Friday, February 6, 2009

I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future--there will be books written about Harry...

Excellent news came in for me yesterday : I passed my first semester and got better grades than I expected. This will be useful for something I want to do next year - I don't want more pressure so I won't talk about it but let's just say I've just filled in an application for something special and I would love it if I could be chosen. There are only 3 students who can have it so I try not to think about it too much as there's a better chance of me not getting it.

I've finished Affinity by Sarah Waters and have now read all her books (love them all).

Margaret Prior (also called "Peggy" and "Aurora"), an unmarried woman from an upper class family, visits the Millbank Prison in the 1870s Victorian era England. The protagonist is an overall unhappy person, recovering from her father's death and her subsequent failed suicide attempt, and struggling with her lack of power living at home with her over involved mother despite being almost 30. She becomes a "Lady Visitor" of the prison, hoping to escape her troubles and be a guiding figure in the lives of the female prisoners. As she peers through a flap in the door, entranced by the sight of a young woman with a flower — she is reminded of a Carlo Crivelli painting. Of all her friendships with prisoners, she is most fascinated by this woman, who she learns to be Selina Dawes, medium of spirits.

It was a haunting read and even though I knew the end from watching the adaptation last year, I was still surprised at how well the story unfolded- it was very impressive. The first-person narrative was so effective in giving me the feeling I was in the Millbank prison along with Margaret. It felt claustrophobic at times. Waters tricks the reader into believing in the unbelievable, it's genius. It could have been called Persuasion as well, actually, as it's definitely the main topic here. She's such a warm writer, the words are simple, the voice complex and absorbing, there are always so many things going on at once. I had trouble choosing another book after this one, it's wonderfully evocative and I always feel out of place when I have to go back to reality after reading one of her books. Her characters are so real, the world so perfectly detailed...

Virginia Woolf thought The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall was a dull book. I can't fully agree with her opinion but there is a part of truth in it. Hall's style is not terribly original and I was bored more than once. It surprised me by its scope as we follow Stephen's life from childhood to adulthood, she is even caught up in the turmoil of the First World War in Paris and I thought she was an interesting heroine to learn about. The secondary characters were also well-drawn.
The real flaw of the novel, in my opinion, is its long developments that have to do with Stephen's conflictual feelings towards society and the mutual rejection her lovers and her have because of society, it doesn't really work today I think, I read better books that depicted this particular dialectic (self/society) in inventive prose. Mary Renault, a writer, talks about "earnest humourlessness" and "impermissible allowance of self-pity"-I agree with that. It's funny that I should have read this after Affinity by Sarah Waters, they couldn't be any more different.
While I realize just how pivotal The Well of Loneliness is in the history of LGBT fiction (and reading it you do know that Hall knows she's the first one to depict lesbians and being frank and honest about what she depicts), I don't think it stood the test of time very well, it's too linear. I read it as the important piece of history it is, but that's practically the extend of it.

I also watched many movies these past few days, including The Shopworn Angel (1938)

During WWI Bill Pettigrew (James Stewart), a naive young Texan soldier is sent to New York for basic training. He meets worldly wise actress Daisy Heath (Margaret Sullavan) when her car nearly runs over him. Daisy agrees to pretend to be Bill's girl to impress his friends, but then a real romance begins.

It was directed by H.C. Potter (who doesn't seem to have made unforgettable movies) and I watched it for Margaret Sullavan. It was very slow-paced, the plot was flimsy and the story overly sentimental - the end in particular. While Margaret's character was interesting (the parts when she explained there are many different kinds of love was good I thought), it clearly wasn't well exploited and James Stewart was almost clownish in his role. Has nothing to do with the masterpiece that is The Shop Around the Corner.

The Shining Hour (1938) is the weakest Borzage I've seen. It simply wasn't a topic for Borzage :

Joan Crawford plays Olivia, a dancer who tires of the fast life, and marries a man she is fond of, but does not love. When Olivia moves to her new husband's farm, she encounters trouble from his sister-in-law (played by Margaret Sullavan). Olivia's situation is further complicated when her brother-in-law falls in love with her as well.

It has little to enjoy. The really good scenes in the movie featured Hattie McDaniel, once again typecast as the strong maid full of common sense. I didn't like the ending at all, it was ridiculous and had little to do with the plot, the characters were out of character. I've always been indifferent to Joan Crawford and this did nothing to redeem her in my eyes. I'm very disappointed in Borzage - sometimes, you just have to pay the bills I suppose.

A good surprise came from The Bridge to Terabithia (2007). Now that was a good movie. The children were charming. I have never read the book so can't compare but it had the right balance of everything, intelligent stuff.

Bridge to Terabithia is the story of fifth grader Jesse Aarons, who befriends his new neighbor Leslie Burke when he loses a footrace to her at school. Leslie is a smart, talented, outgoing tomboy.

The actors were so natural, real finds. I really want to read the book now - it was published in 1977 and won the Newbery. The end was surprising but treated as honestly as the rest of the movie, and that was refreshing for a children's film. It really is a tribute to the power of imagination as a wall against real-life problems. The friendship between Leslie and Jesse was touching and ultimately heartbreaking. I loved it and find it strange that it was produced by Disney - it has nothing of its saccharine.

I want to thank Stephen King for brightening my day a few days ago. I am thinking about rereading all the Potter books before the end of the year, that shouldn't be too difficult, they're my favourite books. Speaking about Potter, I discovered a pretty good blog called Wizards Wireless about children's books and Harry Potter (of course, hence the title). Any Potter fan is worth reading in my book, and Susan is no exception to the rule, her posts are informative and interesting.