Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Book Review: The Testaments

The Testaments is told in the perspectives of Aunt Lydia and Offred’s biological children, Agnes and Nicole, charting their interactions with their respective ‘families’ and their roles within the world of Gilead. Soon enough, the characters interact through the seamless chapter plotting, as the inner-workings of Gilead are revealed. It’s hard to not give things away, but the plotline will certainly have you on your feet.

Atwood, obviously, skilfully crafts language that is also addictive; regardless of the novel being 300 plus pages, it is still a relatively quick read, as every chapter leaves you wanting more. Aunt Lydia’s perspective was my particular favourite; Atwood’s subtle word choices allow the reader to delve deeper into how the Aunt’s interact with each other.

I know there has been some divided opinion and controversy surrounding The Testaments, so I expected not to enjoy it as much as I did. I tried to read it two times in the past year and failed to get past the first 100 pages, though, so I would recommend you make sure you have the time to give it your full attention. I really enjoyed reading it this summer with no pressing reading to do. The ending, which has a similar format to the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale, tied the novel together perfectly, as well as tying the duology together nicely, too. Overall, the novel didn’t disappoint at all: regardless of what controversy surrounds it, I certainly would put it to the top of your reading pile.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Top 5 Books to Read for Prospective English Lit Students

If you’re hoping to start an English Literature degree in September and your reading lists haven’t been released yet, below are some fresh texts that you might not have discovered yet, that will stand you in good stead for degree level study. 

Beckett’s Endgame is completely different to any play I have ever read before. It is perfect to bridge the gap between A-levels and degree level; the ambiguous dialogue forces you to really widen out your interpretations and consequently develop your own unique take on the play. 

Oswald’s Memorial is a different reading experience depending on whether you have read or have knowledge of the Iliador not. However, I still think it is a nice introduction if you are just starting to venture into Greek Mythology. It details how the soldiers in the Iliad lost their lives in battle, with some really poignant and memorable descriptions. 

The Metamorphoses is one of Kafka’s top short stories; it would definitely be the one I would start with if I was new to Kafka. The male protagonist wakes up as a beetle, so consequently the reader sees how his family react with his new form. The short story, along with Kafka’s other works, is unique, engrossing and has a well-formed ending.

Dubliners is a collection of short stories, some longer than others, centring on the idea of Dublin being in a state of paralysis and how the people of the city interact with each other. Even just picking up one of these short stories gives you a glimpse of how Joyce captures 20th century Dublin so well.  

Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Stories, like Dubliners, has short stories of varying lengths, focussing particularly on how women and families navigate their lives in a World War One setting. All of the short stories are vivid, engaging and crisp, so you can’t go wrong with them.  

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

How to Prep for University Seminars (English Literature Student)

Preparing for lectures and seminars, especially when you’re in first year, can be tricky. As a third year student I have a simple method that works for me and hopefully will for you too.

Read the Set Text 

This sounds like an obvious step, but it’s surprising how many English Literature students don’t read the books they are set every week. Starting your reading before term starts and ensuring that you’re at least two weeks ahead sets you up nicely. Sometimes things pop up in life, (we’re all human), that means you might struggle to finish reading a book in a week. If that does happen, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can as well as reading a detailed summary and looking up quotes for any chapters or acts you haven’t had a chance to read yet. I would also strive to finish that text soon after a seminar so when you have to choose texts to write about for an assignment, you’re giving yourself the best selection possible.

Make Notes 

As I’m reading a set text, I’ll make a note of interesting quotes and their page numbers, along with my thoughts on them. Therefore, if you want to use them in your seminar discussions, you’ve got the notes easy to hand. I type up my quotes on my iPad, so if they’re discussed in the seminar I can quickly extend my notes on them. Doing some prepping before your seminar can result in some ground work to prepare you for essays and to get you thinking. Some weeks these notes might be more detailed than others, but any extra work you do will benefit you hugely. I also do exactly the same with themes; I try and group my quotes into themes and do some research before my seminar on any less obvious themes I might have missed whilst reading the text. 

Read Around the Set Text 

Reading around the text, especially when you’re in second and third year is so important. It is really beneficial to do this as you start to form your own opinions on a text by agreeing or disagreeing with a literary critic. This means you have more to contribute to your seminar discussions as you’ve extended your knowledge and built on the groundwork you’ve already started by making basic notes on the text.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Book Review: The Penelopiad

This book was my first read of the summer and it’s safe to say that it didn’t disappoint. One of its strengths was definitely the accessibility of the prose; I liked the short chapters and the sections of poetry. Taking a well-known, complex text, Homer’s Iliad, and retelling it in a simple way is certain to draw readers to the original text. It works in both ways, as readers new to Greek mythology would enjoy this text, but it is also an interesting read for people who are familiar with Homer’s Iliad and are aware of the story of Odysseus and his dutiful wife, Penelope.

Another strong point of the book is how Atwood includes the perspective of Penelope’s maids that Odysseus hangs in the original text. Her introductory note explains that the maids stuck in her mind after she read Homer’s text so she wanted to explore the idea of their voices gaining prevalence. This is expressed through poetic interludes woven with Penelope’s chapters. However, something I would have liked to see is the interactions and relationships explored further between Penelope and certain maids. Atwood hints at a deeper relationship between Penelope and Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks, but I would have liked to have seen more of their interactions.

Penelope is a likeable character with depth; we as readers are introduced to the nuances of her intelligent, skilful personality. Seeing her perspective of her interactions with Odysseus and her son Telemachus is clearly refreshing and adds an additional layer to Homer’s text. I also liked how her relationship with Helen of Troy is presented: the rivalry between them, once again, adds a further layer to the Homeric epic. Penelope resides in the Underworld and is telling her story of her time alive, so we can see a clear comparison of how her familial and plutonic interactions have changed between her time alive and in the Underworld.

Overall, this novel is really worth a read. If you’re looking for a concise, easy read that’s also simultaneously brimming with complex character relationships and emotions, this fits the bill perfectly. If you are already a fan of Greek mythology but any retellings have gone to the bottom of your reading pile, this novel will definitely kickstart your interest in the genre again. If you are interested in more myth retellings, The Penelopiad is part of a myth series from Canongate Books.
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