September Classic Challenge: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

For September, I am reviewing Lord of the Flies, a novel about the line between man and animal. When a group of boys crash land on a deserted island they are torn between becoming a civilised society and a bunch of savages. It questions how far mankind’s nature is from that of animals.

526Title: Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

Publication Date: 1954

Rating: 2.5 stars

Review:

Stranded on a desert island, with no adults, a group of young boys must learn how to survive and function as a society. Ralph, a natural leader, gets nominated as chief and pushes all their efforts into keeping a signal fire lit. Not everyone thinks this is important; Jack believes that hunting is the key to survival, and he will do anything necessary to take power from Ralph. But there is something out there, hiding in the forest. The boys know it only as ‘the beast’ and laugh at the idea of a monster, but in the dark of the night they only know something is coming.

As a comment on the functions and breakdown of society, and how mankind is not much more than an animal if we allow ourselves to give in to our base urges, Lord of the Flies is an interesting yet extremely heavy handed book. It’s interesting that William Golding uses children to make his point, as it shows the gap between being a child and being an adult, but could also be seen as a comment on how children are more like animals – during our childhood we learn how to become more civilised, eventually becoming fully functioning members of society when we become adults. The fact that the stranded group were all young boys also makes a point. I believe this would have been a very different book if it had been only girls on the island – more discussion/arguing and less bloodshed, for a start. However, had it been a mix of both genders, I believe it would have been similar, only the competition between the boys would have been a lot more upfront and the attention from a girl would have indicated rank.

It is agreed that there is a lot of symbolism in this book, with the main characters representing Democracy, Dictatorship, Science, and Religion. Personally, I didn’t find this all to be very clear. Whilst I could see Ralph and Jack as Democracy and Dictatorship – with Ralph as the leader wanting to discuss issues, and Jack’s tactics of propaganda and scapegoating – the roles of Piggy and especially Simon weren’t as clear. To me, Piggy was just the voice of reason and I wasn’t sure what Simon was meant to represent. The scene with Simon and the pigs head seemed random and disconnected from the rest of the story.

As for reading and enjoying Lord of the Flies, for what is a very interesting plot the book itself is dull. I enjoy stories, and found this book to be too much about ‘The Message’.

2.5 stars

Advertisements

August Classic Challenge: 1984 by George Orwell

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

Dystopic novels have become very popular over the last few years, especially in Young Adult. I have thoroughly enjoyed books like The Hunger Games and Stormdancer, but have also read some not so great ones (Wither and Delirium, to name some). I’ve noticed that most of the time with the dystopic novels I haven’t enjoyed most of the problems stem from issues with the world building, that the society has too many holes to be believable. 1984 has always been known to feature the original dystopian society, and I decided it’s high time to give it a go.

6606279Title: 1984

Author: George Orwell

Publication Date: 1948

Rating:

Intellectual Rating: 4 stars

Emotional Rating: 2 stars

Review:

(Contains spoilers, if you wish to read this unspoilt, look away now!)

The year is 1984, and thirty-nine year old Winston Smith has just committed a thought crime. Hiding from the ever watching and listening telescreen in his home, Winston begins to write in a dairy describing the thoughts that could get him killed by the government: his hatred of Big Brother, the knowledge that news stories and facts are being altered, and that poverty exists despite everything the Party would have people believe. Soon Winston begins looking for the rebellion he desperately hopes is out there, and begins an affair with young woman called Julia, would hates the Party as much as himself and uses sex as an act of defiance. Hiding from the Thought Police, Winston and Julia both know that their days are numbered, before they are discovered and removed from all existence – no-one can hide from the Party forever…

The original dystopia novel, 1984 is a great example of a dictatorship who has taken control so fully they don’t even need to be subtle about their actions against their people. Winston is in the fairly unique position of working for the Party in the Ministry of Truth, thus being able to see how they alter news given to the public, but is not high up enough to be exempt from the hash realities of the country, like rations and living under constant surveillance.  1984 questions the nature of reality through Winston’s struggles to deal with the knowledge of the facts he changes, whilst also pretending that he never saw them and swallow everything the Party says as truth. What exactly is reality? Does your reality differ from other peoples’, especially if they believe in a different past than you? The Party’s motto “he who controls the present controls the past, he who controls the past controls the future” is true, as they use their power to manipulate the public getting them to believe whatever they say, and through this ensure the public’s loyalty to the government. Struggling with questions like this and knowing you can’t think them without being hunted down by your own government, it’s easy to understand why Winston throws himself into his relationship with Julia, even knowing that it would almost certainly get him killed. The character of Julia is also an example of a common stereotype, especially in young people  – the rebel who doesn’t know exactly what they are rebelling against as they can’t be bothered to fully educate themselves. They just know that the government is evil, and believes that everything they say is “bloody rot“.

This novel is excellent in providing a terrifying example of what the world could become. With increases in CCTV cameras and surveillance through technology like GPS in smartphones, it’s easy to see why 1984 is often referenced by people when talking about how much we are being watched by the powers that be. This in itself earns the novel four stars in my eyes. However, upon finishing the novel my first thought was “well, that was depressing!”. After all that Winston goes through, discovering a man he thought was his friend was actually working for the Party, he and Julia being arrested by the Thought Police, Julia betraying him, and being tortured until he “loved Big Brother”, the only options left to Winston were to either become indoctrinated or die. Though indoctrination is the only way for George Orwell to keep his character alive, and to show the absolute power of the government, in the end this message was almost too depressing to read, and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Since this is such a difference in feelings between these two aspects in the novel, I’m cheating with my ratings here. As a comment on the power the government can have over its people and would life could be life if we’re not careful, this novel is excellent. As a novel about characters rebelling and trying to find peace, it is just plain depressing.

Intellectual Rating: 4 stars

Emotional Rating: 2 stars

July Classic Challenge: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

July’s Classic challenge is a series I, like many, have had my eye on after enjoying many different cinematic retellings. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters in British literature, and with the recent wave of adaptations (including Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes movies and the BBC’s modern day Sherlock, both of which are very entertaining) I decided it was time to read the original story. So we start at the beginning with A Study in Scarlet.

10943536Title: A Study in Scarlet

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

Publication Date: 1887

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

After serving his country in the Afghanistan war, Dr John Watson returns to his beloved London looking for a home. Permanently injured during his service and with little money, John soon realises he’ll need a roommate. By chance, a friend introduces him to the world’s only Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes – a man of great intellect and almost terrifyingly accurate observations. Thus begins their many adventures together, starting with the body of a man found in Lauriston Gardens, and the word Rache spelt in blood across the wall. With the police stumped, only Sherlock can solve the puzzle.

Sherlock Holmes is undoubtably the most well known fictional detective in the world, famed for his amazing ability to decipher clues that no-one else can. We are repeatedly told of his genius, through the adoring eyes of Dr John Watson, and the joy of this entire series is the many mysteries and trying to figure out just how Holmes was able to solve them. It is stated by Holmes several times that he is not in fact a genius, but merely able to observe tiny details that other people nearly always miss. The big reveal in A Study in Scarlet shows that it was actually a fairly simple case had the police seen all the details – as Holmes himself says “I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all”.  Since the novel is written from Watson’s point of view, we are unable to notice what Holmes sees, as Watson is not an observant man – or at least, not as observant as Sherlock Holmes. The reader of this series comes to idealise Holmes as capable of solving anything because we see him through Watson’s eyes as an impressive genius beyond all doubt.

In terms of characters, both Watson and Holmes felt a little flat, especially Watson, which is odd considering he is the narrator of this novel. Watson spends most of his time marvelling at Holmes’ amazing abilities, and Holmes showing off said abilities. It seems that Conan Doyle wanted the reader to feel the same love for Holmes as Watson does, and what better way than to have the whole story narrated by a admiring (though not mindless) fan? This appears to be one of those issues with knowing the characters more through adaptations that through the source material itself. The relationship, which plays a huge part in practically all the films/TV shows, felt under developed as we were told, rather than shown, that they had become friends. This relationship is almost certainly expanded during the course of the entire series, but in terms of A Study in Scarlet, it seems to be sacrificed in favour of the mystery.

There were a few other surprises, namely that the story changes in both scenery and characters in the second half, to explain the mystery, and that the author’s political views aren’t exactly subtle1. On the whole, A Study in Scarlet is an enjoyable book, but I can’t help but feel that people’s love of Sherlock Holmes comes both from the entire series and the many different interpretations we have available.

3.5 stars.

1 Conan Doyle seemed to really hates Mormons. I wonder why?

June Classic Challenge: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

Since this is my first classic challenge, I thought I’d ease myself in with a book that is both classic and a genre I already enjoy. Having read other books based around this, including the brilliant This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel, and seen many movies who borrow characters from this work, June’s Classic Challenge is Frankenstein.

3328742Title: Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley

Publication Date: 1818

Rating: 3 stars

Review:

After a childhood of indulging his scientific curiosities, Victor Frankenstein has realised his purpose: to create life from death. But despite succeeding, once he lays eye upon the creature his has created Victor knows he has made a grave mistake. He has created a monster, one which torments his soul and preys upon his family. No-one is safe, and now Victor must travel and destroy his work before anyone else is hurt.

Frankenstein is a novel that explores the nature of playing God and questions the limits of science. Through its melodramatic prose and horrific descriptions, it is a masterwork of the Gothic and Horror genres. The idea of an arrogant young man who believes he can defeat death only to have it go terribly wrong is one that has been used many times since this novel’s publication. Victor tries to play God, only to regret his actions and detest his own creation, which in turn causes the Creature to hate him in turn, blaming Victor for his wretched existence. The novel challenges the idea of power between man and God: Victor is the creator thus the Creature believes him to be the cause of his suffering, and the only one able to relieve it, yet the Creature is far superior in strength and ability to survive in the wild. He haunts Victor’s every move, striking down those he loves one by one despite all efforts to stop him; the Creature’s free will gives him power over his God. The Creature also blames his murderous intent on Victor, insisting that he was inherently virtuous before the misery of rejection caused him to seek vengeance, whereas Victor believes him to be monstrous through and through. Mary Shelley questions the nature of mankind: are we born to good, or is this just a human ideal? After all, animals have no sense of evil, just survival. Is Frankenstein’s creature man or beast? As in real life, there are no solid conclusions drawn.

Within this novel’s style it is possible to see the origins of the Gothic genre. Whilst the questions asked are intriguing and it reads well, it is written in an almost painfully melodramatic way. Victor is often found weeping at mere thoughts and worries, whilst his creature laments his fortunes over and over to anyone listening: “When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.1” This reads as awfully heavy-handed, and soon becomes fairly boring.

It is easy to see why Frankenstein is considered a classic: its deep questions into human nature and the tormented journey of both Victor and his creature are fascinating to read. However, it is hindered by the overly dramatic writing style and self-serving soliloquies, which causes the novel to become repetitive.

3 stars.

1 All you need to do is add an “O” to the beginning of this quote and you have yourself a Shakespearian monologue!