I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome you to Canada. We haven’t met formally, but I’d like to introduce myself as one of the many people around the world—and one of the many Canadians—who adore L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. If we had met in person, you would learn quickly of my interest in the PEI writer who penned the classic children’s book over a hundred years ago, that I’ve written online and at conferences about her work, and that I am relatively obsessed with anything related to Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.
So, you can imagine my excitement when I read that you had to stop off at P.E.I. on your trip here because of how much you loved Anne of Green Gables. There is a Katherine after all (a prickly Katherine who certainly wouldn’t be like you) in Anne of Windy Poplars (you might know it by its British title, Anne of Windy Willows). Kate (may I call you Kate?), it just seems that kindred spirits such as us should be on first-name basis, don’t you think?
I’ve been to PEI three times, twice in the past three years, so I believe that I can give you some advice. I hope that whoever is organizing your trip has done their homework and will make sure that you see everything Anne/Montgomery related that you possibly can. I see from your itinerary that you won’t have a lot of time this trip to visit some of the places that are a must for any Anne fan. I understand that it is your first visit and you have a lot of responsibilities. I guess this means that you MUST return soon, so that my friends and I can show you around and give you the expert- Anne tour.
First off, did you know that other royals have visited PEI because of their love for Anne? Mary Beth Cavert has written a wonderful article about other British dignitaries who visited the island, such as Albert Grey, the 4th Earl Grey (and Governor-General of Canada), as well as the Prince of Wales and his younger brother, Prince George, in 1935.
Now on what to see.
I noticed on your itinerary that you will be visiting Charlottetown and Summerside. How excellent, for that is exactly what I did last summer—see what I meant about kindred spirits? This also means that you must love musical theatre such as I do. You will be watching a performance from the Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, but you must return to see the whole thing. Apparently, they’ve updated it from the original 1960s version. In Summerside, there is a musical, Anne and Gilbert the Musical: An Island Love Story, based on the novels Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. I’ve liked this show so much, that I’ve gone twice (and will go again). I reviewed it a few years ago. Here, take a look and you’ll see why I love it so much.
(Can I ask you? Is Will your Gilbert Blythe? I imagine that he is. Many fans of Anne are often looking for their Gilbert. It definitely looks like you’ve found yours).
I think that the video that was prepared for you certainly gave you a taste as to the beauty of the island, and an aerial view of the Green Gables house, but did you know that you can also visit L.M. Montgomery’s birthplace (which has her wedding dress and given that you are a new bride, I think that you would just love to see it), the site of L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish Home where she lived with her grandparents, the Lucy Maud Montgomery Heritage Museum, which is said to be an inspiration to Anne and Gilbert’s Ingleside, and Anne of Green Gables Museum, where Montgomery married Ewan MacDonald. People get married there all of the time, and take carriage rides with “Matthew.” Perhaps you can renew your marriage vows right beside The Lake of Shining Waters? I know THE LAKE OF SHINING WATERS exists!
When you go to Green Gables house, you have to take a moment with Will to walk down Lover’s Lane. YES, THAT LOVER’S LANE! I hope it will be a sunny day as you walk along the rich red path looking up at the sun shining through the hanging branches. You will certainly see why Montgomery was so inspired by this place.
Did you also know that you are coming during the only time that the lupines bloom? This beautiful pink and purple flower I think only grows on the island and blooms during Montgomery’s favourite month, June.
I am also glad to hear the Montgomery’s granddaughter Kate MacDonald Butler will be giving you the 100th Anniversary edition of Anne of Green Gables that was published in 2008. It has all of the original illustrations and the cover from that first edition printed in 1908. There is also a beautiful edition printed last year of Montgomery’s 8th Anne Novel, Rilla of Ingleside (and my personal favourite).
Well, Kate, please return soon to PEI. I will be there in 2012 attending the next L.M. Montgomery conference. So it is the perfect opportunity for us to do a tour. Send me an email or drop me a line on Facebook and we can spend the a few days soaking up the exquisite beauty that is Montgomery’s world.
Until then, remember these wonderful words by Anne Shirley: "True friends are always together in spirit.”
And I’m there. A Feast for Crows is over and now I, along with countless others, await the arrival of A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, in a fortnight’s time.
I was surprised at how much I had forgotten about A Feast for Crows. And while I wasn’t as impressed the first time around compared to the other books in the series, mainly due to the telling of only half of the characters’ stories, now it served to whet my appetite for what is to come—not to mention the major vindication near the end, which I had forgotten about.
On that, almost every story in A Feast for Crows ended in a cliffhanger (which I will address in more detail below), so I hope that A Dance with Dragons does address these, as well as filling in the blanks for characters like Jon and Dany.
To sum up my month of reading, A Song of Ice and Fire was even better than I remembered. I don’t know why I put off rereading it for so long. Only a few authors could be said to match the depth, breadth and scope of Martin’s work, and I have found none that grip me as he does.
I hope everyone has enjoyed the posts over the past month, I will be back again ahead of the arrival of A Dance with Dragons.
For those who have yet to pick up their copies, do so. It will be well worth your while. Here is the list:
- A Song of Ice and Fire Box Set
- A Game of Thrones
- A Clash of Kings
- A Storm of Swords
- A Feast for Crows
- A Dance with Dragons
SPOILER ALERT – as per usual, don’t read the below unless you have finished A Feast for Crows.
Cliffhangers galore. I can’t belief that we have been waiting six years (or maybe even more) for the resolutions to the below:
Cersei – Finally she received some punishment (Joffrey’s death aside). I have a feeling that Martin won’t kill her off in disgrace, mostly because I don’t think he would allow me to be that happy.
Jamie – Warmed slightly toward him by the end of the book, but it took quite a while to turn me. Not sure how he will react to what may happen in King’s Landing—war between Lannister and Tyrell? Also, don’t know if Tom of Sevenstreams will set him up or will be content to feed more Freys to Stoneheart.
Brienne – Dead or alive, what does it matter?
Arya – Apparently blind now. Not sure where this is going.
Littlefinger – Aiming for at least three kingdoms under his control: Riverlands, Vale, North. May also have some sort of side deal with Oleanna and the Tyrells.
Dany – At least three groups from Westeros seeking her out by my count: Quentyn Martell, Victarion Greyjoy and Archmaester Marwyn (maybe Tyrion and Varys?). This might be much of the focus in A Dance with Dragons.
So many questions still left unanswered, so much story still to come and so many years since the last book...I can’t wait.
Follow my A Song Of Ice and Fire progress:
Bestselling author Ally Carter gave us this exclusive video for Indigo customers, in which she thanks Canadians for supporting her Heist Society series, what fans can expect in the new book (Uncommon Criminals), and much more.
I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced caper Heist Society, which is like a teen version of Oceans Eleven. Kat is trying to leave the family business behind, but when her father is suspected of stealing a bad guy's paintings, Kat must find a way to do the impossible and save her father before it's too late. With the help of her handsome rich billionaire friend Hale, her outrageous cousin Gabrielle, a tech geek, Simon and two brothers (who may or may not have ripped off a nun), Kat concocts a plan to steal five paintings in the Henly in broad daylight —without being caught.
We love Ally so much, that we’ve made her a Featured Author this week. Check out our shop and be sure to check out her other bestselling Gallagher Series, about secret boarding school girl spies. Yes, you heard that right.
SJ Watson has written a psychological thriller that we’re hearing is completely gripping. Before I Go To Sleep is a page-turner that will have readers questioning reality, right along with the protagonist. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man.
She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.
Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems.
Our friends at Harper Collins have provided a teaser – some readers might be interested in sampling this novel’s first chapter. But be aware: once starting, they might have to pick it up to see how it ends. Available in stores and online now.
The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home.
I have spent the night here. I was woken by a woman’s voice— at first I thought she was in bed with me, but then realized she was reading the news and I was hearing a radio alarm—and when I opened my eyes found myself here. In this room I do not recognize.
My eyes adjust and I look around in the near-dark. A dressing gown hangs off the back of the closet door—suitable for a woman, but for one much older than I am—and some dark-colored trousers are folded neatly over the back of a chair at the dressing table, but I can make out little else. The alarm clock looks complicated, but I find a button and manage to silence it.
It is then that I hear a juddering intake of breath behind me and realize I am not alone. I turn around. I see an expanse of skin and dark hair, flecked with white. A man. He has his left arm outside the covers and there is a gold band on the third finger of the hand. I suppress a groan. So this one is not only old and gray, I think, but also married. Not only have I screwed a married man, but I have done so in what I am guessing is his home, in the bed he must usually share with his wife. I lie back to gather myself. I ought to be ashamed.
I wonder where the wife is. Do I need to worry about her arriving back at any moment? I imagine her standing at the other side of the room, screaming, calling me a slut. A medusa. A mass of snakes. I wonder how I will defend myself, if she does appear. The guy in the bed does not seem concerned, though. He has turned over and snores on.
I lie as still as possible. Usually I can remember how I get into situations like this, but not today. There must have been a party, or a trip to a bar or a club. I must have been pretty wasted. Wasted enough that I don’t remember anything at all. Wasted enough to have gone home with a man with a wedding ring and hairs on his back.
I fold back the covers as gently as I can and sit on the edge of the bed. First, I need to use the bathroom. I ignore the slippers at my feet—after all, f___ing the husband is one thing, but I could never wear another woman’s shoes—and creep barefoot onto the landing. I am aware of my nakedness, fearful of choosing the wrong door, of stumbling in on a lodger, a teenage son. Relieved, I see the bathroom door is ajar and go in, locking it behind me.
I sit, use the toilet, then flush it and turn to wash my hands. I reach for the soap, but something is wrong. At first I can’t work out what it is, but then I see it. The hand gripping the soap does not look like mine. Its skin is wrinkled, the nails are unpolished and bitten to the quick and, like that of the man in the bed I have just left, the third finger wears a plain gold wedding ring.
I stare for a moment, then wriggle my fingers. The fingers of the hand holding the soap move also. I gasp, and the soap thuds into the sink. I look up at the mirror. The face I see looking back at me is not my own. The hair has no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it; the skin on the cheeks and under the chin sags; the lips are thin; the mouth turned down. I cry out, a wordless gasp that would turn into a shriek of shock were I to let it, and then notice the eyes. The skin around them is lined, yes, but despite everything else, I can see that they are mine. The person in the mirror is me, but I am twenty years too old. Twenty-five. More.
This isn’t possible. I begin to shake and grip the edge of the sink. Another scream begins to rise in my chest and this one erupts as a strangled gasp. I step back, away from the mirror, and it is then that I see them. Photographs. Taped to the wall, to the mirror itself. Pictures, interspersed with yellow pieces of gummed paper, felt-tipped notes, damp and curling.
I choose one at random. Christine, it says, and an arrow points to a photograph of me—this new me, this old me—in which I am sitting on a bench on the side of a quay, next to a man. The name seems familiar, but only distantly so, as if I am having to make an effort to believe that it is mine. In the photograph we are both smiling at the camera, holding hands. He is handsome, attractive, and when I look closely, I can see that it is the same man I slept with, the one I left in the bed. The word Ben is written beneath it, and next to it, Your husband.
I gasp, and rip it off the wall. No, I think. No! It cannot be . . . I scan the rest of the pictures. They are all of me, and him. In one I am wearing an ugly dress and unwrapping a present, in another both of us wear matching weatherproof jackets and stand in front of a waterfall as a small dog sniffs at our feet. Next to it is a picture of me sitting beside him, sipping a glass of orange juice, wearing the dressing gown I have seen in the bedroom next door.
I step back farther, until I feel cold tiles against my back. It is then I get the glimmer that I associate with memory. As my mind tries to settle on it, it flutters away, like ashes caught in a breeze, and I realize that in my life there is a then, a before, though before what I cannot say, and there is a now, and there is nothing between the two but a long, silent emptiness that has led me here, to me and him, in this house.
I go back into the bedroom. I still have the picture in my hand—the one of me and the man I had woken up with—and I hold it in front of me. “What’s going on?” I say. I am screaming; tears run down my face. The man is sitting up in bed, his eyes half-closed. “Who are you?”
“I’m your husband,” he says. His face is sleepy, without a trace of annoyance. He does not look at my naked body. “We’ve been married for years.”
Thanks to our friends at Harper Collins for facilitating this teaser.
Excerpted from Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Following up on the Best of the Year (so far) list for Non Fiction, here is a look at some of the best Fiction titles released so far in 2011.
Like the Non-Fiction list, there is no shortage of releases from prominent authors to look forward to (Guy Vanderhaeghe, Alice Hoffman, Michael Ondaatje, Marina Endicott)—but the first half of 2011 has seen some new books that have been both critically acclaimed, as well as commercially successful—and sometimes both. With a diverse collection of titles (some highbrow, some escapist), 2011 is shaping up to be a solid year for fiction. Here is a look at a few of the best so far:
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews. A colleague described this to me as right up there with A Complicated Kindness. Interested readers can find more about it from an earlier instalment of the Indigo Fiction Blog.
Alone in the Classroom, by Elizabeth Hay. A provocative novel of childhood and teaching, and practically a shoo-in for either the GG or Giller shortlists this year.
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht. Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction (awarded yearly to great works of women’s writing throughout the world) this year, Tea is the award's youngest recipient ever. A war novel of sorts, or an ‘after-the war’ novel, that takes place in an unnamed Eastern European country after the fall of Communism.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. A darkly comic western/road story—a deconstruction of the western that remains accessible and thoroughly enjoyable. An author interview can be found on the Indigo Fiction blog here.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. An enjoyable read for anyone who enjoyed Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, the Harry Potter series, or Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Witchcraft, history and romance—covered in an earlier edition of the Indigo Fiction Blog, here.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson. Another joyride, and the latest incarnation of the ‘technology taking over the world’ theme. Soon to be filmed by Spielberg—this could be his Terminator. The Indigo Fiction blog featured an excerpt here.
Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan—though published in 2010, Jennifer Egan did pick up the National Book Critics Circle as well as the Pulitzer for it in 2011, so worth highlighting here.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Also not a new book, this Heather's Pick was recipient of the 2011 Impac Dublin award, hence its mention. Telling the story of Phillipe Petit’s 1974 high wire trip between the Twin Towers, what it meant to New Yorkers then, and as an allegory of New York today
Did we miss any of your picks from this year? Let us know ...
Amazingly, 2011 is already half over. As many book lovers know, the calendar year is often loaded heavily towards the fall season—this year is shaping up to be no different, with lots of heavy hitters releasing titles this fall (including Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Nasar, Susan Orlean, and Adam Gopnik).
That being said, the first half of the year has seen some quality books, and some controversial ones that should not be ignored. Here is a recap of 2011’s noteworthy titles so far from some of our top non-fiction book buyers:
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. Readers of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City know that he writes rich history, where the sense of period, people and place is vivid and full, as with a great novel. In this new work we have Larson’s same compelling gifts recreating Berlin in 1933, as Hitler strengthens his power.
Larson shows us not the horrible Reich ending but its shaded beginnings, when it was less clear to all just how much hate swelled such pride. He shows us the ever darker incidents, lived by those too naïve to recognise their meaning, who thought largely of how bright was the weather then, how nice to walk in a city with such beautiful parks, with window flowerboxes everywhere.
-Sebastian Hanna, nonfiction book buyer.
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. A new book by David McCullough is cause for celebration. He is the recipient of Pulitzer Prizes for both Truman and John Adams. In this newly published masterwork, he tells the eventful story of American migrations to Paris beginning in the 1830s, including such characters as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, as well as doctors, writers, artists and architects who made extended and repeated trips to the City of Light at a time when historic advancements were being made in the arts and sciences.
-Michael Nicholson, Nonfiction book buyer.
A Widow's Story , by Joyce Carol Oates. Joyce Carol Oates is a gifted and resourceful writer whose attention is often focused on tragedy and the ripple effects of violence and dislocation upon those directly affected. In her emotionally bare memoir A Widow’s Story she recounts her life after the unexpected death of her husband of 46 years. The subject matter and treatment bring to mind The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, but this is a less carefully controlled consideration of loss. Her sense of vulnerability is almost overwhelming and her loss of identity as both a writer and a wife is related with great bravery. This is a portrait messy with grief and helplessness but is also a tribute to the lifelines of friendship and the promises of art. It is an unexpected departure from one of the most thoughtful and accomplished voices in contemporary letters.
-Michael Nicholson, Nonfiction book buyer.
Those Guys Have all the Fun by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. From the men who brought you Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live comes an exhaustive collection of interviews, this time covering the history of the ESPN network, from the early beginnings to the global media juggernaut it has become. Comprehensive and candid, a must for the sports buff.
Townie by Andre Dubus. The first biographical work from a man who has had success with fiction, about growing up tough and trying to become a writer. If that wasn’t hard enough, Dubus has to do it in the shadow of his famous father, acclaimed short story writer Andre Dubus Senior, a father who abandoned his family. Dubus proves to be just as adept at biography as he is at fiction. Like his father, he is a writer.
Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. In a manner of speaking, a self-help book—one about training and improving your memory. Also a primer on how this subject has been thought of in the past, and how those viewpoints have changed. Extremely informative, Foer’s book reinforces common sense, and by many accounts, his method works.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Not necessarily “Best of,” but certainly noteworthy. Probably the most controversial book of the year, so far. Are Chinese mothers the best mothers? Are they too strict? Where does stern end and abuse begin? Amy Chua’s honest confessional of her parental style generated more discussion than any other book this year.
The Social Animal by David Brooks. In a way, this is the other side of the coin of Foer’s book—if Foer’s is head, Brooks’s is head and heart. Brooks asks in this work: “How do relationships form us?” Both explore brain science and function, but Brooks applies this focus to human relationships by applying a fictional format to present his insights.
It's the subject of a Ted Talk that you can find here:
As we continue our series celebrating Indian authors, and authors of Indian descent, the subject of today’s Q&A is Amitav Ghosh, author of The Calcutta Chromosome, Sea of Poppies and its upcoming sequel, River of Smoke.
INDIGO FICTION BLOG: As we're celebrating Indian fiction this week, what is your favourite novel by an Indian author (or an Indian-Canadian, an Indian-American, etc)?
AG: The reception of Sea of Poppies certainly set the bar high. Here is a description of River of Smoke: in September 1838 a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying consignment of convicts and indentured laborers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind. When the seas settle, five men have disappeared—two lascars, two convicts and one of the passengers. Did the same storm upend the fortunes of those aboard the Anahita, an opium carrier heading towards Canton? And what fate befell those aboard The Redruth, a sturdy two-masted brig heading East out of Cornwall? Was it the storm that altered their course or were the destinies of these passengers at the mercy of even more powerful forces?
On the grand scale of an historical epic, River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbors of China. There, despite efforts of the emperor to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their cargoes of opium for boxes tea, silk, porcelain and silver. Among them are Bahram Modi, a wealthy Parsi opium merchant out of Bombay, his estranged half-Chinese son Ah Fatt, the orphaned Paulette and a motley collection of others whose pursuit of romance, riches and a legendary rare flower have thrown together. All struggle to cope with their losses— and for some, unimaginable freedoms—in the alleys and crowded waterways of 19th century Canton.
IFB: Much of your work is historical—is writing about contemporary India in your plans? Would you ever return to the borderline science fiction of The Calcutta Chromosome?
AG: Many of my novels are about contemporary India and I have written a great deal of journalism about the country as it is today. But now my attention is focused wholly on the 'Ibis Trilogy'.
IFB: How do your interests in history, anthropology & travel inform your writing?
AG: I have many different interests geology, botany, cookery, sport, and much else. The wonderful thing about the novel, as a form, is that it is broad enough to reflect all of these.
IFB: Where do you enjoy writing?
AG: In my studies—in Brooklyn and in Goa.
IFB: What are you reading right now?
AG: I am reading Han Suyin's And the Rain My Drink.
In honour of the International Indian Film Academy Awards taking place in Toronto from June 23 to 25, we’re highlighting Indian authors of fiction and non-fiction on our blog. Check out more from the series here:
- A Fan Q&A with Shilpi Gowda, author of Secret Daughter
- A guest blog from Rupinder Gill, author of On the Outside Looking Indian
- Six Questions for Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies
- A Q&A with Bharati Mukherjee, author of Miss New India
- Interview With Sarita Mandanna, author of Tiger Hills
“Never judge a book by its movie”
Summertime, and the multiplex is booming. ‘Tis the season for sequels and movies based on comic books, and sequels of movies based on comic books. Now as much as the “Transformers” (based on a toy line and cartoon series) or “Pirates of the Caribbean” (based on a theme park ride) franchises may require third and fourth films, respectively, for a certain demographic of audience, there are those of us looking for something a little … heartier. Fortunately there are some very big film projects on their way based on actual novels.
But first, it’s worth asking: is that even a good thing?
Isn’t the Book Always Better?
Yes, yes it is, some of us would argue so vehemently that we are happy to skip the film versions of our favourite books entirely. There are those books we hope they’ll never put on screen: J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” for instance. And indeed there are those novels that have been put made into movies much to the dismay of many a loyal reader (the recent film version of the much-beloved cult-classic science fiction comedy “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” comes to mind). As well, fans of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” weren’t exactly Facebooking their love of the 2009 movie, nor did they much go to see it (it didn’t break even, apparently).
Even if the book is better, there are those of us who enjoy both, say, reading Stieg Larsson’s undeniably gripping “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and then watching the fantastic 2009 original Swedish screen version (a new English version directed by David Fincher, who helmed “The Social Network,” comes out this December). That said, it seems much harder to do it the other way round: movie first, novel second. For only in the novel can you delight in the imagination that comes with reading. Only in reading can we create our own mental images of what the hero and heroine look like. Once set on celluloid, it is hard to imagine anyone but Marlon Brando as Don Corleone.
Speaking of the legendary Don, it must be mentioned that there is the odd exception to the rule: movies so good they have become even more famous than the novels they were based on. Classics like “The Godfather” and Stanley Kubrick’s take on “The Shining” are prime examples.
No matter where you stand, there is a positive here for us fiction lovers. Books made into movies, especially ones as good as the recent take on Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go,” can introduce legions of film lovers to new worlds of fiction they weren’t even aware of. Better yet, no matter the film’s quality, when a book becomes a movie, it alerts us to a book we may never have read or remind us to return to one we forgot about.
With that in mind, here is a little heads-up about a few upcoming big screen adaptations of some literary gems you may not recognize. First is a movie adaptation of a book you probably know but either never read or perhaps were forced to read in high school.
“The Great Gatsby”
For the second time in his career, director Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) will team up with Leonardo DiCaprio to bring a great work of literature to the screen. The first time they collaborated (for “Romeo and Juliet”) DiCaprio was barely in his twenties, about to star in “Titanic” and already something of a boy pin-up. In 2012, an impossible 16 films later for the actor, Luhrmann will direct a much-matured and widely respected DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most cherished novel.
Since it won’t be released until 2012, you’ve got plenty of time to read or reread this relatively slim novel, a love story as much as it is a cautionary tale about the American Dream. For the unfamiliar, before a world-class cast of actors (including Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan) cement themselves in your mind as the book’s famous characters, read it for yourself, see them in all their beauty, aspiration and woe. For those who once read it—or who were forced to—it’s worth remembering that what makes a work a classic is rarely just the ability to tell a great story, but also in how you tell it, especially if you’ve got Fitzgerald’s ability to set a scene:
“The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”
“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick
One doesn’t usually associate Martin Scorsese’s name with books suggested for kids aged 9-12. But then you don’t usually get books like Brian Selznick’s. Filled as much with illustrations as it is with text (though there are some 300 pages of text), and set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is no ordinary young adult’s book of historical fiction. As Selznick says, it is “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” The black-and-white illustrations throughout the book are so beautiful they won the book the 2008 Caldecott Medal (a prize for illustrations). This is the kind of book that seems meant as much for adults as younger folk.
As the book’s inventive website describes it:
Orphan, clock keeper and thief, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy
“Drive” by James Sallis
This noir thriller comes to a theatre near you this fall and will star Canadian breakout talent Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine,” “Half Nelson,” and “The Notebook”—to name yet another movie based on a novel). This is a dark, tightly-written tale of a guy who by day works on Hollywood movie sets doing stunt driving, but by night does it for real, for criminals. That the film version will star an actor of Ryan Gosling’s talent is a strong hint of the literary merit of the book it’s based on. It also bodes well that the film’s director, Nicolas Winding Refn, won best directing honours at Cannes last month.
“We Bought a Zoo” by Benjamin Mee
Here we have the true story of a man who decides to move his kids and his wife (who is very ill) to the English countryside and put their life savings into an old, very run-down zoo, 200 exotic animals and all. Clearly a unique tale, it will be a movie this coming Christmas starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson and directed by Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire”). You have six months. Get reading!
Some very big and wildly successful novels also soon to show up on your local big screen include versions of two enormously successful novels: Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” (coming this August) and Dave Nicholls’ romantic tale, “One Day.”
With its juggernaut of a marketing machine behind it, you probably don’t need reminding that the last instalment of the Harry Potter series will be in theatres across the country on July 15th.
Seven Questions for Bharati Mukherjee, author of Miss New India
INDIGO FICTION BLOG: What is your favorite novel by an Indian author (or an Indian-Canadian, an Indian-American, etc.)?
Bharati Mukherjee: I have many favorite novels, but I’ll limit myself to naming two. I love R.K. Narayan’s The Guide, and have introduced it to my students at the University of California, Berkeley. Another favorite novel is Salman Rushdie’s Shame.
IFB: What are you reading right now?
BM: I’ve just started Rana Dasgupta’s Solo.
IFB: You live in a wonderful city right now. What parts of living in Montreal do you miss?
BM: Oh Montreal today is even more a glamorous world-class city than when I first saw it! I love it today, and I loved it when my husband, two sons and I lived here in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. Clark and I were in our mid-twenties when we arrived in Montreal from Iowa City, where we had been graduate students. Montreal was strikingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated. We had chosen Montreal as the ideal “home” for our multicultural, multilingual family, and the city quickly made us feel we “belonged.”
BM: Actually the issues I am dramatizing in Miss New India are as serious as those in Desirable Daughters and in The Tree Bride, my last two novels. Through the adventures of nineteen-year-old Anjali Bose, I’m exploring some of the consequences of outsourcing jobs to India: for instance, the effects of the vast influx of foreign investment and the resulting globalization of economy and culture; the opportunities suddenly available for young women with middling education, women who are no longer satisfied with the limited prospects that their backwater hometowns and lower-middleclass parents can offer, women who are ready to become internal migrants so that they can pursue self-worth and personal happiness; and especially, the temptations and corruption these naïve young women encounter as they make their lives without family and chaperones in a fast-growing IT-hub city, like Bangalore. When I’m writing a novel, I get inside the skin of my protagonist. I think this feels more light-hearted to you than Desirable Daughters, because Anjali is young, and hurls herself into adventures, which includes finding love and financial independence.
IFB: Angie’s teacher, Peter Champion, is found out to be gay—is this intended to highlight the beginning of Angie’s change from country bumpkin to sophisticated Bangalore resident?
BM: Peter Champion, the expatriate American and long-time resident of Gauripur, reveals his sexual orientation to Anjali/Angie while she is still too timid to leave home and break with traditional Indian values her parents have instilled in her. He lets her know that he is a man in love. Watching the tenderness between Ali and Peter, she is initiated into the complexities of adulthood. Her parents treat her as a child. Love is “caught” in different lights and angles throughout the novel.
IFB: With the arranged marriage subplot, are you exploring the conflict between traditional arranged marriage and modernity?
BM: No, not at all. Anjali doesn’t experience a conflict between “arranged marriage” and “love marriage.” What she wants is to be happy. She lets her father match-make in the hope that he will find a handsome, decent bridegroom for her. If he does come up with a superlative candidate, she won’t have to strike out on her own in an unfamiliar city, like Bangalore. But given her father’s failure in picking a decent husband for her older sister Sonali, she has no confidence he will succeed finding an ideal bridegroom for her.
IFB: Your portrayal of this event paints traditional marriage in a negative light for modern Indian girls—what are you trying to highlight?
BM: I suppose by “this event” you are referring to Subodh Mitra sexually assaulting Anjali during their approved-by-parents outing in Gauripur. No, Subodh Mitra is not a stand-in for all “arranged marriage” bridegroom candidates! He is a criminal character, a predatory individual who, as the novel reveals later, has attempted to assault other young women. Anjali’s traumatic encounter with Subodh Mitra drives her to take agency, and pursue self-fulfillment on her own terms.
IFB: What does Mr. GG represent, and can you describe what your purpose was in giving him an alter-ego (Dynamo)?
BM: I want to think that literary characters, like real individuals, are complex, sometimes conflicted, even contrary, rather than simple embodiments of a single idea. Mr. GG believes that globalized economies are inevitable in the present time, and he wants to steer India towards an economic policy that will benefit India and Indians; hence the debates in various scenes about the future of outsourcing for Indians, about the pros and cons of coupling or decoupling India’s economy from the West’s. He is a visionary who predicts that in the future, India will be outsourcing to the West. He describes himself as a businessman with a conscience.
The assumption of a pseudonym by journalists for writing “opinion” columns goes way back in Britain and in India. Pseudonyms evoke mystery and add heft to the ideas asserted in the newspaper column. As Dynamo, Mr. GG can provide a clear-eyed assessment of the soul of Bangalore, where ambition, desire, greed and corruption come together.
In honour of the International Indian Film Academy Awards taking place in Toronto from June 23 to 25, we’re highlighting Indian authors of fiction and non-fiction on our blog. Check out more from the series here:
- Fan Q&A with Shilpi Gowda
- Rupinder Gill: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Memoirist
- Q&A With Bharati Mukherjee, Author of Miss New India
- Six Questions for Amitav Ghosh
Author photo credit © Chip Cooper.
Following on from Justin's post yesterday, a personal take on the Top 5 literary Westerns:
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is for literature what Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is to the Hollywood Western. Where predecessors had picked at the romance and mythology of the American West, Blood Meridian demolishes it: an unremitting tale of violence which follows the Glanton Gang—a real-life gang of marauders—as they score their place into history on the bleeding edge of the 1840s Texas frontier. They are guided by The Judge, one of the most terrifying figures in American literature, in this pilgrimage of violence and scenery and murderous piracy across the American southwest.
Blood Meridian is not easy to read: its violence is an assault on the reader almost from the first page. But the language is magisterial: McCarthy produces page after page of prose that will leave you open-mouthed. And the dialogue is as tough and brittle as any dime-store page-turner. Blood Meridian was written in the mid-1980s, with a backwards glance at Cold War foreign misadventures. In one of the book’s prophetic passages, a Mennonite warns: “Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.” Blood Meridian is as profound a statement on the American project as any book written in the last 50 years and it’s a thrilling reading experience from cover to cover. If you need persuasion, seek out an edition with Harold Bloom’s introductory comments; he will highlight for you some of the novel’s amazing features, such as this passage:
They rode out on the north road as would parties bound for El Paso but before they were even quite out of sight of the city they had turned their tragic mounts to the west and they rode infatuate and half fond toward the red demise of that day, toward the evening lands and the distant pandemonium of the sun.
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid is one of Michael Ondaatje’s early novels, and like his jazz poem/novella Coming Through Slaughter, it is an experimental work comprised of shards of consciousness, fragmentary historical relics, poetry, song, and flashes of incandescent violence. The portrait that develops is one of Billy the Kid as a young, drifting ne’er-do-well, but also a figure shrouded in myth and beset by the colliding destinies of those around him. A slim volume, but one that contains breathtaking glances into a disappeared universe.
Like the shamefully underrated movie adaptation, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a thoughtful and thrilling tale of the collision of crime, fame, and obsession. It points towards the peculiar fate of many of the icons of the American West, whose legendary status overlapped with the technologies used to represent them: mass-produced novels, travelling entertainment spectaculars, and, eventually, the movies. Like Wild Bill Hickok, the murderous reaches of Jesse James’ fame caught up with him before the emergence of film technology—but Hansen has explored that, too, in his first novel, 1979’s Desperadoes. The result here is a curiously nostalgic look at a lost chapter of American history; and yet the book’s action passages, particularly the raid on the First National Bank of Northfield, are taut with suspense and drama; Hansen’s command of the language is lean, precise, and so compelling that you cannot take your eyes from the page.
Florida sat on the American frontier until at least the first decades of the nineteenth century—and some would argue that its interior remains remote wilderness—so I don’t feel at all guilty including this title even though it is set east of the Mississippi. Shadow Country is a unique project: an edited synthesis of three of Peter Matthiessen’s novels exploring the life and legacy of Edgar J. Watson. Watson was a real-life Everglades sugar cane planter who relocated—with a reputation for frontier violence—to Florida’s western coast. The first part of the book opens with the murder of Watson by his neighbours, and retells his story through their voices. It’s a staggering feat of ventriloquism from a writer more famed for his non-fiction writing (Wildlife in America; The Snow Leopard). The second part of Shadow Country tells of Watson’s legacy from the perspective of one of his sons, and Watson’s own voice animates the final third, including his frontier years. The tale underscores how much of the character of the American West spilled away from the ruined trajectory of the Confederacy. Told in this sequence, the tale unshrouds at least one devastating twist. Three novels in one. Yes, I cheated.
Many of the themes and conventions established by the Western have successfully migrated over to the science-fiction genre, and Jonathan Lethem’s 1998 novel Girl in Landscape—his fourth—exemplifies that trend. A strange, haunting tale of one civilization colonizing another in the ruins of its former grandeur,Girl in Landscape explores the coming-of-age of 13 year-old Pella Marsh. The novel is mournful, disorientating, and unsettling in its universal themes of distrust, alienation, and the demonization of others. It presents in Efram Nugent—plainly influenced by the John Wayne character in The Searchers—a fearful figure of desire and vengeance.
Justin has already mentioned Tom Franklin’s masterful Smonk, which takes some features of Blood Meridian’s style and laces them with acerbic humour. Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman's Boy is another to touch on the connection with the early years of Hollywood. Also well worth seeking out is David Anthony Durham’s Gabriel's Story, an unnerving coming-of-age frontier adventure told from an American-American perspective. And Chris Hannan’s Missy beckons enticingly from the edge of my ‘to read’ shelf, where it now vies with The Sisters Brothers.