Book Review: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace, king of the hipsters and literary fans the world over. Bearing that in mind, from now on he shall be known as DFW, partially because that’s what all the ‘cool kids’ do in their blogs, but mostly because I can’t be bothered writing his name multiple times.

Brief Interviews is a collection of stories, often titled Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, about people who are essentially…well, not great. Sometimes they are in first person perspective, occasionally they are third, and with the Brief Interviews themselves, they are a series of interviews where the question has been reduced to a simple Q, and the reader has to determine what they asked based off of the interviewee’s answers.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men wasn’t a particularly easy read, but I can understand why people are in love with DFW’s writing. If the name David Foster Wallace sounds familiar to you, it’s because he is the author who wrote Infinite Jest – the holy grail of books if you are either an intellectual or a hipster. (Side note: Are hipsters a thing overseas? They’re huge in Melbourne and every second man in the inner suburbs has either a sleeve of tattoos or a bushy beard. Is that common overseas too, or am I just banging on about hipsters and you guys have no idea what I’m on about? Best to let me know.) And while I would love to tick off Infinite Jest on my ‘to read’ list, it’s about 1000 pages long…and DFW isn’t a big fan of page breaks.

I decided to read Brief Interviews for two reasons: the first is that a friend lent it to me and well, free book, and secondly, because I wanted to taste DFW’s writing before I attempted the beast that is Infinite Jest. The conclusion? While I enjoyed his writing, I don’t think I could read a 1000 pages of DWF all at once.

DWF’s writing seems particularly tricky because he does away with the conventional norms that most of us associate with fiction. Frequently, his short stories don’t have a particularly strong narrative, so it’s easy to get lost in the ‘point’ of the story. His characters, at least in these short stories, were mostly abhorrent and when I spent too much time ‘in their head’ so to speak, I felt distinctly icky. He frequently has incredibly long sentences that are grammatically correct, and surprisingly not too hard to read, but it does mean that entire pages go by before a new paragraph or a chance to have a break from the words. Lastly, he is a fan of footnotes, which is usually fine, but at times the footnotes were longer than the actual story. Eek!

However, for anyone who is a fan of literature that breaks the norms of what is expected, and tests the English language in different ways (that still makes sense), then I would recommend Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. In a way, DFW reminds me of a harder version of Dave Eggers – same style of ‘doing something different’, but slightly less reward at the end of it.

 

Have you read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men? Have you read Infinite Jest or heard of David Foster Wallace? What do you think of his books and his reputation? Let me know!

brief interviews with hideous men by david foster wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – (image taken from http://www.wikimedia.org)

Film Review: Gone Girl

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It’s an interesting feeling when a book that you loved goes viral in its film version. On the one hand, it’s great that it wasn’t an utter failure, but on the other…well, now others are in on the secret, and they didn’t even go through the process of reading the book. This was the conundrum I faced with the movie adaptation of Gone Girl - a film so popular that I couldn’t even get a seat next to Paul in the cinema (Instead, I sat next to a man who fell asleep part way through. Bless).

Gone Girl follows the lives of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a seemingly perfect couple who live in Missouri. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy has gone missing, apparently abducted, and the lies start to come out from the woodwork. Nick and Amy aren’t happily married: she’s resentful for moving to Missouri from New York; he’s cheating on her with a 20 year old student from his class.

As pressure mounts, Nick’s charming appearance during the search makes him come across as a sociopath, and as the days tick by, the media start to lampoon him as the killer. Yet, nothing is as it seems in this movie, and the usual discourse of husband and wife will be flipped upside down and re-examined. After all – nothing you see on TV is real, right?

While I don’t want to give away any spoilers to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie or read the book and wants to, I do want to address one issue that has come up in numerous articles in regards to Gone Girl. Many people have argued that Gone Girl encourages both misogyny and misandry, and I flat out disagree on both counts. For anyone who has read previous posts, I’m a strong believer in feminism, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe that Gone Girl encourages men and women to hate another one – to be honest, I felt stupid even writing that sentence just then. Without getting into the finer details, I’ll just write this – Gone Girl is a fictional movie, as in, not real. Fiction allows anything to happen – for anyone to be good or bad, and for any actions, no matter how deplorable they may seem, to be done. Regardless of sex, motivation or personality traits. Aside from anything else, in the same way with the book, I applaud Gone Girl for creating a story that is different and unusual from the usual story lines that we’re fed by Hollywood.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. Though Gone Girl is quite lengthy – at approximately two and a half hours – the movie flew past, which has to be a combination of the directing efforts of David Fincher, the screenplay by Gillian Flynn (who wrote the novel) and the acting by the two main characters. Which, for me, is saying a lot, because I’m really, really not a fan of Ben Affleck. I think it’s his chin.

Gone Girl could easily have been a novel that wouldn’t have worked onscreen with the duality of narrators and the constant shifting in past, present and ‘make believe’. Yet it works. For fans of the novel, it stays true to the story line and overall ‘feel’ of the book, and for first-timers, it is a strong thriller that also seems scarily accurate. Lastly, the film’s adaptation, while still being highly entertaining, doesn’t detract from Flynn’s overall messages of the novel – that of the influence of the media, the shallowness of appearances and of audience’s expectations.

 

Have you read or seen Gone Girl? Were you a fan of the movie or of the book? What did you think of the ending? If you’ve seen it or read it, let me know in the comments, as I’d love to talk about the spoilers!

Book Review: The Rosie Effect

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I’ve been meaning to write this review for weeks. For WEEKS, I tell you! When The Rosie Effect first came out I had to have it immediately – and not only because the first editions were signed by the author, Graeme Simsion. I had to have it, and to consume it, as soon as possible because I absolutely adored its predecessor, The Rosie Project. Apparently, gauging from conversations with friends, they had to have (and consume!) The Rosie Effect straight away too – since all of them had read it by the time I was finished.

For anyone who isn’t in the loop, The Rosie Project was a novel written and released last year by Graeme Simsion, an Australian author who up until then was a professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Generally, though it is a bit harsh to say, Australian authors aren’t outrageously successful on ‘the big stage’ (i.e. everywhere else in the world). Despite the fact that we produce some excellent writers, who even go on to win the Man Booker prize, it is unusual for us to produce mammoth bestsellers.

Well, The Rosie Project changed all of that. Not only did everyone in Australia seem to have read it (from my sister, to Paul’s Mum, to my step-mum, to my university friend…), considering it has sold literally MILLIONS of copies, it appears that everyone else overseas has read it too. Thus, you can see my excitement about the sequel coming out.

(Side note: While it is fantastic for Graeme Simsion and overall the Australian writing community that he’s been so successful, it does make it tough when I get in arguments with Paul, who has decided that our best ‘get rich quick’ scheme is for me to simply ‘write a book’. When I try to explain to him that, umm, writing a book is actually incredibly difficult, let alone one that actually makes any money, he responds with ‘What about that guy who wrote the Rosie Project? He’d be a millionaire now. Just write a book like he did’. Sigh.).

So, The Rosie Effect is set approximately two years since the end of The Rosie Project, and Rosie and Don Tillman are married and living in New York. Don, who takes planning and organisation to the next level, is happily content living with Rosie while she completes her second year of med school at Columbia University.

Then Rosie, unexpectedly, gets pregnant. Suddenly Don, who is not only a planner extraordinaire but also a genius (practically) learns everything there is to know about babies – what Rosie should be eating, how the baby is growing and the health benefits of ‘swapping babies’ during breastfeeding time. Unfortunately, it’s the emotional stuff that Don is having a bit of trouble getting a handle on, and Rosie, fiercely independent Rosie, thinks that maybe Don is a little too weird to be a father to her baby.

The Rosie Effect is a laugh out loud romantic comedy with endearing characters that you want to cheer for right until the very last sentence. Furthermore though, despite being wrapped up in the fairy floss disguise of a rom com, Don Tillman and The Rosie Effect (just like The Rosie Project) teach you that it’s OK to be a bit different, to be a bit odd. Sure, it may mean getting arrested for simply doing ‘baby research’ and it can lead to being accused of being a terrorist, but as long as you’re friendly, kind and true to yourself, it usually works out just fine.

Though The Rosie Effect is definitely silly in scenes, it has a strong message throughout and I think it is this same strong message that appealed to so many readers with The Rosie Project. That its OK to not want to hug strangers (amen Don Tillman!). That its OK to make mistakes. That its OK to lecture a pregnant woman about the amount (or lack thereof) of tofu she has been consuming…actually no, that last one apparently isn’t OK.

The only problem that I have about The Rosie Effect, which other friends have said also, is that it falls into the trap that so many rom coms fall into – that the plot is centred around a problem that could largely be rectified with a single conversation. In The Rosie Effect, this is largely Rosie’s reaction to how Don feels about being a father – her belief is that he is too weird and doesn’t want to be a father, yet she fails to actually have an in-depth discussion with him about it, which seems extra weird considering she married a man who doesn’t do well with social cues. As a result, the plot sometimes gets a bit frustrating, leaving me with the overwhelming desire to scream to Rosie and Don to just TALK to one another.

Aside from that though, I loved The Rosie Effect. It is smart, quick-witted, heart-warming and overall, just a general lark of a book. You will get frustrated reading it, you will get the giggles, and you will applaud a generally lovely character who deserves to have his happy ending.

Have you read The Rosie Project? Have you read The Rosie Effect yet? What did you think of the two books? Let me know!

the rosie effect by graeme simsion

The Rosie Effect – (image taken from http://www.images-amazon.com)

Excuses

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Sorry for the complete and utter lack of blog posts lately. Apparently, life/uni/work/family has gotten in between me and my time on the interwebz. Sigh.

First off, I’ve got about two weeks left of uni and three weeks until I go overseas – which means I have about 10 000 + words to write in the next 21 days (not that I’m counting. Gulp.) Plus, I offered to edit my friend’s thesis. So, currently, on the inside I’m pretty much like:

Even worse, I have a mini-thesis to write on the misogyny surrounding iconic female authors and the way their book covers are marketed for an inherently solipsistic genre. Believe it or not, I chose this topic.

But on the plus side, my Mum just visited for three days. To put that into context, she lives literally on the other side of the country so I haven’t seen her in half a year. So:

So while my excuses are poor, and my GiF-usage a bit mediocre (my very first time!), I do promise some upcoming reviews, including the sequel to The Rosie Project (The Rosie Effect), why Gone Girl isn’t ‘a bad depiction of women’ and an account on how much more of a badarse William S. Burroughs is in comparison to Jack Kerouac!

Until then, please accept my apologises and this photo of Peppa, when I ‘convinced’ her to wear a hat for my hat-themed soiree.

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You’re welcome.

Book Review: A Christmas Carol

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Since Charles Dickens is one of the most beloved authors of all time (big call, I know), I just had to finally pick up one of his books. Though it isn’t Christmas, I thought I’d start with one of his heart-warming classics, A Christmas Carol.

Everyone knows who Scrooge is. The bah humbug-ing old miser, with too much money and not enough soul, Scrooge detests Christmas and everything that it stands for. He doesn’t care that his employee is cold and poor, he doesn’t care about those who are begging on the streets – after all, what is it of his concern?

On Christmas Eve in 1843, Scrooge is visited by the rattling, chain-covered ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, a man who was equally stringy and only interested in making money. He warns Scrooge that if he does not change how he lives he will become a tortured soul, destined to walk the earth for all eternity, covered in the chains of his wrong-doing. Furthermore, he warms Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts, who will each teach him a lesson about the importance of Christmas.

Historically, A Christmas Carol is more than simply a much-loved fable: Dickens was the first well-known author to impose his idea of a secular Christmas onto the public. Furthermore, part of his motivation behind A Christmas Carol was his own mortification that he felt in his upbringing during this time.

I decided to read A Christmas Carol first because, embarrassingly enough, it was rather short. It sounds terrible, but with formidable authors, regardless of how loved they are, I try to start with a small novel, and that way if it isn’t to my taste, I can get it over and done with quickly. I know, I know, it’s really rather shaming to admit. But, at the same time, I used that method with both James Joyce and Joseph Conrad, and thank goodness I did, because even their slim 100 page novels were tough for me to get through.

I shouldn’t have worried about Dickens – he is a superb writer and his reputation clearly reflects this. Not only is his writing classy, understated and engrossing, it also teaches important ethical and moral questions – all without being churlish. His use of symbolism is captivating – the idea of Scrooge portraying the coldness of winter, and his newfound faith in life as the beginnings of Spring – oh! I couldn’t have asked for anything more beautiful.

Perhaps what is the nicest part of Dicken’s tale is that reminds us to be warm, loving and giving around Christmas. Sure, it is a cliche and has been copied thousands of times over, but it is still a sentiment that resonates with most people. Even if we don’t have much, it doesn’t stop us from being happy or loving. And if we do have a bit more than our neighbour? Well, would it really hurt to share in what we’ve achieved? Of course not.

I can’t wait to crack open some of Dicken’s other works, and while they may be more complex, wordy or symbolic than A Christmas Carol, if they still have that certain Dickenese style about them, then I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

Have you read A Christmas Carol? Have you read anything by Charles Dickens? Which of his novels are your favourite? Let me know!

Book Review: Money

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Martin Amis’s book, Money, is consistently reviewed positively by readers and critics alike. It is on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Best English Language Novels from 1923 to 2005. It is universally acknowledged to be daring, destructive and utterly brilliant.

Sorry Martin Amis, but Money made me want to chew off my own arm, in want of something that was less painful than reading Money.

Set between New York and London in the 1980s, Money follows the life of hedonistic, money-obsessed John Self, an ad director who was in the midst of pre-production for his first feature length film. Self is larger than life and consumed with the need for more: more junk food, more sex, more cigarettes, alcohol and women, but most of all, more money. A satirical perspective on the consumerist nature of our society (particularly in New York in the 1980s), Amis screams at you from the pages, daring you to be affronted by this depraved universe that he has created in the eyes of John Self.

Something about Money just reeked of American Psycho. While each of the characters are wildly different (one a murderous psycho, the other just a money-driven bore), they were both obsessed with having more and appearing as though they had it all. While I’m uncertain which came first, both Easton Ellis and Amis write in a way that is sanctimonious and smug: ‘look at the excess of their lifestyles. Look how above all this I am’. Just to reinforce this, Amis even writes himself into Money, as an author who lives on the bare minimum, despite being paid thousands to be a writer.

There is no doubt that Amis is a clever writer, with a keen sense of irony and wit, yet I didn’t derive any pleasure from this. Instead of feeling included as a reader, Amis’s writing style makes you feel as though you are as bad as his protagonist, as self-absorbed. And though he does some very smart things with his writing style and his use of motif and symbolism, there was something about certain passages of the book that read as though Amis KNEW how witty he was being. I know that sounds a bit strange, but when an author tries too hard to be clever, or is too self-aware of it, it becomes too noticable as a reader. Martin Amis, great that you know how to combine irony with reflection, but I don’t need to be aware that you’re congratulating yourself, alright?

Furthermore, I didn’t enjoy being a part of John Self’s world. Not only is Money slow to start, but the extreme excess of Self’s lifestyle quickly became tedious – there is only so many passages of drunken binges, hitting on whores or getting into bar fights before it becomes all a bit, well, dull. And though I understood what Amis was trying to say through his narcissistic narrator, it didn’t compel me to keep reading. In all honesty, the only thing that kept me going was the belief that SURELY, it had to get better, right?

It didn’t.

I’m sure there are many, many Martin Amis fans out there that I would probably piss of with this book review. That’s fine. I get the impression that you either love his writing style, or you hate it. Unfortunately for me, I’m in the second category. I would love to have loved Money, to have enjoyed Amis’s distinctive writing style and unique characters, but I didn’t. If you would like to explain to me what I’m missing, seriously, please do. Until then, I would definitely not recommend this book.

 

Have you read Money? Have you read anything by Martin Amis? Can you enjoy a book even if you’re not a fan of the protagonist? Let me know!

money by martin amis

Money – (image taken from http://www.cynicalreviewer.com)

Harry Potter For The Lazy Amongst Us

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Doing the rounds the past couple of days on the Internet is a Harry Potter infograph that essentially sums up seven books (not to mention a large percentage of our childhoods), in one nifty comic-strip style infograph.

While I would much rather lock myself in my room and read the seven books from start to finish, unfortunately, life/job/uni/friends and all that other boring ‘necessary’ stuff gets between me and my Harry Potter books. So rude. So at least now I have this. Plus for those amongst us who haven’t actually read Harry Potter, well, at least now they can join in on dinner party discussions.

harry potter infograph

Harry Potter Infograph – (image taken from http://www.fastcompany.net)

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