Monday, 25 October 2010

Bye Bye Birdsong... and Bella bashing...

I write at the peril of my university tutor reading this... but I decided to put Birdsong down on Saturday and have not picked it up again. Even the juicy sex scene (around page 50) couldn't keep me interested. There was something really archaic about the writing - I know it's just a taste thing, and I was meant to be reading it to analyse the narrative structure, but I just can't force myself to read something. Faulks just isn't my bag.

I was going to write a review of Lament by Maggie Stiefvater for you tonight, but as I started dwelling on what I would say (whilst listening to the Spring Awakening soundtrack on repeat) I ended up arguing with myself (in my head!) over the poor portrayal of young women in the teen-supernatural-romance genre.

The main character in Lament is called Deirdre (I am assured that it's pronounced Deir-DRA, but I'm afraid that the pronunciation is stuck as Deir-DREE in my head, something I blame firmly on Coronation Street). So instantly we have a sucky name (not so sucky for non-Coronation-Street-viewers who have no waddle-infused connotations) and from the first chapter onwards, a profoundly sucky main character.

Deirdre is an introvert. This is made very clear to us. We also know that she is very good at playing the harp, but that she vomits before every performance. She meets the hero of the piece, Edward-Cullen-alike Luke Dillon (anyone else want to bet that Ms Stiefvater is a retro Beverly Hills 90210 fan?) whilst crouched over a loo chundering away her dignity. He holds her hair back. She nearly faints (after all her copious chundering) and falls into his arms. Apparently this is all it takes to make him decide - MASSIVE FRICKING SPOILER ALERT!!!! - that he doesn't want to kill her after all and that he should instead take her out for ice cream.

I'm sorry, but if I ever find myself falling over in a girls toilet into the arms of Luke Perry (sic) with chunks all over my chin, then give me the blade and I'll do the job for you faerie boy!

We all know why we fall in love with Edward Cullen and his many other incarnations in current teen literature. Ed Cullen is perfect. He reads us Shakespeare, he plays us the piano (if we're lucky, he'll write us a lullaby) and he is entirely devoted to every teeny weeny inch of us - and here comes the crux - for apparently NO REASON. So whilst falling in love with Edward is entirely plausible for Bella, why the frick is he in love with her?


Bella is moody.
Bella really seems to dislike her friends (is she ever nice to anyone who isn't supernaturally tainted?)
Bella never expresses wit of any kind.
Bella needs constant looking after (trauma and death await her at every icy turn).
plus, do we really need reminding... Bella smells.

Edward falls in love with her for no reason at all.
Luke falls for Deirdre apparently instantaneously, whilst her head hovers over a toilet bowl.

Where are the great inspirational heroines?
Where are the narrators that real young women can aspire to?
Where are the women with passion and fire and the ability to stand on their own two feet, for these incredibly perfect (albeit un-dead) men to really fall in love with?

Maybe this is the crux of the appeal of these novels - the young women reading them can fool themselves into believing that love will just happen without them having to try. That they can remain passive, submissive and dull, yet still get the man of their dreams anyway.

I don't know about you, but I don't want a guy getting obsessed with me because I smell bad. I want a guy to fall in love with me because of the things that make me uniquely me. I want Edward to first notice Bella, not because of her pungent odour, but because she stands up in debate class and wins her argument, or because she forces the cafeteria to include healthy option meals. I want Luke Dillon to fall in love with Deirdre after she astonishes the crowd with her incredible harp playing skills, not before.

So, rant aside....

Lament comes out in January in the UK. I understand that it's been out since 2008 in the states. And it is a great read, I assure you. Nothing too taxing on the noggin, but if you need some light relief or something to do on a rainy weekend, I can't suggest anything finer than this novel. It's great fun, it promises great things from potential sequels, and if you have read (and, like me, adored) Shiver and Linger, then you really won't be disappointed.

To end, I would love some examples of great heroines in current teen literature in the comment box please. There is no point about me bringing down the genre without other people to bring it back up again!



Friday, 22 October 2010

Has reading so many teen novels turned my brain to mush?

Answer: probably. 

In a good week I can read about three novels. I think this is pretty awesome. I don't think that this is because I'm a particularly fast reader, but more down to the fact that most of the novels I read are either:
a) quite short
b) really really fun to read.

When you are really enjoying what you are reading you will plough through it. And I tend to pick books that I know I will enjoy. 

However, having read so many teen/children's books lately (and I read a lot, mostly down to my job as a children's bookseller and the copious amounts of freebies I get sent), I'm starting to wonder if I have dumbed down my brain and made it impervious to what is commonly known as 'high-brow literature'.

The facts are these:
1. I read Tess of the D'Urbervilles when I was nine and a half. 
2. I have an English Literature degree from Durham University.
3. I work in a bookshop.

From these facts, you might probably think I'm OK when it comes to reading big fat chunks of brick-like novels. There was a time when you may have been right (I vaguely remember reading Jane Eyre in a day at university because I had forgotten that I had to read it and know it intimately for a seminar the following day). 

But it appears that my powers of being able to read proper 'grown-up' novels has left me. I have a seminar on Tuesday where we will be looking at how time can be played with in narrative structure, so I am reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I have absolutely no problem in accepting that it is a great work of literature (all the quotes on the outside and inside jacket covers tell me so). I started reading it last Tuesday, thinking: 'I'll do 100 pages a day, should be finished it by the weekend'. This hasn't happened. I am only on page 63 as of 20:36 on Friday night. I am working all weekend, so probably won't get too much reading done then either. This is a 500 page novel. If I've only managed 63 pages in four days, this means that it will take me... well... I can't do the maths but you know what I mean. Essentially my chances of finishing it before the seminar are pretty much nil. 

What I'm finding particularly strange about this Birdsong mess, is that this is a title regularly on English GCSE further reading lists for First World War literature modules. If I've managed to revert my brain back to a teen-like reading mode, then surely I should still be able to get through this book, as it's recommended to most 16 year olds following the national curriculum. 

What the frick has happened to my brain?
Will I manage to complete Birdsong before my seminar on Tuesday?
Will I inadvertently sleep through my day off on Monday and therefore lose any chance I have of finishing the novel on time?

All the answers and more in my next update...