The Divergent Trilogy

So I waDivergent hc c(2)s reading a much more serious book this week but I haven’t finished it yet (I’ll have that for you next week), and since I finished this trilogy on Wednesday I thought I’d give you my thoughts on this. I couldn’t get a picture of all three books together, but the separate titles are Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. On the heels of The Hunger Games, this is another dystopian young adult series, in which teenagers are tested to their absolute limit, but manage to find love despite terrible odds, corrupt governments, and enormous loss.

I can’t emphasise enough how much fun it was just to READ again, and not have to write an essay or discuss criticism (does a blog count? I don’t know) – I love those things, I really do, but reading can lose some of its appeal when that’s all it’s used for. Even if what I was reading was not aimed at my age group at all, it was so nice to just sit and read and get lost in the story, and get emotionally invested purely because there was TIME to get emotionally invested.

And now I’ll move on to the synopsis before this becomes an English student rant…

Synopsis

Beatrice Prior lives in a somewhat dystopian post-apocalyptic city – if you’ve seen the recent film, you’ll know which city that is, even though the reader is not told until the third book, but I won’t spoil it for the rest of you. The city is divided into factions, Candor, Amity, Erudite, Dauntless, and Abnegation. They each have very strict philosophies, based on what they consider to be the biggest fault of human nature – Candor are honest (to the point of tactlessness) because they believe it was deception and dishonesty that was the downfall of humanity; Amity are kind because they blame war and fighting; Erudite value knowledge because they blame ignorance for humanity’s problems; Dauntless are brave and fearless because they blame fear and cowardice; Abnegation are selfless, and blame selfishness for the past problems. Beatrice is Abnegation and, at the start of Divergent, is about to go through a simulation test to decide which tells her which faction she belongs in. But her results are not as straightforward as everyone else’s…

Things I liked

As I said earlier, just being able to sit and get lost in the world of the books, not to question it or think about the (occasionally painfully obvious) religious implications. But enough about me:

The characters – as always. If you haven’t got interesting characters, I’m never going to be able to find anything I like. Tris (Beatrice) is the newest in a line of decent feminist icons in young adult fiction, following Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Katsa from Graceling. Although the romance story is obvious as soon as she looks up and sees the deep blue eyes, it was fun to read, and refreshing after the love lessons of The Twilight Saga (no I can’t be bothered to talk about that properly). The main couple struggle with staying true to one another while retaining their independence, they lie to each other but also talk through their problems and work on their relationship – despite the epic scale of their love story they still teach young people that relationships are about compromise, and that people you love screw up sometimes and hurt you without meaning to, but as long as you talk about it, things will get better. I was impressed with the relationship, even though it drove me crazy at times.

Also, Four is dreamy. Yeah, I said it.

The faction system. It made the world and the society very easy to navigate as someone who wasn’t looking for a challenging read. Also it explored a lot about what it means to be human -the prejudices and misconceptions we have about society, what we take for granted until something changes in our lives, like moving away from home – especially as the series progresses and shit starts to go down.

Four. But I mentioned that already.

Dauntless. Terrifying, awesome, cool as hell, intense. Freedom, to an extent.

I also like that Tris is weak at first, and things don’t always come easily. She has to work hard, and drive her mind and body as hard as she can, to become better.

Things I didn’t like

The outcome – but I won’t go into that.

I’m still not a huge fan of most books written in present tense. However, I’ll concede that I stopped noticing it fairly quickly while reading this and it did help propel the story onward.

The sheer devastation. Tris experiences an exhausting number of losses throughout the series – but this is a difficult point, since I almost put it in the Things I liked section. On the one hand, if I was feeling emotional while reading it, I found myself easily affected by the deaths, even of minor characters. On the other, war is stirring within the city even from the very beginning and as it grows and takes shape, you have to expect devastating losses on both sides.

Should I read this book?

If you’re in the mood for a story that is exciting and involving, but requires not much concentration or prolonged engagement, this is a great one. It did feel a bit young for me at times, but sometimes that is what you need.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the books here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Divergent-Veronica-Roth/9780007420421/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

 

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Guest post (Amy Street): Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

So I’m doing something a little different this week. My mum has written a guest review of a book she read last week. As you will gather from what you are about to read, she had quite an intense reaction to it, and so I asked her to write a review! Here it is: 

arlingtonparkcovercropped

This has been hovering on the edge of my radar for a while, mainly because it’s set in Bristol, and I had a vague memory that lots of people who knew the author felt they’d been unfairly portrayed in the book and wrote angry letters about it. I can see why: my first draft of this review was written in a frenzy of loathing towards the book – my original one-liner review was “undiluted hatred in every overwritten line.”

Then I had one of those epiphany moments – and I decided to try and rein in my hate and not add to the sum of unpleasantness on the internet, if I can help it.

Instead I’m going to go all shrinky on you, and think about the hate I felt, because I think it’s a response to the angry hate that the author feels.

I read this book because it’s somewhat infamous, because it’s set in Bristol, because it describes motherhood. I carried on reading it because I had to understand what was going on. I had to get a sense of why Cusk was doing what she was doing.

Synopsis

Set in a barely-disguised Bristol, the novel spans a single day in the life of a collection of stay-at-home mothers living in a nice middle-class area of Bristol (I’m thinking Westbury/Redland/Henleaze). Nothing really happens – there’s a coffee morning, some of the women go to the Mall (Cribbs Causeway), in the evening there’s a dinner at one of their houses. The point-of-view goes from one woman to the other. To be fair, it’s not about plot. It’s about writing, the interior worlds of the women, and I contend that it is mainly about the author.

Things I liked/admired

I started off enjoying the rhythms of the prose and even the vocabulary. It is actually readable, despite being written to impress. Two or three lines made me laugh, unfortunately can’t remember which. I liked that she has tried to capture something of the essence of boredom, loneliness and agonized love that can be the experience of looking after small children, especially in bad weather. After a while I also started to enjoy my hatred of the book.

What I think is going on here:

This section should be called ‘things I didn’t like’ but I’m going to restrain myself and try to understand.

I think the crucial thing about this novel is Cusk’s position. Not all authors have an obvious position, often you’re simply not aware of the author at all. In this book you can’t not be aware. What comes over so powerfully, and what I think is part of what inspired my frenzy of hate, is Cusk’s own hatred.

She is an outsider. She writes from a position of alienation and depression, where she looks at the business of life going on around her and knows that she is other, knows that she is excluded, and reacts with envious hatred towards what she sees. She is a forensic and judgemental observer of clothes and bodies. There is no friendliness towards her characters, no fellow feeling. The people she writes about are caricatures, a collection of external features from which she extrapolates, imagining their inner worlds, which she sees as full of grievance, indifference and/or callous entitlement. This goes for the ‘chavs’ at the Mall, the commuters driving uncaringly past with their suits hanging in their cars, and the mothers. Despite the detailed chronicling of the mothers’ thoughts, they are still caricatures – Cusk is purporting to create a number of separate people, but is in fact writing again and again about herself, to the point where all the women start to blend into each other and I could no longer tell them apart. They are all expressing in slightly different ways a terrible loneliness, a coldness, a joylessness.

I think this is Cusk herself. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that I imagine there was something cold, joyless, unempathic and mean in her own early experience. She has too intimate a knowledge of the casual, blaming cruelty that a desperate mother is capable of.

Is she more to be pitied than censured? I don’t know. It’s hard to feel for someone who writes from an internal position of sneering superiority. It’s a narcissistic solution to the problem of emotional pain: unfortunately it repels rather than invites.

Should you read this book?

Though I’ve tried to understand a little more and judge a little less, I did hate this book, and I hated the author as I read it. That’s quite a strong reaction and I’ve tried to make sense of it. I guess my conclusion is that hate begets hate, and that Cusk’s stylised scorn provokes a wish in me to retaliate and crush. Basically, why does she have to be so unrelievedly nasty?

So I don’t know if you should read this book, but I wish you would, so that you can tell me how you reacted to it.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Arlington-Park-Rachel-Cusk/9780571228485/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Slow River

slow-river-coverAs someone who is largely unfamiliar with sci-fi in book form, and despite assurances that Slow River was amateur-sci-fi-er friendly, I was a little worried when I first started reading this novel. By the end of the second page, I stopped being worried. This is the perfect book to ease you into sci-fi if you want to read some but are anxious that you won’t get along with it, due maybe to the sometimes overwhelming and unexplained terminology, or maybe to the genre content itself, who knows. By the time Nicola Griffith wrote Slow River, sci-fi was already (I think) a well-established genre, meaning that she has been able to write a sci-fi book that is fully convincing and settled in its own genre, whilst not alienating new readers.

Synopsis

Frances Lorien ‘Lore’ van de Oest has a foot-long slice down her back and is naked and covered with blood when she arrives in the city, after fleeing her kidnappers. She is from a famous and wealthy corporate family, who, we discover as we go along, have dark secrets and agendas of their own. Lore is helped by a mysterious stranger – a woman called Spanner – for whom she begins to work, and they enter into a sexual relationship. And it goes from there…

There are three narrative strands to this novel.

  1. Third person past tense: Lore at 18, as she first arrives in the city, her relationship with Spanner
  2. First person past tense: Lore in the present day, aged 21
  3. Third person present tense: confusingly, this strand is the furthest in the past – Lore as a child, her life as a van de Oest, growing up and learning how things work

This story combines sci-fi(duh), adventure, sex (the good kind), corporate espionage, fraud, romance (a little), childhood abuse, sexual exploitation, and coming-of-age story – I think…I may have missed some. And not in that order.

It’s got a hell of a lot going for it. If any of those sound interesting to you, have a look at this book.

Things I liked

I really enjoyed the character of Lore being told in these three separate strands of her life. As the SF Masterworks edition (pictured) suggests, it creates the feeling of each version of her being a different person altogether, which is not as hard to follow as it sounds, and feels true to life, in my opinion. When you look back over how you were, the person you were, even a couple of years ago, do they really feel like you, most of the time? That was the sense I got from it.

The development and intensity of her relationship with Spanner, the things they do together, Lore’s conflicting and confused feelings about it.

The straightforward fluidity of sexuality, which is not given a name, explicitly defined, or even dwelt on. That’s something I really like about sci-fi, the matter-of-factness. Of course, it comes back to bite you when the terminology is left unexplained. Which brings me onto…

The use of sci-fi terminology. Not too much, but still authentic, most of what is said is explained or how you see the characters use things explain what the things are (does that make sense?). By no means overwhelming.

Things I didn’t like

Uhh…Um… hmm. Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for it? But I get that way with most books, especially ‘genre’ books. It could have gone on longer, I suppose.

Yeah, let’s say it was too short. Unless there’s a sequel I don’t know about, in which case it was fine.

Should I read this book?

I think so.

If you are reading this and you did the Uncanny Places and Cyberspaces module with me this term, imagine what The Female Man could have been like if it was vaguely readable or comprehensible. And this is still more fun and interesting (I think – if you loved The Female Man then…well done. That was a tough book).

If you are reading this and you didn’t do that module, read Slow River anyway. Whether you’re a seasoned sci-fi-er or a newbie like me, there’s something in it for you.

Also I’d like to thank Tom Whitchurch for introducing and lending it to me, and convincing me it was worth the read. Hopefully I’ve done the same for a couple of you.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Slow-River-Nicola-Griffith/9780575118256/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

 

The Library of Unrequited Love

library of unrequited loveThis is bit of a cheat because I didn’t have a chance to finish the book I was planning to read for my Sunday evening post. I actually read this last week. I’ve started the book I was planning to read for tonight, but instead I spent the day packing to go home tomorrow, procrastinating, and exercising. Whoops.

I came to this book through a YouTube channel, as I did with The Fault In Our Stars, this time through a young woman who works in publishing. Her channel is called ‘justkissmyfrog’ and is mostly dedicated to book-related things – recommendations, reviews, and general bookwormy love. I’ve come to a few books through her channel, and found other booky YouTubers that way, and it was watching her channel that I was first inspired to write this blog. So, check it out, if that sounds interesting to you!

Synopsis

The Library of Unrequited Love is a novella by French writer Sophie Divry – I believe it is her debut. It’s only just over 90 pages long, a tiny book. You could probably class it as a short story, but the words are printed quite large so it fills the space. It contains the monologue of a middle-aged librarian who finds someone asleep in the library when she comes into work early one morning. It’s poignant and funny, a joy to read as a literary-minded person, even with my limited knowledge of French literature. The narrator takes us through her thoughts on aging, romance, her condescending and ignorant superiors, her frustration at being kept in the geography section when her passion is history and her knowledge of it far surpasses that of the person who gets to work there. There is also an extensive rant section on the Dewey decimal system which was very amusing to read.

Things I liked

I loved the format of this novel and its subject matter. Although it is an unusual format I don’t think it could have worked better in any other structure. It reads as a natural flowing soliloquy, as well as incorporating the blank canvas character of the person who was asleep in the library overnight.

Things I didn’t like

Very little. Maybe a little more background on the person who was found in the library, but it really wasn’t that kind of book.

Should I read this book?

Yes. If you have a spare hour, read it. It’s available on kindle, too, for those of you who really only have that hour to spend and don’t want to have to go out and get it or wait three days for it. Very enjoyable.

Sorry for the short/half-arsed post. Hopefully that won’t reflect badly on how much I recommend this book. READ IT.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Library-Unrequited-Love-Sophie-Divry/9781780870519/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

 

The Fault In Our Stars

Last night,fault in our stars cropped cover I read the first 20 chapters of The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. This morning I finished it.

Many of you will have heard of this book, many of you will already have read it. I was first introduced to John Green via the YouTube channel ‘mentalfloss’, a trivia program in which he presents unlikely lists of little known facts. It’s pretty great – funny, educational – check it out.

This is the first John Green book I have read and I doubt it will be the last as, despite being absolutely devastating, it was fantastic. It does everything – it’ll make you laugh, make you cry, make you re-evaluate your conceptions of death, luck, life, love, and make you wonder why you picked up this book when you know it can only end badly.

Synopsis

The Fault In Our Stars is a book about cancer. So if you’re not able to cope with that right now (as I found I wasn’t for most of the time I was reading), this may not be for you just this second. Hazel Grace Lancaster is a sixteen-year-old miracle cancer survivor, surviving the first round against all odds. She is on a new (made up) drug called ‘Phalanxifor’ which is keeping her metastatic lung tumours under control – but the doctors don’t know how long for. She knows she is terminal.

See, it’s pretty hardcore stuff. I’m having trouble writing this out.

She attends a support group for kids dealing with cancer, where she meets Augustus Waters, a survivor of osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer, which has an 80% chance of survival. From the off, it is clear he is interested in Hazel. He has a kind of intense stare thing going on.

No, this isn’t a Twilight thing. It’s awesome.

They talk, Augustus doesn’t talk like normal teenagers, and he likes that Hazel doesn’t either. He says she looks like V for Vendetta-era Natalie Portman, and they watch it together because she’s never seen it. It’s all very sweet but not in a cloying, sickly kind of a way, unless you’re supersensitive to sickly, cloying sweetness. If you’re a teenager thinking about love, it’s probably the kind of romance you have in mind (without the cancer, probably). They talk about books, she recommends her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter van Houten, and he lends her one of his, the novelisation of his favourite video game (which, I discover, John Green has actually written – although he is yet to write An Imperial Affliction, it seems, much to the disappointment of his fans).

They fall in love. It’s wonderful.

*MINOR SPOILER* it doesn’t end happily. But it ends hopefully.

Things I liked

Firstly, I thought I might hate this because it has the unfortunate label ‘cancer book’. However, early on, Hazel clears the book of most of this stigma. She is re-reading An Imperial Affliction, which is also a book about a girl with cancer. She says how much she likes that it isn’t a typical cancer book, where the person with cancer founds a cancer charity and raises lots of money and lives a very worthy life. I was glad The Fault In Our Stars addressed this.

THE LITERARY REFERENCES. It’s English student heaven in here. The title itself is a reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, as is An Imperial Affliction, which is a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, which I shall include at the bottom. There’s so much literature contained within the pages – my personal favourite being an explicit reference to Waiting For Godot, which I now get, and wouldn’t have a couple of months ago.

Edit: Sam wishes me to inform you there are also maths/philosophy references. I would not have understood them if I hadn’t had to proofread his final year project. But, since I did and I do, there are some pretty cool references to Georg Cantor and Zeno’s paradox of the tortoise and Achilles. Stuff like that. Maths stuff. Happy now, Sam? ARE YA HAPPY, NOW?

Edit 2: to be honest I probably should have included this originally, since one of the most famous quotes of the book comes from the conversation they have about Cantor: ‘Some infinities are bigger than other infinities’

The characters. I’m a stickler for characters and dialogue. And while the dialogue sometimes felt a little too written for my taste, it didn’t take away from the character development or the humour in the book.

Also the humour. Despite making me tear up several times, and cry once, it is a very funny book, and a very human book.

There’s so much I liked. But I wouldn’t want to push this on anyone who doesn’t feel ready for it right now, it’s what you’d call an emotional rollercoaster.

Things I didn’t like

Not much to say here, except that I predicted the ending. I have a feeling John Green wanted us to, because he hints it quite heavily, but I guessed it. And I was pissed off.

Like I said before, sometimes the dialogue was a little unnatural, but nothing too far out. I think maybe this has to do with the unimaginable situation the characters are in. I don’t know. No other qualms, as far as I can remember.

Should I read this book?

Hmm. Do you feel ready?

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘t is like the distance
On the look of death.

some_infinities_are_bigger_than_other_infinities_by_hey_there_lefty-d6fetzm

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Fault-Our-Stars-John-Green/9780141345659/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Fingersmith

fingersmith book coverIt seems we’ve gone a bit Sarah Waters crazy in this house, three of us currently ploughing our way through her bibliography. My first Sarah Waters was The Little Stranger, which I read a month or so ago for one of my modules and I just – wow. I loved it. No doubt you’ll get sick of my gushing reviews eventually, but guess how much I loved Fingersmith?

So much.

So much that, despite having another book to read for Tuesday, I spent my weekend reading this 550 page Victorian lesbian con novel.

Many of you will, like me, have watched the 2005 mini-series with Sally Hawkins and Elaine Cassidy. I’m re-watching it now, as I write this. I remember enjoying it then, despite being twelve years old and not really understanding (or perhaps paying enough attention to) the con element. Not loving the adaptation so much this time.

Waters’s writing style is natural and fluent, thoroughly researched, occasionally laden with notable historical terms but not overmuch, and altogether guides the reader through the text comfortably.

Synopsis

The story starts with Susan Trinder, an orphan, a ‘fingersmith’ – Victorian slang for a thief. As the blurb will tell you, her fate is inextricably linked with that of another orphan, Maud Lilly, who lives out in the country, in the gloomy and quiet Briar House, with her uncle.

Susan is persuaded into a con by a young man who they, in her household, call Gentleman. His plan is to seduce and marry Maud Lilly in an attempt to steal her money, which she will only receive once she is married, and then to have her locked away in a madhouse.

I won’t go into too much more detail about the plot. It has many twists and turns, and Waters is a master at keeping them secret until she wants you to start guessing.

Things I liked

The development of the relationship between Sue and Maud: both put into difficult positions by Gentleman, they seek solace in each other and find it. Yeeah. Victorian lesbian con novel. The love that grows between them, despite the con at the base of their relationship, is pure, spiritual and physical. It’s written skilfully, without any in-your-face THIS IS A LESBIAN BOOK, meaning that, for anyone coming into the historical novel genre with themes of homosexuality for the first time, it is not alienating. It is this light touch that makes Waters so readable and approachable for anyone looking to read this kind of thing.

The different characters themselves: Maud, raised in a madhouse, the conflicted Sue, the rough, motherly Mrs Sucksby, the vicious John Vroom and Dainty, his punchbag. And Gentleman. Cruel, ambitious, clever. Gentleman. Grr.

The overall tone of the book and the style, as mentioned above.

Things I didn’t like

Anyone who has discussed narrative style with me knows I have a strong dislike of first-person present tense narrative. However, in this case it occurs to differentiate between two different narrative voices – part 1 is first person past tense, part 2 first person present with a change of narrator, and part 3 returns to first person past, and the original narrator. So I’ll allow it. Just this once…

There are excruciatingly detailed accounts of the wrongs done to our narrators by other people, lots of physical abuse. I understand its importance to the story and historical accuracy, especially with regard to lunatic asylums, and as a writer I’ve always been one for putting my characters through a lot, but wow. There’s a lot of suffering. I think maybe if I’d read it over a longer period than two days it may not seemed so unrelenting.

Should I read this book?

This is a definite yes from me. But it is pretty chunky, so only if you have the time for it.

* * * * *

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Fingersmith-Sarah-Waters/9781573229722/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

 

Watchmen

 

watchmen-cover
On Friday night, a comedian died in New York

Watchmen. Finally.

This is something I have been meaning to read for years. The film adaptation holds a special place for me because it was one of the first films my boyfriend and I watched together right at the beginning of our relationship two and a half years ago. It was and is one of his favourite films of all time, so it was very important to him (and the future of our relationship) that I enjoy it. I did. But not because I had to. Because it was awesome.

Ok. Gushing over.

I had heard there was a lot of angst towards the adaptation, but now, having read it after watching the film a few times, I’d say they did a pretty amazing job. The casting was astonishingly accurate, especially in the cases of Rorschach, Danny Dreiberg, and Laurie Juspeczyk (but this latter only in terms of looks unfortunately). There were small changes made to the ending but the overall result was the same and the graphic novel ending might not have translated well to the big screen. Maybe. Who knows?

Synopsis

Watchmen is a graphic novel about superheroes. If you don’t know anything about this book, you might think that doesn’t sound particularly interesting or original. If you’ve heard of it, you’ll know it’s so much more than that. Firstly, the superheroes we have are retired – except one, our sometime narrator, Rorschach – mostly due to ‘Masked Adventurers’ being outlawed in 1977.

Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘save us!’…

…and I’ll look down and whisper

‘No.’

These words, written by Rorschach in his journal (October 12th), cover the opening three panels. That whispered ‘no’ is iconic, as is the quote that opens this blog and the bloodied smiley face that resides on the cover. Much about this graphic novel is iconic, and now I finally understand why.

The setting is 1985, New York. We start with the murder of an ex-masked adventurer, Eddie Blake (or, the Comedian), and those investigating it. We meet Rorschach, previously a disembodied voice taken from his journal, as he scales the apartment building where Blake lived, in order to check out the murder scene for himself. He goes on to warn his ex-colleagues that he believes somebody is killing off masked adventurers, and thereby introduces us to the other main characters – Danny Dreiberg (previously ‘Nite Owl’), Dr Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk, and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world).

What we get here is not only a superhero story, but also a story about previous generations – our set of ‘heroes’ come after the original masked adventurers, known as ‘the Minutemen’ – and about growing older, the greyness of good and evil and how they may sometimes seem indistinguishable. The relationship between Laurie Juspeczyk and her mother, Sally Jupiter (who changed her name so as not to seem Polish in the 1950s), explores themes not limited to the world of masked heroics – themes of the ambivalent nature of love, moulding children to be replications of their parents, publicity and fame, growing older and getting past your prime. There are so many human contradictions at a basic storytelling level that I hope you have fun discovering and contemplating – there is so much humanity in Watchmen, but it doesn’t appear how you would expect.

The main story about ‘getting the gang back together’ and fighting the bad guy is not the only one you will find here. Between chapters there are extracts from the autobiography of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason (of the Minutemen), who talks about how he came to be a Masked Adventurer, what it was like working as a vigilante and then becoming part of a team, and the problems they faced. There are also psychological evaluations, newspaper cutouts, and more. There is also the story of the Black Freighter, a graphic novel within a graphic novel, which is being read by a minor character beside a newsstand. Within this single text, there are so many other threads and stories, you cannot be left wanting.

Things I liked

The depth of story. The layering. The humanity. The horror! The horror! (literary joke). The sheer pragmatism of the logic of Dr Manhattan.

The characters: interesting, sad and incredible, all impressive in their ways, all holding their own troubles and sadnesses, none telling each other the complete truth.

The cinematic feel of the art. I love the art in this, it is, for want of a better phrase, SO COOL. I just want loads of prints of it (perhaps the less gory scenes…)

Things I didn’t like

Although as I said before, they contributed to the depth of the story, the between-chapter prose sections made me slow down to read them, and for a first time read I felt a strong urge to skip most of them – in fact it was coming across the first prose section that made me stop reading it the first time I tried. But persevere! If necessary skip them and come back when you read it a second time.

Should I read this?

No.

Just kidding. Unless you have a particular dislike of gore, violence, philosophy, or superheroes, go out and read it. It won’t take long, it’s great to look at, and if it doesn’t manage to make you think about the nature of humanity and what it takes for social change, then it will at least entertain you.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Watchmen-Alan-Moore/9780930289232/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary