The Dressmaker

09/06/2015 at 1:01 AM (Books, Movies) (, , , , , , )

I’ve heard a movie is in the works for this piece of Gothic Australian revenge fiction by Rosalie Ham that I read a while back. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised this has been chosen for a film adaptation. The plot lends itself to the medium well.

Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

Set in 1950s rural Australia in a town called Dungatar, The Dressmaker is about a daughter, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, who was run out of town after being falsely accused of a grave crime when she was just a child and has only returned to take care of her sick and mentally unstable mother. An expert seamstress trained in Paris, the haute couture Myrtle creates soon becomes the talk of the town in spite of her suspicious status to most folk. When the locals begin to flock to her for their fashions to take advantage of her dressmaking abilities, old rivalries begin to resurface and Myrtle is able to take her revenge and leave.

The quirky and hypocritical characters with particular idiosyncrasies populating the town are the highlight of the book but do at times seem a bit eccentric and over-the-top. The driving force in this novel however is definitely the plot. While The Dressmaker is an enjoyable and fast-paced read, it is no literary behemoth.

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The Scorch Trials

08/22/2015 at 8:54 AM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , )

When the boyfriend and I went to watch Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation recently, I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie The Scorch Trials. This reminded me I had read the book and a review for the sequel of The Maze Runner was timely given fans of the young adult genre will be picking it up again.

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Source: Wikipedia

The Maze Runner didn’t wow me but it won some affection so I was curious to find out how things panned out for the Gladers. The Scorch Trials made me frustrated because the plot kept haphazardly veering off in different directions and the narrative kept getting vague with each cliffhanger. Was it a plot device to make the reader feel as if they don’t know what is happening? It does not come across as intentional and is irritating.

What we learn through this book is that Wicked is issuing more difficult challenges and are continuing the trials explored in the Maze Runner. Meanwhile the surviving evacuees of the old maze have been tasked with a new set of obstacles to surmount on the open roads of a bleak and barren, desert landscape. Meanwhile Thomas seems to have lost his personality as he no longer shines and becomes a massive whinger. Teresa vanishes and apparently becomes a force for evil and new girl, Brenda, who is love interest no. 2 who fangirls over Thomas arrives on the scene and it feels like he likes this female attention. Aris, a telepathic boy, falls into the thick of things out of nowhere and his telepathic attempts to communicate with Thomas isn’t something he encourages because the new guy is a stranger who has replaced his confidante, Theresa but there is a important message he has to deliver. It would have benefited Thomas in the long run if he paid more attention to Aris than Brenda.

I read The Scorch Trials for the answers but ended up finishing it with more unresolved questions.

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Dark Places

08/20/2015 at 12:12 PM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , , )

Gillian Flynn is a master of the craft when it comes to producing extremely irritating, mentally damaged characters who are a complete mess. It is no different with the emotionally troubled, parasitic protagonist of her novel Dark Places, Libby Day. The author does a great job with Libby’s first person perspective of her struggles in the present while a third person narrative gives readers insight into the mystery of happened to her family in 1985 highlighting this story is more character-driven than plot-driven.

In the present, friendless and forgetful Libby is finding it hard to fend for herself. The fact she’s a kleptomaniac does her no favours. The primary source of income Libby has been living off, the trust fund created when donations poured in after the murders, is starting to dry up.

Back in the past in 1985, her mother, who is heavily in debt, and two sisters are brutally killed. 7-year-old Libby lives because she flees the house, and ultimately it’s her testimony that convicts her brother Ben of the crime. Allegedly, Ben is a Satanist who lost control after getting in too deep with a bad crowd. The Kill Club, a group of amateur investigators who think that her brother is innocent get in touch with Libby and she reluctantly agrees to a paid appearance because she’s desperate for cash. While she is not keen about their focus on her brother, the potential of earning money entices her into visiting people connected to the murders. Suddenly as knowledge sinks in as an adult, Libby starts having doubts as to if Ben was the killer.

The ending was a bit too tidy for my liking and kind of disappointed me after the stellar one in Gone Girl, but I won’t say much about that as it will spoil the story. This is not a true who-dun-it but explorations of the inner workings of the psychologically warped. For those who are interested, these points illustrate key changes made to the Dark Places movie adaption by Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

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Gone Girl

08/19/2015 at 10:48 PM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , , , )

On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne has disappeared when her husband, Nick, arrives home. It appears there has been some commotion at home but to some investigating police officers, it looks too much like organised clutter. Being the husband, Nick is the obvious suspect and Amy’s parents start to slowly distrust him after he fails to show adequate grief for someone who lost his wife on national media. It turns out that Nick has secrets he has been hiding from wife and her adoring parents because their marriage has been rocky but the police have doubts as to whether he actually murdered Amy because there is no body. His only supporter is his twin sister, Margo, who never liked Amy.

Gone Girl

Source: katyat34.typepad.com

The second half of the book takes a surprising twist showing that Gillian Flynn had been “gaslighting” her readers for the first half which is the entire theme of the book. I probably shouldn’t say more as I’ve already said too much. This is probably one of the best deeply deranged thrillers I’ve ever read given the well-written prose, but Amy’s characterisation has a lot more depth than Nick’s.  I just finished reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and while Gone Girl isn’t that gratuitous or nihilistic, I couldn’t help but feel there were some not so obvious parallels about creating a facade.

While I have no qualms with encouraging people to read the book, people who only watch the David Fincher movie based on the book are missing out as they have changed some key elements of the story, including what happens with Desi. The casting of Rosamund Pike was great for “Amazing Amy” but I couldn’t really swallow Ben Affleck as the hipster golden poster boy, Nick. Usually books told in multiple perspectives don’t translate so well into film as major plot details end up being omitted in order to maintain suspense. Some people find reading the book gruelling as it gets off to a fairly slow start but I found the movie more difficult to follow than Flynn’s novel which kept me awake until ungodly hours.

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Under the Greenwood Tree (Film)

08/17/2015 at 4:00 AM (Books, Movies) (, , , , , )

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the 2015 released movie Far From the Madding Crowd based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, who attracts the following characters as suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts); Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge); and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). I’ve already blogged about the adaption that features Paloma Baeza before so this post is about the consequences of me watching this re-release as it led to me to seek out another Hardy adaptation, based on the bookUnder the Greenwood Tree.

under-the-greenwood-tree-dvd2

L to R: Mr Shinar, Parson Maybold, Fancy Day & Dick Dewy (Source)

In this story, a beautiful, young and educated new schoolteacher Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) has come to live in the village of Mellstock while taking care of her sick father. Her father’s goal is to see Fancy married well because he married for love which had bad repercussions for Fanny’s mother. Like Bathsheba Everdene, Fancy is pursued by three very different suitors: poor but passionate Dick Dewy (James Murray), the mature but wealthiest man in in town Mr Shinar (Steve Pemberton) and the arrogant but educated man of the world Parson Maybold (Ben Miles). Her father believes Mr Shinar is the best of prospects for her and hides the truth from Fancy when he is rescued by one of the other suitors, whom he believes is below her station. But Fancy discovers the truth and ends up choosing simple love although she is offered wealth and the world. In the middle of romantic quandaries, a new harmonium that is to be played at the local church by Fancy Day is being introduced by Parson Maybold and the former church choir consisting of mostly simple farm parishioners aren’t taking it too well and their pranks cause her some distress and embarrassment.

Surprisingly this Hardy adaptation had a happy ending compared to his other work but I hear the book is different in character portrayal. Here’s a good in-depth review of the book as I’ve yet to read it! I like this assessment and it applies to the Under the Greenwood Tree adaption as well, “The question is not about her choice but about whether it is the right one — a question that cannot be answered by the end…”.

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The Light Between Oceans

08/08/2014 at 8:15 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Historical) (, , , , )

The Light Between Oceans was a heartbreaking story about the consequences of a momentous decision made in the throes of grief and haste. Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper living on  Janus, a remote island off the West Coast of Australia together with his wife Isabel. He harbours Lucy, a baby who washed up on to the shores of the island in a boat, because of guilt over his wife’s miscarriage. However when a chance encounter with the mother of the child preys on his conscience, he can no longer keep silent. When his wife learns of his betrayal, they drift apart while Lucy tries to acclimatise herself to the stranger who keeps calling her Grace and makes a claim that tears the fabric of existence she has hitherto known.

The decision the couple makes to pass the child off as their own has heartbreaking results. Lies quickly unravel, unflattering truths come to light and a lot of pain and hurt is felt. In the middle of this, Lucy navigates trying to find her true identity while locked in a battle of two mothers vying for her custody, one with a legal claim who had never seen her since she was a baby and one with no legal claim but one who raised her in her formative years. M.L. Stedman’s poignant, riveting novel received several literary accolades and awards and since then Hollywood rights have been acquired for film production by Dreamworks.

Three characters stood out to me in this novel because of the internal conflicts each faced and weathered. Isabel struggles to cope with the loss of her baby but the arrival of Lucy changes her life but by the time she is willing to admit the truth, it is too late to not hurt anyone which nearly made a villain out of her to me due to her selfish desires. Meanwhile Tom is guilt-ridden because he feels survivor’s guilt after escaping physically unscathed from the war. This is why he goes against his straight-laced ethics when he decides to omit details in his logbook to keep Isabel happy. Hannah is sympathetic as the mother who thought her child was literally dead but has to fight an uphill battle to convince Lucy of the truth of the situation. The Light Between Oceans plot is complex as it encompasses a moral dilemma and it is possible to be empathetic to both the female leads but as the story unfolds, it shows justice for one party can lead to tragic loss for the other party. The conclusion however just might surprise you.

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A Room with a View

06/13/2014 at 1:40 PM (Books, Classics, Movies, Romance, Romance, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

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.

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The Remains of the Day

05/04/2012 at 12:37 PM (Anthony Hopkins, Books, Emma Thompson, Holocaust, Movies, Nostalgia, Romance) (, , , , )

The Remains of the Day is a narrative that comprises of memories of Stevens’s service for the now deceased Lord Darlington as an English butler at Darlington Hall during and just after World War II. Told as a first person narrative, this story by Kazuo Ishiguro is mostly about regret and misplaced devotion.

Urged by his current employer, an American gentleman by the name of Mr. Farraday, Stevens decides to take a six-day road trip and leave Darlington Hall, where he worked as a butler for almost 35 years. While Stevens likes his new boss, he finds it difficult to converse with him because their personalities clash. The butler is set in his formal ways and is serious and prudent in what he chooses to say while Mr. Farraday, unlike his former employer, is not averse to indulging in some humourous and jovial “bantering”. The old butler wishes to acquire this skill of bantering and frequently expresses his desire to communicate better with his new boss. Stevens’s road trip was triggered by a letter sent by Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall who left twenty years earlier to get married. He reads into the letter that her marriage is on the rocks and that she wishes to return to her former duties. After the end of World War II, he had trouble retaining enough staff to maintain the manor so he regards it as welcome news.

The Remains of the Day Book Cover

We come to know through interactions that other characters have with Stevens, his former employer was manipulated into sympathizing with the Nazi cause. He even hosts dinner parties for the heads of British and German states so they can come to an amicable resolution. In the opinion of Stevens, who is blindly loyal, it is a shame the reputation of his former boss was destroyed because he misunderstood what was truly happening. During his road trip, he also talks about friendships with other butlers. It is also indicated that Stevens has inhibited feelings of a romantic nature for Miss Kenton as she comes up frequently as a subject. Although the two frequently have childish arguments over household matters, it is clear there is feeling between the pair, even if he fails miserably at being intimate and misreads her intentions.

The end of the novel reveals an obvious fact (at least to the discerning reader) about Miss Kenton, who has since become Mrs. Benn which upsets Stevens. He spent most of his life blindly trusting the choices of a man who made terrible errors of judgment and lost the one chance he had when love stared him in the face because he was blind to that too. He again chooses to be reticent and conceals how he feels and returns to Mr.Farraday, with a determination to master the art of bantering in order to please his new employer.

There is also a movie staring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson inspired by this book although the ending has variation to the novel. If you are interested in other works by this author, also check out Never Let Me Go.

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In Search of a Distant Voice

04/09/2012 at 8:40 AM (Books, Fable, Mystery, Romance) (, , , , )

I picked up this book by chance. It was the extra book you toss in your library bag when you are running short of good selections. All the books I wanted were on reserve so my last-minute choice turned out to be a surprisingly good read. Apart from Harry Potter and LOTR, I’m not a fan of anything close to science fiction (exception being Jules Verne) or fantasy.

In Search of a Distant Voice Book Cover

Written by Taichi Yamada, In Search of a Distant Voice has a grim start with foreboding overtones. The main character, an immigration enforcement official by the name of Kasama Tsuneo, has to track down some Indian “illegals” without visas in a graveyard. Subtle references are made to his dark past in Portland, Oregon which gives the impression that there is a secret to unravel which drives the plot along for a while. It is made clear that he wants to put the past behind him and be ordinary. He was an illegal in the US himself so the job he has in Japan bothers his conscience. In the course of his work, something unusual happens – he gets overtaken by a “force of erotic pleasure” while he is about to capture his quarry in the graveyard and hears a woman’s voice in his head. I must admit that took me by surprise.

It seems some sort of telepathic connection has occurred between the mystery woman and Tsuneo. Then it starts getting bizarre but Yamada does a good job of persuading the reader to stick around to find out who the woman may be. Meanwhile Tsuneo tries to figure out whether he is crazy or if this woman actually exists and how such an occurrence can happen. In description, it sounds silly and unfathomable but the handling of punchy dialogue, prose and skillful interweaving of side plots such as an arranged marriage and the revelation of the secret bothering Tsuneo intrigues a reader enough to continue to the end. The narrative voice also switches between subjects and tenses in a clever enough way to make the content of the book seem distinctive in style since it could be either one or all of the following: a story about truth, a story about repentance or in the most basic sense, a ghost story. But when we reach the end, we are as illuminated by the identity of the woman as when we began.

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The Collector

02/10/2012 at 12:01 PM (Books, Classics, Horror, Movies) (, , , , )

So I finally have some breathing space to actually sit down and write a review. I have been reading but just haven’t had the time to write since my reading is mostly done during my one-hour train commute to work. Well, I was fascinated by The Collector’s cover and the vintage classic which was the first effort of John Fowles (better known as the author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman) was an unexpected treat.

Here’s the basic overview of the plot: Dull and ordinary clerk Frederick Clegg has an obsession. The object of his obsession is a woman, namely a pretty art student named Miranda Grey. After lucking out on the lottery, he moves out from his aunt’s and purchases an old estate with a cellar in country England. This is where it starts getting bizarre. Deciding he has to have the company of Miranda at all costs because he “loves” her, he kidnaps the poor girl and keeps her captive in the cellar which contrasts with his hobby of collecting different butterflies. Essentially Miranda is a human specimen.

The Collector - John Fowles

The first half of the story is narrated from Frederick’s point of view while the second half is gleaned through Miranda’s diary. It is obvious that these two are far from being a perfect match because their opinions conflict and their individual perspectives are at odds with the beliefs of the other party.

but I have left the best part for last. With the last of Miranda’s diary entries, we come to a plot twist that will shock you about Frederick for whom, nine times out of ten, you would have felt sympathy so far because of his lack of social skills. Reeling with that, we are treated to an unexpected ending which is very ingenuous for book written in 1963. There was a movie made in 1965 but seriously don’t miss out on the prose. I thought Miranda’s rambling went on for a little too long for my liking since I found her own obsession with an older paramour grating but other than that I have no quibbles with it.  It is in the face of what happens, I would say, a horror story in the sense of psychological suspense.

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