Happy Moscow by Andrei Platonov

Posted October 14, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Short Stories / 0 Comments

Happy Moscow by Andrei PlatonovTitle: Happy Moscow (Goodreads)
Author: Andrei Platonov
Translator: Robert Chandler
Published: Vintage, 1991
Pages: 263
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: Library Book

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“Life has become better, comrades, life has become merrier” – Joseph Stalin

Happy Moscow was an unfinished novel by Andrei Platonov, finally published in 1991 and yet it still became one of his greatest works. It is believed that Platonov started the novel in about 1932 but abandoned it a few years later. Happy Moscow tells the story of Moscow (or Moskva) Ivanovna Chestnova, an orphan trying to make her way through life. Named after the Soviet capital, Moscow becomes a metaphor for life under Stalin.

The story of a woman’s struggle through life is an obvious metaphor for Russia’s own journey starting with the revolution. Starting off with a clear and ascending life however as the years go by, life becomes more and more complex. Dreams turn into distant memories as responsibility and bumps along the way happen. While Andrei Platonov was a communist, his novels were often banned due to his criticism towards Stalin regarding collectivization and other policies. It is easy to see why Platonov would leave this novel unfinished out of fear of the consequences.

This anarchic satire is very odd to read, it is fragmented due to it being left unfinished and Platonov’s experimental or avant-garde style. There is a complex struggle that comes out in the writing, making this more of the writings of a man trying to understand his own views. This alienating struggle that unfolds on the page is what made Happy Moscow an interesting read because Platonov’s writing style was a struggle. Platonov is a philosopher, using his writing to explore his ideas, often drawing on Marxism or Leninism while criticising Stalinism. Stalin obviously did not see Platonov as having any worth in literature but his feelings were some what complex, calling him a “fool, idiot, scoundrel” and then “a prophet, a genius” in the same meeting. Platonov was eventually arrested and exiled to a labour camp as an anti-communist (anti-Stalinist would be a better suited term).

The book I read contained a few short stories and a screenplay with the unfinished novel Happy Moscow. These stories include ‘The Moscow Violin’, ‘On The First Socialist Tragedy’, ‘Father’ and ‘Love for the Motherland’. While all had their own themes they all seem to have similar threads that tie them back to Happy Moscow. Andrei Platonov was a difficult author to tackle, but I am glad I did it. There are a few more of his novels I would like to get to including The Foundation Pit but I think they will be in the distant future

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Posted October 1, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 2 Comments

Doctor Zhivago by Boris PasternakTitle: Dr Zhivago (Goodreads)
Author: Boris Pasternak
Translator: Max Hayward, Manya Harari
Published: Everyman's Library, 1957
Pages: 512
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

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When thinking about staples in Soviet literature, one book immediately comes to mind, and that is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. A novel in the vein of the Russian epics like War and Peace, Pasternak’s novel tells of a tragic hero, Yury Zhivago. The novel follows the life of a flawed character as he tries to control his life and his hormones. While trying to live a moral life, he is often a victim of his own desires and misfortune, while Russia changes around him.

I have mixed feelings about this modern classic and this is mainly due to the fact that some people refer to this as an epic romance. Doctor Zhivago is as romantic as Wuthering Heights as it explore romanticism rather than love. Russian Romanticism often has an emphasis on the metaphysical discontent of society and one’s self. In this way, yes, Doctor Zhivago is a wonderfully Romantic novel but if you are looking for love, you’ve come to the wrong book. I know translator Richard Pevear has called this a moving love story (which cements many issues I have with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) however, can you call the struggle with morality a tale of romance?

Let’s talk about the relationships found within Doctor Zhivago. The relationship between Yury and Lana is the main focus of this classic; a woman he has lusted after for his entire life. However he marries Tonya, a woman that Yury shows no real affection towards. This is not to say that Yury does not care for Tonya, just the whole idea of marrying someone while in love with someone else is just stupid. Now I know this is an autobiographical novel and it is a reflection of Boris Pasternak’s own relationship mistakes but the relationship between Yury and Lana was always doomed, especially since she shows no interest in him.

There is something to be said about the marriage of Yury and Tonya. Following the loss of his mother and the abandonment of his father, Yury is consistently seeking out a maternal figure. One may even call it an Oedipus complex and Tonya is more of a mother figure to him. This brings up a major theme in Russian literature not just Doctor Zhivago. In the case of this novel, the human desire for companionship plays out in context of the longing for stability. Russia has suffered a lot of tumultuous times and the desire for stability tends to be reflected in their literature.

What interested me the most about Doctor Zhivago was what it had to say about the political landscape. This is why the novel was refused publication in the Soviet Union and the story behind the book is just as interesting. I picked up The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée as soon as finishing Doctor Zhivago. This book is part biography on Boris Pasternak and part history of the novel.

Boris Pasternak was so passionate about writing Doctor Zhivago, he would continually return to it in-between paid translation work. He knew that it would never be published in the Soviet Union but wanted his story out there. Because the novel covered a time between the first Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Civil War. The reader is able to follow the ideological struggle that Pasternak would have had towards his much loved motherland, from the dreams of a socialist utopia to its grim reality. These themes, its criticism towards Stalin and mentioning the realities of the Gulag (covering this topic before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) were some of the main reasons this book was denied publication. It was the CIA who published the book and distributed it in the Soviet Union as propaganda, the story behind this an interesting one, which I learnt from The Zhivago Affair.

Doctor Zhivago was smuggled out of the country by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli with Pasternak asking him to help get his novel out to the world, who first published the book in Italian. Pasternak also gave the manuscript to George Kutkov in the hopes of a decent and faithful English translation. Katkov promised the best translation possible and settled on Max Hayward and Manya Harari for this task. According to The Zhivago Affair, “The pair alternated chapters and then checked each other’s work. Katkov supervised them both, ‘going over everything for accuracy and nuance.’”

Originally Katkov suggested to Pasternak to use Vladimir Nabokov for the translation but this idea was rejected. “This won’t work; he’s too jealous of my position in this country to do it properly.” I am not sure what the relationship between Pasternak and Nabokov is but he has been quoted in 1927 as saying “His verse is convex, goitrous and google eyed, as though his muse suffered from Basebow’s disease. He is crazy about clumsy imagery, sonorous but literal rhymes, and clattering metre.” When Doctor Zhivago was published in America it knocked Lolita off the number one spot on the best seller list. This lead Nabokov to call it “a sorry thing, clumsy, trite and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, romantic robbers and trite coincidences.”

Despite the criticism and while I do agree it is a little clumsy in its coincidences, I cannot deny Doctor Zhivago as anything but a masterpiece. I know Boris Pasternak wanted the novel to be accessible and simple, and I was surprised how easy it was to read. There is plenty to say about this novel and I would love to talk more about it. I know this will be a novel that will be read over and over again and I encourage others to read it not for the story but for what is says about the Soviet era. Doctor Zhivago is such a cultural phenomenon and at great risk to its author, in fact apparently when Boris Pasternak gave the manuscript to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli he said “you are hereby invited to my execution.”

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Posted September 27, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 2 Comments

Pale Fire by Vladimir NabokovTitle: Pale Fire (Goodreads)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: Penguin, 1962
Pages: 246
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire is a novel centred around a 999 line poem of the same name by fictional poet John Shade. It is primarily focused on a literary commentary by Charles Kinbote, an academic with an obsession with the poet. Starting with the poem in four cantos, then leading into Kinbote’s analysis, Pale Fire is a wonderfully complex novel on obsession and literary criticism. While Nabokov’s 1962 post-modern masterpiece might sound dense on the surface,  I found the novel itself easy to read, but difficult to unpack.

Before sharing my thoughts on Pale Fire, I feel it is important to point out Vladimir Nabokov’s academic career in America. While in America, Nabokov worked as a lecturer mainly in Russian and European literature, most notably at Cornell University from 1948-1959. The reason why this is important is the fact that this experience would have contributed the satirical nature of Pale Fire. I often found the novel to be a tongue in cheek look at literary criticism. On reading this, I found myself laughing at the leaps Kinbote often took to explain the Shade poem. I could not help but think this was a reflection of some of the assignments Nabokov read as a lit professor.

Looking deeper into Pale Fire and there is a lot to gain from the novel. What I noticed first seems to be a popular trope for Nabokov, and that is the unreliable narrator. I cannot help but comparing Charles Kinbote to Humbert Humbert from Lolita. Not only is he unreliable but the obsession with the poet John Shade feels very similar. His obsession towards the poet and the art leads to an artistic passion, however this turns into a struggle with desire exceeding creative capability. It is here we get an interesting idea of critical commentary verses the desire to creating literature.

As things progress the novel shifts to an exploration into reality. I found myself questioning the sanity of Kinbote and maybe he is actually King Charles of Zembla. He could in fact be the exiled king or far more likely, he is suffering from dangerous delusions. From what I know after reading Lolita and Invitation to a Beheading (the only other novels I have read) Nabokov likes to play around with obsession, in particular the dangerous realities it may lead to. It is here where I wished I had read Speak Memory or a biography on Nabokov, because I get a feeling of autobiographical elements in Pale Fire. There are moments that seem to parallel his own life, in regards to fleeing the Soviet Union and even teaching literature. Zembla resembles the Soviet Union but portrayed in a nostalgic way. Like Kinbote looks at the country through rose-coloured classes, not remembering the harsh reality.

Apart from the wonderful writing style to be found in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, you can expect to see plenty of allegories and references. One thing I love about Russian literature (and I call Nabokov a Russian simply because he was born there) is the way they often reference other novels; it is the same joy I get from reading books about books. Pale Fire is jammed packed with references from The Brothers Karamazov, A Hero of Our Time, James Joyce, Keats, Proust and even mentions Lolita. A better review could go into a lot of detail exploring the references and what they mean to the novel but I will not go into those detail.

Pale Fire is a book that will take a lifetime to read, there is so much here to explore and that is what appeals to me. The more I read from Nabokov the more I want to read, and re-read. I do feel like I need to learn more about this author before diving back into his novels. Speak Memory will be my next read from Nabokov but I am half tempted to crack open a collection of essays I have called Lectures on Russian Literature. I am excited to return to Pale Fire in the future and talk even more about the novel.

The Complexities of Being a Book Nerd

Posted September 16, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 2 Comments

mount-tbrThe life of a book nerd can be a confusing one. I have so many conflicting moments, I find it hard to know what is actually going on inside my own head. Let’s start with a recent bookish existential crisis I had. I have talked about this previously; I worked out that if I was to live for another fifty years, I would only get to around five thousand books. This really stuck with me, I decided to set myself a task. I called it Project 5000, and the goal was to make every book count. Before picking up a book, I think to myself “Is this a book that I would want to include in the 5000?” My goal was not to read anything that I only had a minor interest in and focus on the books that really interested me.

Lately I have been having a completely different train of thought; I have been thinking more about re-reading. While I know I have so many books I want to get to and only have a limited amount of time, the desire to go back to older books directly contradicts my goals behind Project 5000. However, I have grown as a person and a reader, and there are many books that are crying out to be re-read. While watching The Gilmore Girls, I was drawn to a profound quote by Richard Gilmore, “a good book takes a lifetime to read”. This idea has haunted me for a while; the whole idea that great books need to be constantly returned to just feels right. I have read Frankenstein multiple times; I had at one point planned to re-read it every year. While that has not worked out, I still feel drawn to return to it. I would also like to re-read more of my favourites, like Crime and Punishment or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It is not just favourites, I would love to dip into the Foundation series again or just see how I feel about The Catcher in the Rye now I have grown as a reader.

I seem to go in cycles for my reading desires, at the moment I want to read philosophy but that will change. One month I could be interested in reading Russian classics and the next I might be craving science fiction or pulp novels. I can never plan out my reading because I never know what I will be interested in reading. I have a huge interest in the Soviet era, philosophy and books in translation, so I do know that my reading may often be linked to one of those interests. That does not make my reading life any easier, there is so much out there to explore.

One major issue I feel I have is the fact that I feel so far behind in my reading journey. There are so many books out there that I should have read already. This is ridiculous, I know I have read so many great books and should be proud of my reading journey. I am cursed with a never ending TBR pile and I have to find ways to manage that.

Currently I am already planning my reading goals for 2017. I know I will continue my journey in having more than 50% of my reading be translations (currently it is 46% for 2016 and trending upwards). I want to read more non-fiction (9 books this year) and more re-reading (only three this year). I do not want to commit to these goals just yet, I have to think on this some more. However I wanted to give you some insights into what goes on in my head and just how complex being book nerd can be.

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Posted September 12, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel DaoudTitle: The Meursault Investigation (Goodreads)
Author: Kamel Daoud
Translator: John Cullen
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2013
Pages: 143
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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One of the key components to philosophy is the ability to argue your point, this is done in many different ways and Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger does exactly that. Kamel Daoud took the same approach for his counterargument, with his novel The Meursault Investigation. This novel seemed to have taken the world by storm, winning the Goncourt du Premier Roman, the Prix des Cinq Continents, the Prix François Mauriac and shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt. It follows Harum seventy years after his brother Musa (the Arab) was killed by Meursault. Harum is reflecting back on his life and the impact Meursault’s story has had on himself, his family and Algeria.

Kamel Daoud’s response to The Stranger is basically saying that life is not absurd, it has meaning. Taking a life has consequences and execution is not simply a life for a life. Meursault killing the Arab had a big impact, and never referring to him by name allowed Camus to focus his story but at the risk of missing the bigger picture. So seventy years later, well after Algeria has declared their independence from France, the story of Meursault is still a topic of discussion.

First of all, the death of Musa has an impact on the life of Harum and his family. The Meursault Investigation starts off exploring the life of Harum and his mother and how the death of Musa effected them. The novel spirals out, first looking at the effect it had on Harum, then his mother and family and then finally Algeria. This may come across as repetitive but I think it was important to understand the impact.

I watched a lecture by Daoud that talks about The Stranger and comparing it to Robinson Crusoe. This is an exploration into post-colonialism; Meursault meets someone who was different to him and kills him. Robinson Crusoe did the same thing to Friday, just not physically; he forced him to convert to his idea of civilisation. That meant changing the way his acted, dressed and most of all his religious beliefs. The fact that Meursault killed an Arab on the beach could be symbolic of the island. If you follow this train of thought, The Meursault Investigation turns into a very complex philosophical argument, not only against The Stranger but the opinions of Western society (especially France) towards the raise of Islam.

The Meursault Investigation is an angry novel with some very deep philosophical ideas embedded into the pages. Published originally in French (translated by John Cullen) this novel evoked similar reactions for me as Submission by Michel Houellebecq in the way it explores France’s reaction to Islam. I understand people’s criticism about repetitive in The Meursault Investigation but I feel like it was necessary as Daoud needs to keep circling back to the death of the Arab and exploring how it affected everyone. This is the butterfly effect and I enjoyed every moment of this novel.

The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

Posted September 8, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Dead Lake by Hamid IsmailovTitle: The Dead Lake (Goodreads)
Author: Hamid Ismailov
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Published: Peirene Press, 2014
Pages: 128
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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While I actively avoid a novel that is described as a modern fairy-tale, it is a good term to use while talking about The Dead Lake. The novella tells the story of Yerzhan growing up in the remote parts of Kazakhstan, in an area that the Soviets used for atomic weapons testing. As a young boy he tried to impress the neighbour’s daughter by diving into a forbidden lake. The lake was radioactive and diving into the water changed Yerzhan forever.

Diving into the dead lake means that Yerzhan will now never grow into a man, he is doomed to watch his love grow into a beautiful woman while he will forever be a prepubescent boy. The plot is very fairy-tale like and the reader has a front row seat into a struggle in masculinity. While never growing old may seem like a dream for some people, never reaching puberty would not be desirable. While re-reading Interview with the Vampire, I wanted this exact issue explored with Claudia. The idea that while Yerzhan may never physically age, time and experience means he grows and matures. His inner self is not reflected physically and he is doomed to be always treated like a child.

While the plot tells a fairy-tale like story, underneath all this there is something different happening. The Dead Lake is an exploration into the environmental impact of the cold war. Not just exploring the effects the Soviets had on Karakhstan but rather the impact both American and the USSR had on the world to demonstrate their power. I believe this novella was based on Lake Chagan, which the Soviets conducted nuclear tests on in 1965 and is still radioactive today. Around about 100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water.

This grim book deals with some hard hitting topics but credit to Hamid Ismailov for producing a beautiful novella. The writing in The Dead Lake is so lyrical and poetic it just flows off the page. I found myself captivated by the writing and completely sucked into the story. While it is no secret that I am a fan of Soviet and post-Soviet literature, there is something special about this novella. I love the idea of a bildungsroman where the protagonist is physically unable to truly come of age, I would like to read more novels like this.

Treading Air by Ariella van Luyn

Posted September 6, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Treading Air by Ariella van LuynTitle: Treading Air (Goodreads)
Author: Ariella van Luyn
Published: Affirm Press, 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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There is a certain sense of glee to be had when you read a novel set in a familiar location. That moment when you recognise a street or the author accurately describes a location; that feeling is comforting and is what drove me through Ariella van Luyn’s debut novel Treading Air. The story takes place in two locations, in Townsville and Brisbane during the 1920s and 1940s, following the life of Lizze O’Dea. From an attraction and eventual marriage to battle scared Joe, to the new life in an unfamiliar town, Treading Air is a cinematic portrayal of independence, love and sex.

I often felt like there was something very familiar with the plot of Treading Air; a sense that I have read this novel before. Which I had, it was from French author Joseph Kessel, and the novel that was turned into the surrealist classic film of the same name, Belle de Jour. I could not unsee the similarities, a lonely housewife discovering her sexuality as a sex worker. There are more similarities to be explored but I do not want to give away anything.

Once I discovered this connection, I had a hard time really enjoying Treading Air, to the point where I considered abandoning the book once or twice. I merely kept going due to the fact that this was the selection for book club and I wanted to give it as much attention as possible. Treading Air is based on a real woman, the author found some information about her while looking through historical archives and thought that the story was too good not to write. They say truth is stranger than fiction, yet it was fiction where I found this story previously.

In the end I ended with two major issues with this novel. Firstly I think there could have been some interesting insights into the motivation and mindset of a sex worker that could have been explored. I feel that because the novel was written in third person we were never really in the mind of Lizzie and there could have been value to be had there. Secondly one piece of advice I hear about writing it ‘show don’t tell’ which is not always true (there are some great authors that tell rather than show) but in the case of this debut by Ariella van Luyn, it would have made for a better novel.

Do not get me wrong, this is not a bad book and I am curious to see what Ariella van Luyn does next. I personally felt it lacked some of the key components that I am interested in, especially in a novel about sex workers. Rather than pick Treading Air apart any further, I would simply say I was disappointed. I know others have enjoyed this novel but it just was not for me. If the synopsis does interest you, do not be afraid to give it a go.

Rant on Pokémon Go and the Gaming Industry

Posted August 1, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Pop-Culture / 6 Comments

pokemon goThere is no doubt that Pokémon Go is the latest craze, with nostalgia being the driving force behind its popularity. I remember my first Pokémon game; it was Pokémon Blue, which was released in 1998 for Gameboy. While it was a fun game, and I enjoyed playing it, it never was a game that stuck with me. I know there are many people that brought and played most of the games as they were released every few years but I don’t know there was a lasting effect. I know a new version of the game would mean people would stop playing one for the newer version but how much game play can you really get out of these games?

With Pokémon Go the popularity is unquestionable, with more downloads and active users than Twitter. When it debuted in the US, it was able to capture 10.81% Android users, while according to BGR, the two most popular games Clash Royale and Slitherio only managed to 1.67% and 0.84% users. Taking $2 million a day in revenue, from the US market alone. Casual gaming and micro-transactions are dominating the gaming industry and I am not pleased.

Don’t get me wrong, I am playing Pokémon Go but I think Ingress is a better game. Both Pokémon Go and Ingress were developed by Niantic, Inc and are essentially the same game with a different skin and less functionality. I am impressed with the stories I have heard about people coming together, there are even stories where people out in the parks late at night are also feeding the homeless. It is a beautiful phenomenon that sadly will not last.

Games like Candy Crush and Game of War that are making a billion dollars a year in revenue, are struggling to hold on to their users. While I am sure they are not complaining about the money they have made, as someone that played a lot of games in the past, I am concerned with the state of the gaming industry. The industry is out to make money and they are doing just that but at the cost of the gaming industry. I believe if this trend continues innovation will suffer. The industry will be trying for quick money grabs and the big Triple A titles that demonstrate innovation and artistic capabilities will no longer exist. There type of games that drive the computer industry as it pushes the limits of technology and have them looking at ways to make computers better, faster and more capable.

Think of it this way, if the games industry stops making Triple A titles, and rather focus on casual gaming or micro transactions, there will be less monetary value in making better computers. The computer industry is driven by the need for faster, more capable computers; you take away the gaming, that need is reduced exponentially. Things are moving in this direction, the 2016 game Hitman was released in episodes; meaning you were paying for a level. There were claims that this was due to delays in the game production but this is just the first step. I would imagine that if it happens with one, with no real outcry it could happen to others.

I know I am just ranting about the state of the gaming industry but you have to be aware, I am not their target audience anymore. I use to play a lot of games but now I do not have time. I am addicted to Civilization V (a game released in 2010) because I enjoy the complexity and I want a game that will challenge me. For those not familiar, Civilization is a 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) turn based strategy game. You start a game by picking a leader of a civilization, which have different traits and then you play against a number of AI players to win either by domination, diplomacy, research or tourism. The game involves around diplomacy, economics, government, and military. I love these games because of the replayability (I think I have about 300 hours of gameplay in this game) and as it is turn based, I can play with while watching TV instead of playing a casual game on my phone.

I think there is a use for casual games, and sometimes you want to play something quickly while you wait. My problem is that everything seems to be a carbon copy of something else that is successful and there is no real complexity to these games. I am not saying all causal games are bad and I do enjoy Pokémon Go. My concern is the direction that the gaming industry is going, I want to be entertained but I also want to work for it as well, I feel more fulfilled if I am challenged. What is your opinion of the current gaming trends?

Can I Make Twilight Sound Interesting?

Posted July 28, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 0 Comments

twilightI have a keen interest in literary theory and criticism, I often think it is a dying art form. However for me personally, I think it is a very useful tool to develop. While literature teaches us about the world around us, it can help develop empathy and lead you to explore new ideas. Literary criticism and theories can help unpack those ideas and look at commonality in those books we read. If writing is a therapeutic undertaking which allows the author to get ideas out and explore their own mind. Literary criticism is the exploration into understanding those thoughts and unpacking some deeper meaning.

While some people read for escapism, I tend to enjoy a book more if I find something deep. That’s not to say that all novels are meant to be dissected in this way, I believe that you could find deeper meaning in all novels, whether the author meant it or not. Sometimes the author is not aware of the deeper meaning that come out in their writing. I think that trends, symbols, motifs and even opinions (both personal and political) seem to be represented in your writing.

There are many types of literary theory out there and I think that most people interested in criticism tend to focus on the theories that they understand the most. For example, if you have a degree in psychology you might focus on psychoanalysing the text you are reading; trying to understand the characters’ and authors’ psychological makeup.  While someone that has a political interest in socialism, might look at a piece of text through a Marxist lens and explore the class issues that are evident in the writing.

I thought I might try to explain some common literary theories on a very basic level, as a way to understand just how interesting criticism can be. Note that I am not an expert and I am trying to learn more about criticism (that is how I got talked into buddy-reading The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism), but I thought this was a topic that needed to be talked about. I am going to use Twilight by Stephanie Meyer as my example, because I want to demonstrate that literary theory can be used on any writing and may even make it more interesting.

Queer theory

Queer theory is the exploration of sexuality and gender identity within a piece of text. From what I can remember there is no queer characters within Twilight; it is a heteronormative novel. However if you look at sexuality within the novel you can come up with a different story. Take for instance the fact that Edward is over a hundred years; is this perpetuating a fantasy of the older more experienced man? What does this say about Belle and her sexuality (not just her sexual identity)?

Feminism (sometimes referred to as Gender studies)

Feminism is a popular lens for critical analysis; in Twilight you can explore a lot on the topic. We are looking at the role of the woman within the text. While there is little descriptions about Belle, what do have makes her out to be a needy woman with no notion of independence or any idea on what she really wants. Although this is done on purpose, to make it easier for female readers to put themselves into her shoes. Ask yourself, how is Belle depicted in her role as a daughter to a single working father, and as a girlfriend. Just to be clear I am not saying Twilight is anti-feminist, I would say it is rather a post-feminist piece of writing (but I will not go into defining post-feminism).


I enjoy Marxism when it comes to literary criticism; it looks at the class conflicts. There are three basic classes, all represented in the novel. The Cullen family represent the upper class, the Swans are middle class, while the Blacks are representing the lower class. Look at the Cullen class, they are represented as wealthy, well educated, and the classical representation of all things related to the upper class. Now look at the way Edward Cullen interacts with Belle and Jacob through the Marxist lens. Does their interactions represent an inherent class struggle?


Within post-colonialism, you can look at the relationship between the Cullen family and the Blacks. In post-colonialism you need to take into account the historical conflicts of the setting. Since the Cullens are super white (vampires) and the Blacks are Native American, you are able to see this motif play out quite easily. The relationship between white people and the indigenous in western culture is a big issue that is often explored, whether it is obvious or not.


This is the exploration into the conscious and the subconsciousness of not just the characters, but also the author and even the reader. If you think of Twilight as a work of romantic fantasy, what does it say about the characters, the author and even the readers? This would closely parallel Queer theory and feminism in this instance because this is meant to be a romance. So this fantasy of an older, more experienced man plays a big part in understanding the character of Belle.


While intertextuality is not a literary theory it is useful for criticism and understanding the relationship of a text with the literary world. Intertextuality is simply the ‘interrelationship between texts’, looking at influences and connections with the wider world of literature. In the case of Twilight you can look at the mythology of vampires and werewolves and how they differ to other books on the topic. This is a very simple way to look at Twilight, especially since the vampires in mythology do not match those that are found in this series.

I like to look at the intertextuality between Twilight and Wuthering Height (Belle’s favourite book), especially how the relationship seems to mirror that of Catherine and Heathcliff. To be clear, Wuthering Height is a piece of Romantic literature, which is not to be confused with romance. Both Heathcliff and Edward is a typical Byronic hero, which is described by Lord Macaulay as “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.” The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is toxic and is disturbing that Belle would base her idea of love on their relationship. Although Edward is named after another Byronic hero, and that is Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, which yet again another toxic relationship that could be compared to the one found in Twilight. You could go with intertextuality, for example the fairy tale Cinderella and the connection Twilight has with that story.

There are so many different literary theories that you could use to look at the writing in Twilight and deconstruct it into something deeper. Also while reading critically, you could use other tools to analyse the text, from looking at Stephanie Meyer’s background, the cultural influence and there are many other ways to look at this series. I am still learning about literary theory and criticism, but I am very interested in the way the tools I am learning can transform the text into something deeper. I think using Twilight was a good way to prove the usefulness of literary theory or criticism. I would like to know what literary theories interest you and how you would use it in the context of Twilight.

The Adventures into Krissy Kneen and Incredible Erotic Literature

Posted July 25, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 4 Comments

The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex MachineSometimes you come across a novel that sounds so weird that you cannot help but consider reading it. For me, while browsing the shelves of Avid Reader, a delightful indie bookstore in Brisbane, I came across Krissy Kneen’s novel The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. The premise was simple, a young woman who wears a True Love Waits ring finds herself joining a sex book club. They dedicate themselves to exploring the so called classics of erotic literature. Upon reading this novel, I found this to be a delicious romp of genre blending and surreal sex. In the vain of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure but with a blue glow emanating from her vulva. This fact I discovered early in the novel with the line “She wondered what Jack would think on their wedding night when he lifted her skirt to find her glow-in-the-dark vulva providing subtle illumination of their final act of love”.

One of the joys of this weirdly surreal novel was the way Kneen managed to explore the journey of sexual awakening while also recommending some good erotica to the reader. I compare this book with Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or shall I call it Fanny Hill) simply because it explore this journey into sexual pleasure in a similar way. While one book feels more about the empowering nature of desire and the other a perverted fantasy written by someone stuck in prison.

I will admit my experience into erotica is very limited, from a perverted start into the website literotica to a mild curiosity in this genre. One key difference I have found between modern erotica and the classics is intention. For popular authors like Tiffany Reisz, Sylvia Day and E.L. James, their books intend to explore a fantasy, hoping to titillate the reader in one way or another. While in the case of the classics, it was more about exploring something much deeper. Whether it be a sexual awaking (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), the pleasures of the flesh (A Sport and a Pastime) to just using sex for symbolism.

I still have gaps in my reading for this genre, for example Anaïs Nin or Marquis de Sade. Though I am curious to explore it in greater detail. Thanks to Krissy Kneen and her novel, I now have a list to work from. I was pleased to see James Salter kicking off this wonderful novel and I was eager to write down a list books to read…only to find them listed in the back of the novel as well. In my never ending efforts to be well read, I now have some direction when it comes to Erotica.Erotic literature

While I adore the voyeuristic nature of A Sport and a Pastime, I was pleased to see some transgressive erotica gracing the pages of The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. One could argue whether these picks should be considered erotic in nature but they do explore sex in an interesting way. Take for example Lolita, there are some beautifully written erotica writing in the novel but this is countered by the disturbing nature of Humbert Humbert. Dolores’ own sexual awakening will be forever tainted by the predatorily nature of Humbert. This can also be explored in Me and Mr. Booker by Cory Taylor and Alissa Nutting’s novel Tampa which takes on the idea of the fantasy of sleeping with the teacher. However for further exploration into this I would recommend a memoir; Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz.

Then you have something far more disturbing in nature with Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, which takes sex to a far more depraved level. While this novel will indeed shock and sicken you, the symbolism to be found is what I found undeniably appealing. With the help of some essays combined with this novel called “The Pornographic Imagination” by Susan Sontag and “The Metaphor of the Eye” by Roland Barthes, Story of the Eye transforms into more than a surreal erotic. As I read it, I was disturbed by the mind of Bataille but now I feel sympathetic to his pain.

I was not surprised to see Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) or Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour) was neglected from the pages, I was expecting Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs to make an appearance. Sex in Burroughs represents power and could have added an interesting dynamic, though this could be just a projection of my love for surrealism. It is pleasing to read a novel that mirrors fragments from the classics. Kneen not only recommends books to Holly White and the reader, she was able to pay homage to the greats.

While my journey into erotica seems to be focused on the classics, I am all too aware that I have not considered literary erotica. I would like to think that a more literary erotic novel would closely resemble what I am interested in rather than just a fantasy aimed to arouse. I know I need to read Affection and Triptych by Krissy Kneen but I do need to try other authors. More research is needed for me and recommendations as well as I continue down this rabbit hole, who knows I may write more about erotica in the future.