Cloud Atlas

10/24/2017 at 11:21 PM (Books, Movies, Science Fiction, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

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I don’t think I’ve read a novel so surprisingly excellent since Jonathan Strange Mr Norell. Actually, I have. What I meant to say is that I’ve read nothing as epic. My attempts to explain Cloud Atlas to people have met with changed subjects.  Let me try: the book is like 6 perfect little novellas, arranged as Russian dolls, and as you read, you bore in, and bore back out. Each doll is a different period in time, the outermost being in the early 19th century, the latest being somewhere around 2200. Four of the six are genre pieces: historical maritime fiction, crime novel, dystopian sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, with all their tropes rendered with loving affection. But they are just written so well that they are irresistible. The pieces placed in the 1930s and the present day are also wonderful, but certainly aren’t the type of fare I normally seek out. I am far from being a fan of science fiction.

But yes, exceedingly well written. What’s it about? Well, there’s the journal of an American notary returning home from the Chatham Islands aboard a suspect ship in the 1830s; a young composer cuckolding an older colleague while helping him write new works, who documents his affairs and foibles in letters to his former lover; there’s a true-story thriller about a Californian journalist in the 1970s planning to out a corrupt and deadly energy company for concealing a safety report damning their new nuclear energy plant; the soon-to-be-filmed chronicles of a publisher in the present day whose attempts to escape the extortionist cronies of his gangster star author land him in a Draconian nursing home reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from which he cannot escape; there’s the future testimony of a Korean clone bred for service in a fast food joint but who, via the machinations of forces many and penumbral, gains full consciousness; and finally “the Huck Finnish tale of a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian ‘primitive’ and the ‘civilized’ researcher sent to study his society”. Whew! The characters of each story find themselves reading their predecessor, and sometimes characters overlap a little. Each story features a character with the same birthmark, and they all seem to experience deja vu from characters in other stories. Now it sounds corny. But my promise to you, is that it is cool.

I guess the book is primarily about the will to power. Slavery and subjugation, small personal cruelties, corporate greed. Its premise is something I still don’t know.  Please read this book so, at the very least, you can explain it to me. A movie might be easier to watch than reading Cloud Atlas.

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Savouring the Animations of Shinkai

10/09/2017 at 11:33 AM (animation, Movies, Romance, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

It has been a while since I’ve written about Japanese animations. They came to my attention again when I was searching for a gift for my now ex-boyfriend. I know I’ve praised Miyazaki before but this time my words of adulation will be for the storytelling skills of Makoto Shinkai. His body of work has received comparison to works by the illustrious Studio Ghibli animator but the creator of 5 Centimers Per Second and Children Who Chase Lost Voices is rather self-effacing about his talents.

5 Centimers Per Second

The film consists of a triptych of acts: Cherry BlossomCosmonaut and 5 Centimeters per Second.

In the first act, Takaki Tōno, the main character, becomes friends with Akari Shinohara when she transfers to his elementary school. The classmates foster a deep friendship because they have lots of mutual interests and end up spending recesses together often; even when they talk to each other, they don’t use honorifics, a sign of closeness in Japan. When Akari moves to Tochigi after completing elementary school because of her parents’ jobs, the two friends keep in contact through post but this communication slowly fades as time passes. This part of the story is set sometime before the arrival of cellphones and email. When Takaki hears that his family will be moving to Kagoshima, he decides to visit Akari in person first because they will be living too far apart to regularly see each other. Before he visits, Takaki also composes a letter that expresses his feelings about her. On the way to see her, Takaki loses the letter and a severe snowstorm pushes the train schedule behind several hours. When the two finally meet each other again, it is a temporary, touching and bittersweet reunion during which they talk for hours. They make sentimental promises to each other and after the events of the night spent amongst the snow, Takaki decides the loss of his letter was not important. He never realises there was a letter he never got as his train leaves, because the audience see a letter from Akari addressed to Takaki that never changed hands to the addressee.

In the second act, we see Takaki attending senior high in Tanegashima and he is blind to the love shown by Kanae Sumida, who is not brave enough to admit her feelings. Despite all her efforts at winning him over, Kanae remains in the friend zone. She sees that Takaki always appears to be writing emails or looking off into the beyond. We learn these emails are sent to nobody and he often has recurring dreams that feature Akari. After an attempt to confess her love fails, Kanae decides what she could offer to Takaki will not be enough to satiate what he desires and keeps the truth of her love locked within her heart.

In the third act, Takaki has become a computer programmer in Tokyo while Akari is preparing to get married to another man. His feelings for Akari that he has been unable to shake impact negatively on his life. Eventually a depressed Takaki leaves his job, unable to cope with his unresolved feelings for Akari. Meanwhile Akari goes through her old belongings and discovers the letter addressed to Takaki. The two characters narrate in tandem, both recalling a dream depicting the events of their last meeting in the snow and hoping to watch the cherry blossoms together again.

One day walking down a road, Takaki and Akari appear to recognise each other as they walk past at a train crossing, where they had watched cherry blossoms together thirteen years ago, before Akari’s moving to Tochigi. At the opposite sides of the tracks, they begin to look back but the passing trains cut their view. Takaki waits for the trains to pass and sees Akari is gone. After a moment, he smiles to himself and continues walking.

Makoto’s film gives a realistic view of the struggles many face against: time, space, people, and love. The title 5 Centimeters Per Second comes from the speed at which cherry blossoms petals fall, the petals being a allegorical representation of humans, evoking the slowness of life and how people often start together but drift into separate ways.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Asuna is a young girl who has been forced to grow up quickly due to the death of her father, while her mother, a nurse, works long shifts at a hospital. Asuna spends her solitary days listening to the mysterious music emanating from the cat’s-whisker receiver her father gave to her as a memento.

One day, while walking to her clubhouse across a bridge, she is attacked by a fearsome creature and saved by a mysterious boy who calls himself Shun. Asuna treats Shun’s wound from fighting the creature and later they both listen to Asuna’s radio. Shun tells Asuna he is from another country called Agartha and that he came to this place to find something. He then gives Asuna a blessing in the form of a kiss to the forehead. Asuna leaves hurriedly and tells Shun she’ll be back tomorrow. Shun, now alone, looks up at the stars and falls from the ledge to his death.

The next morning, Asuna hears from her mother that a boy was found dead in the river, but refuses to believe it’s Shun. In school, Mr. Morisaki, a substitute teacher, is giving a lecture on a book which grabs Asuna’s attention when he mentions Agartha, the land of the dead. After school, she visits Morisaki and asks him about Agartha. Morisaki explains that long ago when humankind was young, it needed the guidance of Quetzalcoatls (keepers of the dead) until humans matured and no longer needed them, so they went underground along with a few humans who joined them.

Afterwards, Asuna goes to her hideout to find another mysterious boy who looks like Shun standing on the ledge. Just then, a group of armed men who the boy calls the Arch Angels, appear and attack the both of them. The Arch Angels’ commander captures Asuna and uses a crystal called the clavis to open a gateway to Agartha. The commander and Asuna enter the gateway followed by the boy. Once inside the commander reveals himself to be Morisaki and the boy also reveals himself to be Shin, Shun’s younger brother. Morisaki tells him that all he wants is to bring back his late wife from the dead. Shin leaves Asuna and Morisaki.

Morisaki tells Asuna that she can go back but she decides to accompany him. They both go into the realm via an underwater entrance. Once inside they go on a journey to the Gate of Life and Death which can bring the souls of people back from the dead.

Upon arriving in his village, Shin is told that he has failed in his mission to retrieve that clavis, because Asuna has unknowingly returned with a fragment of one. Shin re-embarks to stop Asuna and Morisaki from wreaking havoc in Agartha.

Along the way Asuna is kidnapped by a race of monsters called the Izoku. In their hideout she meets a young girl named Manna and they both try to escape. In their escape attempt, they encounter Shin who helps them but is wounded by an Izoku. Morisaki finds Asuna and Manna down the river as well as Shin. Shin tries to retrieve the clavis crystal that belongs to Asuna. However, he is too weak to put up a fight and Morisaki easily defeats him. Asuna convinces Morisaki to take him with them while Manna leads them to her village.

Once there, the villagers are, at first reluctant to help the “top-dwellers” but the village elder convinces them to let them in. The elder allows them to stay one night at the village. Meanwhile Asuna checks up on Shin but Shin yells at her telling her to leave him alone.

The next morning Asuna and Morisaki depart from Amaurot. Shin wakes up later and after hearing the villagers riding away to kill them, decides to follow in order to protect Asuna. Morisaki and Asuna are walking towards a steep cliff when they are attacked by the villagers but they are saved by Shin. Asuna, being too scared to climb down, stays while Morisaki continues, leaving her.

Meanwhile Shin is fighting the villagers and is about to be killed when the villagers sense that the clavis crystal has reached the Gate of Life and Death and leave Shin to wander aimlessly, having betrayed his country.

Asuna is walking aimlessly and asking herself why she came to Agartha and finally accepts that she came to Agartha because she was feeling lonely. She is then attacked by the Izoku but saved by Shin. Asuna and Shin return to the cliff after seeing the Ark of Life descending. They encounter a Quetzalcoatl who is about to die. Before he dies, Quetzalcoatl offers to take them to the bottom of the cliff.

At the bottom of the cliff, they both find the Gate of Life and Death and enter it. Inside they find Morisaki who tells Asuna she shouldn’t have come and she is soon possessed by Lisa, Morisaki’s late wife. However Shin is able to destroy the crystal Morisaki has used to make his wish. Before she leaves Asuna’s body, Lisa tells Morisaki to find happiness without her. Asuna is now back to her normal self but Morisaki is devastated and asks Shin to kill him but Shin tells him that he must live. Asuna heads back to the surface and saying farewell to Shin and Morisaki, who stay behind. The film ends with Asuna, looking out her window at the cliff side where she had met Shun and Shin. She then says her goodbyes to her mother as she hurries to her graduation ceremony as an older teen.

This film is his longest animation film to date and is described as a “lively” animated film with adventure, action, and romance centered on a cheerful and spirited girl on a journey to say “farewell”.

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Rogue Lawyer

10/05/2017 at 4:26 AM (Books, Mystery, Uncategorized)

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham was a bit stale compared to works like The Firm, a very interesting read, The Pelican Brief, a legal thriller heavy on suspense and A Time to Kill, which was different in its setting. The main character, Sebastian Rudd,  the main one, is built well making the book a pleasure to read and very reminiscent of John Grisham’s Gray Mountain. Gray Mountain is set in Appalachia after the Great Recession and follows third-year associate Samantha Kofer after the Bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, when she becomes a legal clinic intern in Virginia‘s coal mining country.

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The lawyer character is interesting because the cases weaved throughout the book across different cases he is entangled in makes the plot move forward at a fairly fast pace. The custody battle between the protagonist and his ex wife for their son Starcher is both infuriating and sometimes relentlessly entertaining because the people defended by this “rogue lawyer” ends up sometimes involved in his family life. The protagonist is a lawyer named Sebastian Rudd who works out of a bulletproof van after his last “real” office was firebombed. He has one employee, a bodyguard and general assistant, who drives him from appointment to appointment and attempts to protect him from large numbers of people on both sides of the law who would like to do him harm. He has an ex-wife to whom he was briefly married before she left him for her gay lover, Ava. But the two did manage to conceive a son that Rudd gets to see for a few hours a month, and one of his main legal challenges is to ward off his vindictive ex-wife who prefers that Rudd not get to see their son at all. Sebastian is also invested in a young cage fighter who appears to have a very bright future but things go pear shaped when a cage fight gets far too rowdy and the defendant is far too cocky.

His characters move forward into the plot shaping up with each word and act. I couldn’t put the book down. For me, the power of this book came through the characters, and the fantastic dialogue. I found great pleasure in this book. Grisham wove well-researched plots except for the Arch Swanger case, which irritated me. Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer, the novel, gives me what I need, in the sense of disappearance from reality.

Interesting Cases to Follow:

  • Doug Renfro and ambush by local cops on a misguided ecstasy raid
  • Arch Swanger and the return of Ms Kemp after being part of a trafficking in humans gang
  • Zapate’s court case against Sean King after a vicious cage fight

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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.

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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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