Tag: Mary Shelley

How Frankenstein Changed My Life

Posted June 14, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

Two hundred years ago, a book was published that literally changed my life. It is very rare to say that a book could have such a life changing effect on someone but in my case it is actually true. It happened about nine years, without going into too many details, I was not happy with myself. I was directionless and went through a self-destructive phase. While it was not just literature that saved me, I do have to give credit to my wife as well. Books ignited the spark in me that made everything else click into place. I am a very different person to who I was back then, I suddenly turned into a passionate and voracious reader thanks to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

It all started with when I discovered a little radio show called The Culture Club by Craig Schuftan. This show explored similarities between music and the art world. This peaked my interest and I started reading his book Hey, Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone which looked at the similarities modern rock had with the Romantic period. Looking at bands like My Chemical Romance, Weezer, and The Smashing Pumpkins. The Romantic poets were the rock stars of their time, and their angst felt very similar. I knew I had to read Frankenstein and it all fell into place from there. Reading this classic, I quickly identified with the creature Victor Frankenstein had created. Although his pain was far more real than my angst, I have people who care about me, I was just an outsider.

My feeling of not belonging in this world was similar to what I was reading in this novel. Frankenstein was the first book I picked up because of Hey, Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone and I did that because of one of my favourite Smashing Pumpkin songs, Disarm. In this song Billy Corgan fantasises about cutting his parents limbs off, because he hated them for bring him into the world.

“It’s about chopping off somebody’s arms.. The reason I wrote Disarm was because, I didn’t have the guts to kill my parents, so I thought I’d get back at them through song. And rather then have an angry, angry, angry violent song I’d thought I’d write something beautiful and make them realize what tender feelings I have in my heart, and make them feel really bad for treating me like shit. Disarm’s hard to talk about because people will say to me ‘I listen to that song and I can’t figure out what it’s about.’ It’s like about things that are beyond words. I think you can conjure up images and put together phrases, but it’s a feeling beyond words and for me it has a lot to do with like a sense of loss. Being an adult and looking back and romanticizing a childhood that never happened or went by so quickly in a naive state that you miss it.”  — Billy Corgan on Disarm (RAGE, 1993)

This tenderness that Corgan reflects in Disarm is not dissimilar to the creatures own feeling. One of the most common themes I get while re-reading Frankenstein is this feeling of how society treats people who are different. For the creature, he came into this world and was immediately rejected by his creator. He was also rejected by everyone he encounters. He pleads with Victor Frankenstein to create him a companion; that is all he wants. He came into this world with love in his heart, but was denied it at every turn. Most of my early reading life focused on this idea of an outsider and how the world treated them. Books like American PsychoPerfume by Patrick Suskind and the Dexter Morgan series all deal with these monstrous characters and how the world and their situation has shaped them. I found comfort in the exploration of the outsider in literature. The idea of blaming society for the way I was felt good, but with my new found thirst for literature came a better understanding of myself and the way the world works. Nowadays I like to read transgressive fiction because it is very different to my own life but while writing this article I cannot help but wonder if it was originally because I identified with them more than with a protagonist that gets a happy ending.

Re-reading Frankenstein again I cannot help but reflect on how different each reading experience really is. There are so many different ways to read Frankenstein, commonly there is the idea of science taking things too fast, or the dangers of playing God. Or perhaps Mary Shelley wants to simply say actions have consequences. When I studied Frankenstein in university I knew a little more about Mary Shelley, so I was looking at Frankenstein with some context.

Before Shelley wrote Frankenstein she had given birth to a daughter, two months premature. This daughter only lived a few weeks, a year later she gave birth to William Shelley. After the birth of her son she suffered from postnatal depression. The birth of William happened a few months before the story of Frankenstein was conceived, so it wasn’t too surprising to see William’s name in the novel. William was Victor Frankenstein’s youngest brother, who was strangled to death by the monster. So, either Mary Shelley’s depression manifested an urge to strangle William, or there is something far more complex happening in the novel. Looking at the story arc of William’s death, we know a young woman is accused of the murder. So maybe there is something here to be said about the mother-child relationship, especially with the idea of maternal guilt and thinking about her lost daughter.

Maybe you want to explore this idea of creating life without the need of a woman, or maybe this is just a parody of creationism. Even the subtitle of ‘the Modern Prometheus’ means you can look at the similarities between this novel and Greek mythology. Paradise Lost by John Milton is another piece of literature that is often explored in relation to Frankenstein. I am struck by how many different ways we can look at Frankenstein and as I develop my own skills in analysing literature, I often return to this classic and see what I can find with a re-read. Mary Shelley is a very interesting person to read about, and I have picked up a few biographies on her, including The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler and Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay (my next one will be Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon). I find knowing the context only enhances my enjoyment of a book. I know people read for many different reasons but for me it is all about educating and improving myself. I do read for escapism but I tend to enjoy a novel more if there is some interesting themes to explore.

For someone who has only been a reader since 2009, I feel like I have a lot of literature to catch up on but I still feel the urge to revisit my favourites over and over again. I started off wanting to re-read Frankenstein every year but that quickly faded away, but I still like to revisit the text, it still remains one of my favourites. Did you know there are two different editions of Frankenstein out there? The book was originally published in 1818 but it was then republished in 1831 with revisions made by Mary Shelley. While the 1831 edition is commonly the one that gets published, I like to switch between the two different editions.

I have lost count of how many copies I own of Frankenstein. I own some beautiful editions including a new hardcover of the 1818 text from Oxford World Classics which I am currently reading. The book means so much I have copies all over the house, and one at work. Plus there is the ebook and audiobook edition I can access from my phone at any time. Literature plays such a huge part of my life, even I have trouble imagining my life without them. Frankenstein played a big part in my own transformation. All I can hope is that people continue to find something in this piece of classic literature. I will be re-reading this for years to come and I hope it continues to make an impact to people over the next two hundred years.

This beautiful edition of the 1818 text of Frankenstein was sent to my by Oxford World Classics

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati


Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

Posted May 14, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror, Literary Fiction / 4 Comments

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed SaadawiTitle: Frankenstein in Baghdad (Goodreads)
Author: Ahmed Saadawi
Translator: Jonathan Wright
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2018
Pages: 272
Genres: Literary Fiction, Horror
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

There has been a lot of buzz around Frankenstein in Baghdad, even before being spotlighted on the Man Booker International Prize longlist and now shortlist. Ahmed Saadawi’s novel is an intense portrayal of Iraqi life in post invasion Baghdad. The violence never stopped after the American invasion and junk dealer Hadi collects body parts lying on the streets and patchworks them together. However when a wandering spirit of a guard who was a victim of a car-bomb explosion finds the corpse, he is quick to possess it, giving birth to a monster known as Whatsitsname, who sets out to seek vengeance for all the victims that make up this monster.

Two hundred years ago Mary Shelley published Frankenstein and Ahmed Saadawi’s nod to this classic serves as celebration of the genre Shelley has created. I am often sceptical about a remake or reimagining of a classic, especially when that book is so close to my heart. However I was drawn to Frankenstein in Baghdad, but that might be my love for books in translation. There are elements of this novel that almost mirror Frankenstein but with a more modern spin. Take for example the opening chapter, rather than Captain Robert Walton writing to his sister to setup the story, we have an activity report from the Tracking and Pursuit department. Letter writing is a dying art form but a military report perfectly modernised the novel’s setup.

The war on Iraq is a topic that is often talked about in western society. A war that President George W Bush claimed was successful in the Mission Accomplished speech held on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003. Yet it was not until the end of 2011 when all U.S. troops were officially withdrawn. I say ‘officially withdrawn’ but the U.S. have still had troops in Iraq, most notably the American-led intervention of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014 and Operation Conquest in Mosul in 2016. The war on Iraq lead to the Iraqi Civil War which led to America’s involvement again in what they call the war on terror. I do not know much about the conflicts in Iraq apart from the information shared on the news.

I cannot expect the news to portray an unbiased account of everything happening in Iraq so it was nice to learn a little more with Frankenstein in Baghdad. While this is a surreal and fantastical novel, the book did confirm what I have always suspected. That war and violence do not lead to peace. Everything I knew about the war on Iraq had always made it out to be that America is spreading democracy and peace to the Middle East. However all the evidence points to a creation of a new monster, one that wreaks havoc on Baghdad, one that used the power vacuum and hatred to gain a foothold. Not Whatsitsname, but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Frankenstein in Baghdad transforms from a novel of pure horror based on the actual horrors faced every day. However this novel is not as depressing as you might expect. Ahmed Saadawi has managed to convey so much of the world he lives in without scaring the reader away. Frankenstein in Baghdad reads more like a black comedy, a satire of the current state of the Middle East. Taking the themes found in Frankenstein of the way society turned a creature into a monster and turning it back onto the world showing us all the monster that has been created.

While this may not be a direct connection, it is a connection I found in the novel. While Whatsitsname is possessed by righteous fury, going about slaughtering those who have turned Baghdad into a slaughterhouse, this might work for the real life Frankenstein. Although we could argue that they are bound by the same motivation. I will leave any political opinions up to the reader to interpret. This is a stunning novel that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. There is something about Ahmed Saadawi’s story that makes this a must read. Whether his attentions were to compare Frankenstein with that of ISIS is entirely up to the reader. Novels are always subjective, this is the connections I made. I am left with anger towards the U.S. treatment of Iraq and I never had a high opinion in the first place. Without getting too political I want to leave you with one question to think about, should any country force their own values on a culture that is vastly different from their own?

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati


Distracted by Other Books

Posted May 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in April 2018

Earlier in the month my wife was suffering from a major headache, so lying in the dark I decided to pick up my kindle to avoid disturbing her. I had The White Book on my Paperwhite and I knew it would not take me that long to read. Reading in the dark I was transfixed by the light of my Kindle. There is a line in the book that really stayed with me, “Certain objects appear white in the darkness. When darkness is imbued with even the faintest light…” There is something to be said about reading a book at the right time, because the experience alone made this book enjoyable. I love sitting in the dark but normally hate reading on my Kindle, the combination of darkness and talking about white just meshed well.

However that experience pales in comparison to reading The 7th Function of Language. Have you ever read a novel that you think has been tailor made for you? This was my experience with The 7th Function of Language. Everything about this book ticked my boxes, from the mystery element, to the literary criticism. I loved every minute reading this one and I cannot wait to re-reading it in the future. This reminds me of my favourite Umberto Eco book, Foucault’s Pendulum. I had to laugh at the fact so many people were calling this novel ‘too pretentious’ but others were comparing it to Dan Brown.

I often wonder if my literary tastes are the direct opposite to the norm, because I tend to love so many books others are regularly dismissed. Not that I mind at all. It helps with my pretentious literary credibility. Although I think The 7th Function of Language is not pretentious and would make for an exciting audiobook. I have not read hhHh but after reading this one, I am keen to find a copy. Although that novel is more war based, I am still very curious. It did get a lot of hype and attention, which might mean I will be disappointed by the novel.

This month marked the start of my very own podcast, Lost in Translations. My wife and I have been planning this for a very long time and by planning I mean procrastinating. But this we finally released the first episode which is an introduction episode. I was very nervous but beyond thrilled with just how well it turned out. I am surprised how much support I got on a project that has just launched. I am looking forward to releasing the first official episode where we discuss a book I loved last year (no spoilers into what it will be). My wife will be my first guest and while we have not recorded the episode yet, I hope to have it release in the middle of May.

I have loved reading the Man Booker International prize longlist and I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially after finishing Like a Fading Shadow and Vernon Subutex 1. It has been a bit of a letdown for me. There are so many books on the list that I thought were so-so but not much I loved, besides The 7th Function of Language, Frankenstein in Baghdad and Die, My Love. I will read the next Vernon Subutex book, and I did have a lot of fun reading it but it was not a standout. I am starting to be distracted by other books and itching to read other things. I am not married to the idea of completing the entire longlist but I thought it was a great opportunity to be part of the community. I am yet to read Go, Went, Gone and Flights, which are on my TBR, so they will get read. I am in the middle of The Imposters and have not brought a copy of The Flying Mountain. So that is four books from the longlist that I would love to complete but the only one I am positive I will read soon is Flights.

The BTBA longlist is looking very tempting.

I re-read Frankenstein again, I received a beautiful edition of the 1818 text and thought it was time to read again. I did use this as an excuse to write a piece on how Frankenstein has impacted my life. Surprisingly I think I learnt a little about myself writing that piece and I am always astounded by what I discover about myself while writing. I think there is something therapeutic about writing and it often unlocks connections I have not thought were there. Writing about Frankenstein helped me understand a little more about my past. That piece will be in the next issue of The Literati which is released very soon.

Finally I picked up The Diving Pool to read, which is the pick for a bookclub I am apart of on Goodreads. I love being a part of a Goodreads group reading books in translation, but not many people are interested in communicating. I love a good forum but I think maybe they have run their course. People join but quickly lose interest. I love the idea of talking about books, especially translations but maybe Goodreads groups are not the right spot. What is the future for the forum format? Is it Discord? Or maybe it is a Facebook group.

I feel like this month has been less productive than other months. Only six books read and hardly any writing getting done. I am happy to see my podcast become a reality so I should not complain. I have The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart on the go, which I need to read for my IRL bookclub but I have not planned what else I will be reading. I like to read on a whim and maybe the Man Booker International prize longlist messed with that and has put me into a little of a slump. Although I hope to break out in May and get back to all the books that keep distracting me throughout the month. We are housesitting so I do not have access to all my books, which might mean a little control but I hope it does not keep my slump going any further.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted April 3, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in March 2018

I live in a city that often does not get much rain. So when we get two weeks of constant rain it is a rare treat. There is nothing better than curling up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book, while thunder and lightning is raging outside. I was able to spend those two glorious weeks reading Frankenstein in Baghdad. Most people know about my obsession with Frankenstein, the book that literally changed my life. Normally I am apprehensive about any take on this classic novel but Ahmed Saadawi was able to deliver something sensational. His take on the classic was able to compare the tale with post-invasion Iraq in a unique way. Since it has been two hundred years since Mary Shelley’s novel, I cannot help but think about revisiting the book once again. Oxford World Classics did send me a beautiful hardback edition, so a reread is in my very near future.

Thinking about Frankenstein got me thinking about other books that have helped shape my life, which obviously leads me to my obsession with Russian literature. The Anna Karenina Fix seemed like the perfect bibliomemoir for me. As someone with a love for Russian lit, I found myself easily drawn to Viv Groskop’s memoir. One day I will write about all those books about books that I love and I have no doubt The Anna Karenina Fix will make that list. It made me want to reread so many of my favourites and then the ones I have missed, then go back to this book and read it again.

I am the type of reader that reads to learn about the world, to experience different cultures and explore new ideas. However there are times when I need to just switch off and read some palette cleansers. For me, this is crime fiction, but I am very particular about what I like. For the most, I will read an entire crime novel even if I was not enjoying it. Luckily there was something about Babylon Berlin that I loved. This is the first book in the Gereon Rath series and what drew me to this book was that it was set in 1929 Berlin. So in the background of this crime investigation we see Berlin as it changes, with the fears of communism and the newly emerging Nazi Party. I cannot help but compare it the Bernie Gunther series. While I have only read March Violets, since Philip Kerr passed way this month, I think I need to return to this detective and read The Pale Criminal. I did also read The Spellman Files at the suggestion of everyone who compared it to Veronica Mars.

The crime fiction I am attracted to the most is the old pulp era, the stuff from the 1920s to the 1940s. There is something about that writing, it is sharp and to the point, but still remains beautiful. Even forgotten classics like The Seven Madmen from Argentina seem to adopt that same style. The Seven Madmen is the kind of book that will remain with me for a long type and I am tempted to reread it, but I will get distracted by other books. After reading this book, I felt like staying with Argentinian literature and I was able to do that with the next book I read, Die, My Love.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced and like many of my fellow book nerds, I was excited to see what would make the list. I had read Frankenstein in Baghdad but it was the only one on the longlist I have actually read. I would love to read the entire longlist but time and availability is always a factor. My library only had four of the thirteen from the longlist but I owned one already. So I thought I would make use of a Kindle Paperwhite to help. I have often struggled to get into ebook reading but the accessibility was my only hope to read the longlist. I will always prefer physical books, but maybe I will be convinced to read more ebooks. My constant distractions with other books and an ereader might be a deadly combination.

Obviously the first book I read was Die, My Love. The fact that it was Argentinian literature, made this an easy choice. This was such an affecting read, I will have to get a physical copy. After completing this novel, all I wanted to do was stay in Argentina forever. I think I could live a happy life only reading Argentinian lit, it has similarities to Russian literature but still feels very unique. I am also pleased to see a strong literary scene of Argentinian women; from Die, My Love, to books like Things We Lost in the Fire, Fever Dream and Savage Theories.

Unfortunately there were a few books that followed that I was not able to connect with, and left me unmotivated to read. Two were Man Booker International Prize longlist picks, The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle, but the third was this month’s bookclub pick. It was a modern take on Don Quixote set in India called Mr Iyer Goes to War and all I could think was about rereading Don Quixote. My problems with The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle were as followed; the first felt too similar to another book, while the later just went overboard with the one topic and that frustrated me.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist left me pondering translations. I love reading from around the world, to the point where I am considering turning it into a podcast. I discovered I do not know as much about translation theory as I would like. Maybe I need to explore some Walter Benjamin or as I discovered, Edith Grossman (who translated Don Quixote) wrote a book called Why Translation Matters. Do I need to know another language to explore translation theory in great detail? I know Umberto Eco also has a book on translations too, it is called Experiences in Translation. This might be another rabbit hole to go down in the new future.

I managed to have a very productive reading month, I finished it off with my second László Krasznahorkai book, which was his short story collection The World Goes On. This made ten books for March, and I am presently surprised, especially since I had three books that were a struggle. The only thing I currently have on the go is The 7th Function of Language, which is another book from the longlist. At this rate, I may be able to read the entire longlist before the prize is announced in May. However the availability of the last seven books is the major factor. I own two and waiting on one from the library, so it is becoming more of a possibility. I am having a hard time guessing what will make the shortlist, so I have delayed a few that I think might be on the list. That way I can still remain in the conversation.

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The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Posted September 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy MillerTitle: The Year of Reading Dangerously (Goodreads)
Author: Andy Miller
Published: Harper Collins, 2012
Pages: 252
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It is no secret that I am a fan of books about books; I especially enjoy a bookish memoir. The idea of reading and learning about someone’s bookish life is fascinating to me. Let’s be honest, I blog about books because I think I have an interesting bookish journey to talk about and I want to capture that for posterity sake. I would love to learn how to write a bookish memoir, so I read anything I can get my hands on. I have even written a post asking for recommendations for books about books and I am always on the look out for more.

I am not sure how I discovered Andy Miller’s memoir The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life but I do remember being really excited about it. I ordered the book and it sat on my shelf for a little too long. With a holiday to America planned, I packed the book in my suitcase and was determined to read it. Turned out Simon Savidge from Savidge Reads started talking about this book about the same time and now I look like I was just following him in an effort to be as cool as he is.

Andy Miller worked as an editor at the time of writing this book (I assume he still does) and found himself only reading for work. On impulse he picked up a copy of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and something just clicked for him. He set out to read ten books, which he called The List of Betterment, which consisted of books he has once lied about reading or felt he should read. This list obviously expanded over the course of the year but it was his starting point into rediscovering a passion for reading.

My discovery for reading was not unlike Andy Miller’s except mine involved Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the 1001 Books Before You Must Read Before You Die list and it wasn’t a lost passion. I loved this book, I was so happy to read about all the awesome books Miller was reading in the course of the year. While this memoir is not healthy for my TBR and judging by Andy Miller’s glowing praises for Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes, I really need to get onto this novel first.

My only problem with this memoir is that Miller didn’t spend enough time talking about my favourite novels, like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Iwas happy to see that The List of Betterment not only includes canon but also involves books like The Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1 by Stan Lee. It is just good to see a memoir that doesn’t just involve highbrow literature. He even considered calling this book How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life referring to Dan Brown.

There is so much to talk about within this memoir, especially when talking about the fifty books mentioned in the book. I’m hoping that I can find some more great bookish memoirs to follow this one. The Year of Reading Dangerously is essentially a book about connecting with great books and the positive effects reading has on a reader. I highly recommend the book and I hope the Andy Miller will write a follow up about his continuing bookish journey.


Young Romantics by Daisy Hay

Posted May 21, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Young Romantics by Daisy HayTitle: Young Romantics (Goodreads)
Author: Daisy Hay
Published: Bloomsbury, 2010
Pages: 384
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Romantics have been a huge part of my life; if it wasn’t for them I may never have become a reader. Problem is, I don’t know much about their lives so I have set out to learn more. Young Romantics by Daisy Hay tells the basic story of their lives, but with the subtitle The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives you can be sure it will be heavily focused on Mary and Claire.

This is not necessarily a bad thing; Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont were fascinating people, however this seems to be the primary focus of more biographies. I was a little surprised when Daisy Hay spends so little time on that fateful time in Geneva that birthed Frankenstein but I assume that she deliberately glossed over that story assuming everyone was aware of it anyway.

Young Romantics did something I didn’t expect and that was spending a lot of time talking about the Hunt brothers. I knew they played a big part in literature at the time and that in context to the Romantics it is relevant information. However I never viewed them as Romantics and often over looked learning about them. This is a mistake on my behalf; the role the Hunts played in the Romantic Movement is an essential part in dealing with context. I might not consider them Romantics but they were there shaping the literary world along side them.

Having discovered a new interest in non-fiction I find myself wanting to read more biographies. While I have a great interest in the Romantics, I found that Young Romantics works to create a basic understanding of their lives. You get a quick overview of the lives of the Shelleys and the Hunts. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do with Lord Byron and even less to do with the others. I would have loved to read more about Keats but he only got a brief look in.

I plan to read more biographies about a range of different authors but I’m sure there will be plenty on the Romantics. I like Young Romantics for the broad strokes approach it took on the Romantics. I learnt a lot from this book but I’m sure people with a great knowledge would have been a little disappointed with it. I think if you have a passing interest in the Romantics this might be the perfect choice.


The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Posted April 24, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 1 Comment

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von GoetheTitle: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goodreads)
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Translator: David Constantine
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1771
Pages: 160
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that has influenced the Romantic Movement. Often known as the original ‘emo’, a term that I hate, this novel is a semi-autobiographical novel that brought huge success to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The novel is a collection of letters written by Werther to his friend Wilhelm. These letters are an intimate account of his attraction towards the beautiful Lotte; a young woman he meets in the village of Wahlheim. Despite knowing that she is already engaged to a man 11 years her senior, Werther falls for her and attempts to develop a friendship between the two in an effort to get closer to Lotte.

You can probably guess how this story goes; Werther, an artist of highly sensitive and passionate nature heading down a road that can only lead to heartbreak. I’m not one to enjoy a novel that revolves around a love triangle but when it is done properly it can be an effective plot device; I’m thinking of books like those mentioned in this post. There is no denying the cultural impact The Sorrows of Young Werther has had on the world; unfortunately the ‘Werther effect’ is the most common reference to the novel nowadays.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to read this novel because Frankenstein’s monster finds this book in a leather portmanteau along with Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost which gives you an interesting insight into FrankensteinLives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of biographies of famous men to illustrate their common moral virtues or failings, while Paradise Lost is an epic poem on creationism and the fall of man. The Sorrows of Young Werther embodies the Romantic ideals; Werther being a sensitive intellect with an obsession of nature and values emotion over reasoning. All three novels represent different themes that Shelley wants the reader to explore when reading Frankenstein.

While this may sound like a morbid and depressing novel, Goethe shows the beauty behind the tragedy. One thing I loved about this book is the wording, and permit me to post a few quotes from the book to just show you the beauty in the novel.

 “Sometimes I don’t understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!” 

The major theme obviously is love; a look in how it can defy all logic. Werther can’t stop his heart from falling for Lotte, even if he knew it would lead to pain. The idea that the heart has more control over someone’s actions than their head is often evident in life and The Sorrows of Young Werther captures it perfectly. For me, that is what makes this novel spectacular and significant.

“I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness & misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own” 

However, you can look at this novel as something other than love; the idea that Goethe is portraying the decline in Werther’s mental health is also a vital angle that needs to be considered. The reason I hate the term ‘emo’ I won’t go into at this time but Werther’s overly emotional journey could also be symptoms of a bi-polar depression, though not a known diagnosis of the time. We have to consider the idea that his joy and sorrow is not just unrequited love but a deeper issue. The love triangle would have added fuel to his depression and we cannot ignore that this could be the root cause of Werther’s sorrow.

For such a small novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther packs a huge punch. This is the type of book I can see myself reading again and again, not just because of the Romantic ideas but what it has to say about love and mental illness. I can’t help but think that The Sorrows of Young Werther is just a better version of The Catcher in the Ryein the sense that is a journey of a self-absorbed protagonist, but maybe too difficult for high-school student. The Sorrows of Young Werther is an important book, not only did it influence the greatest literary movement we’ve seen but it still relevant today, almost 250 years later.


My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

Posted February 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

My Life as a Fake by Peter CareyTitle: My Life as a Fake (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Carey
Published: Random House, 2003
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In 1943 two conservative classicists set out to expose the absurdity of modernist poetry. Both James McAuley and Harold Stewart were classical trained poets, who didn’t think much about modernism; it didn’t rhyme, didn’t make sense and it just didn’t look right, it was fake poetry. If an everyman can abandon technique and rhythm and create poetry, what was the point of high art? They created this everyman, Ern Malley and submitted poetry under this name to the literary magazine Angry Penguins. The Ern Malley hoax has become one of the biggest literary scandals in Australian history. While the hoax crippled modernist poetry within Australia, ultimately this parody backfired on McAuley and Stewart. The poetry, which was written in a day and full of word plays and puns became a sensation in the 1970’s. Their attempt to parody modern poetry and create something fake turned into something real, beyond their control and is now celebrated as fine examples of surrealist poetry.

Peter Carey’s My Life is a Fake explores the idea of fakery while paying homage to the Ern Malley hoax. Knowledge of this hoax is the backbone of this post-modernist novel, so much so that he covers his thoughts on it in the back of the book. Thinking about this novel I get the idea that this is a book that demands the reader to think about the purpose of reading. While this is considered contemporary fiction, it really demands a lot from the read and it wants to address a number of literary issues. Editor for Monthly Review Sarah Wode-Douglass, while traveling to Kuala Lumpur, encounters the perpetrator of the hoax after many years. The novel goes on to explore the literate mystery of forgeries but I won’t go into too much detail, it is quite a ride.

“I still believe in Ern Malley. (…) For me Ern Malley embodies the true sorrow and pathos of our time. One had felt that somewhere in the streets of every city was an Ern Malley (…) a living person, alone, outside literary cliques, outside print, dying, outside humanity but of it. (…) As I imagined him Ern Malley had something of the soft staring brilliance of Franz Kafka; something of Rilke’s anguished solitude; something of Wilfred Owen’s angry fatalism. And I believe he really walked down Princess Street somewhere in Melbourne. (…) I can still close my eyes and conjure up such a person in our streets. A young person. A person without the protection of the world that comes from living in it. A man outside.” Max Harris, editor of Angry Penguins.

While this book is told in a first person narrative, from the perspective of Sarah, as a reader I wrestled with the perspective. The novel explored the life of Sarah, her traveling partner John Slater who she describes as an unapologetically narcissist. Also we learn about Christopher Chubb and his monster, the non-existent Bob McCorkle. My mind wrested with questions like, whose life was I reading about? Whose words am I reading? Whose mythology do I accept? Personally I think these are the questions Carey wants us to ask, also I have to wonder what type of fakery are we talking about in the title?

Now I called the fictional poet Bob McCorkle a monster because this novel is influenced by a lot of literature but the most obvious is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like McAuley and Stewart’s hoax, Bob McCorkle was a monster in the eyes of its creator and takes on a life of its own. There are also references to Paradise Lost (which can be connected to Frankenstein) and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. An understanding of Greek mythology is helpful as well, especially Orpheus. This is a tricky book to read, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. Once I got into the rhythm of the novel, I think understanding and progress was a lot easier, though I do think a better understanding of literature would be helpful.

My Life as a Fake explores the power of creation, sometimes it just takes a life on its own with no way of stopping it. We must wrestle with the question of whether the man claiming to be Bob McCorkle is a fanatic; someone with an identity delusion, a hoaxer’s hoaxer, an accident, or an illusion called into being by its creator. As My Life as a Fake is an Australian novel, I can’t help but wonder if this is exploring the idea that Australia doesn’t produce Art, rather parodies and fakeries. The misconception that Australian artist must trade in masquerades to get noticed, a slightly old point of view but one that might have been still relevant in the time of the hoax.

I had to read this book for a university course so I also had to think about post-colonialism (a common theme in the subject). I’m not sure how this works as a post-colonial novel but I have to ask, as a colonized nation is this book viewing Australia as Frankenstein’s monster. Whose country are we in? Why does it matter? Are we the bastard spawn of a powerful creator (England)? Are we just fakes in the eyes of Europeans? Did we start off as fakes that took on a life of its own? Not really important questions for the book but interesting enough to share in this review.

Given that Frankenstein heavily influences My Life as a Fake, does this make this a modern gothic novel? They do invoke similar themes, interesting that this novel is meant to be popular fiction and yet it still explores high art in a complex, post modern way. Makes me wonder just how successful this novel was for Peter Carey. For me, while it was a difficult read, I found pleasure in studying this book, makes me want to read all of Carey’s books, maybe I’ll try The True History of the Ned Kelly Gang next.


Monthly Review – December 2013

Posted December 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

and then there were noneThis is the end of 2013 and what a great year we have had. Let’s have a quick look back at the year for the book club on Goodreads and our books of the months. For me some of the highlights included; The Bell Jar, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Lolita, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, The Fault in our Stars and The Shadow of the Wind. We seem to consistently get great books to read, including this month’s book And Then There Were None. I wasn’t sure what to expect, this was my first Agatha Christie and while I had some issues, I will read her again.

Next month we are reading an espionage novel, which will be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. I’ve read this novel and really enjoyed it, so I’m excited to see what others think; the movie is pretty great too. I hope everyone had a great holiday period and look forward to the great things to come in 2014. If you’re not aware, the book discussion and everything else will be happening over on the Goodreads forums, so feel free to join in there.

This has also been a great year for this blog too, which spawned last year from the Goodreads book club. I originally hoped this would be a source for all things book club related but turned into a book journal of my life as a literary explorer. I’m glad it did turn into what it is today; I’ve had so much fun book blogging and sharing my bookish thoughts. For my favourite books of 2013, check out the post but I wanted to share some of my favourite posts.

As always this month lead me to discover some great books including The Explorer and The Echo by James Smythe, Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, Careless People by Sarah Churchwell and a reread of Frankenstein. I thought maybe James Smythe (he made my top books of 2013 list twice) or even Frankenstein would be the highlights of the month but it was actually a non-fiction book; 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It’s only a collection of letters between a book lover and a second-hand book store but for any book lover, it reads like a love letter to books.

Read More


My Upcoming Reading List

Posted November 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in What are you Reading / 12 Comments

the sign of fourNext week I start a university course called Literature and Politics. I’m actually nervous and excited about starting this. I’ve been doing an English Literature course part time but work has been pretty full on so I’ve moved to online university. This will mean things will be a lot more flexible and should hopefully give me the time to manage both work and study without them interfering. What I wanted to share with you; the entire point of this post was my awesome reading list for the summer thanks to this course.

  • Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

How awesome it this list? So many great books that I’ve read or excited to read. A reading list like this really does wonders to your nerves.