The thing with marketing a novel as a retelling is that you’re inviting comparisons to the source material. In the case of successful retellings, this is a great thing — books that can get to the heart of their inspiration and reinvent them are bound to delight readers who are fans of the original work and of the retelling alike. One of the most popular sources for retellings is Jane Austen, whose oeuvre has been mined for everything from zombie movies to Bollywood to Twilight. When done well. Austen retellings become classics in their own right — think Bridget Jones’ Diary or Clueless — but when done poorly, they suffer all the more for having such a beloved source material to pale before.
I was excited going into All Stirred Up because it’s marketed as a retelling of Persuasion, one of my favourite of Austen’s novels. Persuasion, perhaps the original “exes to lovers” angst fest, is fully of enough yearning, pining, and repression to provide excellent fodder to any love story and my friends and I have always searched obsessively for retellings that capitalise on this.
R.F. Kuang had a tall order on her hands when it came to the task of writing the hotly anticipated conclusion to The Poppy War trilogy — both its predecessors met with rave reviews and drummed up a passionate fanbase; the consensus was already that Kuang’s second book, The Dragon Republic blew the already beloved first installment, The Poppy War, out of the water. Expectations were sky-high, fans were bouncing off the walls trying to come up with theories about the fates of Rin, Nezha, and Kitay, and the pressure could not have been higher. But because this is R.F. Kuang, and her books only go from strength to strength, she knocks it completely out of the park.
So here’s the thing — I love Romeo and Juliet. Like, I really love Romeo and Juliet. Having done a degree in English Literature, I’ve read a fair amount of Shakespeare, and I will stand by Romeo and Juliet as my favourite of his tragedies, if not his plays overall. I know that it’s considered too “mainstream” by a lot of more academic folks, and that the internet is full of hot takes about how it’s actually a stupid story about stupid teenagers doing stupid things, and I’m the type of person who gets irrationally overprotective in response, ready to trot out a whole “in defense of” presentation at a moment’s notice. Zeffirelli and Luhrmann’s film adaptations, West Side Story, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, High School Musical — I’ve seen all the adaptations. My point is, I love this play. And what’s immediately clear, reading These Violent Delights is that Chloe Gong loves it too.
The upcoming novel by V.E. Schwab tells the story of a girl, Adeline ‘Addie’ La Rue, who, during her youth in 18th century France, makes a deal with the Devil — she receives eternal life, but with the caveat that no one she meets will ever remember her. No one, until one day, in modern New York, she meets a boy who does. The story has something of The Age of Adaline, the flavour of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, aesthetic similarities to Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. But mostly, it is something entirely new, and profoundly special.
Schwab is a prolific fantasy writer, and readers familiar with her œuvre of work will know some of her narrative trademarks — complicated characters, intricate systems of magic and the underlying appeal of the ‘dark side’. But by her own admission, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue “probably has more ‘me’ in it than anything else I’ve written”. And this sense of intense intimacy and vulnerability is suffused throughout the entire book. Beyond feeling like the author is exposing herself to you, you feel as though it is something you have lived or are living, the complicated, at times agonising sensation that your deepest desires and fears — ones rooted so deeply that you were perhaps unaware you even have them — are unspooling on the pages in front of you.
This post contains spoilers for the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the original The Hunger Games trilogy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
When Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Prince Zuko angsted, brooded, fought, self-destructed, learned and grew his way from the obsessive pursuit of Avatar Aang to a spot right in the heart of the ‘Gaang’ willing to risk his life for his new friends, he cemented his spot as the prodigal son of redeemed villains ever since then. Fans of characters from Sharpay Evans to Kylo Ren, from Jenny Humphrey to Draco Malfoy, of any character on the spectrum from “considered annoying by the general audience” to “has murdered several people but looked really good while doing it” have compared their faves to the seminal bad-guy-turned-good, and it’s easy to see why. The redemption arc and the sympathetic antagonist are narrative tropes that have been popular as long as literature has been around. Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s journey from enemies to friends (??) / blood-brothers (??) / lovers (??) would give most modern angsty fanfiction writers a run for their money. Milton’s Satan, with his radical spirit and unholy charisma, is the baddest of bad-boys, and the spate of Byronic heroes that populate literature from Lord Ruthven to Claude Frollo to Heathcliff have had wildly passionate fan bases since long before the internet was around to facilitate general fandom culture.
I like to think my personality is more than a collection of English student stereotypes, but when it comes to Jane Austen adaptations, I’m not ashamed to say I’m an absolute sucker. To that end, it was only natural that when doing a module on Jane Austen in university last year, I decided to examine the enduring popularity of the Jane Austen adaptations that I and so many others devour and question their effect on the legacy of Austen’s work. I decided to share that essay here!
A quick google search for “most famous english writers” will yield a pantheon of literature’s greatest hits, topped by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen. The two men have in common long, illustrious careers characterised by incredible breadth of range. Next to them, Austen seems a curious inclusion, her six completed novels and relatively short career making her seem almost an interloper by comparison. And yet there has never in living memory been any doubt cast upon Austen’s position as one of the “greats.” What is perhaps most striking is that her popularity stretches both to the realms of academia and literary criticism, and to that of popular enjoyment — Austen quotes printed on an assortment of mugs and t-shirts and tote bags are ever-popular souvenirs, and Cassandra Austen’s portrait of her sister is now as recognisable an image as the etching of Shakespeare that graces the first folio.
I won’t be the first to tell you that with the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living in unprecedented times with many of us living under the kind of massive lifestyle haul we may never have seen before. There’s a lot of pressure going round now about how to #hustle and stay on the #grind while we’re all staying at home, and I’m here to tell you to ignore that. Sure, it’s great to maintain a regular schedule when all the world’s gone to hell. Keeping on top of work and staying organised can be great if it makes you feel more in control and like this whole situation is more manageable. But if all you’re doing is surviving right now, that’s more than okay too! This is a global pandemic, not a few bad sick days — it’s important to remember that, strange as it may seem, staying at home is the big achievement and if you don’t do anything more than that, you’re still doing enough. It’s more than okay to while away the time curled up with a good book and your beverage of choice! To that end, here’s my non-exhaustive list of recommendations for books to get you through social distancing.
With his take on The Personal History of David Copperfield, Armando Iannucci seems to relish the opportunity to draw out the inherent absurdism and nearly soap-operatic drama of Dickens’ novels to create a bizarrely funny and riotously entertaining film. To watch David Copperfield is to be made increasingly aware of the novel’s origin as a serialised production, with the transitions between various episodes in the protagonist’s life as exuberantly presented as the events themselves.
The film is framed around David’s ability to “remember great characters” he encounters, and thanks to the work of a stellar cast, the audience is sure to find them equally memorable. Dev Patel is well-suited to the wide-eyed wonder of the eponymous protagonist, underpinning David’s sense of wonder and infectious zest for life with enough dry wit and genuine pathos to ground the often-convoluted story in real warmth.
In his novel The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley wrote that “the past is a different country; they do things differently there.” It’s a statement reflective of the allure and strangeness that comes with a retrospective gaze, reflecting the metamorphic power of time, whether in changing a person from childhood to adulthood, a city from decade to decade, or an ancient civilisation from rise to ruin.
However, obsessed our society may be with the promise of progress, of moving forward and improving, there remains in most of us an unshakeable fascination with the past.Whether in the enduring popularity of historical fiction, or in the constant appeal of nostalgia and re-watching our favourite childhood films, the cultural zeitgeist is constantly affected by a creative fixation with history.
“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” This kind of understanding of connection, of push-and-pull and cause and effect, is a quality that permeates the body of Pablo Neruda’s poetry.
His poems, originally written in his native Spanish, work to convey nebulous ideas through tangible phrases and concepts. Sensuality and love are turned from vague, intangible feelings into palpable motifs visible in real life. Under Neruda’s pen, the Chilean countryside is inextricably linked to the physicality and emotionality of the Chilean people.