Tag: Psychological

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Posted November 17, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 6 Comments

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary RoachTitle: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Goodreads)
Author: Mary Roach
Narrator: Sandra Burr
Published: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008
Pages: 319
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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

Bonk is a look into the history and study of sexual physiology. Mary Roach takes an interesting and humorous look into the world of sex research, exploring the weird methods used and the evolution of the field of study. Mary Roach has a unique style that has turned her into a household name. From a book about cadavers (Stiff), to more recently a look into the digestive track (Gulp).

This is my first Mary Roach book and I was immediately drawn to her writing style. I have never read her before, but I have heard so many good things. It was a toss-up between starting with Bonk or Stiff, but I am happy to finally have a chance to experience her writing. The blend of humour while teaching about science makes her an author I need to read more from. She has a style that I have always been interested in adopting for my blog; a balance between teaching and entertaining. Sadly my blog has been nothing but book reviews lately but I hope this will change in the near future.

I remember reading Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering a few years ago and found it completely fascinating. I wanted to learn more about the research side of sex but never read anything since then. While Perv looks at the psychological study of sex, Bonk focuses more on the physiological. There are so many topics to cover on the topic, so my biggest problem with Bonk is the fact that it was a very ‘broad-strokes’ approach to the topic. Although this is a good starting point to understand the science.

I was a little horrified with all the setbacks that happened in the study of sex. Whether they are religious or cultural reasons, there has been a lot of times research falls years behind just to save face. This topic alone would be an interesting one to explore, not just about sex but research in general. I am sure there are many times where science suffers due to public opinion. I wonder if there is a book that covers this topic (if you know of one let me know).

I am glad to have finally read Mary Roach and Bonk, I have discovered a new favourite author and a topic I need to learn more about. The more non-fiction I read, the more I wonder why I had an aversion towards it for so long. It was a non-fiction book that got me into reading and I am pretty much a non-fiction writer. I have so much to learn and I plan to learn more; hopefully this will reflect on my blog in the future. If you have an interest in reading about the research of sex both physiologically and psychologically, I recommend both Bonk and Perv.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Posted March 4, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

An Untamed State by Roxane GayTitle: An Untamed State (Goodreads)
Author: Roxane Gay
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Mireille Duval Jameson thinks of life as a fairy tale, that was until a trip home to visit her parents sees her kidnapped in broad daylight. Her father is a wealthy man living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and her captives are none too pleased with him. An Untamed State is a brutal, unflinching debut that deals with poverty, corruption and the damaging effects of being held captive.

“Once upon a time, my life was a fairy tale and then I was stolen from everything I’ve ever loved. There was no happily ever after. After days of dying, I was dead.” 

Roxane Gay had a fantastic year in 2014, her collection of essays Bad Feminist received a lot of praise in the bookish community and her debut novel also released in the same year was a stunning success. An Untamed State was not released in Australia until recently and I was finally able to see why this book was hyped so much. While this was a fast paced thriller that flowed quickly, the brutal nature of this novel made it difficult to read. I felt myself picking up pace multiple times only to hit a brutal gang rape or abusive part that tripped me up and brought my reading to a slower speed. This is a very difficult book to read but I still think it is an important novel.

An Untamed State is hard hitting and deals with some very complex issue; the type of issues that need to be talked about. I was a little put off by the over-representation of violence but I wonder if we can talk about this issues without getting a feeling of just how devastating torture, rape and kidnapping can be on a person? Not only are we reading about the psychological damage done to Mireille’s life and family, An Untamed State deals with the issues facing a country like Haiti. The crippling poverty of the country, while a few live in luxury and the corruption of the government also play a major part in this novel.

The book is told in two parts; the first half deals with the kidnapping and the unspeakable things that happen to Mireille while held captive waiting for her father to pay the ransom. Then the second half deals with the aftermath. This allows the reader to look at the damage; from post-traumatic stress to the psychological impact on Mireille. An Untamed State was dedicated to women everywhere and it was interesting that such a brutal book would have that inscription. Although it is time we had a conversation about rape and its damage; I think this novel does this successfully.

An Untamed State may be an unflinching and brutal novel but it is a powerful literary debut that deals with some important issues. I am hesitant to recommend this book or even praise it, however it does need to be discussed. You are in for an uncomfortable journey and Roxane Gay will not hold back. I think this will make for an interesting book club selection but I think that could either make for a fascinating discussion or kill the book club completely.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Posted January 3, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëTitle: Jane Eyre (Goodreads)
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1847
Pages: 542
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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

When Jane Eyre was originally published, it was called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë’s pen-name), which in itself is a fascinating insight into this classic novel. The idea Charlotte Brontë wanted this to be viewed as an autobiography implies this is more of a social commentary more than a classic gothic novel. This is what I want to focus my review on; what did she want to say about the world when she wrote this book?

Most people know the plot of Jane Eyre, so we can skip that and go right into the analysis. Bildungsroman is the primary genre of Jane Eyre, which is basically a coming of age story that documents the psychological and moral growth of its protagonist, which is interesting because on the surface there doesn’t seem to be much growth for Jane Eyre. Apart from the class struggle; Jane Eyre was an educated orphan who always believed she was low class. She constantly discriminates against herself about her class and this ultimately allows Mr Rochester to be the dominating force he is in their relationship. However it isn’t until Jane has money and returns to find Rochester blind and cripple, that she agree to marry him; what does that say about the social balance?

Though there is a whole idea of independence that plays out within this novel as well. I never thought that Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester had any chemistry and the first proposal was forced upon her. Thankfully it was revealed that Rochester was already married and Jane got out of the position she was in. She had to learn independence and the ability to make decisions for herself. This was tested when St. John (which I discovered is meant to be pronounced together like sin-jun) asked her to marry him.

There is a strong sense of religious morality at the core of Jane Eyre, just look at when St. John proposed to Jane Eyre, it allowed her to played with the idea of a moral decision. There is also an equilibrium between moral duty and earthly happiness that comes into play in this scene. Jane sees John as a brother but he tries to pressure her by implying that it is her Christian duty to marry him and work as a missionary in India. Her refusal to marry him but still travel to India as a missionary was met with disdain. John tries to emotionally blackmail her into marriage using God’s will as ammunition, even though there is no love and would only be a marriage of convenience.

I know I may have asked a few too many questions in this review, but there are some interesting thoughts to be had about Jane Eyre. I am not going to go into how Mr Rochester is the Byronic hero, the gothic themes, or how people should view this book as a Romantic novel and not a romantic book. Personally I think there are interesting elements within this classic book but Charlotte Brontë is my least favourite of all the Brontë sisters. This is the first time reading Jane Eyre and I might read it again at some point; but I hope I offered some interesting insights into the book.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Posted December 17, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

Middlemarch by George EliotTitle: Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (Goodreads)
Author: George Eliot
Published: Penguin, 1872
Pages: 880
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

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

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life was George Eliot’s seventh novel and was originally published in a serial from 1871-72. Set in a fictional town, this novel follows a wide range of characters in interlocking narratives that really do allow the reader to study the provincial life of Middlemarch. As this is broken into eight “books” it would be difficult to summarise the plot and even write a review that could do this book justice. Instead I am going to write down some thoughts and observations I found while reading Middlemarch.

First of all, I think it is beneficial to know a little about George Eliot; an understanding of her life helps put a lot of this novel into perspective. Most people know George Eliot is a pen name for Mary Ann Evans, she used the pseudonym to keep her private life from public scrutiny, as she was in a relationship with a married man, George Henry Lewes with whom she was living with. She picked a male nom de plume to escape the stereotypes placed on woman writers, this allowed her to offer a social critic without being judged on her gender. Raised as an Anglican, Mary Ann struggled with religious doubts and eventually became an atheist. As a young woman (before her relationship with George Henry Lewes), her father threatened to throw her out of the house due to her non-belief, but they seemed to come to a compromise. Mary Ann continued to attend church with her father until he passed away to keep him happy, even if she didn’t believe in a God anymore.

This is a very tiny glimpse at Mary Ann Evans but I wanted to share that information about her as it ties into common themes found throughout Middlemarch. The themes I am talking about here are gossip, marriage, femininity and religion. Living in Victorian England may not be too different to now (people like to gossip), Mary Ann would have been the subject of plenty of gossip and in a small town like Middlemarch it feels like the primary source of information. Throughout this novel, information is continuously being conveyed from an indirect party. George Eliot satirises the idea of gossip by continuously having other characters speak on someone else’s behalf to avoid direct communication. While others will avoid conversations believing that any relevant information will eventually make its way to them. These ideas of gossip feel like Eliot is poking fun at how gossip is used, however as a social commentary it is spot on.

I love what George Eliot has to say on the ideas of courtship and marriage and this is one of the most important parts of the novel. In Middlemarch marriage is never an end result, the happily ever after ending literary trope. While some people do end up being happy, there are plenty of unhappy marriages within the novel. Mary Ann’s lover George Henry Lewes was trapped in an unhappy marriage which he couldn’t get out of and this seems to be the basis of relationships within Middlemarch. There is this exploration of the idea of courtship, and it begs the reader to question these ideas. There are a lot of thoughts on how well we can really know someone before marriage; playing with ideas on being an outsider, deception and even intimacy. Each marriage within Middlemarch is different and it allows the reader to explore these unions as part of a social construct.

While there was a huge focus on marriage within Middlemarch there still were a few unwed woman within the novel. There are well educated women with the book that sometimes appear to be happier than the woman trapped in marriage. Eliot wanted to depict woman as strong individuals who have something to offer the world other than just being wives and mothers. The women in the book are often great and complex personalities but then Eliot plays with the ideas of suppressing themselves for men and the role they play in society. There is some social conditioning within the book but ultimately I kept seeing this idea of women having the ability to make social change.

Finally I want to talk about religion and spirituality; this is an interesting theme that steams from Mary Ann’s own life. I suspect sitting in a church listening to someone talk about a God she didn’t believe in made her think a lot about spirituality and organised religion. I haven’t used any examples but in this case I want to compare Dorothea with Mr Bulstrode. Dorothea has this internal and private spiritual life, the depiction of this is somewhat vague in the novel. This is because as an outsider she doesn’t come across as a spiritual person but internally it is an intimate part of her life. While Mr Bulstrode is portrayed as someone who is more public about his religious beliefs. While not always hypocritical he has a warped opinion; he believes his previous transgressions are part of the providential plan but will openly condemn others for their past misdeeds. Throughout Middlemarch, religion and spirituality is explored in different way and it is interesting to compare it with the ideas of morality within the novel.

There are so many different themes I can talk about, including money, education, vocations, social classes and even self-delusion but that would drag this on too much. I read Middlemarch with the aid of a reading guide called Eliot’s Middlemarch by Josie Billington and I did this because there is so much to offer within this novel I wanted to get as much as I could from the book. This is a smart and intelligent social commentary and I got the sense that there was no wasted moments within the book despite the fact it was 880 pages long. I dipped in and out of this novel for six months and I am glad I choose to read it in this way; it allowed me to ponder what I read before moving on. It is the type of book you need to spend a lot of time with and written in a way that allows you to dip in and out.

I haven’t even talked about the writing or style of Middlemarch and that is probably the most important part. There is a slight detachment within the style, this is probably because the novel is a form of social criticism; a study of provincial life. Having said that, I found Middlemarch very funny; the satirical irony and wit played a big part for me, but you could also say this is a morbid book. The style of the book is psychological, erudite and extremely elegant; I often felt myself being swept away with the writing but still fascinated by the insightfulness.

It is hard to explain how much I loved this book; this a realistic depiction of Victorian life and George Eliot displays a real mastery on human nature. However, even though it sounds like it is nothing but a psychological look at society, Eliot is able to make you feel like you are a part of the story. I am sure you can read this book as just a beautiful Victorian classic but I picked up this book for the social criticism. If you do want to get more out of this book then I recommend Josie Billington’s reading guide Eliot’s Middlemarch. This is the type of book I will need to frequently return to throughout my life and see what I get out of it with a re-read.

just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

Posted August 23, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

just_a_girl by Kirsten KrauthTitle: just_a_girl (Goodreads)
Author: Kirsten Krauth
Published: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2013
Pages: 272
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

“I’m just a girl, Take a good look at me. Just your typical prototype” – Just a Girl by No Doubt.

just_a_girl tells the story of Layla, a fourteen year old girl navigating the waters of adulthood and a budding sexuality. The novel is told from the three different perspectives, Layla, her religious mother Margot, and Tadashi, a stranger on a train. Through these three different sets of eyes we begin to see the complexities of growing up beginning to form.

This novel is marketed as “Puberty Blues for the digital age, [or] Lolita with a webcam”, a description that I’m not too pleased about but I can see where it comes from. just_a_girl (also Layla’s screen name) serves as a psychological look into a teenager’s life in a world that that forces her to grow up far too quickly. It is that type of thought provoking novel that gives you far more questions than answers.

What I loved about this book is the way that Kirsten Krauth looks at the life of a teenager girl but never blames or suggests that her problems are the cause of one thing. Can we blame the internet for the struggles that Layla faces? Maybe, but it is not the sole cause. We could accuse her mother for being ignorant and too focused on religion but then what teenager wants to share that much detail with their parents? I could go on; there are so many little defining factors that make up this struggle.

just_a_girl is a novel that explores different facets of growing up, isolation, loneliness, friendship, love, relationships, religion, sex and the digital world. Layla feels like she has to navigate through life on her own and the reader gets to watch this progress from three different points of view. The three narratives all bring balance and complement each other; With Layla we have a sense of confusion and urgency, Margot provides some ignorance and concern towards her daughter in a stream of consciousness, while Tadashi has a gentle, quiet observation of what he sees happening.

The raw emotion that Kirsten Krauth invests into her debut novel is the real reason just_a_girl works. There is something real and honest with everything that is going on within the pages. This is both scary and uncomfortable but it raises so many important questions. I won’t list some of the questions I asked, it is something that each reader needs to discover for themselves.

Layla struggles to navigate her life, trying to make a connection is such great topic to explore and Krauth did it so well. I was very impressed with this novel, even if I would never associate it with Lolita; I think the two novels are vastly different and comparing to a masterpiece just isn’t fair to a debut author. I could stick all the standard ‘dark’, ‘gritty’ or ‘transgressive’ labels to just_a_girl but I would rather say that is thought provoking and asks some very important questions. It is nice to see a contemporary Australian debut take a risk and pull it off, I highly recommend just_a_girl.

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Posted July 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Gothic / 0 Comments

The Monk by Matthew LewisTitle: The Monk (Goodreads)
Author: Matthew Lewis
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1795
Pages: 456
Genres: Classic, Gothic
My Copy: Paperback

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

When The Monk was first published in 1796 it was surrounded by heated hatred and scandal. One critic claimed that The Monk was full of “Lust, murder, incest, and every atrocity that can disgrace human nature”; a line that now seems to commonly appear in the synopsis. While this novel is a transgressive gothic novel and possibly one of the first books to feature a priest in such a villainous way there is so much more going on within the pages. To begin, we must look at the context, and it is not surprising that this novel had so much anger towards it when it was released. The reader has to understand that this novel was released in a period of time where everything was changing. The church still played a huge role in English society but across the channel the French Revolution was raging on, so in the middle of a changing society came a novel that tried to explore the political and religious authoritarianism of the church.

The Monk is set in a sinister monastery in Madrid, were Ambrosio struggled between maintaining his monastic vows and falling to temptation. We follow this monk as desire turns to obsession, to rape and then murder in order to conceal the guilt. Ambrosio is a celebrated and devout monk of 30 years but we read his downfall due to desire and pride. This novel is a social commentary of everything wrong with the church as the author sees it. The Monk follows the story of Ambriosio’s disillusion, from a well-respected Monk, serving God to a psychologically scared man.

Matthew Lewis wrote this novel at 19 years old and I think it is important to mention that I don’t view The Monk as an indictment of God or the Church but more critique of the corrupting power that comes with the priesthood. When I read this I got the impression that Lewis wanted to explore the hidden struggles that come with the vows of a monk as well as the effects of power. When we think about all the evil the church has done, it is not God or religion that is to blame but rather the people. Guilt and power can corrupt and essentially we are looking at a man going to great lengths to disguise his transgressions.

This is not an easy read and I found myself struggling at times to get through this book but there is so much going on I found it hard to believe that when this was first published it was dubbed this gothic classic to be crude and lacking of depth. In the heavily censored edition of this novel published in 1798 saw all words like lust and desire removed from the text. Even words like enjoyment were removed and any mention of sex; I can’t imagine how the essence of The Monk would have remained with this heavily edited edition. While there was plenty of hatred toward the novel, the critics seemed to have mixed feelings towards it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge both praised and judged harshly in his article found in The Critical Review, saying “[the] underplot… is skilfully and closely connected with the main story, and is subservient to its development” and “The Monk is a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale.”

However The Monk looks at more than just the monastery, it even looks at what seems like an anti-feminist movement going on within the Church. The convent seems like a harsh place to live, the women brutally treated and never allowed to succeed. Woman are seen as the downfall of the monks and other woman but there is so much lust, desire and sexual misconduct that happens inside the walls of convents and monasteries. Matilda posed as a man in order to get close to Ambrosio, at first it wasn’t to seduce but to bask in his brilliance. She is portrayed as a she-devil but is it really her fault that Ambrosio gave into his earthly desires. As one critic stated “It is Ambrosio’s sexual ignorance and hence ‘innocence’ that makes him vulnerable to Matilda’s seduction” (Blakemore, 1998). This made me ponder and question the whole approach to life in a monastery, especially in an era where priests are more likely to be sexually ignorant.

I’ve mentioned a few times that The Monk was met with hatred and I think this is still true today; people tend to see the book as anti-religious, anti-Catholic and immoral but this is a problem with taking text to literally. The Monk is a satire and socially critiques the church in what feels like a comedic kind of approach. It happens that this is also a transgressive gothic novel so we have a very brutal and dark approach to the themes Matthew Lewis wants to explore. Near the start of the book I read the line “She was wise enough to hold her tongue. As this is the only instance known of a Woman’s ever having done so, it was judged worthy to be recorded here” and thought it was a little harsh; I soon began to see a real tongue in cheek approach emerging from this dark novel.

I started off thinking this was a gothic novel and it was going to be dark and serious but I soon found myself adjusting my approach. Once I got past my initial misconceptions I started to settle into this book and ended up really enjoying The Monk. It took a while to get into a groove and found the first part of the book to be particularly difficult to get through. Then the plot started to settle in and I was able to explore the themes and enjoy the journey I was taken on. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this gothic classic, it is weird but wonderful. I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I did.

Skinjob by Bruce McCabe

Posted July 22, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Skinjob by Bruce McCabeTitle: Skinjob (Goodreads)
Author: Bruce McCabe
Published: Bantam Press, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

Bruce McCabe joins a growing list of authors finding success from self-publishing his novel. I know I take a very cynical view on self-published books; I tend to treat a publishing house as the filter to sift through the slush piles and pulling out the best it has to offer. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything good coming from the self-publishing world but in my experience the pimping of books and desperation makes it hard to find the ones I’d like to read. My policy is to ignore the world of self-publishing, this probably isn’t the best way to go about it but it works for me.

Every now and then a self-published novel gets picked up by a publishing house; I’m thinking Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and dare I say it, E.L. James. Bruce McCabe is the next self-published author to enjoy similar success, his debut novel Skinjob has been published by a Random House imprint Bantam Press. In the not-so-distant future sexdolls (or if you prefer, sexbots) will become a reality, allowing and even encouraging people to act out their dark and disturbing sexual fantasies; this is the world of Skinjob.

I want to diverse from the story line of Skinjob for a moment to look at the theme McCabe is trying to explore. The sex industry is often depicted as a dark and shady place and the invention of sexdolls is obviously going to be a difficult concept; the politics and ethical challenges are explored within the novel. What I find problematic about the use of sexdolls is this idea that using a doll to live out a dark, disturbing or violent fantasy isn’t going to be healthy. I would be concerned with the psychological damage they could cause of themselves and others around them, to assume the use of a sexdoll isn’t hurting others would be a naïve approach to the issue. There is also a very ethical issue to consider; making sexdolls in all shapes and sizes seems indicates the very real possibility of childlike sex dolls.

I enjoy how Bruce McCabe takes a crack at the thriller genre, using the tropes you expect from a novel like this to explore these ideas. While looking at the growing sex industry I was most impressed with how McCabe allowed the thriller genre to work with him in this exploration. I was interested in the approach he took by allowing militant religious and feminist groups blow up dollhouses (an obvious nod to Joss Whedon) full of sexdolls. This approach meant we have a violent act where real people are not the target. This allows the reader to explore all sides of the issue without forcing them to show unwanted sympathy. The reader can then look at issue of sexual politics within the book and society. The only thing that will get in the way of exploring the issue will come down to the readers and their preconceived notions.

Skinjob is a very issue heavy novel, if you want a straight thriller then this book is not for you. In fact I was less interested in the plot and characters than I was the issues being explored. All the characters felt very two dimensional and unmemorable, even the plot could have used a lot more work but I think this works in the books favour. In the end I was left not really remembering much of the plot and people with the novel but I was still thinking about the themes.

Sexual politics is a complicated and difficult subject; Bruce McCabe’s Skinjob did a great job exploring the topic. While it doesn’t cover everything, it will leave the reader pondering the issues; I’m very glad I picked up this book and hope it has as much of an impact on other readers as it did for me. This is a debut novel and I can’t help but feel excited at what McCabe does next; I hope he continues to explore hard-hitting themes in unique and interesting ways.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Posted October 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 7 Comments

The Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathTitle: The Bell Jar (Goodreads)
Author: Sylvia Plath
Published: Harper Collins, 1963
Pages: 213
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Esther Greenwood is a young woman from Boston who gains an internship at a prominent women’s magazine in New York City. We follow her personal life and her decline into depression, attempting suicide to being committed into an asylum. We see the bad treatment as well as the good, all the way up to her attempt to re-enter the world.

This is the seminal semi-autobiographical novel of Sylvia Plath and I’m so glad that I’ve finally read The Bell Jar. I want to say she is the female version of Charles Bukowski (even though I’ve only read Factotum); there are differences but I feel like the voice and style feel very similar. Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas to protect identities of characters she took liberties with, but more  the fact it parallels Plath’s own experiences.

A bell jar is an inverted glass jar that is normally air tight used to display objects for observation, normally for scientific curiosity. For Esther the bell jar is a symbol of madness, when gripped with depression she feels like she is stuck in a jar with no real perspective to the outside world. It prevents her from  making any real connections with people and sometimes she feels like she is on display (especially when she was hospitalised and received all those visitors).

What was interesting for me is that to me it never really felt like Esther Greenwood suffered from depression to begin with. I’m not saying she wasn’t really suffering but for me I think the idea was forced on her by everyone else, just because her thoughts were a little macabre and she was a little different. Almost like she was forced into her descent, because she was a little different to the norm.

Esther has an obsession with death; we get that from the very start with her fascination of newspaper headlines about executions, suicide and death. There is also the blood motif  throughout the book; blood normally represents life but the constant bleeding would point towards death. When she starts to think about killing herself she talks about it at great lengths and even practices slashing her own wrists.

I think this is a novel about the regression into madness, the life experiences that normally have a positive on a person’s live, but for Esther these were partly responsible of her descent. Romance, success in education, finding work and marriage proposals tend to upset or disorient her and in the end instead of finding reasons to live she finds how different she is to others and this cements her choice to die.

Then the book looks into the world of treating mental illness, the good and the bad. This is where the book moves into the territory similar to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in particular a look at 1950 psychiatric treatments. In this part there seems to be three treatment types used within the book; talking, injections of insulin and then the dreaded electroshock therapy. The treatment is meant to clear the mind entirely and after her first electroshock treatment Esther was unable to think about knives. The treatment was doing more damage than good, especially to her intellect.

I went into this book thinking there might have been some psychological elements but  that this was mainly a novel about feminism. It is to some extent but what I got was so much more; I was really impressed with this novel and really enjoyed the journey it took me. I feel like kicking myself for not reading this sooner. A novel about a protagonist slipping into depression is normally right up my alley but I’m a little perplexed about the ending. Overall this is a masterpiece and well worth reading.

The Never List by Koethi Zan

Posted October 20, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

The Never List by Koethi ZanTitle: The Never List (Goodreads)
Author: Koethi Zan
Published: Vintage, 2013
Pages: 303
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

Sarah and Jennifer kept a “Never List”; this is a list of things to avoid, to keep safe. Rule number one “Never get into a strangers car” but this is what happened and they were abducted. Ten years later Sarah still struggles to get over the torturous event that took plays in that dungeon-like cellar. Now that her abductor is up for parole Sarah decides this is her last chance to find Jennifer’s body and keep this sadist in prison.

I want to compare Koethi Zan’s debut The Never List to thriller authors like S.J. Watson but maybe Gillian Flynn is a better choice. Much like Flynn’s Gone Girl, The Never List does something different to the thriller genre that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Rest assured the standard psychological thriller tropes are there but this novel focuses more on the psychological rather than the thriller elements.

The Never List focuses on the aftermath of the abduction and sadistic torture and focuses on Sarah as she tries to recover from these traumatic events. Though this wasn’t done to a full extent and I end up feeling like this was a missed opportunity to really explore the psychology and the road to recovery (if you can truly come back from that), rather it went to the thriller clichés instead.

I really enjoyed the focus on the aftermaths but Koethi Zan had other ideas for this novel. I did end up enjoying the thrilling journey it ended up taking but I felt like the twists were too visible and never unexpected. I choice to see the lack of character development as an attempt for Sarah and the others to protect themselves from being hurt again, this seemed to work well for the enjoyment of this novel.

I don’t want to give too much away, just in case people want to read this novel and it is well worth checking out. I did enjoy the book, I had questions and upon reflection when I tried to get these answers I noticed most of the major problems. For me the novel had the opportunity to do something different but took the safe path and followed a cliché thriller path. The ending felt anti climatic as a result of the safety in plotting.

Thriller fans will enjoy this book; I just think there was a missed opportunity to do something far more complex and interesting. As a debut novel, I can understand why Koethi Zan didn’t risk it but I would have liked the book a whole lot more. As I said before I would compare it to S.J. Watson and Gillian Flynn, so if you like their books you may enjoy this one. I’m interested to see what Zan does in the future; she has a promising career ahead of her.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Posted October 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Gothic / 0 Comments

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann RadcliffeTitle: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Goodreads)
Author: Ann Radcliffe
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1794
Pages: 693
Genres: Classic, Gothic
My Copy: Library Book

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

Emily St. Aubuert was imprisoned by her evil guardian, Signor Montoni. We follow her misadventures from his dark fortress in the Apennines as she suffers physical and psychological terror. The Mysteries of Udolpho is told in a dream-like hallucination that gives the reader a sense of Emily’s psychological state.

Writing a synopsis for this novel was one of the hardest things about this review. There are so many fragments in this book which makes it difficult to summarise what this book is about. Written in four volumes, Ann Radcliffe’s gothic romance manuscript has reported to have been brought for £500 in 1794, I’m not sure if that takes into account the inflation, if not that seems huge I can’t imagine an author receiving that much for a book nowadays.

This classic novel is a quintessential gothic romance but there are fragments of so many other genres with the supernatural, psychological mysteries that fill the pages. I really wanted to enjoy this book but I found it incredible wordy and at the time I was not in the right frame of mind for it, but I will do my best to be fair. The major downfall for me was the extensive descriptions of the landscapes; in particular Pyrenees and Apennines which while stunning just caused the book to drag on.

Emily is orphaned after the death of her father and taken in by her aunty Madame Cheron who married an Italian brigand Count Montoni. As romance between Emily and Valancourt, Montoni became increasingly frustrated and Cheron disapproved, believing him too poor, until she realised his aunt is Madame Clairval. When Count Montoni and Madame Cheron married he refused to allow Emily to married as he figured he could sell her. The major theme I got from this novel was the idea of indifference and the cruelty that can go along with it. Count Montoni is the definition of the gothic villain archetype; evil, sinister, greedy, and motivated by money. Even his marriage to Madame Cheron is for mercenary reasons and tried to force her to sing over her estates.

The novel is not all dark and gothic, I did mention that this was a gothic romance.  Emily’s devotion to Valancourt is unshakeable and his heart seems to belong to her as well. He does make some mistakes and his behaviour eventually causes Emily to renounce him but even after that her thoughts were always towards him. The devotion or loyalty is always fighting against the gothic themes of this novel as you expect from a novel like this. Even the romance between Annette and Ludovico’s is not always happy, especially when he locks her up for her safety. Gothic romance is an unusual genre and you always get a sense that the entire book is fighting to counteract the romance, but then this is the type of book I enjoy.

This is a hard novel to review, there are so many plot lines and if I go off and talk about each of them this post will just go on and on. I know trying to condense the review down to a blog post doesn’t really do the book justice but I tried to focus on the main plot line. While the book felt wordy and dragged on,  this was an interesting book, one I feel needs to be revisited sometime in the future. It would be interesting what I can pull out of the book once I have improved my critical reading skills. Have you read this classic? If so I would love to know your thoughts on it.