Book Review: July’s People by Nadine Gordimer

71bzYJLjC1LRead for: F Word’s February Fiction Selection

Rating: 3/5

This is my first experience with Gordimer, and sadly I didn’t really push to read any of her writing until news of her death. We picked July’s People as the group read for February in the F Word group as a belated memorial for Gordimer, and while it was a short selection (160 pages in my edition) it certainly wasn’t a quick and breezy read. Really, though, this should have been obvious as quick and breezy reads rarely win the NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE…

July’s People is set in South Africa (where Gordimer is from) during a fictional civil war in which the black population has overthrown the whites. The reflection of the anti-apartheid era in this fictional retelling had this book banned in South Africa following it’s publication in 1981. The story is about Bamford and Maureen Smales, a white middle-class couple with 3 small children who flee their home under the threat of violence. Their black servant of the last 15 years, July, transfers them from their comfortable suburban home to his rural village hiding in their yellow bakkie in order to protect them. The shock of leaving their home filled with modern conveniences for a series of huts with no electricity is a lot to take for the Smales, particularly Maureen, a transition they were wholly unprepared for which was made even more evident when Gordimer describes the items they packed; laundry supplies and an electric car track for the children, all of which became completely useless in their new environment. There is a total reversal of the master/servant dynamic as the family now relies on July to provide their food, shelter and safety. The Smales considered themselves liberal and hoped for a peaceful outcome for the racial struggle in Johannesburg, but find their suspicions of July and his black community heightened during the time they spend in the village. There is conflict between Maureen and July regarding his time as a servant in their home prompted by his telling Maureen not to work the fields with the black women. July holds the keys to the bakkie which puts him in control of the Smales’ only form of transportation, despite the fact that they have nowhere they can go. He also knows of the gun they have brought with them to the village which causes yet more tension.

This was a tricky read. While clearly very important and beautifully executed, I struggled at times with determining who was speaking, or from who’s POV the words were coming. This was minor and didn’t impact my understanding of the story overall, but tripped me up a bit. The ending is very ambiguous which left it open to much interpretation, and I have some questions! Overall it was a powerful novel, very deserving of it’s Nobel Prize. I’m looking forward to trying more Gordimer in the future.

Book Review: Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh

51REU+04MML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Read for: To see if it was better than the movie

Rating: 4/5

I’ll start by saying that I watched the movie version of BitWC before I read the book. I had wanted to read it for a while, but just never got around to it until I picked up a copy at a garage sale on the island a few weeks ago. I’m glad I did, because I didn’t like the movie AT ALL and it would be a shame if I missed out on this story because of it. The graphic novel was pretty amazing. It was far more complex, more realistic, and beautifully drawn to top it off. I haven’t really looked into what other people think of the movie, but I seriously struggled. To be honest, I didn’t even finish because two hours in I had had enough, and there was still an hour left!! *guhhhh* I’m way too A.D.D. to sit through 3 hours of mouth breathing, gross eating, and sensationalized lesbian sex scenes, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Reasons the book was better than the movie:

1. I definitely read it in less time than it took me to get 2/3 of the way through the over-long and boring movie.

2. There was considerably more development of the relationship between Clémentine and Emma in the graphic novel. One of the big things about the movie that bothered me was that Emma was in this relationship when she and Clémentine meet at the school and sit on the park bench together, but then suddenly the girlfriend just flies out of the picture, never to be mentioned again and making way for all these bogus sex scenes between Clémentine and Emma. The graphic novel deals with Emma’s struggle to decide who she wants to be with as well as Clémentine’s struggle to express that she is in love with Emma and that her sexuality is for real and not just a “phase”. The girlfriend is incorporated into the story in a pivotal way that was completely eliminated from the movie.

3. Also eliminated from the movie was the scene where Emma and Clémentine are discovered by Clémentine’s parents and thrown out of the house. During this scene in the movie I was like “Oh they are going to get buuuusted” but it never happened. The book had Clémentine completely disowned by her parents and forced further into the arms of Emma. This, I felt, was an important inclusion as it illustrates the struggles that sexuality can drum up within the family dynamic.

4. The book was told in a more cohesive and compelling way, right off the bat explaining that Clémentine was dead. The story then unfolds in the form of diary entries written by Clémentine and read by Emma following her death. This immediately made me more emotionally invested in the characters as you already know how the story ends, but you want to know what took place to get them to that point. The movie doesn’t include this, and as a result it just felt like it was going on and on to no real conclusion.

5. Ok you guys, the lesbian sex. I don’t even understand what is happening in the movie. The graphic novel illustrates the scenes in a far more romantic and intimate way, showing the characters kissing and embracing each other, whereas the movie just has them reverse-cowgirl-scissoring, as if that is even a thing that happens. The movie scenes were very clearly directed with the male gaze as the motivating factor, and they felt entirely gratuitous, unrealistic, and went on for far too long without contributing anything to the progression of the plot. I also found it interesting that the movie depicts Clémentine having graphic sex with her first boyfriend before then falling for Emma and breaking up with him. In the book it comes down to the night they are about to have sex when Clémentine decides she doesn’t want to do it and walks out on him. I felt this outcome held far more power for Clémentine’s development and the scene in the movie was just more unnecessary sexual imagery.

To sum up: yes you should probably watch the movie, but please read the graphic novel FIRST because it is far superior! The art is fantastic and the story is far more complex, emotional and ultimately satisfying than the movie. Did I mention that the movie is a whopping 3 hours long?? That’s like sitting through Lord of the Rings but with absolutely none of the cool stuff and far too many scenes of the Hobbits eating stretched out for 20 minutes each and including way too many close ups of their mouths while they chew away noisily on their spaghetti (or lembas bread, whatever).

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

1422420695587Read for: My love of Canadian authors and dystopian novels

5/5

Emily St. John Mandel completely captivated me with her fourth novel, Station Eleven. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a flu virus wiped out 99% of the population within weeks, the story is fed to you piece by piece from multiple POVs and multiple points in time including both before and after the epidemic outbreak. There is a small cast of well developed characters that are all connected in intricate ways, connections which unfold slowly as the tale plays out which I enjoyed immensely. Fun fact: One of the central characters, Arthur Leander, is from what Mandel describes in her interview over at Omnivoracious as an “ever-so-thinly fictionalized version of the island where I grew up on the west coast of British Columbia,” that sounded EXACTLY like the island I live on. I looked it up and Mandel grew up on Denman Island, which is a short trip North of where we are in the gulf islands on Gabriola. Same vibe, ferns and trees and deer everywhere, a small village with a grocery store, library, gas station, elementary school, ferry access etc. THIS MADE ME SO EXCITED. Tons of books are set in LA or New York, and many Canadian books are set in Toronto (including this one and, like, all the Atwoods) but very rarely do I come across a book that includes a setting on the very West Coast of BC. I love it here and I love to read about it too! So mega-super-fan-girl-points to Mandel for feeding my love of the Salish Sea and it’s numerous tiny hippie-inhabited islands.

I felt like this book stood out from the zillions of other post-apocalypse stories in a few ways, firstly and most terrifyingly the fact that it felt completely and utterly plausible. Mandel describes through one POV the panic of hearing from a friend in the hospital of a flu virus that is spreading rapidly out of control, and follows the character through his immediate hoarding of goods at the grocery store and showing up at his brother’s apartment in the middle of the night to warn him and board themselves up inside. This is a familiar scene in many dystopian novels and movies that often also features zombies (think the apartments they hole up in in 28 Days Later and/or World War Z) but because this book DIDN’T have zombies and instead just had a killer flu made it even more disturbing. Extra marks awarded for the inclusion of airplanes as a way for the virus to spread. A large portion of the book is set in an airport after a flight is diverted and the passengers essentially abandoned in the terminal as the flu runs its course. The characters watch a plane land on the crowded runway, taxi as far from the terminal as it can then sit there without opening the doors. It becomes quickly apparent that the plane has been contaminated and all the passengers are infected. They remain in the plane where they all eventually die. CHILLS. The second thing that stood out for me about this novel was the way the characters were constructed and the fine latticework of their relationships to each other. Mandel took a far more literary approach to the classic apocalypse story and she pulled it off with tremendous success. There are many moments where the characters reflect on their lives, their relationships to others, and how those relationships were altered or destroyed following the epidemic. There are many passages that reflect on society and human nature in very beautiful and touching ways. One of the characters frequently references the Stark Trek quote “survival is not enough”, which perfectly encapsulates the drive of the survivors to not just survive, but to continue to live and to make the world into something that resembles what they remember and long for.

The final thing I loved about this novel and that stood out for me was the story-within-a-story of Dr. Eleven. Nathan Burton designed one of the cover editions for Station Eleven, and also produced a very cool cover for the Station Eleven graphic novel created by the character Miranda. I require this to be written and published in the real world immediately, please and thank you.

Station+Eleven+comic+8

The Garden is Waking Up

03_13_2015_17

Sorry to everyone who had a brutal winter buried in snow, we had 2 days worth of light dusting and that’s long over. It’s warm and springlike here already… and the garden is coming to life!

This post is to document where the yard is at as of today… I can’t wait to compare to the photos we will take at the end of the season! We’ve got big plans for this year. The fence and gates J is building to keep the deer out are coming along nicely, and we have an area to stack wood now too!

03_13_2015_45

Continue reading

Crop Issues in Chickens: What We Have Learned

03_13_2015_05

This last week we had our first (and hopefully last for a long time) sick chicken. Poor Scully was acting very lethargic, separating herself from the flock, hiding and not eating. She seemed off one day, but we thought we would see if she was improved the next day but she wasn’t – instead she was moving slowly, and almost seemed dizzy, putting her wing out from time to time to keep herself from tipping over.

I picked her up to see if I could see what was wrong with her and must have accidentally squeezed her crop too tight because she sprayed water out of her beak all over my hair and sweater. At first I was super confused, where did that water just come from?! Looking into it online we discovered that Scully likely had an issue with her crop.

So what is a crop and where is it? It is a chickens food storage area, the first in a series of stops on the digestive tract of a chicken. By holding the chicken from behind you can feel the crop on the front of their chest, slightly to the right of the breast bone. Scully’s was very enlarged and soft like a water balloon. We did a lot of research and learned a few things about crop issues. Exciting information after the jump – including a video of Scully barfing (I know you all want to see what chicken barf looks like)

03_13_2015_01

Continue reading