Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.

REVIEW: The Dreamers

Originally published as The Holy Innocents, Gilbert Adair’s novel was re-released as an updated edition after he had the chance to write the screenplay for the 2003 film, The Dreamers based on his work. I was so happy to get my hands on a copy of the re-released The Dreamers novel and was not disappointed.

This book came on my radar while I was revisiting the history of people running through the Louvre. I was familiar with the film (though I have not seen it save for the running scene) because of my love for actor Michael Pitt, but once I found out it was a book I was determined to get my hands on a copy. The day my copy of The Dreamers arrived, I was over the moon. And then proceeded to read the entire book in a day.

The novel follows twins Isabelle and Theo as they welcome American student Matthew into their tight little circle of obsessive French cinema worship. As their friendship grows, Matthew learns of the debauched relationship between the twins and is welcomed into their way of life. As the three are left to their own devices, secluded alone in the twins’ apartment, they lose all sense of the world around them and the only world that exists is the one inside the flat. Meanwhile, the riots of May ’68 are grasping the nation, creating a huge contrast between the two ways of life.

While I know this book is problematic by the standards of many, it was exactly what I was hoping it would be and was absolutely magical in the way Adair manages to create such an intense relationship and make the isolation of the trio feel natural. The style and flow of the writing was so beautiful and hypnotizing, I absolutely adored it from cover to cover. The Dreamers was exactly what I had hoped it was going to be and it was such a breath of fresh air after struggling through the book I had finished prior to starting this one.

In all honestly, the only part that grated on me was whenever French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Godard, was mentioned. As a film grad, I had to watch Breathless (1960) every damn semester and I hate it so much. Considering this isn’t even an issue with the book (and me mentioning it is literally a joke to any of my fellow grads who feel my pain about that stupid movie), I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this book.

Adair’s books seem to be mostly out of print these days, but I look forward to tracking down his other novels because I am obsessed with his style of writing.

REVIEW: A Little Life [ part one* ]

This month I decided to tackle one of the bigger books on my shelves. At 800-ish pages, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life seemed like what I wanted. Contemporary, set in New York, I heard it was gay and came highly recommended by someone I was close to.

But then I got 400-ish pages in and was in such a horrible mental state because of it, it’s not even funny. This is not a fun book. If anything, it’s a horrible book. So to start off this review, let’s get to the list of trigger/content warnings, shall we?

This book contains:

  • child abuse
  • sexual assault of a child
  • child abandonment (a baby literally in a dumpster)
  • child death
  • sexual assault
  • domestic abuse (that has the potential to lead to a possible murder)
  • gross dismissal of chronic pain
  • gaslighting
  • manipulation
  • graphic depictions of self-harm
  • suicidal ideation with mild intent
  • drug abuse

And that’s just the part of the book that I managed to get through.

As someone who is constantly battled chronic depression, this book actively made me want to jump in front of a train. Things only get worse and worse as the story progresses, even when you think things might turn around, the punch in the stomach is only a few paragraphs down the page.

The story itself follows four friends – JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcolm – in New York as they navigate their lives as artists, actors, lawyers, architects. Moving from post-college life into the real world is a struggle as they all fight for dream jobs with terrible pay and discover routes to where they feel their purpose is. Bouncing around in time, the narrative goes over the histories of each of them, talking about their privileged to not-so-privileged to terrible lives before they met each other.

The sad thing about this book is that all of the friends are incredibly likeable, even when they’re making asses of themselves (cough, JB, cough cough). Their histories really make you want to keep reading and find out what happened to them just as much as wanting to know where they’re all headed. It’s so beautifully prose-y and I absolutely adore the way with words that Yanagihara has, but I just couldn’t continue after the half-way mark of this book.

But this book very quickly reached torture porn levels of terrible as one of the characters gets sucked into a beyond incredibly abusive relationship. The character in question doesn’t believe he deserves a truly rewarding relationship and allows the most gruesome things to happen to him. After something of a “cliffhanger” of a chapter at what I hope was the climax of the abuse, I had to stop reading. I couldn’t take it anymore. A Little Life is literally like walking down stairs coated in broken glass barefoot into the vast depths of hell with no end or light or hope in sight.

This is not a book to read if you have any kind of major depressive issues.

I would not recommend this book to a single human being.

Ever.


* I’ve marked this as “part one” in case I do decide to go back to this book at a later date in order to try and finish it

 

MANGA MONDAY: Full Moon「complete series review」

This February, I’m planning on exclusively romance manga for my #MangaMonday posts and I thought, what better way to start off this theme than to post about the series that started my obsession.

Full Moon by Tanemura Arina was the first every manga I read start to finish. I was 12 when I first borrowed it from a friend at summer camp and the weeb days began. The series follows Mitsuki, a young girl with a tumour in her throat that keeps her from her dreams of being a pop star. When two shinigami (gods of death) named Meroko and Takuto come to her and let her know she only has one year left, she convinces them to let her live her dream and transform her into a healthy 17-year-old singer so she has the chance.

Image result for takuto kira
Takuto and Mitsuki are legit the cutest ever.

Full Moon is a beautiful story about love and passion and the things we are willing to do to make the world a happier place. Mitsuki is a sweet, innocent, caring little girl who only wants love and happiness but is willing to really work for it. And let’s be real, Takuto was the cutest manga boy I’d ever seen in my life at the time when I was reading and re-reading this series over and over again.

The elements of loss are also vital to this series and Tanemura captures the pain and the grief so beautifully as Mitsuki struggles with her own looming death on the horizon of her success as a pop star. Throw some of the most gorgeous, original artwork I’ve ever seen in my life, and there is nothing more to say about Full Moon.

The series originally ran from 2005 to 2006 and got a really lame anime adaptation (I, personally, love it, but I’m being honest when I say it is not good) so technically it’s an old classic at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was out of print these days but if you’re able to and want a sappy love story that will have you sobbing for the entirety of the last volume, I implore you to find it and read it and then email me immediately to yell about it.

REVIEW: No Longer Human

#MangaMonday has been shifted to Wednesday, because the title for this week is actually an adaptation of the amazing, semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu.

I also would like to mention trigger warnings for this novel include suicide and sexual assault (both implied and actual).


No Longer Human is the story of the narrator finding lost journals from a man named Oda Yozo, and following him through his struggles at simply existing around human beings. Yozo has never felt he fit in with the world, let alone just the space he occupied. He was easily taken advantage of and quickly found himself in barely escapable failures.

The novel is a complicated one, at first reading like little more than a depressing tragedy of a time where mental health care didn’t exist at all, resulting in the sad existence of Yozo. I actually had to read this a few times for the words to sink in, and upon re-reading, feel that the true meaning of the story is to be more aware of the people around us. It’s a story about loneliness and how that feeling is exacerbated when you can’t understand the social cues that berate you every waking moment. The lines about depression, about what it means to long for non-existence as opposed to outright death (which is the way I personally read it – suicidal ideation over suicidal intention). Yet our protagonist is so overwhelmed and sad that his ideations actually become failed truths again and again and again.

In a weird way, I find this novel surprisingly comforting in that it gives voice to some very real feelings that I’ve had to deal with myself. While I was reading a translation, I feel that Donald Keene did an incredible job of capturing Dazai’s essence and his emotion in the words and one day I really do hope that my Japanese reaches the point where I can read the original.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book to a single person I know, it is just so touching and important to me.

RE-READ REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name

The first time I read this book, I found myself getting hung up on the minute details of the book rather than focusing on the story, the writing, the beauty of the novel. Having re-read it via the audiobook, read by Armie Hammer, I was able to lose myself to it entirely and drift away into the Italian countryside of the 1980s.

The word choices, the long flowing sentences, that Andre Aciman makes throughout the novel are so heartbreakingly beautiful and make even a child prodigy like Ellio feel like the more relatable boy in the world. His pain is my pain with every time I read this book and I just live for his romance and his suffering. And reading through it is one thing, but the emotion that Armie Hammer puts into his voice while narrating brought me to tears several times throughout. The only narrator who could make it any better would be Timothee Chalamet himself.

I don’t really have much more to say outside of this is one of the most touching love stories I have ever had the joy of partaking in. I have the words of this book on my skin in the author’s own handwriting, and I will cherish them forever. I will cherish this book forever.


Note: Script work tattoo was done at Grim City Tattoo Club by Kristian

The Ghost Collector Blog Tour

Allison Mills’s debut novel, The Ghost Collector, is a middle-grade contemporary novel with a hint of the paranormal. Shelly’s family can catch ghosts in their hair and help them find their way to the afterlife when ready. Using this talent as something of a job, Shelly’s grandmother often takes her ghost hunting as they free the ghosts of animals from homes the owners are convinced are the spirits of horrible people. When Shelly’s mom passes away, the girl needs to come to terms with what real loss feels like and how holding on to what’s meant to be let go of can be more destructive than you may think.

The Ghost Collector is meant for younger audiences but also doesn’t hold back in hitting hard with the feels. It’s a powerful novel for anyone struggling to deal with a loss and I know that it helped give me a bit more perspective on a recent loss in my life. I definitely thank Allison for that.

I really liked Shelly and her relationship with her family. Her grandmother reminded me of mine in so many ways which warmed my heart. Not to mention that I could understand the idea of struggling to make “real friends” like Shelly did. Growing up I considered fictional characters I read about to be more real friends than my classmates or any other kids I met, so her having a hard time connecting with her classmates was incredibly relatable.

Change is so difficult, and change because of loss is even harder. This novel captured all of that so wonderfully. While sad, it was satisfying.

With all of that being said, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask author Allison Mills herself some questions about this exciting release.


Lucien: First off, congratulations on the release of The Ghost Collector! I’ve seen in another interview you’ve given as well as in the acknowledgements of the advanced copy of the book, that this novel was the result of expanding on a short story (If a Bird Can Be a Ghost) you’ve previously written. What was it about the story that made you want to expand upon it?

AllisonThank you! I’m really happy the release date is finally here. It feels like it’s been a long time in the making, especially if you take the short story that became The Ghost Collector as the starting point. The characters and world of If A Bird Can Be A Ghost—the short story that The Ghost Collector is based on—stuck with me after I finished the story. I kept going back and trying to do something else with them. I have two or three abandoned short stories set within the same world or using some of the same characters. I knew I wanted to expand on the story somehow, and then Claire Caldwell, my editor at Annick Press, approached me about the possibility of turning the story into a novel and it was kind of like the stars aligned. I was really fortunate to get a chance to play in this space again.

How did the experience of writing the novel differ from when you were working with it as a short?

The biggest difference is that I wrote them with different audiences in mind. The short story, although it’s still about Shelly, was written for adults. In writing the novel, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to frame discussions of death and grief for a younger audience—and especially for younger Indigenous readers. As a kid, I read a lot of fantasy books that, when they had an Indigenous character in them, treated them as an archetype more than a person, and it was always really alienating for me. I didn’t want The Ghost Collector to feel like it played into stereotypes. I wanted to write a paranormal story about an Indigenous family that grounded the characters in the modern world, that framed Indigenous peoples as present. I know from experience that it’s easy for non-Indigenous people to historicize us and to romanticize some mystical version of us and our cultures. With that in mind, I tried to be deliberate about the way I wrote the ghosts in the book and to have the characters push back against stereotypes other characters try to apply to them.

Writing a novel was also a chance to spend more time with the characters. Scenes with Joseph and Shelly talking to each other were my favourite thing to write when I was working on the short story, and I got to add a lot more of that when I expanded the story into a novel. Getting to add more scenes with Shelly’s mother was also great. She didn’t get much screen time in the short story, but I wrote it knowing exactly who she was and what her relationship with Shelly was like, so putting more of it down on the page was honestly kind of cathartic.

There are several instances of music being important in describing who the characters are. Where The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees are important to Joseph, what band would you say best fits you?

This is a really hard question. I think it changes week to week, but right now, I’d say I’m alternating between Hozier and Carly Rae Jepsen as musical artists that fit me best.

Does music often play a role of its own in your writing?

It definitely does! I like writing with background noise. I’ll make playlists for certain moods I want to hit in my writing or music that I think is really emblematic of a certain character or story or moment—Joseph and his connection to post-punk/goth is a good example of that. Having music in the background helps me focus on what I’m doing, although it also means that sometimes a song becomes a symbol of a story or characters and is no longer something I can listen to for the sake of listening to it.

Throughout the book, Shelly collects ghosts of several kinds, from people to animals. If you could keep a ghost of someone (or something) would you? If so, what ghost would you keep?

I’m going to be honest, I spent a lot of my childhood really obsessed with ghost stories, but also terrified of ghosts conceptually. Even if my book didn’t focus on the importance of not letting your ghosts linger, I don’t think I’d want to keep one around. That said, there is part of me that definitely sees the appeal of a ghost pet. Cheap, with no clean up required, but you still get the companionship offered by a living pet and you never have to worry about them getting sick! It’s kind of the ideal.

The Ghost Collector is a story of learning to let go and live life the way it is meant to be lived. But it is also a story of grief, especially the grief of a young girl. Were you every concerned about the content being too much for the younger readers who may be drawn to it?

That was definitely a concern I had while I was writing. Some things changed between the short story and the novel because of the shift in audience. I talked about some of that in relation to Indigenous readers already, but more generally one of the things I tried to do when I wrote the book was balance the darkness of Shelly’s grief with moments of lightness, either through humour or by having other characters reach out to Shelly—adding in something to alleviate the tension in the book so that the grief never gets too heavy for the reader to carry.

That being said, grief is a very important emotion to learn about and even learn from when we face it. Is there a reason why you wanted to tackle that lesson by using a ghost story as the basis?

I’ve always had an affinity for ghosts and ghost stories. When I was writing the short story The Ghost Collector is based on, I liked the concept of someone who can see and interact with the dead suddenly not being able to find the one ghost they want to interact with. It seemed like an interesting way to show someone grappling with the realities of loss and grief.

You’ve said that your Ililiw/Cree and settler Canadian heritage has played a part in your love of ghosts and ghost stories, are you able to elaborate on that?

Yeah! It’s kind of a two-fold thing. Part of it is that when I think about ghosts I think about them as manifestations of the liminal—they’re not alive, but they’re not quite gone either. They occupy this boundary space that I really like exploring and am fascinated by. I’m Indigenous, but because I have settler Canadian family too, I’m white-passing and have a lot of white privilege. I spend a lot of time grappling with the complex—at least to me—reality of that so I think part of me liking ghosts so much is that I feel like I exist in a liminal space too.

Less tied to my multiple identities and thoughts about the ways I interact with the world, I also just grew up hearing stories about my great-grandmother Louisa finding bodies for the RCMP in Chapleau, where our band is from and where my grandfather grew up. And, you know, there were plenty of other stories told about her too—like, Louisa really liked the Mary Poppins movie and would watch it whenever she visited when my mom was a kid—but that’s not as sensational as an uncanny knack for discovering missing persons, so it didn’t implant itself in my brain the same way stories about the RCMP coming knocking on the door did.

If there was one thing you hope reader’s take away from The Ghost Collector, what do you hope it is?

The importance of our connections to other people. I think allowing yourself to be known by others—making yourself vulnerable by expressing your feelings instead of bottling everything up inside—can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but our relationships with one another are what get us through our darkest moments. I really hope that’s something readers of The Ghost Collector will be left with.


I would like to thank Annick Press and Allison Mills for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour and for providing me with a copy of the ARC.

The Ghost Collector is set to be available everywhere on September 10th, 2019.

REVIEW: One Day In December

I don’t often read romance. I find a lot of it cliche, over the top, or just too badly written to hold my attention. I am incredibly picky and because of this I especially don’t read seasonally based romances (or stories in general).

That being said, when several bloggers I look up to picked up the book as well as the Book of the Month Club having it available as one of the December selections, I had to pick up Josie Silver’s One Day In December and see what all the hype was about.

The story follows Laurie and her friend Jack over ten years of friendship as they move around each other in this awkward dance between love and friendship as Jack is involved with Laurie’s best friend, Sarah. Over these ten years, Laurie is plagued by disappointment and loss, while Jack faces his own tragedies.

Right from the get go I loved Laurie. She was funny and real and her struggles with being stuck in dead-end jobs really resonated with where currently am in my life. Her group of friends is wonderful and even Jack felt like one of my own best friends. I enjoyed how the first person narrative shifts between Laurie and Jack so we get to see the man’s side of the story which I’ve never come across in heterosexual romance novels before (not that I’ve read many anyway).

This book made me laugh out loud, it made it cringe in embarrassment, it made me uncomfortable over manipulative behaviour, it made me ugly cry through both the happy parts and the devastating ones. It’s been awhile since an adult novel made me feel this way and I’ve never felt this emotionally connected to a romance novel. But, really, this book is more than just a love story. It’s about how we gain and lose the people we love most in our lives and how interconnected people can be. It’s about believing there’s a right time and a right place to be and having faith in your friends.

This is the perfect book to read when you’re feeling down around the holidays and I’m so happy I took the leap and bought it this season. While some moments were rough for me to get through, I am not lying when I say I want to read this book every December, and remind myself things will be okay if I just keep moving forward. Just like Laurie and Jack.

 

REVIEW: Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinée

Back in 2016 when I was still a subscriber to OwlCrate, I received their March Writer’s Block box. Inside was a book I’d never heard of and probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own and yet I read it in about a week, crying almost the whole way through because of how much I connected to the hardships the three characters were dealing with.

That book was The Serpent King by none other than Jeff Zentner. And his debut novel at that.

Over two years later, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC from Penguin and Crown Publishing of Zentner’s newest book, Rayne & Delilah’s Midnight Matinée and for the third time in almost as many years, I found myself in tears over these characters who had me falling in love with them right from the first page.

I took my time with this one, wanting to absorb everything about it. And I was laughing every time I picked up the book while also appreciating the subtle nods to other authors as well as Jeff’s previous books. Josie (Rayne) and Delia (Delilah) run a midnight horror-host show not dissimilar to Elvira on their local public access network. Josie does it because she has always wanted to be on TV. Delia does in it the hopes that it reaches her absentee father and reminds him of her existence. And then there’s MMA fighter, Lawson, who has a wicked crush on Josie and also guests on their show to display his fighter moves as a segment of his own.

To be honest, I don’t actually know how to review this book other than just saying, “I loved it, please go pre-order it now (available February 2019).” Because we still have so long before the release I was going to do a “pre-review” (like with what I did for Bookish Boyfriends) but I just can’t bring myself to simplify what I have to say.

The Serpent King got me to let go of a lot of anger at being left by my own father at a very young age and, boy, let me tell you that if this had been the book in that OwlCrate box, my life would have taken a very different turn. Because of what I’ve been through in both being very much disconnected by family and being left behind by people who I thought were very dear friends, I connect with Delia on so many levels that it was hard to get through the last few sections of the book because I was so emotional.

Jeff Zentner knows how to break your heart in the smoothest of ways so that even though you are crying for a loss, it still feels like something new is forming in it’s place. They say that when a bone breaks, that break becomes the strongest part of said bone once the healing process is finished. That’s how I feel after reading Jeff Zentner’s books as they have such deep emotional strongpoints, they can show us how to be better people. And not only in regards to how we see and treat others, but in how we see and treat ourselves. Rayne & Delilah is no exception.

I really hope that if you’re a fan, you pre-order this book through your nearest retailer, and that if you’ve never picked up one of Jeff’s books, that you consider giving this one a try.

I really don’t have many more words for how important The Serpent King, Goodbye Days, and Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinée are to me and how lucky I feel to have been able to read all of them.

REVIEW: Pulp

Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin TEEN (now Inkyard Press) for providing me with the ARC.


Sometimes my impulse requests on NetGalley are interesting. I don’t always look at the author of the books I’m requesting but skip right now to the synopsis to see if a book appeals to me. This is one of those cases where not looking at the author both made me laugh and blew me away.

A few years ago, I read As I Descended by Robin Talley and I’m sorry to say I was beyond disappointed with that book. Because of how let down I felt, I gave up on Talley’s work instantly… until now.

Pulp tells the story of Abby Zimet as she falls in love with 50s lesbian pulp fiction author, Mirian Love, and is determined not only to track down the author but also write a novel of her own. Meanwhile, back in 1955, Janet Jones is also obsessed with lesbian pulp novels and also writing one of her own while also struggling to figure out her own sexuality in an era where that could get her and everyone she has ever cared about into dangerously deep trouble.

I was instantly in love with both characters and the way the story unfolds to reflect how similar and yet how different the lives of these two lesbian girls are over 60 years apart. Abby is such a realized character and so rounded as she struggles with her home life, her love life, and her school work in a whirlwind of emotional stress while Janet struggles with what too many people still struggle with today: acceptance for who she is.

But what really hit me the hardest was how real this story is. Robin Talley goes to great lengths to show that love is hard, love is cruel, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. She shows how change can be good and that the end of something once held so dear doesn’t mean it was never there. Love is love both in the moment and after it which is so important for people to know. The importance of friendship and doing what makes you happiest are key even if that means letting people go.

This novel hit incredibly close to home in terms of how it tackles being forced to stay in the closet or letting people choose to ignore part of themselves because they believe it’s for the better. For lack of articulation’s sake: the heartbreak is real. I’ve had to let go of people in my life because they wanted to be “normal” and it was one of the hardest things I had to do. Even now it hurts and staying closeted in certain spaces hurts, but I did and do those things because it keeps me safe and it keeps those people safe, too.

I feel incredibly lucky having been able to read this novel and want to formally apologize to Robin Talley for disregarding her other works simply because one of her novels was not in my taste. I am sorry for that and truly hope that any queer person struggling is able to read this book and find a little bit of hope that things can still turn out okay in the end.

This book is available online and in stores November 13th, 2018.