I had a random encounter with a stranger because of this book. This isn’t something that normally happens to me but a woman approached me because of what I was reading. During a short train ride this weekend, I was rushing to finish my chapter before I got off at the final stop. Prompting a fellow passenger to tell me I’d have to finish it later. She then informed me that she’d recently bought the book for her daughter but she hadn’t read it yet. I’m not used to this happening because I’m always fearful of popular fiction. Meaning I’m not normally reading books that are topping the best sellers lists. That wasn’t supposed to sound like such a weird and patronising brag as it does. I just mean, I’m normally met with blank stares or bemused nods when someone spies the cover of my current read.
I’m going to be honest, I’d forgotten that today was Tuesday until a few minutes ago. I was happily sorting everything out and trying to organise my shit when I realised. I needed to hurry up and write this damn review. It’s all because my shifts have changed this week so I’m all off. I keep thinking it’s Sunday or something. But it’s not and I have another Best Picture nominee to review. The BAFTAs took place on Sunday and, despite having several nominations, Vice didn’t do too well out of the ceremony. Winning an award for Best Editing, it missed out on the other 5 categories it was up for. Christian Bale looked like a real contender for Best Actor but Rami Malek beat him out. Whether that changes Bale’s chances at the Oscars remains to be seen but, if you ask me, he’s still a pretty strong possibility. Malek was great but will it speak to the Academy? Especially when Bohemian Rhapsody was so disappointing. Who can say? But, all I know is, it’s never a good idea to discount Bale whenever he drastically alters his appearance for a role. I mean the guy even went to the lengths of thickening his neck. If that’s not commitment to a character then I don’t know what is.
After last week’s disappointing Bohemian Rhapsody, I was ready for a better Best Picture nominee to review. So, I went for one that I’ve been looking forward for ages. Any story that sounds so insane yet is based on a real-life event is something you just have to watch, right? Plus, and without wanting to prove just how superficial I really am, Adam Driver is looking good in that trailer. I admit that I kind of lost interest thanks to his nipple-height trousers from that scene in The Last Jedi but the minute I saw him in a plaid shirt I was back. And it’s great that he’s been given a nomination for his role here. Hell, it’s great that this film got a Best Picture nomination. Not only because I get an excuse to watch it but also because of the lack of recognition for If Only Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins obviously killed with Moonlight but the Academy have done the least possible for his latest film. Neither the director or the film are being recognised. I know I haven’t seen it yet but everything I’ve seen leads me to believe it deserves a place. Especially now I’ve seen Bohemian Rhapsody. But we can’t have everything.
So, I’ve broken my book buying ban with only one fucking day to go in the month. Why did I do it? Because I knew that I wouldn’t finish either of the books I’ve got on the go by the time I had to write this review. So, I popped into my local bookshop to see if I could find a quick read that looked interesting. I found it in the small selection of graphic novels and, after reading the quote on the front, decided I couldn’t not read it. “A story of courage and heroism to inspire young people everywhere.” I mean who could ignore an endorsement like that? Especially when the back cover reveals that Malala Yousafzai was also a fan. The graphic novel version of Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner is actually the adaptation of the 2018 animated film based on the book. So, I have just read the novelisation of a film I haven’t seen that was based on a book I haven’t read. Whatever could go wrong?
Anyone who has read a few of my book related posts may know that I have a rocky history with YA fiction and I’m not entirely convinced by contemporary poetry. So you’d think that I’d definitely want to steer clear of a piece of YA fiction written entirely in verse. But Long Way Down is the kind of book that I couldn’t ignore for long. Loads of people I respect on Bookstagram loved it and I heard loads of praise for it in general. So, when To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before proved too much for me to handle, I decided it was time to give it a try. After all, it’s not a very long read so I knew I could blast through it in a matter of hours. And I am still trying, though not very hard, to read more poetry this year. It feels like a novel written in verse is the ideal way of doing this as I sometimes find it difficult to get into poetry. It’s not exactly a normal method of reading when you’ve got a collection of poems loosely tied together by a similar theme but that are all separate. As this one contained such a tight and concise narrative, I was excited to see how it would work.
It seems appropriate to start my review about this YA novel discussing prejudices by talking about my own. I openly admit to you all here that I’m prejudiced against YA fiction. I’ve always been disappointed by the simplistic narratives and underwhelming writing on offer in so many popular YA books. I know there are some really good ones out there but the majority are just so obvious, repetitive and dull. I’ve always found it a little hard to accept that so many adults these days are reading Young Adult fiction. I think YA books are great… as long as they’re read by Young Adults. The thing is, a lot of the people who read YA these days aren’t of that demographic. They’re adults. And maybe it’s because they don’t have the time or energy for something more advanced or maybe they just don’t see the appeal of other fiction? I don’t know but I find something a little bit sad about anyone over the age of 20 who reads only or primarily YA fiction. I just haven’t enjoyed very many YA books that I’ve read in recent years. It’s all so immature and simplistic. The use of language just isn’t on par to anything I’d normally read. Still, every so often there comes along a book that I can’t ignore. This was one of those books.
So, anyone paying attention to my Sunday Rundowns for the past few months will know that I’ve been suffering from a major reading slump recently. So much so that the last time I reviewed a book was way back in April. In fact, the book I’m reviewing tonight was one I started at the beginning of April. Yes, I stopped to read another book in between but after that it took bloody ages. I thought I was never going to finish. Every time I sat down to read I just couldn’t pluck up the energy. It’s a huge shame because I was so excited to read this novel. It was actually on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2018‘ list. For one thing, how can anyone ignore a title quite like that? It’s a fantastic thing. Especially for someone who loves Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein so much. The war in Iraq is modern history but is something that we all have memories of in some way. The idea that the two were being combined into something darkly comical was super appealing. It’s just a shame I lost my mood for reading. As much as I enjoyed this, I think it deserves a reread when I get to a suitable time in my life. Once I’ve stopped lending it to everyone I keep convincing to read it. I just can’t help myself. I’m obsessed with this book.
When I saw Avengers: Infinity War earlier this month I’d seen all but one of the films in the Marvel franchise. The only missing part was the biggest hit Marvel had seen up until Infinity War was released. It wasn’t as if I’d intended to skip Black Panther. I mean I was super excited about it before it came out. Hell, as soon as T’Challa turned up in Civil War was couldn’t wait to see how the MCU dealt with introducing us to Wakanda. It was a big moment for so many people and for so many reason. But, thanks to an annoyingly hectic schedule, I missed out and I had to make the choice to see Infinity War without it. Aside from a few characters I’d obviously never seen before, I don’t think I lost anything by not seeing it. It’s probably the only Marvel film that it’s kind of okay to not have seen pre-Infinity War. That said, it’s not something you should skip entirely. I had the chance to finally see it this weekend and, honestly, it left me feeling amazing. All the time I was watching it, I had that feeling that I was experiencing something special and important. As if history was taking place right in front of my eyes. I realise that sounds not only melodramatic but also fucking pretentious but you can’t escape the feeling that something changed with this film. It was a whole new Marvel experience and a whole new approach to super films. It’s only the second time I can remember leaving a comic book movie feeling so inspired and empowered. This experience is up there with Wonder Woman in its importance to both me and the film industry as a whole.
I have my fair share of graphic novels but they are mostly from the fantastical/ superhero side of things. I’ve read maybe a couple of non-fiction graphic novels in my time but definitely not enough. The last one was at the end of 2016 when I managed to squeeze in The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia by Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot before midnight January 31st. I don’t read enough non-fiction as it is so I should probably embrace the graphic novel format to manage more. I mean all those words replaced with pictures. It makes getting through a story so much easier. I first came across this book when I was killing time in Waterstones waiting for a friend. I spent a lot of money that I hadn’t wanted to and could have spent way more. This was one of the graphic novels being recommended by staff and it sounded like a must read. So I bought it… but somewhere that was selling it for less than Waterstones. I never really know how to read a graphic novel. I feel like it should be in one sitting but that feels like a bit of a mammoth task. So I spent a few days on this and I think it worked better. You definitely could read it in one go but I think I benefited from having a break now and then.
I’m a liar. Or at least I was a liar. For more years than I’d care to admit to I lied about having read you. Don’t judge me. I was a teenage literary student who hadn’t read one of the most revered books of all time. How could I possibly admit to not having read Orwell’s classic? So I didn’t. I not only pretended that I’d read you but that I loved you. I had discussions with friends about you. I argued in your favour. It was ridiculous. But I got away with. In fact, it was so easy that I decided that I could continue to put you off. It seemed like a massive hassle when I was so good at bullshitting.
I eventually did read you and I enjoyed you. I think I always had a sneaking suspicion that I didn’t love you as much as I’d always pretended but I ignored it. I’d finally read the book that so many people loved. The ultimate in dystopian fiction. I finally felt worthy of the title of book nerd. Even if I did, secretly, just wish I’d read Animal Farm again. That nagging feeling of doubt continued to get to me. That gnawing in the back of my brain that said “1984 isn’t actually that good” was impossible to shake. So, a couple of years ago, I reread you. And I came to a decision.
You aren’t a great novel. But you aren’t a bad novel either. I think there are a lot of great ideas at play in this work and I appreciate your overall message. I get the point of Orwell trying to point out the dangers of totalitarianism and I understand that you hold an important place in literary history. I get it. But all of that cleverness under the surface doesn’t change the fact that, really 1984, you aren’t that great a book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that on my last read through I was bored. I didn’t even finish you! I just couldn’t do it.
However, I understand that it would be wrong to totally dismiss you. So I’m using a phrase that Orwell himself discusses in great detail. You are a good bad book. Orwell defines this terms as:
the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously
Which I think sums up my feelings about you, 1984. I love you as an idea and I love so many aspects of you. There are plenty of moments that I think are relevant today and your narrative never fails to start some sort of discussion. You are a book that never fails to excite me in some way. However, I find that I can’t really take you seriously. You can’t deny that you are flawed, right?
I mean you’re so melodramatic and kind of ludicrous. There are so many parts of the plot that just seem insane and absolutely unworkable. We all know that Big Brother is a very obvious caricature of Stalin, yes, but there are aspects of his government that just wouldn’t work. It’s not a system with any kind of longevity. Plus, I can’t help but feel that Orwell has been a bit too obvious with the whole analogy thanks to his powerful hatred of communism. It just lacks the necessary subtlety to always work.
You also lack a lot of subtlety in terms of writing. Orwell is clumsy and long-winded. I mean think of the huge section where we sit and watch Winston reading a book. I think I skipped most of it in my last read. I can’t help but feel that there was a better way to get this information across to the reader. There is so much detail piled in here to get Orwell’s point across that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the story. And don’t even get me started on the attempt to realise a Cockney accent. It’s mega cringe.
And I’m only saying this because you’re still a good enough book that it won’t matter. You’ve changed the world of literary and you’ve changed the world in general. You have seeped into society. You’ve changed our language. You’ve empowered people to stand up for themselves. You’ve forced us to see the negatives in front of our eyes. You’re also not completely terribly written. There are some passages of stunning descriptions of your dystopian world. You have endured for good reason. But, it would be amiss of me not to point out that you are flawed. That’s probably what makes you so impressive. For something so ridiculous to be so powerful is, perhaps, the true definition of a literary classic. So, I’ll continue to defend you but I’ll be doing so well-aware that beneath your legend there is the frail, flawed body. You look like the Disney Hercules after his training but are, in fact, Disney Hercules before his training. Still a demi-God but a much less impressive one.
Confession is not betrayal