I first encountered the The French Lieutenant’s Woman after finishing The Collector by John Fowles but had to return it to the library before I had the chance to finish. I gave it another go and was able to make it to the end of the book before it was time for overdue notices!
Sarah Woodruff is a governess who is looked upon with contempt by the English community of Lyme Regis due to falling for a French naval officer who left her behind after he allegedly ‘ruined‘ her. In spite of her pious employer’s warnings, she walks by the cliffs pining for her lost love. Meanwhile Charles Smithson is a Victorian gentleman engaged to Ernestina , the daughter of a wealthy tradesman who is residing with her aunt Tranter in Lyme Regis. After Charles accidentally stumbles across Sarah, he becomes fascinated by her history and tries to convince her to go to London where her tale of scandal is less likely to be outrageous. But Sarah is not amenable to that particular course of action and asks Charles to compromise himself by meeting her in secret in order to give her emotional support while pretending she lacks the will to alter her life. During the course of these meetings, Charles begins to find himself falling for her despite warnings from her doctor that Sarah’s mind is not in the best state and may drag others down with her.
You could be forgiven for thinking this is a tragic melodrama but now the story starts to veer off in a different track as the narrator begins to intervene in the novel and supplies three possible endings. Each offers a possible ending for Charles’s pursuit of Sarah: the first ends with Charles married to Ernestina without him explaining the details of his meetings with Sarah, the second with a recreation of a relationship with Sarah which hints of a future reconciliation, and the third with Charles ending partnerless deprived of both Ernestina and Sarah. The narrator explains the fairest way to end The French Lieutenant’s Woman is to present all the ways in which it could possibly end.
I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman is really clever and ingenious with all the interpretations given to the reader to finally conclude. But I feel it also shows the limitations of plot devices and how much authors are constricted by the rules governing writing. There are few authors who pushed through that boundary and Fowles was one of the early ones.
In James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Maze Runner, the protagonist Thomas finds himself in the Glade without any memories of his past apart from his name together with a community of boys who have made it their home. The Glade is surrounded by a maze out of which an escape has not been found. At night, mechanical creatures called Grievers roam around the maze and attack any boy who has not made it beyond the gates after sunset. A new boy usually appears in an elevator called The Box once a month but after Thomas there is another delivery on the second day, a comatose girl, the first girl to ever appear in the maze. Afterwards they are warned there will be no more deliveries of anyone.
Each of the boys have roles in their community and Thomas finds himself yearning to be a Runner. Runners are required to explore and decode the maze while escaping Grievers who are informed by spies called Beetle Blades belonging to WICKED. They also keep Maps to preserve patterns as the maze changes everyday. There are also Builders, Baggers, Track-hoes, Med-jacks and Sloppers. Try and guess what those careers might entail? Thomas proves himself to the Keeper of the Runners and makes some friends and also enemies after a Gathering is called to discuss his brave but foolhardy, rule-breaking actions.
After purposefully subjecting himself to injury, Thomas finds out a way to recover some lost memories. However he finds the solution to the maze is not the most pleasant of prospects for their future. I’ve since found out that Thomas’s story continues on in The Scorch Trials and is finally resolved in The Death Cure. Perhaps the upcoming movie version might amalgamate all 3 books into 2-hours? Although I’ve heard the movie has made some significant differences to major plot points.
As for my thoughts, I initially found The Maze Runner a little slow and irritating because the boys in the Glade speak in their own dialect using words like Greenie, klunk and shuck-face. However it is fairly easy to get into the swing of it in a couple of chapters because you are purposefully fed so little information that you keep turning the pages to find out how the kids ended up in the maze. The writing is quite simple to read but is captivating enough for young adult fiction. This is a very plot based book and not much depth is felt with the characters apart from Thomas and his best mate in the Glade, Chuck.
Shiver is the very first novel written by Nikki Gemmell, the author of very controversial book, The Bride Stripped Bare. Although Shiver is described as a novel, it seems autobiographical given her inspiration for writing the story came from her own personal experiences.
We are introduced to Fin, a radio journalist who works the police beat for the early morning shift. When an opportunity arises to undertake an observatory expedition to Antarctica, she volunteers. In real life, Nikki Gemmell went to Antarctica to cover a scientific expedition, courtesy of radio station Triple J. In the southernmost continent, she crosses a boundary of journalism by falling for someone she interviews. Guess what happens in Shiver? There isn’t much to read between the lines. But falling in love comes at a cost in both the real and fictional worlds and so we are fed the saccharine but trite parable of not giving up and following your heart.
The plot although it has potential felt rather dull. The characterisation of the all the different men in Antarctica was too brief because I felt a new potential suitor appeared every 15 pages and and nothing about their personalities comes through the narration apart from the fact sexism is rampant and mostly tolerated. I will admit though she has a knack for writing imagery in poetic and lyrical prose. However that can be easily be disillusioned by sentences like, ” I’ve been in one of these in Bass Strait, and a bag of vomit was passed from person to person, and there was vomit on vomit” and “I’ve done one very large **** and it’s not going anywhere. I can see bits of my dinner from last night in it”. So while I was interested in her portrayal of landscape, I found her descriptions of human interaction and functions jarring. I wondered if the beauty in prose about landscape and the grossness in prose about human needs was purposefully done but I’m doubtful about that interpretation of Shiver.