Rachael Herman

Tag: literature

‘Just Another Piece In Their Games…’

Yes, in the vein of all you cool teenagers and shameful adults alike, I too have joined club ‘Hunger Games’. You know, I seriously thought I had buried this penchant for the puerile fantastic years ago – along with poor Dobby the house-elf hims-elf – in the bid to revel in the far more grown-up Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair. It turns out, however, that this grave for the juvenile was evidently a shallow one. (Sorry Dobby, my love, I’m afraid it’s still game over for you.) This latest slip into the realm of childish indulgence happened no sooner than when the credits of the first film in Suzanne Collin’s franchise had started to roll; replenishing both excitement and wonder to an imagination parched of both, and reinaugurating the ugly obsessive nature that tends to go hand-hand with a good children’s story. (Whatever I say in the next few hundred words about the books, I’d like to make it clear that I view the movie as an excellent and exciting piece of film-making; Gary Ross, I doff my hat to you, sir.) So where to go from there, I wondered. Why to the books of course! Before the film came into my life, I was unaware of the books’ existence, but a birthday favour later and I was the proud owner of the trinity: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Here is what I made of them…

Book One: The Hunger Games (aka the eye-opener)

Having seen the first film I was obviously aware of what was going to go down in the first book. One may argue that this would perhaps defeat the purpose of even reading the story, however, I found that the heads-up gained from the viewing only allowed me to concentrate on details that had either been deliberately omitted from the books or proven too complicated to deliver on screen. One example of this would be the unfolding of the relationship between young tributes, Peeta and Katniss. In the film, it is not particularly clear as to what the nature of  their relationship actually is, more specifically Katniss’ take on the whole thing. However, I do understand that the adaptation of a first-person narrative from print to picture will always prove to be a problem in the absence of a narrator. But yes, the book did adequately shed some more light onto the ‘Patniss’ (Peeta and Katniss, duh) love saga, which I was happy about. What I was not so thrilled with, on the other hand, was Collins’ decision to make use of that ghastly present tense and terse, pointed sentences in order to put us firmly in the ‘midst of the action’. Not when EVERY sentence apparently fits this description. No thank you.

Book Two: Catching Fire (aka the favourite)

By the time I had reached the second book – and I mean it was a struggle when up against such a tirade of tiny, tiny sentences – I can safely say that I was starting to grow weary of Katniss’ annoying whine of a voice. Yes, I realise that she is a typical seventeen year old girl, but all this to-ing and fro-ing between love interests, which is only matched by the to-ing and fro-ing she makes to the hospital, really devours any sympathy I once had for her. There really is no logic to her affections. ‘But there is no logic to love!’ I hear you cry… Shut up, no one who demands that amount of nobility for her actions should be that capricious. She is just too weak. Another gripe I was beginning to realise I had  with the way Collins had chosen to tell her tale was the fact that every chapter seemed to end with some sort of cliff hanger; to the point where it was just getting ridiculous. There were moments in the chapter where, I must admit, I felt like screaming, ‘Really Suzanne?! Did that REALLY happen?!’ No, I don’t think it did. I think you are just terrified that no one will want to read on if you don’t end each chapter with some outrageous dramatic one-liner. Please. Have a little more faith in your own writing and give the reader a touch more credit to the fact that they will NOT slam the book shut in utter disgust that nothing astounding has happened in the last five pages. It’s all about subtlety, love.

Example from Catching Fire, p209, of a classic Collins-cliffhanger.

I would next like to address the issue of president Snow. The first book showed promise of a somewhat enigmatically calculating villain, and with the second book I was undoubtedly vying for a deliciously dark and troubled back-story to get my teeth into, to establish in my mind a smart and intimidating villain. It turned out that there was no real back-story – at least Volders had a troubled past that we could revel in; to explain why he was a twisted, cold-blooded killer. Snow just had some botox that went wrong…I don’t get the wrong impression here, I do in fact likeCatching Fire, especially the brilliance that is the second arena, complete with tactical alliances to boot. Fantastically intriguing. Let us only hope that justice will be done to this creation on the big screen!

Book Three: Mockingjay (aka the struggle)

‘Just another piece in their/his/her/my Games’, was the phrase that was now causing me physical and mental anguish every time I happened upon it, which was pretty much in every other chapter of Mockingjay. As if this wasn’t enough, the complete overkill of the rather pretentious name itself, Mockingjay, was answerable to a reflex of steaming anger bubbling up from inside of me every time it was mentioned. All in all, I have to say that I found this book incredibly hard to deal with, mainly on account of its clumsiness in addressing the rebellion, and its lack of our main man: Peeta. I felt that the poor boy, who, let’s face it, is the best written character in the whole saga, was rather made a mockery of. His absence was really quite telling, particularly when the romantic interest was in favour of Gale, as I found myself becoming really quite uninterested in the whole thing. What a DULL character Gale is. Clearly Collins thinks so too, as it goes to show back in Catching Fire. Subsequent to his whipping for crimes against Panem, we are informed that Gale was in a critical state being tended to night and day. Then in the next chapter we find out, in a rather off-handed reference, that Gale is back down the mines. Does Collins even remember he was injured?! Speaking of miraculous recoveries, Peeta’s plight against the Trackerjackers in what we commonly call a ‘highjacking’ was a rather dubious one. No light was ever really shed on exactly HOW our man was saved from this nasty fate. All  the information we receive is that dear old Delly has been having a chat with him now and again, coaxing him out of his (righteous) hatred for Katniss. Hmmm, interesting.

Example from Mockingjay, p37, of ‘Mockingjay’ overkill.

Overall, I feel that  Katniss’ final romantic revelation actually epitomised the way the series has been written: way too sudden and inadequately explained. ‘So yeah, by the way, I’m with Peeta now. I decided that Gale and I are too alike, oh well I guess that’s that. Sigh.’ Collins kicked things off with a great concept, managed to run with it insofar as creating a decent world and a handful of interesting characters (Hamish, Peeta, Finnick, Johanna and Beetee being among the elite), yet she has unfortunately stumbled at the final stretch. It just so happened that the ‘final stretch’ incorporates the entirety of the third book. Never mind, hey, it’s only a children’s book.

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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1840), Richard Rothwell

Here we are again, folks; another weekend, another long and boring post about a painting. Ah, I’m only kidding, I promise this one will be shorter! Today I will be guiding you in the way of Dublin Society School graduate and Royal Hiberian Academy member, Richard Rothwell. His works consist primarily of portraiture and genre pictures, but the work I will be focussing on is his study of novelist Mary Shelley, which can be viewed below. As usual I will provide you with a little background on the subject, followed by an analysis of technique, content, context and relevance to myself. All very lovely.

Shelley, despite having achieved such literary acclaim by the tender age of twenty three with her magnum opus, Frankenstein, had a woefully tragic life. She outlived three of her four children and her husband, poet-cum-philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley, before finally facing her own mortality in the guise of a brain tumour, aged an equally tender fifty one – this is one woman who knew pain and knew it intimately. Upon reading her lengthy biography on that fine site Wikipedia, I will admit I was close to tears. I’m serious, this extract from her despairing husband’s notebook after the death of their third child is so agonisingly heart-felt it hurts:

‘My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone,

And left me in this dreary world alone?

Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—

But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road

That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode.

For thine own sake I cannot follow thee

Do thou return for mine.’

After that dreary introduction, we’ll get down to the artwork itself. The painting above was completed by Rothwell in 1840, a year after Mary started suffering from symptoms of what was later discovered to be a brain tumour. Although those fresh, rosy apple cheeks of hers hint at youthful beauty; the haunted pallor, complemented by mournful, sunken eyes, serve as the testimony of a woman forced to live under the curse of perpetual mourning, and following that, personal affliction. This is perhaps reinforced in the way that Mary is holding herself, which appears to be quite awkward; her right shoulder hunched above her left forcing her to hold her head and neck in a somewhat serpentine ‘S’ shape. Not an unattractive woman, her slight, birdlike features – the gently pointed nose and swan-like neck – emerge from the gloom as if a rare and exquisite nocturnal creature. The overall eerie feel of the piece does bare resemblance to the literary stylings of the subject, whose repertoire includes gothic tales of dark, experimental science and apocalyptic sci-fi.

When addressing the colouring of the painting, it is easy to first notice the predominant black appeal of the outfit – undoubtedly referencing the succession of unbearable losses that Mary has had to endure – as well as the humility of the muted surroundings; presenting themselves to the audience under no pretence of opulence or grandeur – perhaps signifying the poverty of her latter years. The dark russet waist-band again signifies sorrow and seriousness, and being an autumnal colour, the subsequent ‘autumn years’ of the sitter. The flame red and vermillion tones of the chair could signify her political seat -one of Romanticism and Liberalism -as Mary was well-known for presenting her political views across in her writing.

Rothwell’s style creates an expressive yet careful rendition of the human form, with hints of Classicism (in the study of the face) and the burgeoning influence of Romanticism (shown through Rothwell’s choice of subject – a major player, not only in Gothic, but also in Romantic literature), which was starting to gain a strong hold over the arts at the time. This is particularly true if one views Mary as the heroic figure: an intelligent and strong female overcoming the trials of a tragic life in order to emerge triumphant as a literary genius. Or something like that. Where tremendous care appears to have been taken in the portrayal of Mary’s delicate face, half of that care is evident in the representation of her attire. Prime example being the joining of the flesh with the dress, where we can see a rather faltered marriage of paint with canvas, and no matter how firm I set my mind against it, my eye inevitably strays over to and pauses at this artistic misdemeanour. And now yours will too. Sorry.

If I am to learn anything from Rothwell’s approach to painting, it would be how he uses colour and earnest facial expressions to evoke a sympathetic and sincere atmosphere about his subject, thus causing the viewer to feel warmly and gently beckoned into the company of his sitter. Well, that’s what I think anyway.