A House Full
I haven't written anything on my family page for such a long time. Largely, because during the corona virus lockdown there hasn't felt much to say. I've been thrilled to have the girls at home with me, upset to not be able to get back home to Mick in Bangkok and frustrated for mum and dad that, almost six months after his fall, dad still isn't back home. There has been plenty of adjustments to having almost a house full, but we've done ok and muddled along.
At last I have some news. Mick is heading home and we will have a proper full house again soon. I am sure that will bring its own joys, woes and frustrations! Right now, though, it is making me smile.
Finding your Niche for Published Articles
Whilst we have been apart I have kept busy and I've written a lot of articles (even some with possible earning potential) on diverse issues for a variety of publications. Avoiding arguing with grown up children, respecting your oldies and running a library effectively during lockdown to name a few.
The key to a good blog is to find a 'niche' and you can see that I don't have one (Jack of all trades and master of none!). I seem to babble on about many things. That's why it works better to write for someone else. I've got a lot of articles for different journals on Medium including book reviews, managing temper tantrums and exploring the level of toxicitiy in friendship.
It seems a shame not to occasionally put something on here though and having our family back together is something I wanted to share.
Being Apart from your Partner
With the corona virus situation I haven't seen Mick for many months. (It's an odd thing living away from a partner. It needs managing carefully. Time seems to go really slowly (but the weeks tick by before you know it too!) Overall, being apart hasn't been fun though, in fact, at times, it has been downright sad. As there wasn't an easy option for Mick to return to Thailand if he visited us this summer, we have taken the plunge for him to leave work and return to the UK.
I'm EXCITED to have Mick back with us, but I am also a little bit anxious. We have a lot of 'next steps' to figure out, not least finding another job!
It is a very strange experience to pack up a whole life from over 6000 miles away. (Who would have thought we would have stayed 18 years!) It is beyond weird to think that I won't be seeing my friends again, but at least social media helps me keep in touch. I guess it's not so important, BUT I can't believe I am not going back to my lovely Thana city pool, or having any more of my lovely brunches. (I'm so shallow!) Mick returning is a good move though and, whilst I am allowing myself a little nostalgia about our life in Bangkok, we've got lots to look forward to and oodles of adventures ahead.
When I quit work suddenly back in 2018 I was super busy and the impact of not having a job only came later. I didn't anticipate how that would feel. Work is such an important part of our identity, so I do worry a little for Mick. He seems quite happy though with the idea of relaxing and reading. He has A LOT of Waterstones gift vouchers to spend, that the teachers have kindly given him. Little does he know I've got a lot of 'jobs' lined up for him!
There will be lots of new blogging opportunities for me in the future about how things pan out. Work and identity; managing a busy household, village life, leadership, job hunting; relocating from overseas... to name but a few.
For now though I'm just going to enjoy the idea of having the old lad back here with me. I'm counting down the days. I can no longer call him Saint Mick of Thana but he is still my grumpy old fella. Our place in Thana City, Bangkok will become someone else's home. I just hope they love it as much as we have.
We're going to miss you Thailand.
Book Review of Sally Rooney's Normal People
I first read and enjoyed Sally Rooney’s Normal People a few months ago. I remember thinking the level of the self-reflection and introspection by the main characters, Marianne and Connell were intense. Somehow it put me in mind of Simone de Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay.
Both books are love stories (of a kind) and both deal with the complexity of emotions resulting from attraction, envy and faithlessness. Beauvoir’s book is autobiographical, it was written as an act of revenge against a 17 year old who came between her and Sartre, with whom she was involved. Sally Rooney's Normal People isn't autobiographical. In an interview for the Irish times she states "“it's not autobiographical . . . but I did feel that as characters, as people, their psychology was very much drawn from facets and aspects of my own psychology as a younger adult and even now” (Rooney, 2020).
Normal People traces the relationship of Marianne with Connell as they move from their small town in the West of Ireland to university and finally to Connell accepting a place on a creative writing course in New York. Marianne is wealthy, middle class and intellectually snobby; Connell is sporty, bright but considered 'the wrong sort of person' for a match to be possible between them.
The book’s focus is almost completely on the dynamic of Marianne and Connell’s relationship. Who they are and the influence of nature and nurture in determining their relationship is never far from the surface of the text. Domestic abuse, bullying, parenting, class, wealth are all topics that are explored and are all used, in part, to explore not only the emotional relationship of the two characters, but also the sexual relationship between them.
I can see why Normal People has such appeal for young people in particular. What I particularly found intriguing about it is how the text is structured. The chapter headings are dates at which key events occur and several months pass between the beginning of a new chapter. This often reflects a period of time during which Connell and Marianne were 'seeing other people' or not in the same physical location. The reader often learns about a change in the relationship and then a flashback approach is used to show how the current status quo of that particular chapter occurs. (Does that even make sense?!) Consequently, there is a kind of series of mini flashbacks that I imagine are used when dividing up the book for the BBC Three TV series. which stars Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal in the roles of Marianne and Connell.
Book Discussion Questions on Sally Rooney's Normal People
Bookclub Questions on Sally Rooney's Normal People (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Sally Rooney's Normal People
I am an avid fan of the Fortunately podcast, available on BBC Sounds. When hearing Jane Garvey and Fi Glover discussing the serialization on their podcast, I thought I would watch it with my grown up girls. When I mentioned this to them though they'd already seen it. I think the knowledge that it had a lot of ‘sex scenes’ was incentive to not watch the programme with their old mum!
Not to be put off, I started watching the series anyway. however only watched the first half of one episode before deciding that the series wasn’t for me. I simply couldn’t be doing with the intensity of all that exploration of first love. If I'm honest, I felt a little bit the same when I read David Nicholls' One Day. It was great, but I wouldn't have wanted to watch it on screen. One of these days I’ll need to reflect why I am open to reading about teenage angst and first love, but not viewing it. I am tempted to revisit She Came to Stay and see how I respond to that. (Perhaps I'll have to add to the list of ways that I know I am middle aged!) For now though I’ll finish by saying I definitely would recommend Sally Rooney's Normal People, but there are aspects of it that I found uncomfortable to read.
Book Review of Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles
I read The Song of Achilles as part of a challenge to read all of the winners of the Women’s Prize for fiction. (Naomi Alderman's The Power and Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing are other worthy winners.) It is an effective and original re-telling of part of Homer’s The Iliad, focusing on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles.
Patroclus narrates his own story starting from when he is banished from his father’s kingdom, after inadvertently killing another child. It is Patroclus' own voice that takes us through this journey. It being with narrating how his father Peleus gives Patroclus to Achille's father, as penance for the crime and ends when Achille's mother, Thetis finally agrees that Patroclus and Achilles lay together after their deaths. It would be fair to say taht Thetis, a goddess of water was not a fan of Patroclus!
Patroclus comments how he is seen as weak and effeminate and possibly ‘simple’. This contrasts with half god Achilles, for whom things come easy and who is strikingly handsome and talented. The reader views Patroclus as insightful, warm and gentle and arugably too good for Achilles'. This is a clever use of story telling where an unreliable narrator is used to seemingly and inadvertently improve his own standing with the audience.
It feels like most of the adolescent love story aspect of The Song of Achilles is Miller’s own invention, rather than any kind of retelling of history. It is as we move from adolescence of the characters into the latter end of the Trojan War years that the story returns more closely to Homer's Iliad.
Througout The Song of Achilles the reader is encouraged to observe the contrast between tender Achilles and ruthless killer Achilles through the eyes of Briseis, the woman Achilles took as ‘slave lover’ in order to save her from cruel Agamemon. Agamemom, is (for anyone like me, whose knowledge of Greeky mythology is sketchy to say the least!) brother of Menelaus, husband of Helen, about whom all the fuss is about!
The Song of Achilles won, what was until recently called the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, but is now known as the Women's Prize for Fiction. There is a lot to enjoy in the book. I like how the narrator isn’t presented as a typical alpha male. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Achilles’ mother Thetis A mother-in-law figure from hell, she is powerful and proud. A feminist reading of the text is invited when looking at her role and that of the other women in the story.
I’d be fascinated whether Pat Barker had read The Song of Achilles when she wrote her book The Silence of the Girls, which was shortlisted for the same prize in 2019. There is definitely a similarity in the style of the story and it records roughly the same events, but putting the women at the centre and using Briseis as the main narrative voice
In both cases the focus is on those heroes who have been marginalized. In the retellings of the stories. In The Song of Achilles Miller is very conscious of how she is doing this. Miller has Odyssey (who plays only a small part in her version of events) comment towards the end of the story, somewhat tongue in cheek, that when remembered in future years he might actually be considered more famous than Achilles and Patroclus. This is an amusing little coment.
. It is always interesting to consider famous stories from alternate perspectives and Miller successfully does this in The Song of Achilles.
Book Discussion Questions on The Song of Achilles
Who do you think is the more attractive character and why? Patrocus or Achilles?
Thetis is presented as a ‘mother-in-law’ from hell figure? Does she have any redeeming qualities?
In Greek mythology women are frequently raped and seen as two-dimensional characters. It has been said that if they are not being adored then they are spending their time lamenting the loss of their sons, lovers and fathers. Discuss how women are presented in the Song of Achilles? How does it sit with your modern views of ‘womanhood’?
Which of the male characters is most flawed. What is their hubris?
Do you think The Song of Achilles is a worthy winner of the Orange Prize? Why or why not?
Achilles arguably cheated the gods by not fighting Hector sooner, as he knew it was only Hector who could kill him? Should he have fought Hector sooner and saved thousands of deaths?
Which character in the book would you like to learn more about?
What is your favourite part of this story and why?
Bookclub Questions on Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles (if you haven't read the book).
In warfare would you prefer to be tending the sick or fighting the battles?
Achilles' logic for not fighting, but allowing Patroclus to dress up and pretend to be him is arguably very flawed? Can you think of an instance in your own life where your logic has been flawed? Share what happened with your bookclub friends.
After Patroclus tells Briseis he can’t love her because of his love for Achilles she says that she would rather stay with Patroclus as his ‘sister’, rather than not be with him at all? Would this arrangement be acceptable to you?
Do you know many Greek myths and legends? Share any stories that you can remember.
Who amongst you would make a great Greek tragic hero?
Have you read Homer’s Iliad? If so, wow! If not, what is the most literary book you have read?!
Personal Response to Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles
If I hadn’t set myself the challenge of reading the Women’s Prize for fiction winners this isn’t a book I’d have picked up. I lack the imagination to really go along with the combination of gods, demi-gods and humans interacting. I do think Miller made a brave attempt at creating rounded characters that took us beyond simply what the Greek heroes are remembered for.
For any readers who do love myths and legends this has got to be a winner. I very much recommend reading The Song of Achilles back to back with Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls. Having ventured to the world of Greek mythology so far, why not also consider reading Stephen Fry’s Mythos. It is a book that has been on my shelf for too long and I might now venture into its colourful pages!
Book Review of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre
Many people already know the story of Jane Eyre, but my hunch is that Jane Eyre isn't widely read these days, at least not in the UK. Even though it is quite a humdinger of a story, it would, arguably, be a brave teacher that picked Jane Eyre out of a GCSE syllabus and opted to teach it. Although, undoubtedly a talented writer, with ability to preent powerful descriptive scenes, explore big themes and present complex character, there isn't a great deal of fun and laughter through the pages. The satire is there but less plentiful than in Austen's writing.
It’s hard to imagine that one poor, innocent girl can overcome so many struggles and find happiness, but Jane does. Jane starts life abused and by her horrible Aunt Reed, and things don't improve when she goes to school. Shortages of food and water and horrible teachers make for a pretty miserable existence. Jane does make a friend, Helen Burns,but sadly she dies, and she is just rather too good to be true. Things don't improve when Jane starts work as a governess. What, with falling for wannabe bigamist Rochester, (poor old Bertha is locked in the attic) fighting fires, running away, nearly dying, finding wealth and almost marrying her cousin and becoming a missionary, life gets complicated. It comes as a relief when a dream leads her back to Rochester and Jane can find happiness! That is if ending up married and caring for Rochester is something to be pleased about.
Whilst it is easy to be disparaging of aspects of the book as seeming dated and incredible, it is interesting to read and to analyse. Jane is more complicated than she is often portrayed and stays steadfast and true to herself. As a study of feminism and religion the book is fascinating. Academics must enjoy exploring its significance as a Victorian text and deciphering what it reveals about gender and society.
Book Discussion Questions on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre
"No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep. There, sit down, and think over your wickedness."
Discuss what key things the opening scenes showed you about Victorian society? Explore how Jane Eyre as a text and Jane as a person both are and are not feminist? There is a lot that has been written about Bertha in Jane Eyre. In 1979, Academics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in “The Madwoman in the Attic claim that all female characters in male-authored books can be categorized as either the “angel” or the “monster.” Discuss whether you think this is an oversimplification of Jane's character. How would you sum her up?
Bookclub Questions on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (if you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre
Even though Jane Eyre isn't short of action and the story is presented as a straightforward first person narrative it isn't one of my favourite classic reads. I find it drags a bit, especially when Jane is living with St John Rivers. It's interesting that although Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, whereas Jane Eyre was published later in 1847, it is Austen who feels contemporary as a novelist. I'm not sure why. Perhaps no one has ever quite lived up to Colin Firth's portrayal of Darcy, or perhaps Rochester simply isn't a worthy hero. After all keeping an allegedly mad woman in the attic has caused a lot of controversy over the years!
The Bronte’s, of course, are very famous and delving into their own lives and worlds is a fun thing to do. Other than a quick read of Wuthering Heights I haven't studied the Bronte’s lives closely, but now I've revisited Jane Eyre, it is something I'm inspired to do.I feel a trip to Haworth, where the Bronte's live, imminent!
Book Review of Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet
,Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet tells a completely fictionalized version of Shakespeare's life story after meeting his future wife Agne. The story unfolds up until the point Hamlet the play was performed in London.
Agnes (Anne Hathaway) is portrayed as a semi-wild unconformist woman with a love of nature, a skill in creating medicinal cures and a desire to escape her uncaring step-mother. There is a Cinderella aspect to the story as she is rescued by her hapless lover. Shakespeare, who works on her brother's farm as a latin tutor. Shakesepare is presented as little more than a boy, a dreamer and a man with few prospects. We follow their lives as fanciful and practical matters combine, before focusing in on their children, particularly the twins Judith and Hamnet.
Hamnet begins with the boy Hamnet tripping down the stairs full of life and vigour. We are quickly invited to understand his relationship with his wider family. This pulls us in and we watch the saga unfold leading to his death,. We learn the family dynamics at which Shakespeare himself was central and see how the plague touched the household.
Most readers will have some knowledge of Shakspeare and Shakespeare's England so this insight into a respected writer's interpretation of events and culture, within a broadly accurate historical context, is interesting and thought provoking. The challenge, as a reader is to suspend one's own imaginative flights of fancy and buy into someone else's. Once this is achieved then the book is absorbing and the story is well-told.
Book Discussion Questions on Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet
Bookclub Questions on Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet (If you haven't read the book!)
Personal Response to Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet
Hamnet was going to have to be a pretty special book for me to really buy into the story linking the death of his son with the play's production. Maggie O'Farrell's fiction account is, of course, utter conjecture. O'Farrell is offering 'a reading' or interpretation of what might have been. To get hung up on whether Agnes' interpretation of events at the end of the story is plausible is, arguably, missing the point of the book.
O'Farrell is writing fiction and bringing alive a possible scenario about something which the reader knows absolutely nothing for sure. Did I get hung up on this? YES! Hamlet, has the best lines of any play ever written or likely to be written. It's a big ask of the reader to ask them to either suspend their interpretation of the historical contextual reality in order to swallow this version. of the naming of the play. Could I do so? I'm afraid not entirely. That's perhaps because, ultimately I am too enraptured by the melancholia of Shakespeare's tragedy, to step fully into this world created by Maggie O'Farrell!