Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, about the murder of the farming Clutter family in Kansas, is thought to be the pioneer of the true crime genre and is the result of six years of work. Even before Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested for the crime, Truman Capote had gone to Kansas with fellow author Harper Lee to interview investigators and local residents in the area about it. The book delves deep into the relationship between the two parolees who commit this murder and the effect the crime had on the local community.
I am not a big fan of non-fiction unless it is travel writing or memoir but this novel challenges my view of non-fiction being less interesting to read than fiction. The author has a mesmerising ability to weave factual content into suspenseful narrative prose without creating bias. I think the fact psychoanalysis was applied to the crime raised my interest bar. Nowadays true crime takes the mystery story approach with a revealing denouement but the objective style used in In Cold Blood separates it from current sensationalist fare. It talks to the rationality of the reader instead of imposing shock value. The motive for the crime is revealed when Perry Smith confesses to the police. It is also interesting to note the temporal shift from past to present tense indicating the chase is over.
The final part of the book, as the trial progresses, raises questions about the moral quandaries of the imposed sentence without providing any reasoned inferences. It was interesting to see the debate between rehabilitation as opposed to retribution using the nature vs nurture argument. While Capote does not allow a reader to condone the behaviour of the murderers, he goes a long way to showcase their characters in a sympathetic light.
On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a young adult novel about Taylor Markham, who is elected as the leader of the boarders at Jellicoe School. Although not a popular choice, the fact she lived at the school for most of her life gives her an edge over the competition. While the departing leaders were concerned with protecting their established boundaries in the annual territory wars from the Cadets and Townies, Taylor is preoccupied with a hermit who whispered in her ear, a prayer tree which means a lot to her sincere friend Raffaela and the Brigadier who brought her back when as a junior she ran away with Jonah Griggs, new leader of the Cadets. For Taylor, the answers to the mystery of her past lies in the disappearance of Helen, the person who found her. The only clue is an unfinished manuscript about five people who had their lives collide on the Jellicoe road twenty years ago.
Soon as I turn the initial pages, I am introduced to something called territory wars between the Boarders, Townies and Cadets. This becomes confusing. Student wars in boarding school over land use? I am an adult and I am confused. Luckily I kept on persevering and was rewarded for my tenacity. The disjointed threads of narrative become interconnected to resolve why Taylor’s mother abandoned her on the Jellicoe road when she was 11 years old, the point of the territory wars, the significance of the hermit, the relevance of the prayer tree, the story of the Brigadier and Taylor’s history with Jonah Griggs in evocative prose. To be honest, I can’t say more about what happens without giving major plot details away but suffice it to say Taylor finds answers. To get through the first part, I recommend a dose of patience but I can promise it gets better rather than worse.
So the author on her blog has revealed On the Jellicoe Road is going to be adapted into a film. Not too surprising for a novel that won the Michael L Printz award. It is being directed by Kate Woods, who did the same Melina Marchetta’s novel Looking for Alibrandi.
I recently finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. The diary was a birthday present given to Anne. She decides to make the diary her trusted confidant to whom she spills her innermost thoughts and addresses it as ‘Dear Kitty’. Her diary is full of lively, imaginative prose and brings the personalities of the residents of the Secret Annexe to life. It is miracle her diary survived confiscation by the Gestapo.
When the Nazis occupied Holland in 1942, Anne was a 13-year-old girl of Jewish descent who was persecuted into fleeing her home and going into hiding along with her family and another family. For two years until their location was betrayed, her family resided in the secret annexe compartment of Anne’s father’s office building. In her diary, Anne writes about this experience and her daily conflicts with the imposed living conditions in tight quarters, the fear of discovery and the penalty of death. Despite this, she also talks about typical problems faced by teenagers – waging battles of will with her parents, having romances with boys and the struggle of keeping up with her clever, intelligent older sister Margot. In the grand scheme of life, it is sad to learn this budding writer’s demise was a result of the Holocaust. While her mention of her family is sparse in the early entries, this changes after her confinement. Through her diary, Anne Frank portrays a compelling, evocative and poignant story on bravery and resourcefulness in the face of danger.
Unfortunately the only family member to survive the Nazi occupation was Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Luckily he was able to rescue her diary and bring it worldwide attention. Anne says in her diary “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”. In a sad roundabout way, her wish was fulfilled. I think the simple and plain language will make this an easy text for the majority of readers as long as they are able to keep in mind this was a personal diary and not a work of imagination.
I just finished reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent for my book club at work. It is a historical novel set in 1830s Iceland based on the factual story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman who was publicly executed there. She was accused of murdering two men, including Natan Ketilsson for whom she worked as a servant. Björn Blöndal, the district commissioner, clearly the villain, is unsympathetic toward Agnes Magnúsdóttir, because she is clever, intelligent and literate but he does indulge in her request for a new spiritual advisor of her choosing. This is in spite of the chosen reverend’s lack of experience in providing spiritual nourishment for criminals. With a year left to live, Agnes is sent to reside at the farm of Margrét and Jón and their two daughters in Kornsa. From then on, details of her life prior to the murder of Natan is narrated through discussions with her priest. The people who mistrust her when they are forced to take her in find it difficult to let her go when they finally hear her side of the story.
The Icelandic naming system can be confusing on introduction and while tempting to give up, it is not as bad as the Russian names in Anna Karenina. If you understand Agnes Magnúsdóttir stands for Agnes, Magnus’s daughter and Natan Ketilsson stands for Natan, Ketil’s son and decipher in that manner, you will manage okay. Although the first two chapters were slow going, the pace suddenly picked up and I finished the book in about three days by reading during my commute to work. For myself, it started to become interesting when Agnes first met Margrét. The evocative prose is simple enough without being verbose for all readers to engage with it but I felt something in it was a bit too contrived. This may be due to the author trying to conform her novel with plausibility as lots of attention is given to snippets of actual historical details. The book is very typical of the type of novel to win a literary award and so it has - it won the Writing Australia prize for best unpublished manuscript which led to obtaining an agent and mentorship of Geraldine Brooks. So as a reader, I only recommend this if you like historical novels in the vein of literary fiction.
For those not interested in reading, Picador Press stated in their blog, Jennifer Lawrence signed up to star in a film adaptation of Hannah Kent’s novel. This is her first novel completed towards her PhD and a phenomenal achievement as she is only 28 years old. In the Sydney Review of Books, Ben Etherington claims Nielsen Company’s BookScan has revealed Burial Rites sold over 50,000 copies in Australia since May 2013, at a RRP of $32.99.
Does anybody remember this show? Small Wonder had a ridiculous plot. A robotics engineer named Ted Lawson creates a humanoid robot with child-like features, names her VICI (pronounced as Vicki) and pretends it is his adopted daughter. Most of the show revolves around the robot daughter adapting to human life and his family’s attempts to keep her identity a secret from his nosy, pesky neighbours, the Brindles. To add insult to injury, Mr Brindle ends up being his incompetent boss who takes credit for all of Ted’s ideas. Meanwhile Ted’s son, Jamie, is constantly pestered by Harriet Brindle who has a huge crush on him. However keeping Vicki’s true nature a secret turns out to be difficult as her literal interpretation of human speech has interesting ramifications.
I used to watch this in Sri Lanka. Nostalgia led me to research the name of this show as anyone I mentioned it to in Australia was unaware of it. Turns out this sitcom never aired in Australia. Meanwhile guess what I stumbled on? episodes on Youtube.
Here are my favourite episodes from each season:
In this episode from Season 1 of Small Wonder, Ted Lawson programs Vicky to read content and memorise data. Meanwhile Jamie is more interested in soccer than finishing his history report for school. Jamie, who is not a brilliant student, cunningly employs Vicky’s new ability to complete his homework. It has interesting consequences when Jamie gets placed on the honour roll at school and his teachers begin to look at him in a new light.
In this episode from season 2 of Small Wonder, Joan Lawson enters Vicky into the local shopping mall’s beauty pageant. Ted Lawson is initially against the idea but when he learns Brandon Brindle’s daughter, Harriet, is entering the contest, he has a change of heart. Both girls become finalists in the pageant but Vicky’s demonstration of her talent makes it obvious that she is competition. However the final ruling reveals an unexpected surprise.
In this episode from season 3 of Small Wonder, Joan is substitute teaching for Jamie’s class and requires everyone to submit a book report for a reading challenge and tells them they can deliver it any format. She promises to reward the class if everyone submits the report. Jamie is distracted and spends time filming videos of Vicky instead of reading. So when the due date for the report arrives, his attempt to pretend he completed it gets thwarted. Ted describes the detective story he is reading to Jamie to inspire him. This gets Jamie’s creative juices flowing and he submits an ingenious book report.
In this episode from season 4 of Small Wonder, Ted programs Vicky to understand foreign languages and translate them into English. The family sits down to watch the Spanish channel and a pet show comes up. It turns out Vicky not only understands humans but also animals! Jamie’s entrepreneurial spirit sees a potential for making pocket money and has Vicky diagnose the feelings of the pets of the kids at school. Meanwhile Ted’s timid company manager and his snooty, authoritative wife, who looks down on Ted and Joan, are coming to dinner as Ted has volunteered Joan to be on the committee for the company ball. When they arrive with their pet dog, the Lawson’s discover with Vicky’s help, despite her put on airs, the wife’s background isn’t all that different theirs leading to her discomfiture.
It has been so long since I posted here. I feel like I’ve renewed a friendship with someone who had drifted away. Now the cold winter months are approaching and the sky is pitch dark by 6 PM, blogging seems like less of a geeky, couch potato activity to do on a Friday night. It also distracts me from food in the fridge because while many are increasing their waistline in winter by eating carb-piled comfort food, I’m doing the opposite by depriving myself.
In terms of reading exploits, my latest read was A Room with a View by author E. M. Forster, who also wrote A Passage to India. While the book is meant to be a comedy of manners with its cast of medieval and renaissance characters and employment of witty, humorous dialogue, I didn’t find it as entertaining as expected.
It narrates the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a free-spirited but sheltered young middle-class lady, who has her rigid, ordered life thrown off balance after visiting Florence with her chaperone and older uptight cousin Charlotte leads to a meeting with the Emersons. Other unconventional characters residing in the Pension Bertolini opens Lucy’s eyes to differences between ingrained archaic, repressed Edwardian morals and emerging liberal social values through the author’s cleverly contrasting England’s staidness with Italy’s vitality. She ultimately learns propriety can mask the truth and beauty can be found by not conforming to etiquette. This new knowledge affects Lucy’s structured plans as she has discovered that social boundaries are arbitrary. In the end with a fitting dramatic conclusion, Lucy decides to follow her own heart in regards to love and chooses her own destiny and defies convention. The most interesting thing is that while we are allowed into the minds of all the characters, save the two Emersons who remain an enigma.
I have not watched the movie adaptation of A Room with a View starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch so I cannot personally comment but here’s a film review by Roger Ebert to present some perspective on the film.