Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: April Edition

Another month is over and I'm adding three more books to my list of accomplishments this year.  If you're keeping a tally that means that I've officially read 14 books in four months.  That's pretty cool by me!  This month was a pretty great one.  I happen to absolutely LOVE all three novels I devoured, to varying degrees obviously, and they were all so different (despite two being slightly comparable in location).  What's even better is that I can make some film connections with all three of these reads, so let's get this party started!

First up, we have 'Treasure Island'.  This classic novel is one that I've read before, but it was so long ago I couldn't help but desire to dig back in again.  I've been on a classics kick lately, having already read 'Jane Eyre', 'Great Expectations' and 'The Stranger' this year, and so I wanted to keep that theme alive and my claws back into this classic adventure tale.  Some books are classics for a reason.  They encompass all the reasons we love reading.  They transport us to special places and times, outside of our personal scope, and help us leave our lives behind for a few hours to indulge in something else, something different.  ‘Treasure Island’ is just that type of novel.  It allows the reader to experience something truly remarkable, something far removed from their average lives.   It allows us to experience pure, unbridled adventure.

You wanna know something rather sad?  The only film adaptation I've seen of this tale is the Muppet version that was released in 1996.  There is no shortage of adaptations either, so it really is a shame that I haven't given myself over to seeing any of them.

What I have seen is the film version of my next read; 'The Beach'.  Those are two hours of my life I won't get back, and despite some beautiful cinematography and technical achievements, the film is just a mess.  Up until this month I avoided the novel with no real intention of reading it despite the fact that it had been sitting on my bookshelf for years (it was only $1 at a garage sale and so I bought it out of pure impulse).  Alas, I dove in and finished it in three days.  The book is amazing.  

Reading this, I can understand why certain things were done in the film (the ill-advised video game sequence gets colored in more in the novel and becomes slightly understandable and yet still ill-advised), but they are just so much better suited for the printed page than the silver screen.  The themes presented, of isolation due to fearful disgust of the plague of modern civilization and the innate desire to find something pure and sacred in a world polluted by creature comforts and selfish traits, are beautifully etched into the fiber of this novel without once ever being overwhelming or bombarding.  They just flow with such effortlessness.  As the true colors of our hearts desires become evident (especially as Richard, our anti-hero of sorts, begins to realize his own shifting personality) we are given a brutal shock to the system as the world comes crashing down on these richly developed characters (developed through such subtle nuances).

This rose a question with me.  What ever happened to Alex Garland?  I had to read up on this because I was baffled that he didn't have ten novels under his belt.  Apparently he liked collaborating with Danny Boyle because he wound up writing screenplays for him instead of pursuing his career as a novelist.  I don't begrudge him this, and apparently now he's moved into directing, but I'm still slightly letdown considering how exceptional I find 'The Beach' to be.  He had such a strong voice, and I would have loved to see him develop that voice more.

This brings me to my final read, and my favorite of the batch; 'The Darling' by Russell Banks.

How can every book I read from this guy be better than the last?  I just can’t understand how anyone can write as fluidly and cohesively as Banks, and on top of that he manages to create stories and characters and themes that have such relevance and such stature.  The fact that he writes with such command of the English language and yet never once bogs down his novels or comes across stuffy is amazing.  The pages just fly by and before I know it, I’ve consumed his novel from front to back and am aching for more.  'The Darling' is now the fifth book I've read by him, and I'm awestruck at how amazing it is.

Similar in scope to his marvelous ‘Cloudsplitter’ (which I declared my favorite novel ever written back in February), ‘The Darling’ takes a piece of history and colors it in by embellishing the life story of a civil rights advocate and all around engrossing character.  Here we are introduced to Hannah Musgrave, a political activist and radical, wanted by American authorities for her outlandish and rebellious activities (and minor acts of terrorism under the arm of Weather Underground).  Segregated from her family, who also have their hands in some serious activity, Hannah is living underground, switching identities, switching partners and basically living as a recluse until a run in with a former fellow activist leaves her in a seeming dire state and forces her out of the country.  She soon finds herself living in Liberia and eventually the wife of a powerful man and mother to three young boys she struggles to connect with.  Political turmoil in her now home country forces divisions she cannot overcome and tragedy strikes her life in many, many ways.  

Written as a reflection piece, ‘The Darling’ chronicles Hannah’s life as she ponders it from her old age.  She travels back to Africa after over a decade away and searches for answers to the question that have haunted her for so long; what has happened to my family?  That is a loaded question, but with a deft hand Russell Banks gives us the answers, and then some.

The final chapter is a marvelously etched out climax that alters the realities of the story and puts everything in perspective, widening our intake and opening our eyes to a bigger truth, one that touches every one of us.

You wanna hear something amazing?  Apparently, the film is in the works!  It's been a long time since we've had a Russell Banks film, but both adaptations ('Affliction' and 'The Sweet Hereafter') were exceptional ones, so I'm really anxious for this.  Chastain has her hands on the title role here, and I was initially excited for this.  Then I saw 'Zero Dark Thirty' and I have to say that I see similarities in the way that the two characters can be played and that scares me, since I wasn't a fan of the way Chastain performed in that film. Alas, Hannah Musgrave is a much deeper and more complex character and so there are many areas for Chastain to shade her and give her more life and backstory, which is something I think seriously hurt her Oscar nominated performance.  

Either way, I'm all for this!

So that's it for this month.  I'm heading off for vacation next week, so maybe that means I'll get to dig into a few more books.  I love to read on vacation, and since this time I'll be lounging on a beach I may actually get some more reading done!


  1. Nice job. I read an abridged version of Treasure Island as a kid, but I haven't read Stevenson's version. I've also seen The Muppets version, and I always enjoyed Disney's 1950 version with Robert Newton. Good times.

    I'm finally reading (and loving) The Great Gatsby. Just over a week to go!

    1. UGH, I can't wait for Gatsby! I'll sadly be on vacation on the 10th, so I won't get to see it on opening night, but I'll be seeing it opening week for sure!