lexlingua: (Disney)
Fangirl has recently been the buzz book of blogosphere. Its subject is new and controversial— the ethics and perils of writing fanfiction. Cath is a girl who is a huge fan of Simon Snow (read= a take on Harry Potter) and likes writing fanfiction about his adventures in her spare time, which has become very popular among the fanfiction-readers. At the beginning of the book, Cath and her twin sister are moving into college, and this leaves Cath little room for writing. Her struggle between her love for the fictional Simon and the rigmarole of the real life (aka college, study, assignments, socializing) are what the book hinges on.

First of all, this book relates to me on a variety of levels, because I used to be a huge Harry Potter fan, and used to write Harry Potter fanfiction. If you have never indulged in this particular vice, you will never understand how big that fandom really is, and how much potential is there for reading and writing fanfiction pieces. You may not understand the drive to write a chapter a day, or wait anxiously for the writer to put a chapter a day for you to read. Several disclaimers are put up on the websites (like fanfiction.net, unknowableroom.org) —that everything belongs to JKR, and you’re just using (or usurping) her ideas for a non-commercial fair use. It’s a dangerous addiction, and one needs to know when to put a closure to your fanlove, because, it’s not getting you friends, it’s not getting you a livelihood, and its not making you so much wiser. It can be a terribly draining experience for the fans of fanfics.

These fans of fanfiction should be given this book to read. Though Cath never really lets go of the fandom, she also manages to draw a line (eventually) between her fanfiction life, and her love of writing about characters which are her own (not borrowed ones). But here the book’s weaknesses also come out. Cath could come out of her fanfiction make-believe world only because she had a support network to pull her out, and also because the real author stopped writing the books—and hence, stopped feeding the fandom. How many fans would be able to get that kind of closure is debatable. The message of coming back to “reality” was more subtle than I would have liked, but maybe that’s just me.

The book also seems to show that writing will inevitably kill your social time, which is true, as most authors would tell you— it’s a sacrifice that the author makes, to sit at home and write feverishly into the night, foregoing a lot of other fun times. Cath seems to have made the same choice, and is okay with it (though it does lead to a few fights).

The rest of the book deals with your typical YA/ teenager problems—alcohol abuse, selfish friends, sibling spats, unrequited crushes, et. al. The book’s other highlights are Cath’s relationships with her absent-minded father, her snarky roommate, and Levi, a gangly teenage guy with ADD syndrome (who’s Cath’s complete opposite and balances her in a way).

All in all, a good book, though more for the novelty of its topic.

Rating: 7/10
lexlingua: (WHAT!?)
There was the Illiad, now there’s the Penelopiad.

Lately, since the SFF genre is losing interest for me, I thought I would give this mythology/ history book a shot instead.

Here’s the official book blurb:

"For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay… And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to? Critically acclaimed when it was first published as part of Canongate's Myth series, and following a very successful adaptation by the RSC, this new edition of The Penelopiad sees Margaret Atwood give Penelope a modern and witty voice to tell her side of the story, and set the record straight for good."

I heard the audiobook, narrated by Laural Merlington, who does a wonderful job, especially the parts where she imitates the voice of the twelve maids who were hacked off by Odysseus. These narrations could make a nice elocution piece, methinks.

I read Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin some time ago (my review here) and didn't much like it, so I expected the same kind of reaction for Penelope, the virtuous wife of an ancient, much-adored Greek hero. When I look back in context, I realize that the idea of both Lavinia and Penelopiad is to give a voice to the women of ancient Greece, a very different take from existing Greek history/ poetry, where it’s the men, the ‘heroes’, who hog all the spotlight.

I didn't know much about Odysseus himself, except that he was such a famous sea-faring, monster-killing hero in Greek mythology that first Homer wrote about him, then James Joyce decided to write the book Ulysses about him, which became quite a masterpiece. But as I hadn't read either of these tomes, I started Atwood’s book with a mindset quite free from ‘baggage’, if you know what I mean.

The Penelopiad is surprisingly easy to digest. Atwood paints a picture of ancient Greece through the voice of a dead Penelope (and her dead maids) in such an amusing light; I often burst out chuckling. Everything is packed in with such dark humour — the animal sacrifices, the oracle, the promiscuity, the gods raping the mortals, the (so-called) virtues of women (and sometimes, men), the slavery system, and do watch out for the bits about Helen of Troy. I certainly did not know or remember that Helen and Penelope were cousins, and that Odysseus wooed Helen once. Oops! I certainly need to see Troy again.

The book felt more like as if it was something written by Atwood to entertain herself — not as a professional historical work, but more along the lines of a hobby. It does not generate the kind of awe that Wolf Hall does, but maybe that’s because I’m not very familiar with such works. Maybe the best kind of historical book is a novella that’s light and cutting and to the point.

So much of Greek history is poetry written hundreds of years ago (this one being around 3,000 years) by some anonymous fellow. That can’t possibly be the reality. Sea serpents and semi-divine human beings, three-headed dogs and twelve-headed dragons, sirens and merfolk? Just like you read about ambrosia being some hallucinogenic drink created eons ago, what’s the factual truth of the fanciful Greek mythology?

The last part of the book is therefore important, because it gives an interesting interpretation of the events in The Penelopiad. You should hear Atwood’s take on the truth. I’m not aware of other versions, or if she is the first one to bring forth the idea of the Odyssey heralding a shift in the Mycenaean religious dynamics. But I do know for a fact that The Penelopiad makes a lovely and startling read.

My Rating: 7/10                                                                            


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January 2017



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