while, so that was excellent. The group who organised and threw the party are in definite need of commendation, and I look forward to their next event!

After work on Saturday, I went to a work friend's house with one of the girls from our store. We had dinner together and had a few drinks. It was relaxing to sit around chatting, and then we watched Love, Actually. One of my favourite movies! I think everyone relates to at least one of the stories in it. The scene where Emma Thomspon's character is standing in her bedroom listening to Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now usually makes me cry, also. But in a good way, I suppose. But who could resist smiling when the children's lobster-inclusive nativity scene raises its curtain to reveal Prime Minister Grant locked in the much anticipated embrace of the sweet and bumbling Natalie? Just the thing to put you in the festive mood...

I am so excited about Christmas. I can't wait for my exam to be over (although yes, I know I haven't got much of a complaint, what with having a single exam and all...). The decorations have begun to be put up in Garden City, our local shopping centre, and at work, we're planning the rosters for the late night shifts over the weeks leading up to Christmas. I know it may sound wierd, but I actually love working over Christmas. I love it when you start to see bulk-purchased rolls of wrapping paper in people's overfull shopping bags as they approach the counter, and when the staff of various stores begin to don Santa hats. I don't even mind the fact that I can't get to the foodcourt because Santa's got such an extensive queue of children waiting to put in their requests for this year. This will be my first Christmas at Famous Footwear, and I've already anticipated the Santa hat, and so I have purchased red ballet flats (well, I initially bought them for the Halloween party, but they'll double as Christmas shoes!). I guess that the fact that we work so extensively over Christmas means that we essentially share Christmas with our workmates, and given that we've got such a fantastic staff at FF, it's going to be great.

Since my last post on A Great and Terrible Beauty, I've read Rebel Angels, the sequel, and have almost finished Hush, Hush, the highly anticipated Nephilim romance, among a few more insignificant things. I'll most certainly update on Hush, Hush when I get it back from where I left it at my friend's house (oops), but a post on Rebel Angels will follow this one. I've also fallen in love with the New Moon soundtrack, which I didn't particularly like the first time I listened to it. After putting it through the motions a few more times, I find this soundtrack somewhat more atmospheric than Twilight's, and obviously it's a little bit darker, given the painful nature of the book itself. My favourite song is Thom Yorke's Hearing Damage, among others. It's inspired me to hunt down some Radiohead this week.

Hoping everyone's having a lovely week, and is anticipating Christmas as highly as I am!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Great and Terrible Beauty

It's been a while since I updated with a book review, and this one was I particularly loved. Libba Bray is a relatively uknown author outside of her first mainstream trilogy, but I have a feeling that we'll be hearing from her again soon. The first book in what is known as the Gemma Doyle triology is called A Great and Terrible Beauty. It revolves around the interactions of the young women at an austere boarding school which houses secrets which have remained under dusty lock and key for decades.

Following the suicide of Gemma's mother on the Indian streets on which she was raised, Gemma is transported to Spence Academy to learn how to become a proper young lady ready to be released for the matrimonial picking of London's finest gentlement. Unschooled in the interworkings of young girls, Gemma is shocked at the cruelty displayed by her English peers. While she herself is a formidable target for would-be bullies, Gemma begins to notice that a particular group of girls is making life difficult for an underprivileged and unfortunate girl named Ann, her new roommate. On top of her attempts to make Ann's life a little easier, Gemma is plagued by visions which allude to the existence of a world exterior to our own, which contains the most desirable and wonderful of things, as well as the worst, and most horrific. As the story unfolds, Gemma's connection to the realms she glimpses is unravelled with the narrative expertise of a writer whose talent is extremely apparent, and as her supernatural ability reveals itself, the girls who proved former tormentors begin to expose their vulnerabilities in a world where they are traded as commodities.

Felicity longs for the power to influence those around her. Ann, cursed with unattractiveness, wishes to be beautiful so that her unfortunate past is perhaps more concealable, and Pippa, the most stunning of the four, desparately wants the opportunity to find true love for herself rather than walk down the aisle toward the incompatible husband and dreary future her parents have arranged for her. Gemma's deepest desire is to have the inner workings of herself revealed to her, so that she may understand her role in both the worlds she inhabits.

All four girls are appeased in their deepest desires when Gemma begins to control her ability to access the realms, and the greatest wishes of the girls are within tangible reach. Meeting in a cave adorned with Celtic prehistoric imagery in the dead of night, the girls explore the realms and the diary of a student of Spence past which begins to reveal, page by page, a destiny which awaits Gemma.

Brimming with Gothic eeriness and a modern understanding of teenage girls, A Great and Terrible Beauty provides insightful commentary into the lives of women during the late 1800s. I felt drawn into the inner circle of the Spence girls, as if I were a part of the illicit secret they harboured, and I was as enthralled by the novel's plot as the protaganists were by the diary of their predecessors.

The novel crept up to a suspenseful and dramatic ending, with more than one surprise I most certainly did not expect. Absolutely unputdownable! I'm so glad I read it, as this is one I'd been tossing up on for literally years.

I give this book my highest reccommendation to anyone looking for, as they would have put it in Gemma's day, "a rollicking good read".

The following books are: Rebel Angels and A Sweet Far Thing. I'm sure you'll get an update on these as I finish them!

Thanks to Gracie, a fellow superbookworm (because we're more avid than your average bookworms) who reccommended this wonderful novel to me.

thanks for reading.