The Monk by Matthew Lewis

July 30, 2014 Classic, Gothic, Literature, Matthew Lewis 0

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

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (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.

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I’ve Read the Most Books From

July 29, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 5

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From. I don’t catalogue all the books I own very well so here are the authors I’ve read the most books from.

  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • James Ellroy
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley
  • Jeff Lindsay
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Stephen King
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Lawrence Block
  • Philip K. Dick
  • James M. Cain

Wow, that’s surprising and revealing

Divider

Rant about my TBR

July 26, 2014 Literature 24

TBRI’ve been thinking a lot about my TBR piles lately. I have this weird love-hate relationship and at the moment I’m feeling very stressed over it. You know that feeling you get when you see the piles of books you have on your shelves to read and you get that feeling that you have books coming in faster than being read? How do you deal with that?

I recently watched a vlog about killing their TBR and taking a minimalist approach to their bookshelf. I love that idea but I can’t help but feel like that would never work (for me anyway). I buy or receive books and I have every intention of reading them but then more books come in and those are new, exciting and shiny and they distract you from the books you already have.

I’m not the kind of person that can just organise my reading and have a pile of books to read and not waver. When I finish one book I tend to pick up whatever I’m in the mood for at the time. I love this reading on a whim approach to reading and it takes me through some interesting journeys but it isn’t very efficient. What about all those ARCs that I should be reading or those new books on my bookshelf? I have to force myself to read my book club books at times and that isn’t really ideal but it needs to be done.

This is a bit like a rant at the moment but I don’t know the answer, what should I do with my TBR? I’ve thought about culling my bookshelf and even getting rid of books I’ve not read just so I can have room for new books but that sounds scary. I know I can buy the book again if I decide I need to read it but giving up books is hard, too hard in fact. I probably can look at my shelves and wonder about some of the books. I know I’ve brought books in the past, excited to read them but then I lose interest and they just sit there waiting. I know it is the hype that is problem but I tend to think that my reading tastes have evolved so much that I’ve outgrown those books as well.

I need to take a year off work and dedicate my entire time to reading the books on my bookshelf; I think that is the only way I’m going to get a handle on my TBR. I’ve tried giving up buying books for a year but that didn’t work, it just forced me to use the library more, and I still use it frequently. I know, as far as problems go, this is a pretty decent problem to have but I just felt like ranting and wanted to know if people had advice for dealing with a TBR that won’t stop growing.

Divider

Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer Rich

July 24, 2014 Jennifer Rich, Non-Fiction 0

Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer RichTitle: Critical Theory: An Introduction (Goodreads)
Author: Jennifer Rich
Published: Humanities-Ebooks, 2010
Pages: 97
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

For me Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer Rich was everything I wanted Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler to be. It had a logical format and it went through a few different literary movements and talked about the key people and theories involved with each school of thoughts. But then it got me wondering; what is the different between Critical Theory and Literary Theory? There seems to be no real difference and I’m not entirely sure why they would use two different names to talk about the exact same thing. I might be ignorant and not fully understanding the differences but if there is a difference please let me know in the comments below.

The book starts off with Russian Formalism, a topic I spent a bit of time exploring before continuing the rest of the book. The idea of formalism is something that I feel may be a good foundation for any literary student. To be able to understand genres, tropes, metering, grammar and syntax can provide you with some questions to ask every piece of literature. Asking why a piece of text is written in one perspective and not another and what the focalisation is focusing on can help develop some useful skills. Some people are saying that formalism is making a comeback and I tend to agree, I recently completed a university subject that went though the basics of this school of thought (even if there was no mention of formalism). If you understand these basic concepts, I think you develop a decent tool base for critical reading and future studies of literary theories.

Critical Theory: An Introduction also looked at Structuralism, Semiotics, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction, Psychoanalytic and Postcolonial Theory. I have a feeling my interest will psychoanalysis and Marxism and this book seemed to verify this very thought, even if it only went into Marxism in passing. The major problem I found is that Psychoanalytic Theory is going to be a huge undertaking, more so than most of the others. I feel that I will need to develop, not only an understanding in psychology, but also a bit of a focus into semiotics as well. I am not too bothered by this thought; this is more of a blinding realisation of how much work is ahead of me.

While Critical Theory: An Introduction may have taken a more textbook type approach to literary theory than Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, I think the format is better suited if I ever need to refer back to the book. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction was a little all over the place and it works well for reading the book from cover to cover but if I need to look up what the book says on a topic it won’t be easy. I prefer to have chapters dedicated to one literary theory; makes things easier when I refer back to this book in the future.

I’m really enjoying exploring the world of literary theory and I’m beginning to understand the different types of theories on a very fundamental level. The only downside to this is the realisation that there is so much more to learn. I have to remind myself that I’m not going to be able to become an expert in all these fields and I need to focus. I’ve chosen my preferred fields but I will continue to learn the basics of all literary theories and see if something else pops out. I’m still shopping around, while psychoanalysis and Marxism seem like the right fit for me, I’m open to the possibility of finding something better (and maybe easier). Also, learning the basics in literary theory will have the added bonus of been able to see a book from different schools of thought. If you are looking for a good, quick introduction to literary theories, Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer Rich is a good pick, it is short and only covers a few theories but will give you a decent understanding of them.

Divider

Skinjob by Bruce McCabe

July 22, 2014 Bruce McCabe, Thriller 2

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

BuyAmazon, Book 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.

Divider

Divider

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

July 19, 2014 Non-Fiction, Tara Moss 2

The Fictional Woman by Tara MossTitle: The Fictional Woman (Goodreads)
Author: Tara Moss
Published: Harper Collins, 2014
Pages: 352
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Tara Moss is probably best known as a person you hate; she seems to succeed in everything she puts her mind to. Starting her career early at 14 as a model, she always dreamed about being a writer. People don’t encourage others to be writers but they do tell girls that they should be a model. Eventually she did and it took her around the world and taught her so much; the experiences may not have been all good but it helped shape her life. Eventually she did start writing and her Makedde Vanderwall become a huge success and she created this character as a way to explore her interests in forensic science, psychology and other topics. Now with nine fiction novels under her belt Moss is giving us her first non-fiction book, The Fictional Woman.

The title comes from the idea that people tend to dismiss and stereotype others. Tara Moss is no stranger to this; she even took a polygraph test to prove she wrote her books. While this book starts off as a memoir it is important to know that this is a social critique on the world and feminism. The book begins as a memoir to provide context, an understanding of Tara Moss’ struggles and her life helps to see where The Fictional Woman is coming from. Historical context is also an important part of understanding feminism as well, especially when it comes to gender equality and pop culture. There have been plenty of Spiderman (too many), Zorro and James Bond movies but there has never been a Wonder Woman movie. In literature, the female archetype stems from fairy tales and medieval fiction, heroines tend to face off another woman, often older and depicted as witches. Cinderella type stories require a man in order to live happily ever after and even chick-lit often portrays a gender inequality.

The Fictional Woman explores this imbalance in pop-culture and society and looks at where these archetypes come from. It is impressive to see the amount of research and information Tara Moss puts into this book; it really was eye opening. I highly recommend people read this book but I need to warn everyone it may contain triggers. I’m surprised to see that the imbalance is so prominent in today’s society and I am trying to make more of an effort to read a balance of authors. The problem I found is I tend to pick up books without taking notice on of the author, sure it sometimes easy to know their gender but I don’t research authors before starting a book. I try to make more of an effort and it is an area I need to work on.

I’m really impressed with Tara Moss, she seems to succeed in everything she does; sure I’m a little jealous that she is so talented but I still feel motivated. For those interested, I recently wrote a piece about an author event with Tara Moss on Boomerang Books if you are interested, I talk in a lot more detail about The Fictional Woman. I have never spent so much time thinking about feminism, I plan to do a lot more of it, even read some more books on the topic. I might even incorporate it into my critical reviews; it is an important topic that needs to be addressed.

Divider

Ten bookshops to visit while in America

July 17, 2014 Literature 15

I’m going away on holidays to America and my main concern was making sure that I research which bookshops to visit while over there. I am away for a few weeks and while I don’t really plan to weigh down my bags with too many books, I still like looking at books. I have been looking around for which stores to visit and I thought I might list them here and possibly open it up to some suggestions. I’m going to be visiting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Toronto and Las Vegas, so please recommend some stores and I will try to visit them.

1

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

This is a scary thought, I would hate to think that there is only one bookstore left on earth and it was all the way in LA. The Paris Review once wrote that this store was “an almost 20,000-square-foot cathedral of books”.

2

Skylight Books, Los Angeles

This is often voted as one of the greatest bookshops in America (along with Powell’s but I’m not going to Portland). It could almost be considered a literary landmark, but when I think of LA I think Raymond Chandler and that landmark would be Musso and Frank Grill (which I plan to visit as well).

3

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

This was one of my biggest highlights when I was in San Francisco last time, and I plan to go back. Last I was there a picked up a portable collection of Romantic poetry which I adore; still think Keats is my favourite. This is not only an iconic bookshop, it is a literary landmark.

4

Green Apple Books, San Francisco

This is a well-known bookshop that has been around for a very long time. I missed it last time I was in San Francisco; I don’t want to miss it again.

5

WORD, Brooklyn

Located in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, this is one store where their reputation precedes them. This may simply be because the Bookrageous podcast links every book to this store but I’m still very interested in checking it out.

6

McNally Jackson, Manhattan

I have heard good things about this store; mainly that it has ‘everything’. I plan to challenge this view and see if it has books on my wishlist that are normally very hard to find. If I wrote a book, I could even get it printed here.

7

Strand Books, New York

This one was recommended to me by a friend on Twitter. Eighteen miles of books, this is something I have to see. The store opened in 1927 so there is a bit of history there as well.

8

Library Hotel, New York

Not a book store but since I’m in New York, I’m going to stay in bookish class and felt the need to rub it in. Library Hotel not only offers you a great place to stay but you won’t be short of books to read.

9

Commonwealth Books, Boston

This used bookshop comes with leather chairs and a fireplace, what more do you want from a store? I would like to go, grab an old classic and spend the day reading. I’m not sure if it is a good strategy for selling books but it is one way to attract booklovers.

10

Brattle Book Shop, Boston

When I was researching book shops to visit while in America I came across this one in Boston; it looks awesome. One of America’s oldest and largest used book stores, it has to go to the streets.

There you have it, ten bookshops (sort of) that I plan to visit when I’m over in America. I know I will find more along the way and I could have mentioned a few others but I need to save room for museums and eating. Feel free to mention some more in the comments and I might see if I can make it there as well.

Divider

Top Ten Tuesday: Great TV Shows

July 15, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 17

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: other types of stories; so either favourite Movies or TV Shows! I’ve decided to pick some TV shows that I think tell great stories with well developed characters.

ttt-15-7

  • The Wire
  • Suits
  • Veronica Mars
  • Mad Men
  • The Sopranos
  • Orphan Black
  • Firefly
  • Spartacus
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Rake (The Australian show)

Divider

It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

July 14, 2014 What are you Reading 12

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote

The laconic, atmospheric, and intensively researched narrative of the lives of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, and of the two men, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, who brutally killed them on the night of November 15, 1959, is the seminal work of the “new journalism.” Perry Smith is one of the great dark characters of American literature, full of contradictory emotions. “I thought he was a very nice gentleman,” he says of Herb Clutter. “Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.” Told in chapters that alternate between the Clutter household and the approach of Smith and Hickock in their black Chevrolet, then between the investigation of the case and the killers’ flight, Capote’s account is so detailed that the reader comes to feel almost as if he were a participant in the events. New York Times: “A remarkable, tensely exciting, moving, superbly written ‘true account.’” New York Review of Books: “Harrowing… the best documentary account of an American crime ever written… The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence.”

The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

This is vintage Sarah Waters: beautifully described with excruciating tension, real tenderness, believable characters, and surprises. It is above all a wonderful, compelling story.

levels of lifeLevels of Life by Julian Barnes

Part history, part fiction, part memoir,  Levels of Life  is a powerfully personal and unforgettable book, and an immediate classic on the subject of grief.

Levels of Life opens in the nineteenth century with balloonists, photographers, and Sarah Bernhardt, whose adventures lead seamlessly into an entirely personal account of the author’s own great loss. 

 “You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed…” Julian Barnes’s new book is about ballooning, photography, love and grief; about putting two things, and two people, together, and about tearing them apart. One of the judges who awarded him the 2011 Man Booker Prize described Barnes as “an unparalleled magus of the heart.” This book confirms that opinion.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

Divider