Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

I had to give this novel two stars on GoodReads due to the uncomfortable subject content and plot of the story, especially due to the recent sexual abuse allegations in the media.

For those of you readers who do not know the storyline of ‘Lolita,’ it is about a 37-year-old man named Humbert Humbert who moves to America and in order to get close and groom the landlady’s daughter, he chooses to marry her before her untimely and horrific death; thus means Humbert enables to court Lolita whilst travelling across the US.
What makes this novel so arguably brilliant and disturbing is that Lolita or Dolores Haze is twelve years old at the beginning of the novel (and seventeen and pregnant at the end) and is sexually abused by the protagonist that plays her only father figure that appears throughout the novel. Humbert does not appear to be the monster that would naturally be portrayed in the media and in real life, this is because he is the narrator and has the ability to blur the lines between real life and his fantasies. This makes it hard for the reader to be able to truly believe what is really happening in the novel, for example, Humbert suggests that it is actually Lolita who seduces him rather than the other way round. However, the reader is able to assume based on Lolita’s behaviour and hostility towards her step-father that she cannot stand the abusive relationship that she is trapped in but over their travels, she learns how to manipulate him for sex (becoming an unwilling prostitute) in return for a small amount of freedom. Through this manipulation, Humbert is also able to fall victim to Lolita’s nymph-like features and attitudes and portrays this through his love and protectiveness of her, therefore, showing his own innocence.
The narration is beautiful and imaginative, and does not explicitly describe in detail the main consummative events of the novel, however the reader is able to understand through subtle euphemisms what is taking place. That is the main reason why I haven’t enjoyed the novel because I’m not naive enough to not understand the events taking place and with more and more celebrity abuse scandals being revealed in the media it only brings the subject closer to home and more real. It does make you question whether Nabokov himself was a paedophile as he is able to write from the position of Humbert very successfully.

Overall, this novel has opened my eyes to a different type of unreliable narrator and variation of character that features throughout modern and classic literature. Whilst I did not enjoy the novel and wouldn’t read it again (if it wasn’t for studying it in my second year of university), it is one novel that I can cross off my reading bucket list.


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – Peter Hedges

I felt incredibly privileged to arrive at work a few months ago and open up the package addressed to myself from Fox, Finch & Tepper (a publishing house based in Bath, UK) giving me one of the first UK editions ever printed of ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’ by Peter Hedges.
I knew the film was released in 1993 and starred Johnny Depp and one of my favourite all time actors: Leonardo Dicaprio but had no idea until I contacted the publishing house that it was originally novel. When I received the book, I told myself that I wouldn’t watch the film until after I’d read the book so as to not influence myself based on the caliber of actors starring in the film.

I found the blurb to be really basic and not very descriptive as to how the novel would pan out but I actually preferred it that way because as I had previous knowledge or assumptions of the story, I could read and imagine what happens next completely innocently. I would predict what would happen but every time I was wrong. I was so sure I knew what the outcome of the ending would be based on Gilbert Grape’s telling of his story and his increasingly strange and abusive behaviour. I was wrong, it took a completely different turn to what I had interpreted.

Hedges writing was so simplistic but had such a powerful impact on me, especially the fond way he would talk about his “retard” brother Arnie Grape, the main character Gilbert writes as if he doesn’t care about his family or himself and his own emotions but he quite often writes “I wanted to say this but didn’t, instead I said,” which just proves the intense conflict he has with himself and how in order to protect him and his family he speaks what they want to hear. Gilbert Grape takes the father role from a young age after his father’s suicide when he was younger despite Larry being the eldest son in the Grape family and this has an incredibly severe impact on himself and the eldest daughter Amy. Whilst obese Momma is sat smoking, eating and watching television every day Amy and Gilbert become the mother and father of the household, looking after everyone and taking responsibility of things they shouldn’t have to whilst living at home and taking care of their mentally handicapped brother when their mother is lazy and fat.
It is not an overtly sad story but if you choose to read the novel in depth and read in between the lines, then you can see the pain, sadness and other emotional baggage that every single character within the novel has and influences their behaviours and various personalties and relationships with others. The ending is pa enrtially sad not because of the crucial event that takes place but how the characters respond and act, in particular Gilbert and Amy Grape.

I haven’t read a book I truly have enjoyed as much as this in a while, it was something completely different to anything I’ve read about before. A poor family struggling to make ends meet in America is not a situation that I’m used to; it’s usually about the rich upper classes struggling to find love or becoming corrupt and killing themselves, very rarely have I come across a novel with such genuine characters that you could place into real life society and know they would fit in.




Anxiety & Exeter’s Underground Passages

Sitting here in my grandparents’ house exactly a year ago, my family and I were supporting my dad’s sudden mental breakdown and battle with anxiety and depression. A year later, he is much better and roles have reversed. In the winter of 2016, I had a severe breakdown whilst at university affecting various important relationships and even the standard of my uni coursework. It was only a few months later that I realised that nothing was going to get better if I didn’t seek out help from those closest to me and most importantly: a doctor.

Six months later, I’ve completed my CBT programme (thanks to Rebecca Thomson at Wiltshire IAAPT Service), taking 150mg Sertraline daily and taking each day as it comes. Every day is different. Some easier than others but all completely unpredictable.

Yesterday, as a family we decided to visit Exeter and explore the city that my dad once inhabited and to visit the passages that run under the centre of the city.
Ever since I was about 9 years old and visiting Cheddar Gorge and Caves, I developed a terrifying and paralysing fear of the dark and confined spaces because they make me feel trapped, blind and completely vulnerable to whatever lurks in the dark. That trip affected me so badly that I didn’t sleep properly for the following six months, surviving on only 3 hours sleep, at least, a night. I barely function on six hours a night, how did I manage on three?!
Since then, I have avoided situations like that due to the ‘worst case scenario’ part of my anxiety coming to the forefront, this meant I missed on an adventure trip to Wales in Year 8 (age 13) and just doing other things out of my comfort zone. I am conscious of when my anxiety comes out to play, I can feel it creeping up on me and beginning to constrict and control me; and this needs to stop. My dad suggested the trip to the underground passages and catacombs and at first I wasn’t going to venture 16 feet down under the city, but if I didn’t go I would not only continue to suffer from this irrational fear but also FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

So I went down. I hated it. The history of the tunnels was amazing and it was incredible to actually touch the walls that people from hundreds of years ago built and walked through in order to fix water piping, however it was tiny and claustrophobia inducing. A fat person definitely would not be able to fit through some of the passageways because even I had difficulty and my BMI says that I’m underweight! I took my water bottle because in ‘worst case scenario’ I would survive longer down there compared to the others without water; when I began to get panicky, the trapped feeling, and the tour guide told me to lead the way down one passage in which had a weird ending towards it I would clutch my bottle and focus on it and drink to help regulate my breathing if I began to hyperventilate.

On the way back to the entrance, we could do either the easy way back or the more difficult tunnel. My FOMO struck me again as all my family wanted to go through the difficult passage and my anxiety wouldn’t let me separate from my family and go with the tour guide who’s name was unknown and therefore I couldn’t know if I could trust him.
When he said it was a difficult passageway, he wasn’t far off. At one point it got less than a metre high, many people in front of me, and my mum and sister crawled on their hands and knees to the very end, but somehow (and I don’t know how) I managed to squat walk the whole way through without touching the walls or the ground with my hands.

I hated the experience and how anxious and panicked it made me feel despite the amazing historical background and importance of the passageways were to Exeter city years ago. I wouldn’t do it again in the near future, maybe once I have overcome the severest parts of my anxiety I would consider doing it again, but not yet. I am proud of myself for doing it and proving to myself that anxiety is manageable step by step and I can do anything if I’m surrounded by the right supportive people and not doing too much all at once.

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

Everyone knows the story of Jurassic Park but how many people know the original story as written by the Harvard medical graduate Michael Crichton? I am a massive fan of the films but as a firm believer in reading the books before watching the film, however considering the film was released a few years before I was born and I grew up knowing that that film was all there was.

I ordered the book off ebay because I’ve never seen it in a bookshop before. I am afraid to admit that I do judge books by their cover and usually, if they’re pretty, the content is just as pretty or even more so. I wouldn’t call the cover of Jurassic Park pretty, it was basic and simple. The cover told the unsuspecting reader that there is some relation to the reintroduction of dinosaurs to the world during the 1990s.

I was so surprised by how similar the book and film are, and how it still influenced the most recent film in the franchise: Jurassic World. The novel is far more scientific than I ever imagined but then researching Crichton’s educational background, he definitely shows his superior intelligence and how incredibly researched and plausible the whole novel actually is. I believe that if the film had included more of the scientific aspects of the whole creation of the park and the science behind extracting dinosaur DNA and combining it with that of an amphibian’s; then the film would never have become a popular cult film.

The book is incredibly underrated which is annoying because it is fantastic. The whole novel is excellently crafted and written that it surpasses the plot and construction of the film. The film has become outdated but the book has grown with time because there is no specific mention of certain models of phones or cars, therefore the imagination can conjure up anything it wants, whether modern or completely futuristic. I found the characters more realistic in the novel than any of them in the film. Jeff Goldblum playing Ian Malcolm is everyone’s favourite character (don’t lie to yourself, he is the best) but in the novel, he is a mathematician and far more intelligent and serious than ever portrayed in the film.

In conclusion, read the book! Learn the fictional science behind the park. Once finished, order ‘The Lost World’ by Crichton and see how that compares because that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The Day That Went Missing – Richard Beard

Words cannot describe exactly the sadness of this memoir. It is full of feeling and emotion. It is not overly emotional and sickly or forced, because of this the emotion is raw and very real. There is very little censorship and it reads like the mind of Richard Beard as if he is trying to piece things together and these are his thoughts.

This memoir is about recovering the memory of the events that happened leading up to the death of his younger brother Nicholas Beard and how the family coped and dealt with his death.
The truth is they didn’t. They locked him and all his memories in the attic and moved on with their lives as if he had never existed. Beard’s mother appeared to never had time to grieve because she had 3 children and a husband suffering from cancer to look after. The only way she managed to cope was by believing her son was horrible and would grow up to be a banker or a murderer. However, Beard was interested in discovering the real Nicholas as he had very little memory of his brother, and he wasn’t a horrible and twisted little boy but in fact he was anything but.

This was a very sad and emotional book that proves that people cannot grieve as quickly and as easily as it may seem. Grief also takes a manner of shapes and forms as highlighted by every single person mentioned in this memoir. Arguably actively trying to forget the memory of Nicholas was not the best way to grieve and move on after his death on a holiday in Cornwall in 1978. However, compared to self help books that teach and advise you how to deal with grief, this first person perspective memoir shows exactly how a real family, real people, deal with the death of a close family member in real life.

Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami

I was privileged enough to receive ‘Men Without Women’ as an un-autocorrected proof from the publishers Harvill Secker and I couldn’t have been happier to be able to read this before the official publication date.

This was the first Murakami that I have ever read but I’ve heard many good things about this author so I was very excited to receive the book. It is a collection of seven short stories about several male characters who live without women but not in the sense that you expect. It’s not about seven lonely men who live boring lives because their wives have died or they never got married. It is more complex and intricately written than that.
Each of the stories in the collection is as diverse as the other and this is what makes Murakami such an established and accomplished author therefore despite not being particularly enamoured by the first short story I wasn’t going to give up that easily. The stories did improve and grow on me because they were more to my taste and covered topics that intrigued me. I couldn’t pick a favourite from the collection because they were so distinct and captivating.

I definitely recommend reading this collection because until then I have never completed a full collection of stories but because Harvill Secker chose me I was going to make an effort and I’m glad I did. It has inspired me not only to read more of Murakami’s work but other short story collections by various authors.

The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From ‘Islamic State’ by Samer

It is very rare that a person comes across a book that surprises and makes them lose their words. This book did that for me. A number people I know who have read it also experienced the same thing.

In summary, Samer the writer is a 24 year old male university student originally from Raqqa in Syria. He has grown up surrounded by the violence of the Assad regime and presently Daesh (or ISIS), and the novel is about him escaping and standing up to these villains. The novel wasn’t easy to publish; Samer had to encrypt many messages to the UK and go through many third parties in order to keep his identity and family safe. The saddest thing about this story is: we don’t know his real name or whether he is safe now. He could be alive or dead. That’s the scary part.

I cannot stress enough how important this book is and I urge everyone to read it. I only knew about the horrors of Syria through the news, which chooses to report on issues that are less important or always against ISIS. Samer talks about the devastation caused by Western airstrikes on Aleppo and Raqqa, which has made me realise that rather than bombing the hell out of that country, we need to help their society fight back for themselves and save the innocent. The novel has opened my eyes to the real innocent lives of those Syrians living in wartorn areas scared that today might be their last. No human should ever live in fear of being publicly beheaded or kidnapped and tortured in order to promise that they are practising the ‘true’ (Daesh enforced), Islam.
What makes this book interesting is the background of the author, he was an average joe, as normal as you or I. He wasn’t rich and therefore found it easy to get his work published, he was forced to leave university, look after his family, work as often as he could to provide for his family. He was forced to flee Raqqa by his mother. There are no images, instead, it is presented and published in a graphic novel form with basic line drawings of several important events that take place throughout. Less is more. It certainly packs the punch.

The Raqqa Diaries is currently in being sold in hardback but soon it should be released in paperback, but whatever format you are able to get your hands on please please read this book. Everyone needs to know and understand that the terrors of Syria do not stop at what we see in the media, they are much worse and need to be stopped. The more we can learn, the more we can help. I thank Samer from the bottom of my heart for risking his life to let us know what he and many others have been through and are going through.

Please read!