Let’s be frank…

OK, so, I meant to post something earlier than this, which was going to be an insight into how I feel narratives about real sincere issues are sometimes badly combined with idealistic elements. I may still do this, but at the time, I wanted to ensure I said what I needed to properly, and well, things got in the way. Including that which I want to talk about now.

Generally speaking, I want this blog to be about the writing I do and the things I read, and whilst this will still be the case (as far as I know) once in a while something important needs to be said. Therefore, this is what this will be about.

Enough preamble – this is about the upcoming general election in the United Kingdom. As of the time of writing, we got to the polls tomorrow, and whilst elections are usually important in and of themselves, this particular one may well be the most important we have faced in our lifetimes, and possibly the most important we’ll ever face – though of course, that does depend a bit on your age.

Whilst my political views do occasionally, er, leak into some of the stuff I say on here, usually as a joke, I try not to let it inform what this blog is about. Some issues are very partisan, and I’d prefer to influence by my writing. And even though I feel the need to speak out now, as I did following the election of Donald Trump in the US, this isn’t so much about me telling whatever tiny number of British followers I have who they should vote for, as such. This is me telling them who not to vote for.

Currently, the Conservative MP Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of a minority government. This election gives him a very real chance of securing a parliamentary majority, and I firmly believe that this would be very dangerous and an utter disaster for almost everyone in the country, barring Johnson himself and his rich friends. The blunt fact of that matter is, I do believe Johnson is dangerous, and whilst I’ve definitely been no fan of his two predecessors, I’m almost finding myself missing them when I consider the prospect of him running the country virtually unchecked, because whilst Parliament is de jure sovereign in this country, de facto it is the executive that rules the roost, and, because of our utterly terrible First Past the Post electoral system, they can rule even if the majority of people have voted against them.

Indeed, every time I’ve looked at the opinion polls for this election, with the Conservatives ahead, I’ve noticed that the percentage share of the next two most popular parties put their combined popularity ahead of the Conservatives. And this is frustrating, because with them at each other’s throats, they’re giving Johnson a path to victory, which will screw us all over. Therefore, for those who can vote, your best option is voting for whomever in your constituency has the best chance of defeating a Conservative candidate. Tactical voting has always been a necessity under First Past the Post, but this time it may be our lifeline. There are many tactical voting websites to give you advice on this – here is the site I’ve been using, but there are plenty more out there if you just type in the key word ‘tactical voting.’ If you live in a marginal seat (something that this website will also be able to tell you if you’re unsure) it becomes even more vital.

But, of course, why should you care what I think of Boris Johnson? You might like him, or his party, or dislike other parties, or at least feel that he’s a bit of a clown and can’t do us much harm. Well, let me give you reasons to care. First off, his clownish persona is just a persona. He is much more dangerously intelligent and Machiavellian than a lot of people seem to observe, and that becomes evident the more I list the other reasons you definitely shouldn’t vote for him.

  1. He’s an authoritarian.
    For me, this may well be the most worrying thing. Just with the likes of Trump, he pays lip-service to democracy whilst attempting to slowly whittle away its institutions to serve him better. How do I know? Well, if his attempts to shut down Parliament (illegally, I might add, meaning that if all was right with the world he’d be under serious investigations) in an attempt to avoid scrutiny and get his own way weren’t enough to convince you, what about the fact that he threatened Channel 4 with the deadly euphemism of ‘reviewing the channel’s broadcasting remit’, following them replacing him with an ice sculpture after he failed to turn up to the channel’s climate change debate? Ofcom have rejected Johnson’s complaint, and the bias proclaimed by Michael Gove after they wouldn’t allow him to take his place is patently absurd. It was a leader’s debate after all. And all this goes without mentioning the constitutional reforms he wants to make – including an attack on our independent judiciary, which, as you may remember, was key to preventing him from trying to illegally bypass Parliament. Unlike in the USA, where Trump is kept somewhat mercifully restrained by a firmly entrenched constitution, our constitution is uncodified, unentrenched and flexible. It’s based on statute and time immemorial rather than anything else. Our Supreme Court was only established in 2009, making it 220 years younger than the Supreme Court of the United States. Among more codified laws, we have those (such as, significantly, the Human Rights Act of 1998), that are based off European Law, which for Johnson, obviously means they’re only in the way. For a more detailed breakdown of how Johnson will attack our democratic rights, here’s an article from Polly Toynbee. You should only vote for Johnson if you prefer the standards of Putin.
  2. He holds contempt for near enough everybody.
    OK, so his nasty comments are pretty well-documented, and here are some lists highlighting just a few notable examples. Here we have blatant racism, sexism and homophobia, which is always a nice start, but I’d like to add a few examples myself. First, there were his recent comments regarding EU nationals, where he said they’d been treating a country as their own for ‘far too long’, a comment that absolutely reeks of an us-vs-them dichotomy favoured by provocateurs on the alt-right. Secondly, there’s the antisemitism. Yes, the Labour party is currently undergoing a lot of antisemitism controversy at the moment, and yes, it is a serious problem that needs a lot more work than has already gone in to purge the party of such a toxic element, but the extensive coverage of it in the media has drawn attention away from the fact that antisemitism exists in the Conservative party too, is not being addressed nearly enough (not even as much as the Labour party are addressing it in their own ranks), and importantly come from Johnson himself. Back when he was a backbencher, he wrote a novel (I’m feeling slightly sick that we have that in common, and I haven’t even been published) that featured the well-worn antisemitic trope of a Jewish man as an unethical businessman who fiddles with elections. Here’s a more detailed look. And of course, let’s not forget his reaction when he was shown, in a single picture, just what his party’s cuts to the NHS had done to people.
  3. He’s a compulsive liar.
    I mean…yeah. He’s lied so many times and so often, you could probably stay up half the night just by typing ‘Boris Johnson’s lies’ into Google, and I certainly don’t have time to list all the examples of Johnson lying – so, I’ll focus on his biggest electoral claim. His claim to ‘get Brexit done.’ If he wins a majority, Johnson says Brexit will be sorted by the 31st January. Well, no, it won’t. Whilst the actual exit will occur, negotiations on how to construct a future with the EU we’re now no longer part of and no longer have any say in its laws and how they choose to conduct trade with us (so much for taking back control!). Once again, here’s a more detailed look:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/09/get-brexit-done-lie-leave-eu-johnson
    Oh, and another one.
    To put it bluntly, if you’re a Leave voter, voting for a party promising a referendum on the negotiated deal is a much better option for you. Then you will get more of a say on the matter, the essence of democracy!
    Oh, and then there’s what Johnson’s version of Brexit will do to Northern Ireland and the hard-won peace process there, something even Johnson’s allies, the DUP have called him out on. And yet another thing Johnson lied about. I also get the feeling you shouldn’t trust him on the NHS either – even John Major a former Conservative PM, has said that the NHS is about as safe with Johnson as a hamster is with a python, or words to that effect…
  4. He is a friend of poverty.
    If you want to dispute this, you can check the sources yourself, and once again, I’ll include an article that summarizes it better: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/29/uk-deep-poverty-study-austerity
    The long and short of it is, child poverty has gone up, homelessness has gone up, and it simply doesn’t have to be this way in what’s something like the fifth or sixth richest country on Earth. And before you start bringing up balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility and all that other waffle, can I just point out that the national debt of the UK in 2010, when austerity was put in place for apparent fear of going bankrupt, was at 74.6% of the GDP. That’s a figure you can look up yourself, by the way. Post-WWII, the national debt was at around 270% of the GDP. Again, look at up yourself. And yet, the post-WWII government managed to spend on the creation of the welfare state, including the NHS, without going bankrupt. Funny that. I should point out that other parties have fully costed manifestos anyway, just to be safe…which brings me to the last point…

    5. None of the parties can really do worse.
    You may dispute this – you may be agreeing with all my criticisms of Johnson, but still not like any of the other people behind the parties running. And that’s fair enough – no party is perfect, and I know plenty of people have legitimate criticisms of them. Many people take issue with the Labour Party by being headed by someone who seems out of touch with traditional voters and too much of a controversial outsider who brought in rouge elements. Many people see the Liberal Democrats as just watered-down Tories who they can’t forgive for overseeing austerity as part of a coalition government. All of these points are fair enough, but the point being missed here is that almost nobody has predicted the slightest possibility that any of these parties can get a majority this time around – what can happen, if enough support is drawn away from Johnson (the only person who seems capable of getting a majority at present), is a hung Parliament, and a follow-up coalition government where the parties can be further held to account by others, and deal with the issues raised then, filtered through Parliament. Their manifestos are more viable, and there will (hopefully) be more of a mood to compromise. I have my own thoughts on the parties running, but that’s not what this is about – who you should vote for, in my view, should be whoever’s best suited in your area to stop an era of Johnson. Once that’s sorted, then we can focus on other issues.

So, maybe this will piss off a lot of people, I don’t know. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I’m probably still going to avoid overly political posts in the future. This just seemed too important to avoid. Johnson and his criminal cronies must be stopped, and anything I can do to spread that word will make it easier to live with myself. At the end of the day, I’m just one loser sitting around, frantically typing about what he thinks online. It is you, the voters (providing, you know, you’re British), who have the power to make this happen, so MAKE SURE YOU GET OUT THERE AND VOTE. And whoever you vote for, just think carefully about it. For all our sakes.
Thanks.

Reading & Reviewing: The Handmaid’s Tale

Oh, hi.

You may have noticed that the title of this isn’t about my writing journey. And, sadly, it turns out that taking a writing course doesn’t leave that much time for it. As of now I’ve not got any deals offered to me, but will get on it as soon as I have more time.

Given the time constraints, why did I think that now would be a good time to write a blog post? My friends, I have absolutely no idea why I do what I do, and I think the sooner you remember that, the better. (OK, so technically, there was some planning to the timing of this but I’ll get onto that at the end…)

We’re back with another book review, and here I’ll be reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the book I read before the one I’m currently slogging through. Why am I slogging through it? Again, timing. It is in itself an enjoyable read, but y’know…

But what about the one I’m reviewing today? Is it any good? Well, yes. It is. But that conclusion took a while to come to even as I was reading.

The book, or at least its concept, doesn’t need that much introduction. It sort of established itself to me as one the ‘Big Three’ of dystopian fiction that really defined the genre in its modern form, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – high praise indeed, given how much these books I hadn’t read cemented themselves as defining points in the genre. As of the time of writing this, I still haven’t read the other two, which has probably earned me a little booing from the non-existent crowd of onlookers.

For those not familiar with it, or at least want a more definitive overview, the book’s premise is essentially this:

Set at an undisclosed point in the near future, the United States government has been overthrown in a coup by ‘The Sons of Jacob’, a group of totalitarian Christian fundamentalists, who manage to keep a low profile to begin with, allowing them to slowly chip away at human rights until we enter the world we see at the beginning of the novel. In the newly formed Republic of Gilead, sex is ruthlessly controlled, particularly for women, who are assigned very particular roles in life, denoted by colour-coded dresses. The Handmaids are the caste given the most focus, and is the group our protagonist belongs to, coded by now iconic red dresses. Fertility is apparently a huge problem in this future, and the official policy of The Sons of Jacob is that male infertility does not exist – all fertility problems are the fault of barren wives. To get over this, the Sons have allowed the caste of Handmaids to engage in ritualistic sex with married men (though always with the wives present) in order to produce children that will legally belong to married couple and not the Handmaid – they provide Biblical justification for this as well, with the cases of Abraham and his wife’s handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:2) and Jacob and both of his wives’ handmaids (Genesis 30:3, 9). I say handmaids, but to be honest, slave is a more accurate term. As is the case with the Handmaids in this story. Our protagonist goes by the name of Offred, although that is not her real name, as her Handmaid status means she’s only designated a name based on the man she’s assigned to (Offred=Of Fred, you see?) We get to see the world of Gilead through her eyes and her thoughts of the world that came before it.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about this book is the nature of our protagonist, who’s birth name is never revealed. She manages to be both incredibly dull, boring, and irritating, and intriguing, engaging and worth reflection at the same time. I say this with the recognition that she is meant to be – and the book’s epilogue backs up this interpretation – something of an unreliable narrator. Not that she’s lying about the situation she’s in, but rather her perspective is limited, self-centred, and to be honest, feels kind of suppressed. The situation she’s in certainly does elicit sympathy, but not much else. You increasingly get the feeling there’s many more characters in this piece you’d much rather hear about – take Moira, Offred’s best friend, who’s story is mostly told in flashbacks. She’s openly gay and was active in feminism before Gilead asserted itself, and that in itself is enough to engage a great deal of interest, and an opportunity for a window into the lives of queer people, feminists (and indeed queer feminists) in countries that suppress women and the LGBT community wholesale, theocracies being no slouch on that front. But instead, we spend most of our time with this rather unassertive straight woman. It’s enough to frustrate you, but then you realise it may well be the point. I mean, this is a frustrating situation, and not everyone has the means, capability or motivation to resist when the need arises, so it’s possible that you were meant to feel that hopelessness too – it’s not as if the hopeless tone isn’t felt throughout the book. In case Gilead thinks you have too much hope, they suppress that too by displaying the hanged corpses of political/religious dissidents, or just those they deem too sinful, in public, changing them daily so you don’t get too used to it.

The fact is, there a lot of characters in this book who’s stories we don’t hear, and that’s because Offred never heard them herself. Once again, the book is driving home the limits of one life and the frustrations that can result when you’re in, to put it mildly, a bit of a pinch.

And the way this was executed actually led to me to repeatedly question how well it was executed. Several times, I changed my mind on how much we’re supposed to like Offred, or how much of an ideal figure she was meant to represent. My final answer is that – she’s not meant to be an ideal at all. She’s meant to represent helplessness and be the victim of her circumstances. What makes me so sure about this? Well, the most obvious answer is that she simply never does anything.

I’ve seen ineffective protagonists before, and sometimes they’ll end up doing a lot of passive things in the time you spend with them (which, given they are the protagonist, is not surprising), but they’ll never make any active contributions to the plot. They’ll almost always have things done for them rather than take initiative themselves. Offred is this in spades. One of the biggest frustrations she offered to me was how many times her thoughts wandered to her bloody ex-husband. Hey, what gives? I thought this was supposed to be a definitive piece of feminist fiction, and all she’s doing is thinking in adoartion about the men who have dictated her life? (Not an entirely inaccurate description the more you read about their past together.) As for having things done for her, it has to be said that it’s not just the men of the story who do that, although they definitely do. Indeed, another one of the biggest frustrations this story had to me was, trying not to give too much away, was when another female character offered a very significant olive branch to Offred and she REFUSED, partially because of the sex she was at that moment having and the weird emotions that resulted from it. I made me want to holler at Offred and tell her how ridiculous she was being, but then again, she’s only human, and sometimes humans will go with their gut instinct in situations, something she readily admits herself. Worth noting is how the women who step beyond their boundaries for Offred (or around her, at least) never get away with it, being condemned either by Offred’s narrative, or by the ruthless powers in control of Gilead. The men who do the same, on the other hand? Nothing. They get away with it more or less perfectly. Again, deliberate? I can’t help but feel so. The story’s epilogue takes place at the end of the 22nd century, where a male historian is giving his opinion of Offred’s life as described in the book, and spends a great deal time speculating on the motivations of the men involved rather than trying to empathize with her.

This book’s frustrations may well be the best thing about it. The fact that I can read a work of feminist fiction and feel that the protagonist is entirely unhelpful, and above all, fails to consistently empathize with many of the women around her (not all the time, but enough) is really telling, and perhaps showcases a condemnation of totalitarian moralizing and thought control far better than descriptions of hanging corpses can, horrific as that is. This book I think was always meant to be a cautionary tale, but one that runs deeper just than the outset of a misogynist dictatorship, right into the veins of our unreliable narrator. This is a metafictional approach I have to salute in how well it was executed. Is it one I’ll keep going back to? It’s unclear – it’s certainly not a feel-good read, but definitely one which will probably light up the mind upon a reread, and, for those into books that challenge your thoughts in different ways with each turn of the page, it’s definitely one I’d recommend.

How accurately have I interpreted it? It’s really difficult to be sure. I want to bear in mind that my maleness may give me something of a blind spot when it comes to determining the aspects of feminist themes throughout, and I have to admit there were a few areas where I feel that my own personal tastes got in the way. For example – we have a heterosexual woman as our protagonist, which will inevitably make me pull faces at various points at the narrative trying and failing to make men attractive. (Spoilers: They’re not.) Not a failing of the book, just an issue of personal taste. And then there’s the whole smoking thing…yeah…I know this was published in 1985, when smoking was a more mainstream thing, but seriously, these characters treat cigarettes like fucking gold dust, using them as almost impervious bribes and reliefs. I utterly detest the smell of cigarette smoke, and am way too traumatized by graphic anti-smoking PIFs I saw as a child to take it up now. Obviously, I’m aware that nicotine addiction is no small thing to overcome, but it would appear as though I’d be difficult to bribe in Gilead.

OK, this brings me the reason for the timing of this post – something of a Real Talk time. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, but I fear its political talking points are very relevant at the moment.

Those who have been following the news know that Alabama has recently passed immensely restrictive anti-abortion laws. The bill in question seeks to prohibit abortion in nearly all cases, including rape and incest, and only makes an exception, as far as I can tell, for when both the survival of the mother and foetus are in question. This bill was inevitably passed by a group of cisgender men, people who’d never have to consider the consequences of this themselves. Ominously, the supporters are even anticipating the bill to be blocked in court (running counter to Roe v. Wade, 1973), but they are wanting to have it pushed to the Supreme Court so a big stink is made about it, and the possibility the newly and highly conservative judges overturning this landmark civil rights case. This possibility sets a worrying precedent that’s already present in the Supreme Court, given Brett Kavanaugh’s dangerous, authoritarian views on presidential power. No wonder Trump fought his corner.

OK, obviously I have my own opinions on the right to an abortion, but for those of you who do consider themselves pro-life, bear in mind that no law, even of this caliber, is going to prevent abortions from happening. All it will do is stop safe abortions from happening, and the kind of backstreet abortions I’m talking about used to be done all the time before people sat up and realized how ridiculously unsafe it was. That’s what we risk returning to if these kind of bills become commonplace – it already happens in countries were abortion is illegal. A 2006 report by the World Health Organization determined that at least 22,800 deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions annually. Anyone who calls themselves pro-life should definitely take that into account. Also, if you think abortion is akin to murder, does that mean you should investigate every miscarriage that ever took place? Be aware of what you’re agreeing to…

I can’t do a great deal about this where I am, and I know I don’t have a particularly big readership. I don’t even know if any of them reside in the States, but those of you who are reading this, please spread the word, let everyone know that action needs to be taken. Voting in candidates who aren’t awful would be a good start. And for those who are anti-abortion – please consider your position carefully, what it means, and why you hold it. Take the time to learn a little bit more, don’t just react instinctively to the emotive language sold to you – or indeed, Trump’s ridiculous and bare-faced lies on the whole procedure.

Until next time (whenever that might be) everyone stay safe, and remember to fight for your rights.

 

 

Reading & Reviewing: We Are Okay

It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these – I know I was meant to produce a lengthy series of reviews for books I had been reading en masse for the past however long, but then things happened, including my own writing taking me over. That’s still going on, and I hope to keep you updated on whether I’m nearing the stage of getting my work out there, or, on the other end of the spectrum, am nearing the stage of denouncing it from the rooftops.

Either way, I feel it’s worth writing a particular review for my most recent read. Firstly, because of just how exceptional it is, and secondly, because I was recommending it on Twitter, and after corresponding with the author herself, feel I owe her to actually do this thing properly. So…hi, Nina, if you’re reading…hope you like this review. The pressure’s on a little bit more than with previous reviews, what with the author watching, but hey, it’s still my blog – and it’s not as if I’ve got much negative to comment on.

So – We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. Not my first exposure to her work. I had previously read You Know Me Well, a collaborative novel between her and David Levithan, and Hold Still, her debut novel. Both I enjoyed, but my appreciation for her writing and recognition of it’s consistent good points reached their zenith in this particular work, and has probably now earned its place as one of my favourite books outright, although given how long my reading list still is, who knows how many favourites I’ll end up having…

So, what’s the story? Well, to be honest, it’s kind of difficult to summarize, and I felt that the blurb, when I first read it, didn’t reveal too much either. The story is narrated by Marin, a young woman who has recently started attending college (or uni, as we Brits might facetiously say) in New York, about as far away from her home in California as you can get. And this is quite deliberate – she feels the need to distance herself from what went on in the days leading up to her departure, to the point that she’s not contacted anyone from her old life for ages. Eventually, her best friend Mabel (who has recently been a bit more than a friend to her), comes to visit, admittedly upon invitation, to spend a few days with her during the Christmas holidays, whilst Mabel is otherwise completely alone at the college dormitories, and upon arriving, is, as you’ll imagine, quite curious to know what exactly happened, which slowly gets revealed to the reader via backstory.

One of the most immediately noticeable strengths about this book (and in fact, a consistent factor in all of LaCour’s books) is how well realized the characters are. I have rambled at length about how much I love characters before, and tend to get annoyed when they seem more like stereotypes, archetypes or tools rather than actual human beings. The author manages to avoid this trap however – even though a good chunk of the consists of just Marin and Mabel interacting with each other, every second of it speaks volumes about them, feels so organic, genuinely makes me think that these are two existing people with a convoluted and not fully worked out relationship to each other. One scene that really makes this stand out is near the beginning, where the two of them are having a conversation in an elevator (or, lift, as we boring Brits say), where the topic of discussion is naturally drawn to Marin’s disappearing act. Both characters manage to convey several emotions at once during this discussion – Marin manages to be both defensive of her decision, whilst simultaneously being guilty and trying to avoid upsetting Mabel even more. Mable, which for her part is even more impressive by not being a POV character, manages to display a subtle anger and hurt and Marin’s decision and radio silence, whilst also feeling joyous at their reunion, and I’m possibly detecting a bit of guilt there too, due to recent events in her life which makes the brewing romance she and Marin had previously now not possible. All of this just a few pages – that is some top quality character-crafting there. This kind of attention to detail can also be seen in LaCour’s minor characters. This is probably shown more in her other books, with a lot more characters to work with, but even here, it can detected. You don’t just know the names of background characters, you know their dog’s name too, their family life, their hobbies. No character is neglected, whether you like them or not, and in this book, I’m sure I do.

The degree by which the major characters’ focus is developed is immensely impressive too –  the reminiscing done by Marin and Mabel is just delightful, for lack of a better word. You simply don’t need to be told how close they are, because it’s evident, not just in Mabel flying 3,000 odd miles to reunite with Marin, but simply by how their conversations flowed in spite of the awkwardness that grew between them. Dissections of literary techniques, existential musings, all of these come naturally to the two of them, and it’s just perfect. These are definitely conversations I can see myself wanting to read frequently.

The connection gets even more personal for me, when I reflect on that I decided, halfway through reading, that Marin probably has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, having recognised a lot of her habits and thought processes in myself, particularly in how her concerns and worries tend to develop and worsen until death is considered a likely outcome, and also how later the worries become darker, and more closely related to her doubting the commitment the people important to her actually have, particularly her grandfather. Oh yeah, probably should have mentioned him…well, keep an eye on him, because he’s pivotal. Perhaps what hit closest to home though was how Marin manages to keep her anxieties under control by having the familiar and mundane recited or presented to her – when her roommate Hannah was there, it was the discussion of her biology course that gave her some comfort. With Mabel, it’s talking about her life, no doubt playing into the nostalgia factor, something that I know I find comforting. Rewatching episodes of TV shows or films that I’ve watched plenty of times before is a key way I relieve my anxiety, to the point that’s it become part of the process.

If I’m allowed to interpret, I’d argue that the main themes of this book are loneliness and the fear of simply not belonging, which becomes more apparent in Marin the more you read on, and seems quite cemented as its central theme by the end. And again, it’s something I know all too well, everything from avoiding the unknown and emotionally painful, to undue guilty, to unrequited love, and something that can be eased with just some of the simplest actions from people you care about which you nevertheless realize was quite an undertaking on their part, done simply for you. Many of us will feel lonely, anxious about our place in the world, and sometimes betrayed very often, and recovery is not always straightforward. But if you have a Mabel in your life, definitely hold onto them.

Do I have any criticisms? Honestly, very little stood out to me as worth criticizing. Even though a good half of the book is told in flashback, explaining how Marin got to where she did, a narrative technique I can easily get tired of, it’s perfectly easy to follow and serves the story well. It helps, I guess, that neither story, either the flashback one, or the one of Marin and Mabel in New York, is boring. In a less talented author’s hands, they could easily have been.

If I were to pick one thing, I’d say the ending seems a little off compared to the rest of the book. Endings are difficult, I know, and for spoiler-related reasons, I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’ll summarize in saying certain things about it seem a little abrupt, and somewhat different in tone to everything else, and perhaps I’m just saying that because I would have been happy for the book to be many times longer, but who knows.

Point is, this is a brilliant book – I’d highly recommend it to anyone, and it has encouraged me to read LaCour’s other books that I haven’t yet. Nina, I’m quite jealous of your talents, but you do deserve this praise.

Reading & Reviewing: Looking for Alaska

I’ve always found one of the most prominent challenges when it comes to finding entertainment for a young man like myself who’s so in touch with his feminine side that it’s practically the only one there, is that romance doesn’t seem to often be marketed with a male demographic in mind. When it comes to interactions with the opposite sex from the male perspective, sex seems to be the most heavy theme, with emotions coming second, and I think this is a shame. People often underestimate how emotional and sentimental guys can be too, and this goes without mentioning the under-representation of same-sex romances.

As it was, I had to contend myself with your standard female-oriented romances, which I find has less of an effect when I can’t find the object of affection remotely attractive. Perhaps this was why I didn’t take to Levi when I read Fangirl. Or maybe he was just a poorly-written archetype. Perhaps both. The point is, you can probably imagine my intrigue when I happened to stumble across John Green’s debut novel on TV Tropes when looking him up. Avoiding as many spoilers as I could, the summary sounded like something I’d be waiting for for a long time – a YA romantic storyline from the perspective of a guy pursuing a girl…? I suppose it’s a sign of not much else going on that I became pretty hyped before I even got my hands on this book.

Of course it turned out that this was an oversimplification. I knew there would be more to this book, but this was the primary motivator, because I felt that I could connect with the protagonist far more than I was used to. Ironically, the main motivator and storyline wasn’t even there, at least not in it’s expected format, but that isn’t to say I didn’t end up impressed by it or that there wasn’t anything I found both relevant and relatable. A good, important chunk of the plot is kind of crossing into spoiler territory given an event that takes place about halfway through. People who’ve read the book will know what I’m talking about. Otherwise, I’ll try and explain the impact this had without actually giving it away, but I can’t be sure I won’t be too obvious, so proceed at your own risk.

The story concerns a young man named Miles (I say young man, he’s 16, and sometimes I still feel that age) who has the habit of memorizing famous figures’ last words. Inspired by the last words of Francois Rabelais, he decides to attend a boarding school called Culver Creek to seek his own Great Perhaps – essentially opening up himself to potential life experiences. He’s given the nickname Pudge (because he’s really skinny, get it?) by his roommate who goes by the name of The Colonel, and he meets a whole host of interesting characters including the eponymous Alaska. Alaska is a stunning, erratic and extroverted girl whom Pudge falls for pretty much instantly. The many activities the students get up to at Culver Creek include a potentially dangerous prank war, occasionally skipping class, a lot of smoking, and much of this is spearheaded by Alaska, who drinks hard, plays hard and certainly gives reason for Pudge to consider her the key to his Great Perhaps. Does this description of her seem uncomfortably familiar? Well, it should, because this time it’s deliberate.

John Green has gone on record to say that virtually all of his books attempt to deconstruct the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype to some degree, including a gender-flipped example in The Fault in Our Stars. He’s the first to admit he’s not always successful, and in fact one of the reasons he wrote Paper Towns is because he didn’t feel he did a good enough job in this one of taking the archetype down. Given that this is his debut novel, I think it’s quite interesting to see the beginning of his own take on it. Because one of the things I think Green does best is capture the joys, crossroads and particularly in this case, the sheer naivety of youth.

Pudge himself is not the strongest protagonist I’ve seen, but I feel that part of that may well be just how much of an avatar for the reader I find him. He’s not physically adept or overly confident, and he rightly feels awkward due to the socially awkward habits he has. Now, I never used to memorize people’s last words, but believe me I memorized some other weird things. And just like Pudge, the geeky side I had which led some people to believing I was wise beyond my years didn’t stop me from being a slave to my emotions and naively hold people in the highest regard, and this is exactly what Pudge does to Alaska. And this is where the deconstruction comes into play. Pudge begins to view her almost as this angel sent from heaven who’s only role is to guide him to his Great Perhaps, and whilst Alaska is a perfectly friendly and playful individual, being a real person, she of course has her own agenda too, her own history and priorities that don’t seem to register with Pudge straight away. This is so similar to the kind of crushes I’ve had in my past that it’s almost laughable. I too have idealized those who have seemed to have the perfect combination of personality and physical traits, practically creating my own Manic Pixie Dream Girls as I did so. I don’t know whether my inability to see things from their perspectives contributed to how this didn’t always end well for me, but I can see how it would be a factor.

Because despite her being a drinking, smoking, loud-mouthed party girl who decides to steal porn just because and waltz around the campus and play matchmaker and tell a teacher they’re full of shit to their face, Alaska shows plenty of signs that she’s not quite as clear-cut as this. And for the most part, Pudge and the others pretty much ignore these things.

For one thing, she has a boyfriend. Obviously false romantic leads are a huge trope in this kind of genre, but I feel it shows already that there are different priorities to be had here. She’s also quite open about the sex she has, which for female supporting characters, particularly stock ones, is usually considered taboo by people who have this weird idea that women should be prudes or something. In fact, this book was quite often challenged due to the level of sexual references, swearing and drinking that came from it’s teenage characters. This is quite funny to me, because firstly, apparently these moral guardians don’t know anything about teenagers, and secondly, the book I read after this one made Looking for Alaska seem about as profane and sexually explicit as the Mr Men.

But more than this, Alaska’s moods swing quite dramatically. Sometimes she’s her usual MPDG self, other times she’s crying her eyes out over something far beyond Pudge’s control. These are further advanced by rather morbid comments she makes or references to certain things about herself that I won’t go into too much detail about here, which again, is mostly just brushed off by the main cast. They have no reason to concern themselves with the mental well-being of her too much, they seem to decide, because she’s the life and soul of the party. As it happens, Takumi, a friend of Pudge, Alaska and the Colonel’s, is revealed at the end to have a similar kind of crush to the one Pudge nurtures throughout this story, so it’s understandable that he’d have a similar reaction. Now I’m sure those who haven’t read the book among you have probably worked out by now that this neglect is going to come back to bite them later. And…yeah…

Perhaps more curious than that though is that (slight spoiler incoming) Pudge and Alaska don’t actually get together. They closest they get is constant flirting and a make-out session when they were drunk. And, given that Alaska is still with her boyfriend at this point, this raises a few questions…but more on that later. The point is, this again showcases another reality of teen life. If you got together with the very first person you were attracted to and are still happy with them now then…you’re one of a very rare minority and I’m trying my best not to resent you.

Alaska does in fact hook Pudge up with a girl named Lara and there’s a scene where they try oral sex…and haven’t got a clue what to do, which Alaska finds absolutely hilarious, of course. I don’t know, it’s little touches like that which I really appreciate.

I guess I should talk about the other characters too. The Colonel, Pudge’s roommate is good, because it again showcases an understanding of inter-personal relationships. Him and Pudge naturally become very close friends. There’s not really much to elaborate on there, it just feels very real. He’s given a background and a family, and perhaps most importantly serves as something of a voice of reason later on, given that he shares a close, entirely platonic relationship with Alaska and is therefore is the character that sees her as most like a human being. He even has a go at Pudge later for not treating her like a human being. It’s played a little obviously, but I’d argue it’s cause is just.

There are plenty of other more minor characters in the students and staff and Culver Creek, and they’re all pretty distinctive so I don’t really have any complaints there.

Were there issues? Well, yes…perhaps.

See, after finishing this, I found myself thinking that this felt a bit like half a story. But then again, I’m not sure whether or not that was the point. By the end, a great deal doesn’t feel resolved. Whatever Pudge and Alaska had going on certainly wasn’t, and nor was a great deal of Alaska’s character arc. But these all had very good reasons, and like I say, it’s arguable that was all very deliberate. Real life, again, isn’t all about resolution or answers, or even getting to know people you don’t know all that well, because it’s complicated and uncertain and sometimes you’ve just got to work it out as best you can. Maybe what threw me off-guard the most is how a little essay by Pudge at the end tries to resolve certain themes that the novel had, and honestly, sometimes it does feel a little half-arsed. Looking back, I do get what it was going for, talking about people being greater than the sum of their parts, but I dunno, maybe it just didn’t fit the tone as well as it could have done, because it doesn’t resolve as much as maybe you’d want it to. It’s not a very long essay, and I don’t he said as much as he could have. Again, the line between intentional and not is a little blurry. Perhaps it could have benefited from one more rewrite? It’s all a little unclear, because if Green’s intention was to tell half a story based on the limited perspective our inward-focused protagonist had, or if it was to tell a complete story, I’m not sure he did either one perfectly.

All the same, the ideas behind it is all still there, and they are good ideas. But perhaps we should look at this as Green finding his writing style, in terms of structure, character and theme. Given what he has written since, I think he has certainly honed his style, or at least exploited it’s many uses. As debut novels go, it certainly could have been a lot worse. I personally enjoyed it, and may well reread it at some point if I’ve got nothing better to do. At some points it feels like half a story, but given all that he could have written, maybe we could look at that and everything he planned on writing afterwards as another Great Perhaps…?

GOD, I’m so witty. Look at me lazily trying to make a connection to the topic. Yeah, I’ll shut up now…feel free to like and comment and I’ll post…something at some point. Yes, it’s vague, but that’s how my schedule operates…

Reading & Reviewing: Fangirl

So, I haven’t posted one of these in ages, largely out of what could be a sheer sense of apathy, but also because I’ve been trying to sort poorly defined things…

But whatever, if I get some of my old audience (that may have existed?) looking at this again, on top of maybe some new people who’s interest may have been peaked by the new subject matter, that’ll be something. So, this is a start of (hopefully) a series of opinion pieces pertaining to books I’ve read recently.

As a young, feeble, insufferable know-it-all, I used to devour books. Harry Potter is a prominent example – I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve reread (or re-listened to, thanks to my old friend Stephen Fry, who doesn’t know me at all) that particular series. However, as I entered my adolescence, for some reason, I found that my ability to devour books was waning, maybe because people expected me to read more adult books, or, God forbid, more masculine books. Whatever the reason, I found my interest in books wasn’t what it once was, which, for an aspiring writer, is not a great sign. But since I’ve tried to take a more serious approach to getting on with, what I hope are decent literature ideas, it’s probably best I see what other authors have to offer. In no particular pattern, I decided on some books to read, and here I shall be reviewing the first of these, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

I acknowledge first and foremost that as a heterosexual male I’m not the intended primary audience for this book, and also that, being it a little while since I’ve finished this book (hooray for procrastination), my memory on some of the scenes might be a little fuzzy…
That said, the subject matter of this book is what endeared me to it in the first place, so I can’t be that far removed from the audience. Given what I did end up enjoying in this book, I don’t think my issues with it should just be dismissed outright. What did I enjoy? What did I find issue with? I suppose I’d better let you know.

First, a brief summary. The protagonist of this book is a girl named Cath, approaching 18, and starting college (or university, as we say in the UK) with her twin sister Wren. Despite the fact that the two of them have been inseparable since their childhood, they acknowledge the inherent differences between, notably that Cath is more withdrawn, and Wren has the slightly more outgoing, sociable resolve. These differences deepen as they arrive at college, and are separated for the first time, Wren opting for separate rooms to allow herself to develop more, and Cath withdraws even more, mostly sticking to herself and writing the fanfiction that she and Wren had done during their teen years.

Oh yeah, should probably mention that…
Both of them are huge fans of a fictional series called Simon Snow, which, whilst sounding like a rather generic fantasy series, is presented as being a phenomenon that’s an obvious expy of the Harry Potter franchise, quite amusingly so. At the moment at which the story starts, the eighth and final installment of Simon Snow is in the making, and Cath is getting on with her lengthy fanfiction which a lot of her readership consider to be the true eighth installment, or at least should be what the eighth installment should be like, and includes a common selling-point of having the main character (Simon, duh) engaging in a romantic story arc with Baz, the character who’s portrayed within the context of the canon series as a bitter rival. Clearly, Gemma T. Leslie (the author of Simon Snow) hasn’t done her research when it comes to the way fan communities treat rivalries, particularly male ones. Whether it be Harry and Draco, Naruto and Sasuke, or Light and L, there’s going to be love-making in the fanfiction…

The point is, Cath’s so content to retreat into that particular world, that the effect it has on her interactions within her college life is obvious – she takes an instant dislike to Wren’s roommate and the two of them begin to drift apart, and she struggles with general socialization and her classes. She is willing to give up on the higher education several times throughout the book, but the people who stick by her, notably her father, her cynical roommate and her cynical roommate’s slightly overly-saccharine ex (watch out for him, more on him later) soon help her to get on with it…I’ll try not to go into too much detail of the plot here, but I will say that there’s not much to spoil. Pretty much what you expect will happen happens.

So, the strengths of this book lie in how well it’s able to capture the image of a dedicated fan. As a fan, and an author of fanfiction, as it happens, a good chunk of Cath’s internal monologuing about her fan community resonates heavily with me. Several times I found myself going ‘oh yeah, that’s totally like that…’ and was furthermore amused by how the author managed to avoid dreaded copyright issues by the age-old but lovely trick of making terribly similar things to known brands to cover her tracks. For example, instead of Fanfiction.net, we have FanFixx.net, and instead of Wikipedia, we have Encyclowiki. The book opens with an Encyclowiki article on Simon Snow. For some reason, the whole de-fictionalization process she attempted to go through I found really enjoyable. I can’t help it – it’s a way of seeing the world in which the story’s set seem a lot more real. Complete with extracts from the books and Cath’s own fanfiction!

Ah, yes…let’s talk about those, shall we?
As much as I appreciated the attempt to flesh out fictional worlds within fictional worlds, they did start become a bit tedious as time wore on, partially because they really did serve no purpose to the continuation of the plot, but also because…well, Gemma T. Leslie’s writing isn’t very good. Whether that was intentional on the actual author’s part or not isn’t entirely clear, but in between chapters there are extracts, sometimes from Simon Snow books, and I always found myself rolling my eyes at the terrible narm spoused from the character’s mouths and the way they’re described with their bishounen hair and all the rest of it…again, it may have been intentional, but I’m not sure what purpose it served. I also had a few minor nitpicks with Rowell’s writing style, often because she randomly describes a character’s appearance in the middle of conversation. If you don’t mind that kind of thing, that’s fine, but I happened to find it quite jarring.

What about the characters? Ever my favourite thing of nearly any story, this book had to carry itself with mostly character design and development and…eh, it does OK. Cath and Wren’s relationship is the highlight of it. You do begin to get a sense of the history they’ve shared as it moves on and the ache that Cath feels during the times in which they’re not speaking to much. Wren herself is a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of books (or indeed WattPad stories) I’ve seen in this kind of environment, because she’s never shamed for extroversion and her rather hedonistic attitude, and her character is further deepened by the understanding that she is nearly as geeky as Cath still, and, as revealed later on in the book, is still loyally reading her fanfiction, to which Cath is moved.

Cath is OK as a character too – not the strongest protagonist I’ve ever seen, but perfectly serviceable. Her character arc is pretty clear, but it works fine – learning to embrace things out of her comfort zone and acknowledging that there’s no shame in changing herself somewhat, if it’s for a benefit. There’s this pretty poignant scene early on where Cath hands in an assignment of creative writing. Sticking to what she knows, she writes a short story about Simon and Baz, and her teacher/lecturer/whatever, who goes by the fantastic name of Professor Piper fails her for it, pointing out that what she did was essentially tantamount to plagiarism. This shakes Cath quite a bit, and confesses that she’s not all that good at coming up with original stories, but Piper, bless her, believes in her and continues to encourage her. What Cath eventually turns in is a nice conclusion, which I’m not going to give away, but essentially it does reflect a truth that any writer will find – better writing comes with experience.

Cath’s roommate Reagan is an interesting beast, but I have to say, I really like her, or at least, I like the role she plays. From the beginning she is cynical, fairly loud and unapologetic in her dealings and about as different from the introverted Cath as you can imagine. And yet…well, you can probably see where this is going. They do get on. I’m not going to go into details about it, it’s a nice touch, just read it for yourself.

And then there are the guys. *Sigh*

OK, my biggest issue with this book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the romance. The guy Cath ends up being involved with is called Levi, and once upon a time, he was with Reagan. The fact that he spends a lot of time with Reagan is a pretty nice set-up, because they play a role almost like parental substitutes to Cath in the beginnings of the book, Levi’s cheeriness being a foil to Reagan’s cynicism, and that really works. And this is where the problem comes in – with such a dynamic, I always found Cath and Levi’s interactions to be sibling-like, with Levi acting as an older brother to her. And so, the later romantic interactions they had were…revolting.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I remember reading them and pulling faces the entire way through, although part of that could be also to do with the awkward way they way written. In some cases, that was probably intentional, but not in all. Maybe my own cynicism is showing, but the subjective incest aside, Levi’s character commits a much graver sin.

Let me try and set it out for you – this is a guy who spends most of his time in an unbridled, extroverted cheeriness. He gets on with anyone, but for reasons that aren’t properly explained, he has an instant (yes, that is confirmed by him later) romantic attraction to Cath the second he claps his eyes on her, and would like nothing better that to have her read him the fanfiction she wrote all day. Without much of his own backstory or life fleshed out, his role in this story is to get Cath out of her shell, boost her confidence and allow her to do new things. Is this description beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar?

Through what I have observed, Levi is essentially a textbook version (albeit a gender-flipped example) of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

A point could be made in that he is given something of a backstory and character traits beyond how Cath defines his role – he is revealed to, because possibly dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or maybe something else, struggle with reading and therefore come close to failing some assignments, but really that serves the purpose as to have him invite Cath to read things to him. He also had an apparently rocky history with Reagan, given that they broke up because she couldn’t stay monogamous. But he doesn’t seem particularly upset about that, and it just gives all the more reason for him and Cath to be together, Cath’s introversion being very important to the focus she gives on him. Although props to the story for not slut-shaming Reagan for her insatiability. Although infidelity is another matter…actually, the narrative weirdly breezes over the whole thing. Hm.

It feels a shame to have to bring this up, because Levi is a merciful break for all the love interests that have to be total dicks in order to be love interests. He’s a genuinely nice person, and not someone I’d mind meeting. It’s just a shame how obviously flat he is. The reason this matters is because Rowell spent so much time crafting a real world seperate from the fictional one that Cath enjoys staying in, and part of coming-of-age is acknowledging the flaws and and issues that the real world has. And neither Cath or Wren are idealised heroines, mercifully. The differences in personality they have are accepted as just differences, and things that they can work through. The transition Cath makes from a shielded fictional world to a flawed, but ultimately more rewarding real one would be so much more poignant if there was a more difficult, more realistically portrayed romance. And I’m not saying that Cath and Levi’s relationship is entirely without minor dramas or disagreements, but these are resolved remarkably fast, or else based on complete misunderstandings, because Levi REALLY needs Cath for…I have no clue. Cath’s development makes her a much more interesting character than she is without her cardboard cut-out.

Perhaps realising this, the story does actually intend to fake us out in terms of romance, but unfortunately not well enough. It’s never in any doubt who Cath’s going to end up with (particularly as Levi’s on the cover with her), but it’s not as though I didn’t vainly hope…

First there’s Cath’s actual boyfriend at the beginning of the story. He’s called Abel, for which he has my greatest sympathies, and apparently is…well, we know very little about him actually, other than that he may be more introverted and awkward than Cath herself, and he breaks up with her pretty fast. The sheer boringness of how he’s displayed do unfortunately create an all too obvious and appealing contrast to someone like Levi.

Oh, and then there’s Nick…
Nick seems a strange choice for my preferred love interest, because, if you cast your minds back to That Life, he carries a great deal of the traits that annoy me. He’s muscular (something that Levi isn’t, interestingly), something that Cath notes, apparently attractive enough to gain the attention of other girls, and possesses a rather smooth flirtacious banter that I distinctly lack. So, yeah – he has every reason to bring back my own personal insecurities, but the role he plays in this story is actually fairly interesting.

A fellow of Cath’s Fiction Writing class, he pairs up with her in various assignments so they can assist each other in their own writing drawbacks, although Cath does end up helping him a lot more, because he has the tendency to create one-note protagonists that Cath notes are very similar to him. There’s a bit of conflict near the end where he attempts to pass of an assignment that she helped him edit simply with his own name, which everyone finds a pretty douchey thing to do. And…yeah, it is, but the fact that his politeness to Cath never wavers makes me think that he might not even realise what the problem is. Narcissistic and self-obsessed? Or just ignorant? Maybe both? At any rate, this is the set-up for a much more interesting and controversial romance.

But wait! I hear you cry. Didn’t you just say you hated it when love interests were total wankers? Why yes, I do, but there are many ways you can make someone’s flaws be genuine issues without them being completely horrible. And Nick didn’t seem to be completely horrible, just a bit misguided and clearly in need of decent emotional intelligence. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if both Cath and Nick worked through their own personal flaws together whilst helping each other with their writing? Nick helping Cath with original characters, and Cath helping Nick with decent characters? That would be a romance I could get behind. I might even forgive Nick for being more attractive than me. Personally, I think it was a tragically missed opportunity. TEAM NICK!

So, overall, what do I think of this book? It’s pretty good. Definitely better than you might expect, but at the same time suffers from some rather glaring problems and…is probably too long. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in some of the themes I’ve laid out here, and even for those who are annoyed by the same things that annoy me, you may interpret it differently. Who knows?

I’ll post again soon, likely reviewing the book I read after this, or an another anime series. Until then, feel free to comment and share with your friends…y’know, all that good stuff…

 

Reviewing When Marnie Was There

I’ve been meaning to post this for quite a while, actually, but I’ve never been in the right frame of mind for it. Now? Yeah, it’ll do. Doesn’t mean I’ll be able to get to the end of this without some emotional response though…

So, a while back, I posted a list of my favourite animated movies, and whilst for the most part that list does still hold up, I have to say, if I had seen this movie back then, it would have definitely been on there. Not quite sure where, but definitely near the top. Studio Ghibli has long been associated with quality animated movies, and even with the very real possibility that this is their final gift, what a gift to leave on!

Based actually on an English novel by Joan G. Robinson, this film tells the story of a young girl named Anna, who’s artistic, highly introverted, suffers from asthma and lives with a foster family who worry about connecting with her, and her connecting with other people. Truth be told, Anna suffers from a degree of self-loathing. But when a doctor suggests to her foster mother that she get away from the bustle of a city life, she agrees, and sends Anna to live with her sister and brother-in-law in a seaside town near Sapporo for the summer. Although initially about as disconnected as before, including upsetting some of the locals, Anna discovers an apparently abandoned mansion across a marsh, but occasionally sees lights on there too. One night, she discovers a girl her age living there, a girl named Marnie, who’s full of unbridled openness and friendliness towards Anna, and the two of them pick up a very dependable and close friendship, which is very open to interpretation in the way they act, particularly at how Marnie jovially declares Anna to be her ‘precious secret.’ It eventually becomes clear however, that Marnie is incredibly elusive. Occasionally, Anna will find the mansion completely derelict, despite being very full of life when Marnie’s there. It’s obvious that there’s more to Marnie than meets the eye, but given the insight Anna’s had to Marnie’s life in that mansion, one rather isolated and full of neglect, leads to her resolving to help Marnie however she can, no matter who she is, where she came from, or even if she’s even real…

Perhaps what makes this movie stand out to me more than the other Ghibli ones I’ve seen is how this has much more of a story to it than something like Kiki or Spirited Away, which may have something to do with it being a novel first. Kiki is just a slice of life movie, and whilst Spirited Away had a goal accomplished at the end of it, it’s still mostly focused on Chihiro’s interactions in a strange environment. Both these things work fantastically for the movies, but as someone very interested in narrative, this just caught my attention more. I felt like there wasn’t a single thing I could miss about it. Marnie’s introduction gave me all kinds of questions, and continued to intrigue me as the movie played out. Having to know an ending is a true sign of an engaging film. The characters are also fantastic, both the supporting and the main – perhaps Anna’s just all the more relatable to me, particularly how she talks about an ‘invisible magic circle’ in the world, representing social interactions, and how she is on the outside. The emotions Anna runs through throughout the flick is actually reminiscent to what I often go through. See, I told you it would be emotional for me to go through this…but anyway…

The way these two characters work off each other is incredible. There’s a scene where they have a long conversation about their feelings which doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced or in any way boring…I mean, I love characters talking about their feelings, but this does it all the better with scene transitions relating to what they’re saying, and as it’s Studio Ghibli, you know the backgrounds are just going to be gorgeous-looking. This film is, and it knows it. Just the shots of the marsh, the town, the water, they’re all so beautifully drawn, and despite being hand-drawn, just look and feel so real. It translates well into the pacing of the movie too, as even though the story is plot-driven, they sometimes just allow you to experience the atmosphere of the place, and it really works. The eponymous Marnie isn’t actually introduced until about half an hour in, allowing for you to feel as Anna does, just the way this little town works. There’s a scene with Anna walking home at sunset, and she passes a cyclist as she turns a corner. Why was this detail included? I don’t know, remove it and the story would still be complete, but it’s just such a nice detail. I can’t explain it. It’s just wonderful.

For all my gushing about this movie, you might wonder if it has any flaws. Well, yes, I’d say it did – but it’s difficult to talk about them without going into spoiler territory. I will do my best though.

By the end of the film, you are given an answer as to Marnie’s identity. It certainly fits, although on reflection, the explanation does raise a few questions which might distract a keen viewer, particularly about the nature of Anna and Marnie’s relationship as shown, and the possibilities of Anna’s role in all of this. Again, difficult to word without giving anything a way, but I imagine it could give some audiences a less than resolved feeling by the end. It did in my case when I first watched, but upon re-watching it recently, most of that vanished, because in all honesty, the vagueness presented to you didn’t change the strength of the relationship that we had seen develop throughout the story, nor the strength of Anna’s character development. It does end on a distinctly positive note, so it’s not as if these characters we’ve grown to care about are robbed of a happy ending. It’s just perhaps not as robust to analyst as some others might be. Sure, it raises a few questions, but it solves the major ones and does wonders for your emotions as you do so. Ultimately, these flaws are minor and don’t dent it by much of a margin.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone, even more so for fans of anime and/or hand-drawn animation. It’s emotional, it’s engaging, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s beautiful to listen to, I’ve gone on about it long enough, so go and see it if you haven’t already.

 

Avoiding a Crummy Christmas

You might have noticed that this isn’t more story commentary. If you have, you’re an absolute genius, I don’t know how you deduced that.

Yeah, I was planning on updating that commentary at some point, but then I thought, why not something a bit more festive? With Christmas just around the corner, it makes some amount of sense, surely, to actually talk about it? It’s hardly original – it seems that everyone talks about Christmas when it’s near, who would have guessed? See, I seem to more often talk about it when it’s nowhere near the season, and actually, I was struggling to come up with something to talk about given that most people I know seem to be better at that sort of thing. But why not put my own spin on things? Will this be incredibly cynical? Maybe, but sit back, help yourself to whatever you eat at time of year (don’t tell me you don’t) and I’m going to give you some advice. God help us all, you might say, but here are my top five tips to avoid a crummy Christmas, and if you don’t want to take my advice, then you might be doing yourself a bigger favour than I am.

1. Don’t leave your present-getting until the last minute.
If you’re like me, and I hope you’re not (but if so, don’t forget that both the essay and script are due January), then you will know the sheer lure of procrastinating. Why, you ask yourself, put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow? It’s the first law of lazy dynamics, and whilst it has given you a lot of grief, it can be incredibly relaxing. See, the advice I just gave people myself about when my workload is due now seems kind of pointless with that in mind.

But of course, Christmas is a time of giving, and given that people seem determined to get me things, it’s only fair I return the favour. So, what does everyone want?
When it comes down to it, I’m terrible at buying people stuff. Sometimes I wonder if it’s best to just go the easy route and buy chocolate, but, y’know, who goes there? Chocolate’s a cop-out. Donald Trump would have bought me chocolate if he thought it would make me vote for him. It wouldn’t, by the way, and not just because I’m not American. Side note here, if you do often buy chocolate for your loved ones, I’m not saying you’re like Donald Trump. That’s just awful.

Any present beyond the obvious just causes me an unnecessary amount of stress. I don’t know how to get people gifts! I’m not a proper person. I’m always paranoid about whether they’ll interpret in some negative or manipulative way. Like, should I buy someone revealing or brightly coloured clothing if they’re liable to interpret it as me coming onto them? I might think this attire would look absolutely great on me, but they might be less impressed. Or should I buy someone a recipe book for healthy meals if they think I’m telling them they’re fat? I want everyone to be healthy, I promise I’m not making a slight against your figure! And if you want to buy a T-shirt, what colour should it be? What if you get them stationery that’s liable to break? What kind of careless sod are you, buying presents like that? Unfriend!

Secret Santa is the worst, because suddenly you’ve got to buy something for someone who you only recognise by sight, and don’t know if they’re an ordinary person interested in ordinary things, or they might be fixated solely on radishes, and only radish-related things will do. Or you’re on their hit list.

I’m going slightly off-topic here. I guess my paranoia is just reaching the surface. Again. The point is, if you leave present buying too late, you won’t have time to think all these terrifying possibilities through, and you might end up making a blunder, like buying a T-shirt with Cromwell on it for your Irish friend. And then you’ll remember what nationalities you haven’t made friends with yet. You racist.

The temptation is to put off present buying though. I understand completely where it comes from, because when you’re shopping for another person, you always want to be sure that everyone around you knows that. At Christmas, everyone’s doing it, so it’s slightly more excusable, but all the same, you linger in a section which might make people stare for a while, and you just feel like running home and never coming out.

“No, I’m not actually interested in beating up ethnic minorities. This is for a friend. Uh, an acquaintance. Someone I’m obligated to buy for. I don’t usually make friends with fascists. And he’s not even a fascist. He likes it ironically. I promise.”

Look, I had to think of something. I felt really guilty that Trump had gotten me chocolate and I had given him nothing.

Buying online is a much easier option, as it avoids all the judging looks, but even then, buying something online you wouldn’t be caught dead with is a strange experience. You start to hope nobody checks your search history, and wonder what Amazon must think of you, and if you’ve taken leave of your senses and all the intellectual stuff you normally buy.

To avoid all this embarrassment, it’s best to just get it over with quickly.

2. Try and get some sleep.
Given all you’re expected to do over the Christmas season, making sure you rest and recuperate is very important. I mean, it’s important generally, but I’ve got to make it relevant…

Our lives are pretty full of distractions, one of them people trying to get you up very early on Christmas morning. And I know that it’s a family tradition and they’re just trying to get into the festive mood, but it can be very difficult to switch off given all of the stimulus during the daytime.

What’s more, I tend to lie awake thinking about really weird things. Whether it be the creepy noises that are going around the house with no logical source, to considering whether I have the writing ability to pull off any given scene, to whether my computer’s going to give up on me before I’ve finished this essay, to wondering if anyone’s lying awake thinking about me, to whether or not Kodaka or Yozora’s relationship had the potential to be anything beyond platonic, to how uncomfortable my neck is in this position, to whether we’ll live to see 2018 given all the nonsense that went on this year (2017 is a guaranteed at this point), to considering how me, everyone I love, everyone who loves me, my house, my writing, other peoples’ writing, my computer, my essay, my university, Donald Trump, his chocolate and everything else will all eventually disperse into nothing in the final Heat Death of the Universe…

Yeah, and when such things cross your mind, it can be hard to sleep.

So, my advice would be taking some time before you go to bed to relax. Maybe watch an ASMR video, or listen to an audiobook. I find them to be terribly relaxing. It doesn’t always work, but for those with cases like this of insomnia, there are two positive points to this.

Firstly, if your mind is so occupied, it means you have a more advanced mind that other people’s, giving you hopefully a boost to your self esteem, and secondly, it means you have fewer sleeps than everyone else until Christmas.

3.  Try and keep the peace with your family.
I was given a wonderful wake-up call when the holidays started at how much different an empty house is to one with my family in it. The difference is mainly in the level of noise. Is it annoying? Absolutely. From singing the same song over and over (not even a Christmas one 😥 ), to raised yells at the audacity some people have because…reasons. And most people I’ve spoken to have interesting stories about what their families are like too.

If you’re determined to spend Christmas with them though, which I am, keeping the peace is very important. Be polite, be supportive and don’t let them kill each other. Don’t sit people next to each other during dinner whom you know will attempt stabbing the other with cutlery. Slaughter at Christmas, whilst a good name for an album or novel, is not another thing you want to add to what made 2016 so awful.

4. Don’t commit a criminal offence.
Just don’t, alright? It might solve the first and third problem, but not the second, and you’d be in prison whilst people are actually enjoying presents, meals, or time with people they care for. You’ll be spending time with other inmates, which can’t possibly or conceivably be fun.

5. Don’t think you have to be all smiles.
The festive mood is the one of most recognisable symbols of Christmas. Everyone’s supposed to have fun, everyone’s supposed to be happy, and, quite obviously, not everyone’s going to be. But that’s OK.

There are many reasons to not be happy at Christmas. I’m not going to list them here, because I’m sure anyone reading this will be able to fill in their own example. And as I’m not a communitarian, I don’t believe the general good feeling of Christmas should have to apply to everyone, if they’re not feeling up to it. If anything, the festivity of it might just be a way of rubbing it in their faces, and they could start resenting those who are happy.

I’m not going to lie – 2016 has been my annus horribilis. Even with the political events aside, there have just been too many deaths and too much doubting myself. Halfway through the year I wondered whether I was going to make it through my higher education, amidst other wonders about what I should make it through. So much was unclear to me, and even though I’ve made it out of the other side of that, I still feel like those doubts could come and consume me at any moment. I still often feel like I’m not good enough – not a good enough student, not a good enough writer, not a good enough friend and not good enough for anyone I care for.

Will 2017 change all that? Well, I can’t force any change. But I’m determined to try and see things anew, understanding that I need to strive for the change I want. The future’s always been unclear, and now it’s a lot more terrifying, but I think the best thing I can do is maintain what I think is good and pure in this world, and hold onto that, and not to back down in the face of adversity.

I probably can’t make this speech much more motivational, so I just hope this is giving you something to think about. Everyone have a very merry Christmas, and be absolutely wonderful to each other. I may post something else before the New Year, but in the likely event that I don’t, see you all in 2017.

 

Lighting Candles in The Dark

I was originally going to post another That Life II analysis, but right now, this is more pressing. And here was me thinking there couldn’t be a national balls-up than Britain’s in June…

Against all conceivable reason, the racist, misogynistic, climate-change denying isolationist crackpot with no experience in politics is poised to become leader of the world’s only remaining superpower. Is that a horrifying prospect? Well, of course it is, and not just for the United States because it’s going to felt right across the world. And in this weird backwater year of 2016 where hatred seems to be rearing its ugly head again, we can’t afford to be complacent.

There have been many times, before a Trump presidency was even a conceivable possibility, where I have considered quite thoroughly whether there was no hope. The world had been so unbearably cruel and I didn’t think it was worth continuing in any sense. And yet I did. I can’t begin to explain how, and its not as though such feelings are not cyclical but they aren’t in perpetuity.

I bring this up, because, as a writer, the best way I find to express my emotions is articulating words around some kind of narrative, with the possibility that it may one day be heard and understood. And this is the candle in the dark that keeps people going – the hope that there is something more than the outrageous xenophobia we’ve seen in both Britain and the US in the past months. Technically yes, Trump will be the head of state. But don’t think for one minute that that means you have to respect him. No decent person should. This is an appeal to all decent people in America – make sure when he goes down, and he will, its with the least amount of collateral damage.

Hatred is cyclical, but it does not win. It didn’t win before with civil rights and LGBT rights and it won’t win this time, because there is nothing maintainable or rational about it – or indeed Trump’s campaign promises. He can’t make Mexico pay for a fucking great wall. I don’t quite know how people can’t see that.

I can’t pretend to know what lies ahead, but even if everything goes down, I’m glad to see there is righteous outrage across the world at a man like this taking a position of power. This is democracy in action and progression in action, what I always like to see. He won the election – don’t let him win the world.

 

That Life Commentary – Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen

And we come to final two. With everyone out of the fire despite not being able to locate fire exits for the longest time, we get the run-down of this incredibly bizarre work of fiction. How will it pan out? Well, let’s take a look…Chapter Fourteen: Not Over Yet.

Yeah, I needed to let my readers know that they can’t rush for the door just yet…

The scene opens with Ian, bizarrely, spending his time at home recovering from jet lag (don’t ask) until he discovers that his school’s been set on fire.

“Umm…dad?” he said uncertainly.
“Yup?”
“I know I need to spend today resting from jet-lag, but do you mind if I go to school?”
Roy stared at Ian as if he’d just announced his undying love for David Cameron.

To be fair, I’d stare at someone who announced that…then I’d probably slap some sense into them.

Roy concedes though…

“OK…if you want,” he replied. So, Ian set off.

I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t have been that simple. First, doesn’t he need to reapply to school? Secondly, Roy’s acting remarkably casual, letting his son bugger off to a school that’s been set on fire. Thirdly…considering his dad’s name is Roy, I’m starting to think that Ian is the yellow puppet from Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared.

Back at the school, the fire’s been put out, and Mr Ealing is informed that there have been no deaths. Lucky for him, as it would probably have been his fault, considering he let Aiden wander around the place. He then complains about losing hair.

“I used to have a full head of hair!” he moaned. “Stress, that’s what this is, stress!”

Get some perspective you idiot! Also, the fire brigade seem to be a little too optimistic at the moment. Maybe nobody has died in the the building, but there are some pretty oxygen starved students with severe smoke inhalation problems. One of them might still die. And Mr Ealing’s complaining about his going bald. I’m suddenly not surprised that Mr Ealing was willing to let Aiden wander amongst innocent children.

The bastard.

One ambulance had Toby Jack and Sean sitting in it, receiving oxygen.

Hey, look! Sean’s still not trying to kill me. Apparently something has finally clicked. Why it took a fucking fire for him to realise that I’m not an evil rapist is an interesting subject for a book in and of itself.

Another had the unconscious girls in it. A paramedic had said that with a bit of oxygen and a few days rest and recuperation, they should be fine.

Apparently these girls have miracle lungs. I wish I could be so fireproof. I also love how that sentence implies that they haven’t even been given oxygen yet, and they’re just lying in a heap in the back of an ambulance.

Ryan, who apparently managed to get out unscathed, has other things on his mind.

Ryan was standing a short distance away from the ambulances, looking closely at Jack. He was sure Carol would like him more after the heroic deed.

WHAT HEROIC DEED? All he did was approach them and hold her briefly. In which time she probably inhaled more fucking smoke. The only thing that really counts as heroism on Jack’s part is the fact that he stayed in the burning building to try and save people, and really, that’s not being a hero, that’s being a silly twat.

Also, will anyone in this story stop thinking about getting laid for one minute?

“Ugh! I bet Carol’s going to like that Fenton kid more than me for saving her…”
“But Ryan, he didn’t actually save her…”
“Then I bet she’s going to like him more than me for trying to save her!”
“Ryan, Carol’s died. She breathed in too much smoke.”
“Oh……….well, at least her body will still be warm from the fire…”

Eventually these miracle-lunged girls do start waking up, to be embraced by their boyfriends, because…apparentley I salivated over the idea of guys looking after oxygen-starved girls. Especially where Caleb the suave, magnificent and getting-really-fucking-annoying-now is concerned.

Queenie woke up and saw Caleb.
“Hey, you alright Queen Bee?” Caleb asked her.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Queenie, whatever you do, DO NOT LET CALEB NAME YOUR CHILDREN.

So, Ryan approaches Jack and seems pretty determined to bury the hatchet. Again, it’s nice to see here that I understand the concept of character development, but it’s just the most ridiculous of things have to happen before we can see any of it…

Ryan cast a look at the girls.
“You…did a good job,” he said, as if he were congratulating Jack on doing a good essay.

Except he didn’t. He did fuck all whilst almost getting himself killed in the process. Ryan’s tone of voice should be far more condescending than described here…

Jack looked at him.
“What are you saying?” Ryan stuck out his hand.
“May the best man win!” he said. Jack smiled. So perhaps Ryan wasn’t as bad as he first thought!
He shook Ryan’s hand.

Aw. So, do you think these two have finally learnt their lesson about being entitled little shits thinking that they’re owed relationships, and will finally allow Carol to make her choice about who she, if anyone, likes the best?

LOL!!! You give this story way too much credit.

“Ready?” Ryan asked. Jack nodded. They both started running.

In case you’re confused as to what the fuck they’re doing, they’re both actually running towards the ambulance with the unconscious girls in, under the idea that whoever gets their first wins Carol’s heart.

That’s several different types of wrong right there. I’m not even sure how I managed to mature.

Almost at once, Jack realised that Ryan was as bad as he first thought, and he’d tricked him! Jack had until recently been rather oxygen deprived, so Ryan easily had the upper hand.

Well, as I’ve already explained, THAT’S NOT THE POINT. It doesn’t matter how fast you can run, it’s for Carol to decide, unless you’re planning to be a rapist, which wouldn’t surprise me. Ryan can outstrip a cheetah, but if Carol found Jack’s pointless gesture to be charming, then he’s the one she’ll choose.

Then out of nowhere, Summer appeared.

Wait, what?

HI RYAN!!!” she shrieked. Ryan, slightly taken aback by this sudden greeting, lost his footing and tripped. Jack grinned wryly as he passed him. He never knew he’d be so glad to see Summer. It looked as though Ryan now had a stalker on his hands.

…………………..

No. No. No. NO. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOO, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! MOST UNAMBIGUOUSLY AND INCOMPARABLY NOOOOOOO!!!! IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!! DO NOT UNLESBIANIFY SUMMER, YOU SHIT. IT IS FORBIDDEN. IT’S WRITTEN IN THE BIBLE. OR SOME OTHER SACRED SCRIPT.

There, see!

‘Thou shalt not make the characters of Whitney in Summer in any shitty story not lesbians. To do so would be an opprobrious offence.’

– Book of Ellen 1:1 (Rejected at the First Council of Nicaea.)

I should really go and meet my 13-year-old self and slap him as hard as is necessary…

Though, in all fairness, Summer having a crush on Ryan seems to be Jack’s assumption. She’s never shown any sign of being interested in him before, and her greeting him there seemed so ridiculously hammy and out of nowhere that one has to wonder how sincere she is about it. We know of course that Summer’s social skills, are, to put it politely, in need of some work, but I think maybe her and Whitney have reached a pretty rough patch in their relationship, and, to reconfirm what she means to her, Summer is trying to make her jealous. Yeah, that’ll be all it is – besides, there’s no reason Summer shouldn’t be bisexual…if she even is that.

Carol came round to the same sight she saw when she passed out. She smiled as she saw Jack. She managed to find her strength to sit up and slipped her hand through his.

You see, that’s surprisingly subtle. So subtle, it may not even mean she’s into him at all…just saying.

Then, Ian shows up. Literally just like that. This is the line he uses to make his entrance…

“So…everyone alright?”

Oh, Ian. If only you knew…

Naturally, he goes straight over to Ruth, who wakes up pretty quickly.

“Hi Ruth!” he said. Ruth wasted no time, and she sat up and kissed him.

Oh, thank God for that. Now let’s stop trying to pad this romance out any further.

Then Mr Ealing makes an announcement that genuinely made me snort with laughter.

“If I could have your attention please! Thank you. I’ve spoken with the fire brigade and the ambulance crew and I was told that it will take a few days for those who have been affected to recover, and a few days for the parts of the school to be replaced that have been damaged by the fire, so I’m closing the school for a few days.”

Nice and vague as always! Unless few is a new number that our mathematician overlords decided to add so we’re firmly under their thumb once again.

But, of course, once the fire is now dealt with, people’s minds turn back to Naomi, and their concern continues. Sean’s figures she probably won’t ever speak to him again whatever happens, but then sees an unlikely saviour…

Sean’s attention was caught by Russell, who was talking to one of the policeman who had arrived at the school. Seeing Russell struck Sean as odd. He was so certain that Aiden had started the fire and scarpered, but if he had, why hadn’t he taken Russell with him?
Russell had now finished talking to the policeman, and was walking over to Sean.
“Sean…” Russell began.
“Yes?” Sean asked, somewhat sharper than he had intended.
“I know where your sister is.”

Perhaps Aiden should have considered that he’d informed Russell about every detail of his plan once Russell had decided to bugger off, but I think we’ve pretty much established how unhinged Aiden is.

We cut to Naomi, who’s making a desperate attempt to escape from her confines…but I’ll spare you the details, because I’m sure you’re fed up of ridiculously drawn-out escape scenes. At least I’m expanding them beyond Caleb this time.

She goes inside a house near the garage (with a conveniently unlocked door) and picks up a phone, but Aiden comes in before she can dial a number…

We then get this insight about the rescue party…

A huge group of police cars and police vans were tearing up the road. The group was this big because it was not only police officers who were coming. Russell, Sean, Toby, Jack, Caleb, Ian, Ruth, Queenie, Carol, Mrs Marsh and Mr Ealing were also coming.

Are this many people really necessary? Russell and Sean I get, and maybe me and Mr Ealing, but why everyone else? Half of these are oxygen-starved, so I doubt they’d be much use…

Detective Richard Price turned to Russell.

Detective what? My ignorance about the British police force was showing I see – DETECTIVE IS NOT A RANK.

“So, what’s this garage that Aiden’s using?” he asked.
“It’s our great-uncle’s,” Russell replied.

Oh, not another great-uncle! Fortunately, this one isn’t stupidly rich and does in fact have to frequent the hospital, which is why his house is empty. At least I knew to cover that plothole.

Back with Aiden and Naomi, Aiden actually tries to throttle her. Well…OK…

But the police come in pretty quickly and she gets free. Again, I’ll spare you the details.

 “I wonder what’s going on inside?” Ian asked Caleb.

Remind me why the hell you’re here again?

Anyway, Aiden’s arrested etc etc, and he’s really pissed that Russell told the cops, but really, he only had himself to blame, and then he gets taken away.

Naomi reconciles with Sean, and Sean gives her and me his blessing to date. And so, all loose ends are tied up, right…?

We move onto Chapter Fifteen: Christmas.

Yeah, because it was the autumn term, remember?

We open with Naomi buying presents, and there’s not much to it, except this weird little bit…

She had already bought Sean’s: A book entitled: What to do when your sister acts up. She thought he would find it useful.

Yeah, perhaps in more ways than you meant…

We then get a scene with Caleb, jubilant about finally living in a house rather than a flat, one with Ryan debating whether he should inform the police about Charlie’s involvement with Aiden, having read an entire section in the paper about Aiden getting sent down…followed by a completely contradictory scene about Sean getting pissed because there’s almost nothing about Aiden in the paper…

Of course, they could be reading different papers. Ryan, judging by his attitude towards towards foreigners, probably gets the Mail or the Express.

Anyway, soon the aforementioned school-prom-disco-whatever the hell it is, soon arrives. And we swiftly learn that some things never change…

Ryan was still seething about Jack’s piece of luck with Carol. So, he wanted to take it out on him.

Oh, here it comes…he goes to Jack’s house briefly before he’s due to go to the event with Carol, and we get this…

“I’ve something interesting to show you,” Ryan told him. “Come out here,” Jack went out and suddenly Ryan dashed into his house and slammed the door.

Seriously, Jack, why do you keep trusting Ryan? It’s incomprehensible…

When he was inside Ryan set about finding Carol. Where was she?

This took an unexpectedly dark turn…is he expecting everything will turn out alright if he spends a few minutes alone with her…? Luckily it doesn’t come to that…

Then, he looked through the window and saw Jack and Carol walking away together. Ryan gave a scream of fury and ran out of the house.

A very pointless scene, I don’t doubt.

However, when Jack meets up with me later, he’s a little upset – apparently Carol has crippling self-doubt and can’t seem to comprehend the informed deep feelings Jack has for her in his penis heart. I tell him not to worry:

“Don’t worry about it Jack!” Toby reassured him. “She’ll fall for you. People always do.”

I don’t know…this was probably a not so subtle jab at the fact that my BFF always seems to be better than me at everything…

Apparently, in the context of this story, we had a girl fall for both of us in our primary school called Anita Lawn. Because I had run out of borderline sensible names at this point. Oh, who am I kidding? QUEENIE AND CAROL.

“All right guys!” called Mr Ealing through a microphone. “I hope you’re all ready! Later we’ll have Mr Mothman doing his amazing break-dancing.”

Oh, well, got to hang around for that…

The rest of this scene goes largely without incident, although we do get a scene in which Sean approaches Russell, who’s looking a little lost, considering the negative reputation people still associate him with. Sean seems to have forgiven him, due to him helping rescue Naomi – it’s pretty nice to see actually. Again, I’m gaining an understanding of how human relationships actually work.

Then there’s this bizarre scene when Caleb goes over to speak to Ross, who you might barely remember as being Scottish…

Caleb sat down next to Ross and saw that he was looking somewhat unhappy.
“Cheer up mate,” he said to him. “It might never happen.” Ross looked at him. Caleb shrugged.
“Sorry. That’s just something my mum says. Has is already happened.”
“No,” Ross replied. “It’s happening.” He stood up.
“Gotta go,” he said, and left.

At this point you might be thinking, ‘why all the cryptic hints? The story’s drawing to a close, isn’t it?’ Well…I’ll get to it later…

Caleb wondered what was wrong with Ross, but then Mr Mothman started break-dancing and he quickly forgot.

Perfectly reasonable…I would too…

The final scene we get in this story is just a weird as the rest of it though…

Down an alleyway in some old warehouse, a tile slipped off the roof. Then another, and another.
Eventually a silhouetted figure scrambled up through the hole, and off the roof. Then the figure looked closely at the building that all of the students were flocking out of. He smiled to himself.
Hyde Park Comprehensive.
Oh yes.
He had chosen the right place.
He turned away and walked off into the night.

Oh, look at me trying to be all suspenseful! Badly…

But why the need, if that’s the end? Well…

Following this story, my juvenile mind thought it would be a good idea to write a sequel. Yes, you heard that correctly. Even at the time, I was aware the story didn’t quite connect as well as it could, so I decided to re-align the story a little bit and make it more focused, but with the same characters (evidently I hadn’t learnt that much). The result was me writing a successor to this.

I do plan to show it at some point, in the same format as this. Probably not straight away, because I want to be posting other things too. The sequel in question was never finished, but despite this, I still managed to write more of it than this one. It…takes an interesting direction, but the level of ridiculousness is still pretty much there. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know and thanks for reading.

That Life Commentary – Chapters Twelve & Thirteen

FIYAH! HELLFIYAH!

Thanks to consultations from other people, I now have more material for what else to post – coming up soon, expect a review of the anime series Strawberry Panic and a highly political poem written by yours truly. For now though, I really wanted to get on with this, because these next two chapters serve as the climax for this entire train-wreck, whereas the two after it just serve as a dénouement. How will this culminate? Well, just as hilariously awful as the rest, but it does raise some interesting questions about what I considered made a good climax. Let’s take a look. First, Chapter Twelve: The Resident Physco of Year 11, because I couldn’t spell ‘psycho’ and for some reason I felt like laying on Aiden’s reputation once more.

This chapter starts where the last one left off…

Aiden gazed with satisfaction upon Naomi’s unconscious body.

Oh dear, we’re back to that again…

I don’t quite know why I didn’t really notice the incredibly creepy rape undertones to this, but, y’know…he didn’t have that it mind, just revenge on Sean, because…reasons…

“Hey Russell, help me move her.” But Russell was looking white-faced at him.
“She’s not dead!” Aiden laughed humourlessly. “Look, feel her pulse if you’re worried.”

Something tells me you’ll be feeling more than that, Aiden…

 Russell was still staring in horror.
“Aiden…you’re sick!!” he blurted out. “How can you do this?”

Why exactly is Russell growing a conscience right this second? Wasn’t he just seconds earlier perfectly happy to restrain Naomi whilst Aiden prepared the syringe? It’s not as if the fact that they’re planning to kidnap her wasn’t known to him before this. Either he too has picked up on the rape aspects, or he thinks Aiden has crossed a line because he used DRUGS!!!!!!!!!!!! Is there no God???

Aiden, naturally, isn’t happy that his only minion has become a turncoat to him.

“Fine!”Aiden snarled. “Go then! I didn’t need you anyway!” Russell turned and fled.

“That’s right, I’ll save my own skin and not care about the 13-year-old girl you’re about to violate!”

It gets worse, don’t worry…

“Pathetic,” Aiden muttered, pulling some parcel tape out of his school bag and tying it tightly around Naomi’s wrists. Next, he got a length of material and tied it tightly around her mouth, gagging her.

Bloody hell, why has it gone so Fifty Shades all of a sudden? Naturally, physical restraint is no mystery to a 13-year-old, but I was eager enough to put my designated love interest into it…what the hell does that tell you…?

Aiden’s next tactic is a little…interesting…

Finally, he pulled a large tarpaulin sheet out of his bag and wrapped her unconscious body in it. Then, he carried her away.

OK, well, the good news is, I was at least aware enough to know that he’d have to find some way of making her broad daylight abduction inconspicuous. But at the same time, I’m sure wrapping her unconscious form in tarpaulin would make her look very much like A DEAD BODY. Is that not going to draw any stares…? Also, tarpaulin…

Naomi came round with blurry lights dancing mockingly in front of her vision[…]She was dimly aware of her hands being bound tightly together by something, and there was a tight and painful gag cutting into the mouth.

Back to the BDSM again…oh Lord…

I refrained from mentioning whether or not she was naked, so I’ll leave that to your imagination…you perverts.

Aiden manages to show up at the exact right time she awakes and decides to gloat. Although his taunts are getting a little less effective…

“I wouldn’t concern yourself. This is entirely your brother’s fault. You’re not to blame. But…you’ll die anyway.” Aiden then smirked wider and left.

I mean, I meant with the wording…but now Aiden has just admitted to attempted murder…what is this story becoming…? And the worst part is, we still can’t take him seriously…

After all this, Aiden actually then decides to go back to school…

It was just like Aiden to swagger into a lesson halfway through conceitedly and making no apology, and this time was no exception.
“Aiden you’re late!” snapped Mr Rug.

MR RUG…! It really would be worth going to this school just to hear all of the teacher’s names…

At lunch, Aiden sets up the rest of his master-plan…which is far-fetched, to say the least…

. He needed to think about how to do this carefully. So, first we swaggered towards Mr Ealing’s office. He opened it cautiously to make sure the headmaster wasn’t still inside. He wasn’t, so Aiden quickly searched to find the keys for all the locking doors in the school. When he found them, he scooped them up and pocketed them.

Conclusion: Mr Ealing is a completely useless head. Why the fuck does he leave those keys lying around when he knows Aiden is in the school? Naturally, Aiden’s master-plan wouldn’t have worked without the many bumblings of this fool.

Next, he went round the school locking any doors that people had to get through the get outside.

That’s…rather a chore, isn’t it? Obviously he wants to trap people inside, which, by the way, shows a very disturbingly developed psychotic mind, but hasn’t it occurred to him that other people will have keys for these doors? What’s more, fire exits are not lockable, for the very reason that they are fire exits. How exactly does he plan to sort them out…?

Then he walked into an empty corridor and pulled the can of petrol Charlie had given him out of his school bag[…]

Wait, he kept a can of petrol in his SCHOOL BAG? This was on top of the tarpaulin presumably…? Is his bag the TARDIS, and bigger on the inside…?

[…]poured it onto the floor, pulled his lighter out of his pocket and dropped it onto the pool of petrol. Flames ignited at once.

So, Aiden’s plan was indeed to start a fire. His name means ‘fire’ anyway, so it’s quite fitting…was that deliberate…?

In any case, the fire exits still present a problem for him, if he’s planning to trap everyone inside a burning building because he’s really messed up like that…unless he’s just a pyromaniac and is fine with people surviving provided the school burns…? Also, would just having the floor on fire be enough…? I’m no expert on pryotechnics, and I will confess to never having tried to set fire to a building before. I promise…but I do wonder whether this would have worked or not.

Finally, he exited the school using his handy set of keys.

You don’t need your keys, Aiden, you just need a fire exit. As will most other people. You idiot. Unless this school doesn’t have fire exits. Considering the terrible architecture, what with windows that can be shattered by briefcases and lockers that nobody can find, it wouldn’t surprise me…

Then we get this interesting moment…

Then he stopped dead. Should he fetch Russell? Nah. He was a stupid pathetic wimp. What did Aiden care if he burnt to death, really? Aiden shook his head and walked away.

Does Aiden hold any brotherly affection for Russell or not? It doesn’t seem likely, given his disregard for human life, but…you never know…

And so onto Chapter Thirteen: Arson. A rather convenient name, one must agree…

We start off with Caleb (THE SUAVE, MAGNIFICENT, SUE-ISH, CONTRIVED,  FORTUNE-MAKING, IRRITATING, CREATOR’S PET-LIKE AND not actually used for a while up until this point…) struggling to get through a locked door…

Caleb forced himself to calm down. He would just have to find another way, or at the very most wait until somebody found him.

There’s always a fire exit. Just saying. Although we don’t actually know where Caleb is. The descriptions are never very clear, so he may very well have gone into a small room for a little private time after Queenie once again complimented his ability to find long lost wills in old beer bottles.

Caleb then smells the smoke and hears the fire alarm going off, and realises that his need to get out quickly has become a lot more dire.

How was he supposed to get out? There was a window nearby but it was locked.
Wait. What was he saying?
A locked door and window, and the need to get out quickly. Now where had he heard that before?

Ah yes. Caleb recalls the time he left Mr Mothman for dead in his office, and decides to use a similar escape mechanism on the ridiculously fragile windows.

His eyes immediately fell upon a large red fire extinguisher. It was carbon dioxide, so he couldn’t use it against the fire in this confined area unless he wanted to suffocate. 

OK, so we have a confirmation that he is in quite a confined area. Fair enough – but this raises a few issues…

  1. First off, where even is he?? A confined area is all we get…how many confined areas are there in a school?
  2. Why is he in this anonymous confined area? Masturbating honestly seems to be the most viable reason at the moment…
  3. What sort of room was it that Aiden thought to lock?
  4. Why is there a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher in such a confined area with no fire exit? Surely that would have been condemned the last time a health and safety inspector came around…

So, Caleb takes the fire extinguisher, smashes the window and opens it from the outside. Why do these windows lock from the inside but not the outside? Again, a much better architect needs to come to this school…

However, Caleb discovers that amongst those who have evacuated the building, me, Jack and all of the girls aren’t among them.

Yeah. It literally says ‘all of the girls.’ I don’t know if it means literally every single girl that attends the school, or just the ones in our class because they’re the only ones we care about, but this does raise two observations.

  1. Is this just a horribly sexist insight, and that I thought women were helpless in emergency situations?
  2. I love how Jack and I are categorised among the girls. Makes quite a lot of sense…

“I can’t see a thing!” Jack complained, peering through the smoke and coughing.

Why are we so useless at this procedure? We somehow managed to get ourselves lost…find a fire exit, you losers!

Also, has Aiden’s fire really spread that quickly around the school, or are we just unlucky enough to stumble across it?

“W-well,” Toby coughed, “we need to get some wet material and put it over our-” he choked “-mouth and nose.”

Again, not a bad response to try and avoid smoke inhalation, but we don’t need to do that right now. The first thing we need to do is get the fuck out of the burning building.

“Hey, do you think Caleb’s all right?” Jack asked.

We seem to know he’s gone off somewhere secluded to masturbate…

“Course,” Toby replied, setting off in the direction of the staffroom. “He’s as resourceful as Alex Rider. But I’m more concerned about the girls.”

Wait…

OK…

Let’s analyse this…

  1. If we can see well enough to navigate ourselves to the staffroom, then perhaps we could MAKE OUR WAY TO THE NEAREST FUCKING FIRE EXIT AND NOT END UP DYING IN THE FUCKING FIRE. YOU FUCKING IDIOTS HAVE A DEATH WISH.
  2. OK, obviously, we want to try and get the girls out. What the hell makes us assume the girls can’t get out themselves? That’s probably the most misogynistic moment of the story, coupled with the whole, ‘ooh, redheads!’ part. Other than blatant chauvinism, the only other explanation I can think for us being desperate to get the girls out is that, like Caleb, we know they’re in a tight spot. Perhaps they locked themselves away for an orgy or something. I wouldn’t put it past me to write something like that in, even at 13, but…
  3. What makes us assume that we would be remotely good at getting the girls out? Presumably, this is all the girls in our form, and there’s only two of us. If it were a case of unlocking the door, then maybe, but we would, realistically, be utterly useless at this. Leave the heroics to the fire brigade, you twats.

So, we make it to the staffroom, only to discover that the door is locked. Aiden’s pretty thorough…

And then we get a moment that, despite being as cheesy and ridiculous as anything…is still pretty funny and kind of cool…

Jack called Aiden something that suited him. “He must have locked the doors as well!”
Then he coughed.
“I’ve had enough of this!” Jack declared. He went into the nearest classroom and came back with a chair.
“I know Mr Mothman and various others will skin us alive for this but…” he ran at the locked door, driving the chair directly into it. The legs of the chair broke through the woodwork, and it was just a simple matter of Jack unlocking the door from the inside.

OK, apart from the fact that that classroom probably had a fire exit, and the fact that that has got to be the cheapest door in existence to have a chair so easily go through it, and that once again the protagonists are doing more damage to the school than probably the fire itself, this scene…is just so damn funny. CHAIR-FU!

We get some wet tea-towels (wet with what?) tied over our mouths and noses and go to find the girls, because apparently we’re nothing without them. That’s a slightly better way of looking at it, especially considering it’s probably true given the awful personalities we’ve displayed throughout the story.

Also, wouldn’t any teachers be doing rounds of the school? They have a duty of care after all, and they should check for stragglers. And somehow I don’t think half a class of girls and two boys breaking down the staffroom door would go unnoticed. All these teachers appear to be shit.

Queenie staggered through the smoke, her eyes streaming, until she came across Carol and Ruth, both of them choking morbidly.
“I can’t see the way out!” Ruth coughed. “What are we supposed to do?”

For God’s sake, why does nobody know the layout of the school? There have got to be exits everywhere, and I doubt the fire is blocking off every single one, Aiden only set on corridor alight. Is the entire school made out of ethanol? Furthermore, EVERY SINGLE YEAR 9 GIRL IS THERE. Well, with exceptions…umm…just read it…

[…]through the smoke she could make out the distinctive figures of Cordella, Meena and all the other year 9 girls (apart from Whitney and Summer who had seemingly got out selfishly before them).

WAIT A FUCK.

WHAT THE HELL KIND OF COMMENT IS THAT???

WHITNEY AND SUMMER ARE NOT CONTRACTUALLY BOUND TO STICK AROUND AND WAIT FOR EVERY SINGLE CLASSMATE OF THERE’S WHILST THE BUILDING BURNS AROUND THEM, ALRIGHT???? THEY HAVE MORE FUCKING SENSE THAN ANYONE ELSE STUCK IN THIS SCHOOL BECAUSE THEY CLEARLY REMEMBER WHERE THE FUCKING FIRE EXITS ARE!!!! YOU LOT AND JACK AND I PROBABLY DESERVE TO DIE BECAUSE WE’RE TOO FUCKING STUPID TO TRY AND GET OUT WHILE WE CAN. WE’D EVEN WIN DARWIN AWARDS FOR IT, TAKING OURSELVES OUT OF THE VERY WEIRD AND MESSY GENE POOL THIS STORY HAS…

ALSO, CALEB GOT HIMSELF AND HIMSELF ALONE OUT OF HIS MASTURBATORY CLOSET. WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU NOT CALLING HIM SELFISH??? ‘OH, WHEN THE SUAVE AND MAGNIFICENT GARY STU WHO THE AUTHOR MIGHT EVEN HAVE A CRUSH ON DOES IT, IT’S RESOURCEFUL AND A CROWNING MOMENT OF AWESOME. WHEN THE LESBIANS GIRLS YOU DON’T PARTICULARLY LIKE DO IT, IT’S FUCKING EVIL AND SELFISH, OF COURSE!!!’ YOUR HATRED FOR THEM IS BLINDING YOU TO THE REAL DANGER. YOU JUST ASSUME THEY GOT OUT BECAUSE YOU ASSUME THE WORST ABOUT THEM, WHICH DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE BECAUSE LEAVING A BURNING BUILDING IS A PERFECTLY SENSIBLE COURSE OF ACTION. FOR ALL YOU KNOW, THEY COULD BE TRAPPED IN A ROOM WHERE THEY WENT TO KISS WITHOUT ALL THE ACCUSING STARES FROM HOMOPHOBES, AND WITH NOBODY ELSE WHO LOVES THEM, WILL EMBRACE ACCEPT THEIR FATES AS THE FLAMES LICK AROUND THEM, JUST HAPPY TO BE TOGETHER AT THE END. ONCE THEIR INTERTWINED BODIES ARE PULLED OUT OF THE ASHES, YOU WON’T BE HAVING A GO AT THEM THEN, YOUR HEARTLESS FUCKS. YOU’LL BE WRITING THE GREATEST LOVE STORY EVER TOLD, ‘WHITNEY AND SUMMER: FUCKING TOGETHER IN DEATH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’

*heavy breathing*

What the hell just happened…? Let’s never refer to this again…clearly I have been spending too much time with only my stories for company…

So, Carol works out an ingenious solution to try and get out…

Carol started pacing back and forth. Eventually she pointed to the right and said,
“Let’s move this way. It’s warmer the other way, so I’m guessing that’s where the fire is.”

Relying of thermoception because you can’t remember the layout of the school and where the fire exits are. Good a way as any I suppose…

So, as the girls try and make their way through with many of their party collapsing (yes, I’m serious), we cut back to me having lost Jack in the smoke. WHY IS THIS SMOKE UNNATURALLY THICK?

However, I see another figure in the smoke…none other than Sean. Clearly in not state to kill me this time…

As Toby moved closer, he could also make out the sign he’d been hoping for. A green rectangle with the words: PUSH BAR TO OPEN on it. A fire exit.

The only one in the entire school by the looks of things.

Because Sean is coughing like a theatrically ill victim, I put aside the fact that he has tried to kill me on several occasions and help him to stand and lead him out of the exit. Even in such a weird situation, I’m glad that I did recognise the element of concluding a story arc that concern two people with animosity overcoming their differences. It was a sign of things to come, I feel.

Meanwhile, all the girls are continuing to collapse until only Carol (the only resourceful person, it seems) is left standing, BUT BARELY. The smoke inhalation I seem to brush off as just knocking people out rather than potentially killing them…

But just before she passes out, Jack comes along to…hold her. Yeah, that’s literally all he does before passes out and the fire brigade show up (at fucking last) to rescue these pathetic stragglers.

Jack sighed with relief. Everything was going to be all right.

Well, maybe not. The girls have breathed in a lot of smoke. They could still, y’know, die. But in any case, that was the climax of the story everyone, and as promised, it was just as stupid as the rest!

There are only two chapters left in this story, where they wrap up a few more things (including the fact that Naomi’s still being held captive, so don’t worry…) so join me whenever and thanks for reading.

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