Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jane Eyre

I've always thought that the Brontë sisters, namely Anne, Emily and Charlotte, were messed up. I was, perhaps wrong at the time, but it was soon after I read Emily's Wuthering Heights that I came to this conclusion. I think anyone would have done the same! I digress. I read an abridged version of Jane Eyre, Charlotte's masterpiece, for a long time regarded as the best book between the three sisters. It, actually, is the most famous one, isn't it? The story? An orphan growing up in a loveless family, being sent off to boarding school, growing up to become a governess and taking on the position of a tutor, falling in love with her master, dealing with crises, and reconciling herself to love. Familiar enough?

So, why does this book make it to my top favorites? Because it talks about people in the way people would react and do in situations. It's very pro-feminist. The protagonist, Jane Eyre, grows up with the idea of independence rooted in her mind.
Jane Eyre is taken in by her uncle, after the death of her parents, as a baby. Her aunt all but hates her for this because the Eyre's married for love, Jane's mother giving up her family and friends for love. After the death of the uncle, Jane is subjected to ill treatment by her cousins and aunt, who, considers Jane a spawn of Satan himself (not said in so many words, but that's the conclusion one can arrive at). Just before Jane is sent off to boarding school, her words to her aunt set the tone of her very character. That she is her own person. Jane does quite alright for herself in school, flirting with the feelings of friendship with a devout Christian girl who eventually dies, and finds herself given the opportunity of working as a governess after she decides that she has overstayed at Lowood. Arriving at Thornfield Hall, one of the most famous gothic locations in fictional history, she is fascinated by the calm mystery of the place. And of course, the master of the house, Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester. The two of them find each other's company intellectually stimulating and welcome, because both seem to have rather dreary pasts, Mr. Rochester's a far more adventurous than Jane's. And they fall in love. Well, Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester first, and then he goes to lengths to make her jealous so that she might feel the true strength of love, making her believe that he was going to marry a Blanche Ingram. Understanding Jane, in that moment of absolute heartache, Mr. Rochester finally calls his own bluff, rather arrogantly, and proposes marriage to her. Then comes the wedding, the revelation that it cannot take place because Rochester has a wife now living, a lunatic at that, but still living, Jane running away from him, almost dying, being given a second chance at life, meeting with a family that treats her well, finding out that she is an heiress to twenty-thousand pounds, refusing a marriage proposal because it would be one of convenience and not love, and returning to Thornfield and reuniting with Mr. Rochester.
A lot of the tone of the story, this novel of growing up and dealing with emotions - a Bildungsroman, is the correct term, I believe - pops out of the pages quite blatantly.
"Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart! . . . I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, or even of mortal flesh:--it is my spirit that addresses your spirit: just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,--as we are!"
I think this signifies everything I like about the book. I don't take to Jane's religious turn, but I do love her independence. Her wish that she be left to who she is, that even if she is passionately in love she will not give up her right as a woman, her morality, for it. She acts stupidly at times, like when she runs away from Thornfield, not thinking things through in a practical manner. But luck seems to follow her all through that phase. She is taken in by a good family, who turn out to be her cousins, and gets a second shot at marriage. Not love. Just marriage. She refuses, for good reasons! She is one of the most plain heroines, but so sidled with morality, intelligence, character and poise that while you get annoyed with her more than once, you can't help but see bits of yourself in her. Told in first person, it is no wonder that I would consider the 'I' in some cases to actually mean myself instead of Jane!
Her male counterpart, male interest and partner, Mr. Rochester is bestowed with very much the same qualities. With more passion and worldly experiences than Jane. While he isn't the type of man women would swoon over - think Mr. Darcy, perhaps - his is the passion one would like to see in a man. He is not condescending in his declaration of love. He is willing to take his share of the blame in matters, and the fact that he does not strike his wife, the lunatic shut up in the 'forbidding wing', even when she physically attacks him, shows that he is a man as a man should be. He respects women. True, he very nearly asks Jane to be his mistress, but his repentance at having done it shows a man of full bodied character that will do anything for the one he loves, and would give up all to set things right. Ah!
A classic gothic story, without too much of foreboding danger, dealing with human struggles in a very laid out, smooth flowing manner, makes it one of my favorite books. Perhaps not one of my all time favorites, because I wouldn't read the whole book on an annual basis or anything, but definitely one that I have read and liked enough to shelve into my memory for all the good reasons.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Reader

A coming of age novel, of sorts, in the time of World War 2. The last bits of it, at least. It follows the life of Michael Berg from the age of 15 into adulthood and his rather scandalous affair with a former streetcar conductor and SS guard, old enough to be his mother.
That said, this book, "The Reader" (Der Vorlesser) written by Bernhard Schlink, is simple and, if you care to look deep enough into it (or just pay attention to it), profound. There is absolutely nothing hidden in it. Straightforward sentences, no beating around the busy with the story, small chapters, with so much information.
While the undertone of the book is distinctly post-war, the essence of it deals with a boy, a teenager growing up and understanding himself. He studies the law, and reasons during a trial for crimes against humanities by women Nazi guards. The turmoil he faces when he finds that the woman he loves, or at least had an intimate physical relationship with, is being accused of murder is described quiet perfectly by the word 'numb'. The language is simple, the implications profound.
There are many moments in the book when you think one of the characters is dumb, Michael Berg or Hanna Schmitz. And then you understand why each of them reacted that way. Simple human emotions. Hanna's pride, Michael's acceptance and righteousness.
It is a short and quick read. Enough to leave in your mind a window into the lives of others, specifically, people in that particular time period. People who are just mere human beings. 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Karl Stig-Erlad Larsson, better known to the world as Steig Larsson, the creator of the Millenium trilogy, wrote just three books in his lifetime. Three books the pretty much catapulted him to fame after his death in 2004. Amazing isn't it? That well written books even when published posthumously become a phenomenon and the author's life becomes even more interesting?
It's fascinating, Larsson's life and his stories, especially with claims that his stories are based off of actual experiences, that the characters are fictional manifestations of some that he knew... Either way, I was quite drawn into the story behind the author and the story itself. And I liked it.
It starts of darkly. Actually, it is dark, the storyline, the history of the characters, the backdrop. And it's cold. It's everything a locked room mystery/crime novel should be.
The general tone of the novel is depressing, to be very honest. It is very well written, don't get me wrong, with a good amount of detail that will keep you interested in turning the pages to the very last one. But it is rather dreary and goes very well with the setting, i.e. a cold, solemn place in Sweden.
It starts off with Mikael Blomkvist taking the fall for an exposé gone wrong and subsequently being summoned by the head of the Vanger family to investigate the mysterious death of his niece. This, after Vanger has 'the girl with the dragon tattoo', Lisbeth Salander, a very intelligent hacker with a seriously crazy history, goth tendencies and photographic memory, compiles a detailed report about Blomkvist, his life, his loves, his work... Vanger lures Blomkvist with the promise of a hefty sum of money and irrefutable proof against Wennerström, the industrialist Blomkvist was trying to expose.
The cover story is that Blomkvist is working on a book on the Vanger family history. It could be dangerous, Blomkvist is warned, because Henrik Vanger, possibly the only sane one of the family, suspects that one of the family members is the murderer. The story progresses at a decent pace once you get past all of the history, and sort of get the hang of the numerous members of the family, and other characters.
Salander has her own reasons for following Blomkvist's progress in the case; she doesn't believe he, a seasoned journalist would've published anything without proof. Inadvertently, she reveals that she's been spying on Blomkvist, and he recruits her as an assistant on the case because he needs her expertise. Her issues with her 'guardian' because she has been deemed mentally unsound, who forces her to do him sexual favors and her eventual revenge for it are a reflection of the author's stand against crime against women (the Swedish title for this book translates to 'Men Who Hate Women').
Salander figures out who the murderer is, and Blomkvist works out the fate of Harriet Vanger and the story essentially ends on a good note. It also sets the premise for the next book, with Salander making off with Wennerström's money.

Critique? I liked it. After a long time I read a good mystery story and it was fun getting through it, retaining information and calling it up when required as I solved the case with the protagonists. A lot of it was insanely graphic. It's not just the killing, but also the sexual offenses. It makes for a good read for those who like this genre, crime writing; if you don't, then stay away from the book.

(I watched the movie in Swedish, with English subtitles, and await the Daniel Craig starring English version. Should be interesting.)