Archive | July 2015

The Catcher In The Rye

Upon noticing the above novel on my bookshelf last week I decided that at the age of 21 it was about time I read the quintessential young adult novel. Some have even called The Catcher In The Rye the first young adult novel, a genre that has become increasingly popular and significant in recent times and could possibly be called my preferred genre. The beauty of the young adult novel is that it can be an umbrella genre and have so many subsections: young adult fantasy (Harry Potter), young adult dystopia (Hunger Games) and young adult contemporary (realism novels like The Fault in our Stars).

The Catcher in the Rye, then, as the first young adult novel is the precursor and model for such authors such as Stephen Chbosky, John Green and David Levithan. So, as these are some of my favourite authors, it was high time that I read the tale of Holden Caulfield.

What is clear, certainly to me as a literary enthusiast and a literature student, is that this novel cannot just be read at face value and discarded. Salinger’s book is a collection of a series of events pertaining to the protagonist, each which accumulate to add more layers to his character and the development of his personality. There are complex issues in this novel, much more so than a simple tale of a rebellious outsider who flees private school for adventures in New York.

The novel deals with subject matter as delicate as abuse, identity, loss, alienation and the gentle sadness of feeling so alone in the middle of the most alive city in the world.

When I first read The Great Gatsby at age 16, I was initially dismissive. Fitzgerald’s book and Salinger’s novel have their similarities in that at first sight both novels seem to be a recounting of a series of events, wherein the characters are of more interest and significance than the actual events and plot lines in the story. With five years having passed between my reading of The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye, I found myself feeling the same initial disappointment as I read that I could not understand the significance of this novel upon first reading.

However, as it was a novel I was studying at school I then went on to unpack and develop the ideas within The Great Gatsby and pull it apart to analyse the themes and language. Now, five years later, I can do this alone with The Catcher in the Rye, and indeed I believe that this is an integral part of reading. One cannot understand Salinger’s true intentions without delving more deeply into his text.

This is what has struck me the most as a reader of The Catcher in the Rye, the intricacies of the novel, which must be understood in order to understand the novel as a whole. As a reader and a lover of literature, I have often found, since my first initial dismissal of The Great Gatsby that it is necessary to unpack and develop a novel in order to understand its true value.

And I will say this to any reader of a young adult novel: the novel itself is often deeper than you think. This much is certainly true for any of John Green’s work, which as an avid follower of his work and synonymously a literature student, I have mulled over and thought about more deeply.

So yes, I would advocate reading The Catcher in the Rye for anyone and everyone. It’s not a difficult read, with simple sentence structures and easy colloquial language, as it is written in Holden’s 17-year-old voice. But it’s complex as a narrative and demands a deeper thought from the reader. Which was very possibly Salinger’s intention and certainly shows the complexities of being a teenager, making it the definitive young adult novel.

Along with The Great Gatsby and Harry Potter alike, it appears to me to be one of those novels that you just have to read, if only to see what the fuss is about. I figure that if you think about it properly when you’re done, you won’t be disappointed.

Advertisements

Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre

I was privileged enough to see Gypsy with Imelda Staunton this past week at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End. My gosh, it was a treat. By far one of the most wonderful productions I have ever seen.

Gypsy tells the story of pushy stage mother Rose (Staunton) and her two daughters, Baby June and Louise, the latter of which who goes on to become burlesque sensation Gypsy Rose Lee.

The role of Rose was made famous by Ethel Merman and subsequently performed by such talents as Patti LuPone, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters. So how then could Staunton step into such star-spangled shoes?

Quite impressively, in my humble opinion. Not only does she have a powerhouse voice but her impressive acting talent lends to subtleties in her vocal performance that show Rose’s own insecurities and desires. Following in the footsteps of such larger-than-life ladies like Merman, the petite stature of Staunton shows Rose as a tiny ticking time bomb, getting more desperate with each failed performance of her girls’ attempts at vaudeville, before she explodes in a burst of talent and spectacle with the outstanding finale of Rose’s Turn.

This clip is just a preview, a glimpse into the vocal ability of Staunton. But to really embrace it, you simply must see her in action. It’s not enough to keep pressing repeat on YouTube, her sincere talent is only really accessible from the Savoy Theatre where a multitude of emotions cross her face in one song of some four minutes.

I won’t lie, I did get a bit emotional as Staunton took her bow to a full theatre of standing ovations. Not only due to how wonderful the show’s emotional story is but because of my own awe at how impressive a performance Staunton gave. I felt extremely privileged to have seen such talent in the flesh, especially from the second row where every beat is palpable.

The lady next to me seemed surprised to be seated next to a 21-year-old. This was unsurprising considering the average age in the audience must have been around 65. She asked me if I thought the show was outdated.

Not at all Mrs Seat-Next-To-Me. This is a story about ambition and loss and heartbreak and desire. Though it’s set in the vaudeville circuits of the early 20th century, its themes are equally powerful today. Add to that the untouchable music and lyrics of Jule Styne and the king himself Mr Stephen Sondheim, you get a theatre show that transcends generations and one that should be equally loved by young and old alike.

It’s been called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime‘ experience and I can’t validate that any more. The show is only running in London until November, which in my opinion is a great great shame. I understand that actors want to move on, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Staunton needed a change from such a demanding role as Rose. However, it seems such a pity that more people won’t have access to this supreme show, with or without Staunton, as it is truly one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever written.

Staunton is electrifying and a chutzpah-filled fireball, made even more impressive by her diminutive stature. Perhaps it is this that truly separates her from Merman – vastly different in shape and thus portrayal, Staunton’s Rose is a firecracker in a tiny package, making her determination only more frightening and engaging.

So, in my humble opinion – that of a lifelong theatre lover, with not much talent herself – this is by far the best show of the season (which I can say without having seen any other shows this season!) and deserves all the accolades and praise it is being given. Brava to Miss Staunton and the whole cast of Gypsy, and to you, if you’re out there reading this, log off my page and purchase your tickets and let the wonderful story of Gypsy truly entertain you.

Self-Publishing

Facebook Book Clubs are all the rage at the moment. So much so that I decided to join one under the recommendation of my mother. I turned off my notifications and rarely read the reviews but from a (further) recommendation of my mother I decided to buy one of the most popular books on the page and read it. I was not a fan: I found the writing to be poor at times, the ending to be lacklustre and the story itself to be boring and lacking in any real substance.

As I persevered with the book I found myself wondering why it had been so popular on the book club and why so many people had loved it so. I kept my thoughts to myself, read another of the author’s books and enjoyed it more and kept silent on the book club. However, when another reviewer finally admitted to not liking the work and more followers agreed, I felt I could finally voice my criticism, which came in a similar way to that I’ve written above.

Yet, I had forgotten that the author herself was a member of the book club and could see my review. She wasn’t happy, to say the least, and made a comment along the lines of: ‘It’s so hard to hear people completely rubbish and pour hate onto something you’ve worked hard on’.

I felt guilty for my comment and guilty for having my opinion. It wasn’t that I was pouring hate, per se, but I found her writing style to be uncomfortable and disjointed in places and found that perhaps she would be more comfortable in third-person prose rather than first-person as I found another of her books an easier, more enjoyable read. What struck me, though, is that the fault may not necessarily lie with the author but with her editor.

Surely her editor should have read the syntax as I did and suggested better phrasing and writing?

So I relocated the book on Amazon in an effort to find the publisher and to my expectation I discovered it was self-published.

So often this happens with self-publishing, that the editing and writing is just not up to the standard of a well published and promoted novel.

I attempted to read a self-published work once that confused ‘there/their and they’re’ and couldn’t make it past chapter three for its poor, frankly unreadable, editing.

Whilst I understand the notion of self-publishing, I have to wonder if authors and first-time writers think to find more people and study groups to beta their work in the hopes of improving it to get a formal publishing contract. After all, they cannot expect to be anywhere on a bestseller list without concrete editing and publicity. Whilst the original book in question has been successful both on Amazon and my Facebook Book Club, I am not surprised that it has yet to make an appearance on a true book list with clumsy attempts at first-person.

I also believe that such self-publishers turn to book clubs and the like in order to bolster their self-worth. After all, a group of housewives are hardly going to have the same critical opinion as a literary agent or editor. Though I don’t mean to sound condemnatory to such book clubs, which are all fun to a point, I have to suggest that in order to get ahead in an authorial career, one must seek out better editing and beta-ing, and not reviewers that will simply pander to you because you mention you have a sick child or have worked really, really hard.

I stand firm in my opinion of the book in question and self-publishing, and wonder if the author took more notice of the more critical reviews, would she be closer to getting a publishing contract?

I open myself up to self-publishers, ready to read their novels (if readable, unlike the author confused by ‘their/they’re/there’) and give a true critical opinion, in the hope of helping them, not hindering their progression.