Read Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a novella by Truman Capote published in 1958. In it, a contemporary writer recalls his early days in New York City, when he makes the acquaintance of his remarkable neighbor, Holly Golightly, who is one of Capote’s best-known creations.

I stumbled upon Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Audible. I have never seen the film and actually had little knowledge what the book was about. The narrative style of trying to capture, Holly Golightly, this larger than life figure in a world of extremes reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. As WB Gooderham captures:

To start with, let’s take a look at the similarities between Jay Gatsby and Holly Golightly. Attractive, charismatic and enigmatic? Check. Connection with organised crime? Check. Penchant for hosting parties and affected speech inflections (old sport/darling)? Check/check. Cessation of said parties once romance blossoms? Check. Humble origins, changes of identity, driven by dreams and ideals leading ultimately to death and exile? Check, check, check, check.

Read novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998 by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Identity (French: L’Identité) is a novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998. Kundera moved to France in 1975. Identity is set primarily in France and was his second novel to be written in French with his earlier novels all in Czech. The novel revolves around the intimate relationship between Chantal and her marginally younger partner Jean-Marc. The intricacies of their relationship and its influences on their sense of identity brings out Kundera’s philosophical musings on identity not as an autonomous entity but something integral shaped by the identities of others and their relations to your own.

The short novel explores the idea of identity and perception through the relationship between Chantel and Jean-Marc. Central to the story is Chantel’s comment “men don’t turn to look at me anymore” and everything that stems from that.
Read novel by Sylvia Plath by Contributors to Wikimedia projects
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has sat on my shelf for years. I was always intrigued by the association with The Catcher in the Rye, but for some reason never actually got around to reading it. Bekir Konakovic and Beth Scussel provide a summary of the comparisons:

The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar, though different in their themes and styles, both  present the coming of age of their characters thoroughly. Though the protagonists of both novels completely contrast each other, they are both put in similar situations through a lack of identity, isolation from society and an absence of purpose in life. The key point of both coming of age tales is expressed through the ultimate idea of growing up and entering the adult world. The central idea of growing up is expressed in both novels through the characters’ struggles in figuring out what they want, understanding and dealing with death, and examining their relationships with their peers, parents and other adults. Both coming of ages are reached once the characters escape their set views and open up to looking at things in a different light from a maturity and sensible aspect of things.

Although both novels are coming of age novels, I feel that Holden Caulfield will never quite seem the same after meeting Esther Greenwood.

Robert McCrum summaries what is essential to the Bell Jar as follows:

Plath’s essential theme, a staccato drumbeat, is Esther’s obsession with the opposite sex. At first, released from her mother’s repressive scrutiny, she decides to lose her virginity (a “millstone around my neck”) to Constantin, a UN Russian translator, but he’s too sensible to fall for her. Then, having failed on another date, in which she is labelled a “slut”, she hurls her clothes off her hotel roof, and returns home for a suicidal summer, a worsening depression which she compares to suffocating under a “bell jar”. Esther’s predicament, more generally, is how to develop a mature identity, as a woman, and to be true to that self rather than conform to societal norms. It’s this quest that makes The Bell Jar a founding text of Anglo-American feminism.

Associated with this, Naomi Elias discusses the myth around Plath and the novel:

Though The Bell Jar traffics in many themes, including classism, sexism, and mental illness, it has become synonymous with depressed and/or moody women. On film and television specifically, it has become a popular visual and textual prop to code an exclusively female experience of sadness.

Let alone Plath as the person.

Marginalia

How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing? Page 125

My mother smiled. “I knew my baby wasn’t like that.” I looked at her. “Like what?” “Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.” She paused. “I knew you’d decide to be all right again.” Page 148

To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream. Page 231

Read 2008 science fiction novel by by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体; lit. ‘Three-Body’; pinyinsān tǐ) is a science fiction novel written by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. The title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics. It is the first novel of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Chinese: 地球往事) trilogy, but the whole series is normally referred to as The Three-Body Problem.[1] The trilogy’s second and third novels are The Dark Forest and Death’s End respectively.

The first volume of The Three-Body Problem was first serialized in Science Fiction World between May and December 2006.[2] It was published as a standalone book in 2008, becoming one of the most successful Chinese science fiction novels of the last two decades.[3] The novel received the Chinese Science Fiction Yinhe (“Galaxy“) Award in 2006[4] along with many more over the years. By 2015, a Chinese film adaptation of the same name was in production.

The English translation by Ken Liu was published by Tor Books in 2014.[5] Thereafter, it became the first Asian novel ever to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel,[6][7] and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel.[8]

The series portrays a future where, in the first book, Earth encounters an alien civilisation in a nearby star system that consists of three solar-type stars orbiting each other in an unstable three-body system.

The Three-Body Problem is one of those novels that takes on new meaning as each layer is revealed. It has a lot to say about science, culture and progress.

The odd thing is that the less practical your research is, the more they’re afraid of you—like abstract theories, the kind of thing Yang Dong worked on. They are more frightened of such work than you are of the universe winking at you. That’s why they’re so ruthless. If killing you would solve the problem, you’d all be dead by now. But the most effective technique remains disrupting your thoughts. When a scientist dies, another will take his place. But if his thoughts are confused, then science is over.” (Page 125)

In the end I was left feeling incredibly small and rather insignificant.

Read Barracuda

Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of this dream–but what happens when the talent that makes you special fails you? When the goal that you’ve been pursuing for as long as you can remember ends in humiliation and loss?

Twenty years later, Dan is in Scotland, terrified to tell his partner about his past, afraid that revealing what he has done will make him unlovable. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.

Although I had seen and enjoyed the television adaptations of both The Slap and Barracuda, I had never actually read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ novels. I was partly inspired after listening to Tsiolkas in conversation with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, also Barracuda was the only novel available on Libro.fm.

The novel revolves around Daniel Kelly, the son of working class Scots-Irish and Greek parents who gains a scholarship to a prodigious private school because of his swimming abilities, but fails to make it to the Olympics.

Where The Slap had an ensemble cast and Tolstoy-esque ambitions — it sought to render the whole milieu of the multiethnic, suburban Melbourne that is Tsiolkas’s heartland — Barracuda trains its sights firmly on Danny Kelly. Even so, all the characters are vividly drawn.

Mark Lawson on language:

Tsiolkas’s sometimes startling dialogue is part of his mission – along with explicit descriptions of urination, defecation and ejaculation – to set down the texture of how people really live and speak. His characters have a visceral credibility rare in fiction.

There is something strangely engaging about this novel in the way that the problem is referenced early on, the rest of the time we bounce between a before and after, piecing things together. For me, every choice that Dan Kelly makes comes with its own set of consequences. Although we get some sort of resolution in the end, when Kelly gives a gift back to his family, this does not necessarily remedy all of life’s ills, nor does it break free of the restraints placed on us by society.

Read Emma

Emma is a novel about youthful hubris and romantic misunderstandings, written by Jane Austen. It is set in the fictional country village of Highbury and the surrounding estates of Hartfield, Randalls and Donwell Abbey, and involves the relationships among people from a small number of families.[2] The novel was first published in December 1815, with its title page listing a publication date of 1816. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian–Regency England. Emma is a comedy of manners, and depicts issues of marriage, sex, age, and social status.

Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”[3] In the first sentence, she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition… had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”[4] Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

Emma, written after Austen’s move to Chawton, was her last novel to be published during her lifetime,[5] while Persuasion, the last complete novel Austen wrote, was published posthumously.

I remember reading this is John Wiltshire’s Austen class in university. I remember being humbled at the time in that I thought I knew Jane Austen, without actually reading Jane Austen.

I enjoyed John Mullan’s discussion of why it belongs alongside the works of Flaubert, Joyce and Woolf as one of the great experimental novels. As he explains, we are invited as readers to share Emma’s delusions:

It was revolutionary in its form and technique. Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions.

Even though we are brought into Emma’s world, the novel is still written in the third-person. This means of placing the reader inside the thoughts of a character has been described as ‘free indirect style’:

It was only in the early 20th century that critics began agreeing on a name for it: free indirect style (a translation from the original French: style indirect libre). It describes the way in which a writer imbues a third-person narration with the habits of thought or expression of a fictional character … Austen miraculously combined the internal and the external.

David Lodge has observed how odd James’s condescension is, given that he came to specialise in the very technique Austen had pioneered: “Telling the story through the consciousness of characters whose understanding of events is partial, mistaken, deceived, or self-deceived.”

Personally, I am fascinated with the idea of taking the idea of ‘dreams’ and ideals in the novel as a thread and reading this alongside psychoanalytic texts, such as Freud’s Ego and the Id. It makes me think about Emma and the whole text being an example of the battle between the ego and the unconsicous. There is a hidden side of the text that is below the surface and can only capture in passing, however the many clues seem strangely obvious after the fact.

I was drawn back to Emma through the Minefield podcast and there investigation of the novel. On Scott Stephens’ recommendation, I actually listened to Juliet Stevenson’s narration of the novel via Libro.fm.

Marginalia

Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care of himself.”
Page 46

Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history.
Page 56

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.
Page 118

“I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it. Mr. Knightley, he is not a trifling, silly young man. If he were, he would have done this differently. He would either have gloried in the achievement, or been ashamed of it. There would have been either the ostentation of a coxcomb, or the evasions of a mind too weak to defend its own vanities.—No, I am perfectly sure that he is not trifling or silly.”
Page 245

Mr. Knightley connected it with the dream; but how it could all be, was beyond his comprehension. How the delicacy, the discretion of his favourite could have been so lain asleep! He feared there must be some decided involvement. Disingenuousness and double-dealing seemed to meet him at every turn. These letters were but the vehicle for gallantry and trick. It was a child’s play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill’s part.
Page 381

It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was—and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding.
Page 391

“It is to be a secret, I conclude,” said he. “These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out.—I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion.”
Page 502

Read Maybe Zombies

Maybe this book is about zombies. Maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s an adventure and there’s some odd stuff going on. It’s fiction, thankfully. It’s a thriller that is part cyberpunk, part futurism, part technocratic intrigue with a reluctant feminist anti-heroine.

Maybe Zombies? Maybe mind-control? Or maybe just not real? These are some of the questions grappled with in Laura Hilliger’s novel. It is a meandering journey of Maggie’s inadvertent trail of carnage and excess. It touches on technology, power, perspective, privilege and truth. However, it is all a reminder that it can all be gone in a second.