The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien

In the films, The Two Towers is my favourite of the trilogy. I’m not sure the same can be said for the books. The first half of The Two Towers is excellent and I pretty much loved every bit of it. In comparison, the second half falls rather flat.

A photo focusing on the book The Two Towers in the centre. On the left side you can see part of both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King.

The first half of this instalment focuses on a couple of action-packed plots that weave their way together. Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs and their characters are given the chance to develop and mature. We learn more about their personalities and how determined and strong they can be. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in pursuit as they try to rescue their friends, despite feeling certain they will not be able to succeed in this mission. It’s a touching example of how much this group have come to love and respect each other. It’s a gripping plot and we also get to meet the Ents, the tree guardians of the forest, whom I utterly adore.

Continue reading

Miniature thoughts – Evening Primrose and Much Ado About Nothing

What does Evening Primrose by Kopano Matlwa have to do with Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that I don’t have enough thoughts on either of them works to justify a full post.

Evening Primrose by Matlwa tells the story of Masechaba who has fulfilled her ambition of becoming a doctor, something she has wanted since experiencing traumatising and debiliating issues with her periods as a child. Whilst working at the hospital she experiences more of the systematic misogyny that pervades the healthcare system and she struggles with the xenophobic tensions that are heightening in the shadow of apartheid. Whilst I appreciated this book and was drawn in by Matlwa’s writing, I felt that perhaps it covered too much in too little space. Misogyny, religion, xenophobia, racism, medical trauma, mental health, suicide, and sexual assault. For a book that was less than 200 pages, I could never quite figure out what it was about. I usually want books to be shorter, but this was a rare occasion where I wish it had been twice as long. It made many important points and the prose was gripping, but I needed more space to live with the themes with which Matlwa grappled.

I am no Shakespeare aficionado, having only read a handful of his works. I thoroughly enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing though. It was delightful, funny and heartwarming. Beatrice and Benedick both hate each other, until their friends decide to trick them into thinking the other loves them. Lo and behold, they discover they have been in love all along. A classic tale that was charming to read. That is only one of the main plots, but it was the plot I enjoyed the most. Much Ado is genuinely funny and the characters were people whom I wanted to read more about. Beatrice in particular is wonderful and invective and I wish we could read more of her rants:

O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place.

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

I had wanted to re-read The Lord of the Rings for several months and had only put it off because I find them so dense to read that they take up a lot of time. And there are other books I want to read as well. However, when I went up to the Lake District with my mum in September I finally succumbed and brought The Fellowship of the Ring up with me. The Lakes always remind me of Middle Earth, so it was the perfect setting.

This was my third time reading The Lord of the Rings and I have enjoyed it more with each re-read. Tolkien’s descriptive writing of the world he has created is a joy to read. The settings of the Shire, Lothlórien and Riverdale are so vivid that I feel that I have travelled to these places with these characters.

Continue reading

Ransom – David Malouf

Homer’s Iliad is one of my favourite works and I have always been particularly drawn to the scene where Priam sneaks into the Greek camp to beg Achilles for the return of the body of his son, Hector. I have always loved the humanity that is present in Homer; how he focused on the individual lives of those who were fighting the war. It is this episode that sums up what Homer does so well. Here we have two men, caught up in their aching grief and sharing that with each other as equals. It is in this moment that humanity shines through this bloody war of the gods.

In Ransom, David Malouf has taken this scene and transformed it into something new. The book mainly follows Priam, as he makes this unprecedented decision from the depths of his grief. Malouf shows us that whilst mourning is something that we will all have to go through at some point, we experience it differently. Priam cares deeply about all the sons he has lost to this war, but when he talks to his wife, Hecuba, he realises that she mourns for them on a different level. She remembers them as children. She remembers carrying them in her womb, teaching them to walk, the toys with which they played. Priam feels his loss deeply, but these are not the memories that he holds of his sons. He also grieves for his city and the dangers that the deaths of his sons may bring on his people and remaining family.

As for the grief of Achilles. Well, his grief for Patroclus is transformed into rage. If his lover is dead, then the world should die with him.

Continue reading

The Paths of Survival – Josephine Balmer

The ancient playwright Aeschylus once wrote a tragedy about the star-crossed lovers, Achilles and Patroclus. This play was called Myrmidons and, excepting a couple of fragments, it is now lost to us. We know that it followed Achilles when he was refusing to fight for the Greeks during the Trojan War, a decision that ultimately leads to the death of his beloved. The fragments we do have are filled with lust, love, betrayal, anger, hatred and despair. There are so many works from antiquity that I wish we still had access to, but I particularly feel the loss of this one. Thankfully, in The Paths of Survival, Josephine Balmer brings this work to life in an innovative and evocative way.

A photo of a book on a blue and white striped background. The book has a white background and a photo of a battle helmet. Text: The Paths of Survival. Josephine Balmer.

This collection of poems starts in the present day, at the Sackler Library in Oxford where Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2256 currently resides. Amongst these scraps of papyrus are some lines that are believed to be when Achilles’ is lamenting over the dead body of Patroclus.

[…For soon I will follow you do]wn
Into darkn[ess]…

Continue reading

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove is yet another book that my mother has repeatedly told me to read, but which took me a long time to get around to reading. A Man Called Ove (originally En man som heter Ove) was first published in Sweden in 2012 and was translated into English by Henning Koch.

An image of the front cover of A Man Called Ove, which is aligned to the right-hand-side of a pale, wood-effect background.

We first meet Ove, a 59-year-old grumpy man, in a computer store as he tries to buy a laptop. Or a computer. Or an iPad. Why are there so many different options? He doesn’t trust any of them. The sales assistants are rightfully annoyed and a little intimidated by his aggressive attitude. Despite this rather negative introduction to Ove, I couldn’t help but warm to him immediately. His demeanour made me smile. We follow Ove as his repeated attempts to end his life are consistently thwarted by his neighbours, who seem hellbent on interrupting him from this task. And how is he meant to kill himself when the circumstances aren’t correct? Gradually, we learn more about Ove, how he has ended up in this situation, and the impact that he has on the lives of those around him.

Continue reading

The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane

Sometimes, when life is stressful, you need a book that talks to you about trees and valleys and water. When I sat down on my lunch break and read the opening sentence of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, I knew I had chosen the book that my soul needed:

The wind was rising, so I went to the wood.

Such a simple sentence. But one filled with such comfort.

In The Wild Places, Macfarlane sets out to discover if there are any truly wild places left in Britain and Ireland. Spoiler: there are. Each chapter focuses on a different natural form, beginning and ending with a chapter titled “Beechwood”. The chapters all follow a similar pattern and explore similar themes. Macfarlane tells the reader how different landscapes came to be, gives brief histories of different areas, describes his experiences of the wild place he is in, and touches on personal anecdotes from his life.

Continue reading

A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes

Having read and adored Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, I was in the mood for another re-telling of the Trojan War told from a female perspective. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes has garnered a fair amount of attention and I was drawn to the concept of focusing on several women’s stories, not just one. It’s a brave endeavour, but I don’t think Haynes managed to pull it off.

A Thousand Ships opens with a chapter told from the point of view of Creusa, who wakes in the night to find that her city is burning to the ground around her. She does not know the whereabouts of her son or husband. One can only imagine the panic that would be coursing through someone in this situation. However, what should have been an intense, frenetic start to this book lacked any urgency within the writing. Haynes told me that Creusa was scared, but the text did not show this. An otherwise frantic scene was reduced to a matter-of-fact narration.

Continue reading

The Odyssey – Homer (translated by Emily Wilson)

Emily Wilson is the first woman to have published an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey and it is an exquisite piece of work. Before reading it, I had already read several of her twitter threads about the translation process. She discusses some of the challenges she faced during the translati on process and examines the choices that different English translators made in their versions. In these threads, she often brings to light the misogyny that runs through the previous translations by men. I’ve wanted to read this translation since its publication in 2017, so when The Silence of the Girls put me in the mood for some Homer I knew the time had come to re-read this epic tale.

A photo of the paperback edition of Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey. The book has a white background, with gold lettering, and an image of three ladies at the top taken from a Minoan fresco painting.

The Odyssey is set after the Trojan War has taken place and follows the Greek soldier Odysseus on his adventurous return home to Ithaca. The Trojan War lasted for ten years. It takes Odysseus another ten to return home to his wife and son. Odysseus angered the god Poseidon, who punishes him by filling his journey with danger and treacherous obstacles. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, Odysseus’ wife Penelope has had her house overrun with suitors who, believing Odysseus to be dead, are pressuring her to choose one of them as her husband. Penelope faces her own battles as she struggles to keep the suitors at bay and longs for her husband to return.

Continue reading

Maurice – E. M. Forster

There are some books that you know you want to read even though you can’t remember who recommended it. Books that maybe weren’t even recommended directly to you, but they’ve worked their way into your consciousness anyway. Maurice is one of those books. A cornerstone of Western queer literature that I had to read at least once in my life. I had high expectations going into this novel, which were only raised by the 4.02 rating on Goodreads. Thankfully, it did not let me down.

Maurice follows the titular character of Maurice Hall from his teenage years into adulthood, as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the effect that it has on his life. Maurice realises at a young age that he is attracted to men and he enters into his first homosexual relationship whilst at university. We are privy to the highs and lows of Maurice’s life and we discover with him how he is to live happily in this world as a gay man. In Maurice, Forster has written an affecting account of what it meant to be a gay man in Edwardian England and how difficult, but worthwhile, it is to learn how to accept yourself.

Continue reading