Thursday, 28 November 2013

Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I am, by anyone's reckoning, quite the Jane Austen fanatic (a true Austenite, if you will). My numerous copies of Pride and Prejudice are extremely well thumbed, and her most recognised masterpieces hold a similarly prominent place on my bookshelf (as well as in my heart). I have, however, long neglected her less celebrated works. A while back, I ran through Northanger Abbey and was sadly disappointed. But, as Jane Austen's first completed work, it is understandable that it would lack the insight and coherence of her later works. After visiting her house last month (a trip documented in my subsequent Literary Excursion post), I decided to confront the last of her novels that I had yet to explore - Mansfield Park

"Depend upon it, you see but half. You see the evil, but you do not see the consolation. There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere - and those evil-minded observers, dearest Mary, who make much of a little, are more taken in and deceived than the parties themselves."

Mansfield Park tells the story of Fanny Price, child of an inopportune marriage and niece to the illustrious Sir Thomas Bertram. In an effort at benevolence, Fanny's aunt, Lady Bertram, agrees to take her in and offer her the education and advantages associated with a privileged upbringing. Fanny struggles, however, to be accepted as part of the family. Aside from her cousin Edmund, Fanny is left without friends and subjected to constant disparagement. When brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, arrive in the area and form an acquaintance with the Bertrams, the household is thrown into disarray. Henry Crawford's flirtatious relationship with Fanny's betrothed cousin Maria presents a worrying dynamic, leaving Fanny with a moral inquietude that she cannot abate. Following Maria's marriage to her fiancé, Henry turns his attentions to Fanny - determined to surmount the challenge of winning her heart. While his affections and declarations appear genuine, Fanny cannot accept that his intentions are serious - rather, she takes them to form part of a pattern of moral degradation and easy emotion. As he refuses to give way, and Fanny's love for her cousin Edmund is threatened by his own impending engagement to Mary Crawford, her romantic future is thrown into open question. She is forced to confront and question her own principles, and determine whether to open herself up to the potential insincerity of Henry's advances.

There is undoubtedly a reason for Mansfield Park's failure to find itself rated amongst the best of Austen's works. While the plot is well thought out and gripping in typical Austen style, the characters feel underdeveloped and are relatively unappealing. Jane Austen is a master when it comes to painting fictional heroines - she is, after all, creator of the uncompromisingly intelligent Elizabeth Bennet. Yet Fanny Price lacks inspiring characteristics and is unable to provoke interest in the reader. She is demonstrably principled, but she lacks the complexity of human dimensions that would render her imaginably real. As with her love interest, Edmund, Fanny comes across as one-dimensional and the passages pertaining to her character make for generally dull reading. I think, however, that Edmund and Fanny were victims of Austen's plot and the objectives of the narrative. With a view to painting the effects of adultery and romantic immorality, Austen chose to use her protagonists as the moral standard by which all others should be judged. But, in doing this, both Edmund and Fanny are rendered superficially principled and unrealistically innocent. 

"There is no reason in the world why you should not be important where you are known. You have good sense, and a sweet temper, and I am sure you have a grateful heart, that could never receive kindness without hoping to return it. I do not know any better qualifications for a friend and companion."

Despite this, Mansfield Park does deliver some of Austen's standardly unrivalled human insight. The observations and reflections communicated throughout Austen's works are amongst the most perceptive in the field of classical fiction. While Mansfield Park may not meet the standards of Austen's other works, it retains the author's strength as an observer of human nature and faculties. With this ability underwriting the entirety of the novel, it remains an engaging read, despite the insubstantial characters.

"If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakably incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle in every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out."

Despite my less than enthusiastic consideration of the novel, it remains a recommended read. Much as with the output of Charles Dickens, even Austen's least expert works are fantastic surveys of humanity. Mansfield Park engages with the priorities of Victorian high society and the consequences of rejecting its associated standards. It is perhaps the knowledge of Austen's masterful characterisations, as displayed in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma, that render her characters in Mansfield Park such a disappointment. Yet the novel remains a truly impressive feat, and one with which any Austen fan should engage.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Weekly Reader

This post is, in actuality, being composed on Monday, in a bout of pre-travel organisation. As you read this, I will be in New York, taking a well earned break from the PhD and passing Thanksgiving with my family. A pretty good deal, I'm sure you'll agree. But never fear, my bibliophilic tendencies will remain unaltered by my inter-continental excursion. As proof, here is this week's edition of The Weekly Reader.


'Daily Rituals, By Mason Currey, Review' - The Telegraph

There is little more fascinating to a fiction fanatic than the writing process of favourite authors. You may recall that last week's rant regarding Italy's latest foray into reality television was based largely on its oversimplification of the complexities of writing. Mason Currey's newest literary biography, Daily Rituals, only highlights the accuracy of this fact. Currey's book deals with celebrated figures from many walks of life - authors, philosophers, and artists, among others. All insightful accounts, as portraits of genuine and groundbreaking creativity: 

"Voltaire was a divan-bound scribbler, as was Edith Sitwell. Boswell was so attached to his mattress that he considered rigging up an anti-oversleeping mechanism to tip him on the floor. The late risers in the collection include Flaubert (pipe and newspapers at 10am), Joyce (up at 11am), Beckett ('the early hours of the afternoon') and F Scott Fitzgerald ('who tried to start writing at 5pm')…Such layabout behaviour would no doubt have appalled punctiliously punctual Auden (up at 5.30am), the ascetic Kant (5am) and prodigious Anthony Trollope ('250 words every quarter of an hour…I could complete my literary work before I dressed for breakfast')."

This review is an excellent summary of literary behaviour, in itself. And it invites the conclusion that Currey's book will make an excellent read for any dedicated bibliophile.

'How To Choose The 100 Best Novels' - The Guardian

Guardian blogger Robert McCrum has embarked upon an unbelievably difficult task - the selection of the 100 best novels. I think most avid readers enjoy peering at these lists periodically to see how well they are doing in covering The Greats, in addition to determining any forgotten works to add to the To Read pile. McCrum has been set an unenviably tough project, asked to look back through his reading history in an effort to compile an authoritative literary guide. This article finds McCrum part-way through the task, as he discusses the internal debates associated with the project - the inevitable omissions and the controversial inclusions. He also reflects upon the autobiographical nature of the selection process. This piece makes for a fascinating read and has me awaiting McCrum's list with anticipation. 

'Young Adult Readers "Prefer Printed To Ebooks"' - The Guardian

Hallelujah! 62% of 16 to 24-year-olds prefer printed books over digital versions. My faith is restored. A world without the joys of bookshops, the smell of old cloth-bound classics and brand new tomes, or the complexity of bookmark selection, is a world in which it is not worth living. 

'13 Clever Signs That Will Make You Want To Buy A Book' - BuzzFeed

And without a world containing bookshops, it would not be possible to have signs such as these. One of my primary reasons for placing Australia on the Bucket List. Thank you Kaleido Books!


'Cambridge Wordfest Winter Festival' - 1 December 2013, Cambridge

The Cambridge Wordfest Winter Festival is on its way! Featuring a number of big names (including Lionel Shriver, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and Sarah Dunant), the programme is a winner. Definitely one effectively literary way of welcoming the winter season.

'Publish That Book - In Association With SilverWood Books' - 15 January 2014, Foyles

In recognition of the growing trend in self-publishing, this event promises to offer authoritative advice on the process, to any budding authors. Although free and not taking place until January, booking is advised. It's sure to be a popular one!


With the holidays fast approaching, I felt that it might be an appropriate time to turn to gift recommendations for your bibliophilic friends and family. This week, spotlighting the fabulous world of literary stationery!

'From The Desk Of Jane Austen: 100 Postcards' - The British Library 

Featuring 25 different quotes from Jane Austen's works, this postcard gift set would make a fantastic addition to the literary collection of any Austen fan! 

'Personal Library Kit' - The British Library

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have some fairly compulsive behaviour when it comes to loaning books. I am always keen to spread the joy of books that I love (hence the blog), but I cannot bear the idea of permanently parting with anything from my collection. As a consequence, I make for a fairly strained administrator of my personal library. 

This gift provides a solution for those in a similar situation. If you are looking for advice on scales for administering fines, drop me a line. 

'Charles Dickens Sketchbook' - National Quarterly

Because what could be more inspiring that Charles Dickens' face?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Literary Excursion: Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

Was anyone truly surprised upon hearing the news that I was going to be spending a day at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour? After meeting Anjali from the fabulous blog From L&P to English tea and discovering a shared passion for all things Harry Potter-related, we decided that nothing could be more appropriate for a first meeting than a Harry Potter excursion. So, after a Harry Potter film marathon, we headed to Leavesden, where the Studios are located. With uncharacteristic (for me) luck, we even managed to book our tickets for the holiday season - Christmas at Hogwarts!

And so a day of Harry Potter magic commenced. I apologise, in advance, for the deluge of photos.

After securing our tickets and grabbing a few photos outside, we headed to the entrance. There was quite a queue but, in the spirit of things to come, we were too excited to care. It also helped that the queue snaked around a few pieces of scenery - including Harry's cupboard under the stairs! Once herded into the next room, we were treated to a cinematic introduction to the Tour by none than Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and (my all-time favourite) Rupert Grint. Standardly scripted and worryingly wooden, it was at least an appropriate beginning to a wonderful exhibition.

Next stop, the Great Hall - the largest set used by the films. Unfortunately, my inadequate photographic skills mean that I have no photo of the room itself. Instead, you can enjoy some beautifully Christmassy details!

The Great Hall was a wonderful first stop for the Tour. Not only was it fantastically laid out, this was also the only part of the Tour to be presented by a Guide. Certainly helpful with so much to see. The highlight of the room was undoubtedly the display of fantastic costumes!

Many, many costumes. And apart from the scarily blank faces on the models, they were amazing to see up close. After which, we were unleashed upon the rest of the Studio. Sets, costumes, props galore!!

My favourite item from the entire series of films. Rupert Grint's Yule Ball costume!

Kenneth Branagh's Gilderoy Lockhart costume!

Apart from the truly glorious costumes, there was another spectacular highlight. Because, yes, the Studio Tour affords visitors the opportunity to walk the pavements of Diagon Alley. Would it be cliche to say that it was magical? Yes. But I say it anyway.

The best bookshop in the world? Quite possibly.

And not forgetting this spectacle, of course…

A scale model of Hogwarts. It's difficult to describe how impressive the sight was. Music, snow, mood lighting, and not a disappointed face in the crowd.

This was, quite simply, an unimaginably fantastic afternoon. For any Harry Potter fan, there can be no greater destination (other than Hogwarts itself, of course). While the contents of the Studios were a little overwhelming in their number, they were well laid out and certainly deliver value for money. So charge your Butterbeers to a job well done!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Monday Musing

Packing, packing, packing. The occupation currently consuming my life as I prepare for my trip to the US. I have decided to take the organised approach this time around, with an actual packing list. Typically, my method involves desperately throwing items into a suitcase about an hour before setting off. Surprisingly effective. But having tired of the last minute stress, I felt that a change was in order. I am officially almost packed, with a whole day to spare. That's what I call diligence.

Here's wishing you all an excellent week - wherever your travels take you.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Just For Fun Friday: A Homage To Harry

This week started with some intense Harry Potter-related excitement. I know that you are all still waiting with bated breath to see my Warner Brothers Studio Tour Literary Excursion post, and I can assure you that the wait will soon be over (on Tuesday, to be precise). In the meantime, however, I wanted to assist you all in indulging your (presumed) Harry Potter fanaticism. So this week's Just For Fun Friday presents 10 weird and wonderful HP-related facts.

1. Before filming Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, director Alfonso Cuaron asked the three main stars to write an essay about their characters. Proving the expertise of the casting, Emma Watson composed a 16-page piece, Daniel Radcliffe wrote just one page, and Rupert Grint didn't hand one in.

2. Leading up to the release date for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the UK publisher asked shops not to sell the book until schools had closed for the day, in an effort to prevent pupils playing truant.

3. During filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, one of the models of the flying Ford Anglia was stolen off of the set. An anonymous phone call led police to the car, seven months later.

4. When filming Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the decision was made to sew the pockets of Tom Felton's robes shut, to stop him sneaking snacks onto the set.

5. J.K. Rowling's publisher forced her to dial back Ron Weasley's swearing, feeling that it was inappropriate for young readers.

6. Hagrid actor, Robbie Coltrane, managed to get a portable fan and a bat stuck in his beard.

7. During the filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the young cast suffered an outbreak of head lice.

8. The name 'Dumbledore' is actually an early English word for 'bumblebee'.

9. The Death Eaters were originally called The Knights of Walpurgis.

10. The actors playing Fred and George Weasley aren't really red heads. SHOCK, HORROR.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Weekly Reader

Well, lovely followers, this is the last edition of The Weekly Reader that shall be coming to you from the UK. In one week, I will again be gracing the shores of the USA for a holiday visit. A welcome (working) vacation before I return for another intense semester of PhD excitement. Never fear, posts from The Book Habit shall continue relatively uninterrupted.


'Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook, 50 Years On' - The Guardian

This week brought the sad news that author and champion of female liberation, Doris Lessing, has passed away at the age of 94. The Guardian's article is a fantastic celebration of Lessing's influence on literature. Four generations of female authors discuss the personal impact of Lessing's most famous work, The Golden Notebook. A worthy homage to one of the world's greatest female authors. Over the course of her career, Lessing produced over 50 novels, dealing with a vast array of political and social issues. In 2007, she also became the oldest author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. While devotees will undoubtedly feel the loss, there is little doubt that Lessing's works will continue to be celebrated as true classics of the 20th century.

'Tired Metaphors? Ciao, Contestant!' - The New York Times

This story has intrigued me more than any other I've read over the past few weeks. Italian State television has recently launched a new reality TV show for writers. The show, entitled Masterpiece, involves a series of weekly literary challenges for budding authors, all competing for publication of their novel. 

There is something more than a little disconcerting about the idea of an X-Factor for authors. While there remains a distinct lack of television programmes geared towards the literati, it is questionable whether any attempt to publicise the merits of literature is necessarily beneficial. Much as reality programmes have done to music, Masterpiece runs a real risk of undercutting the importance of truly excellent literature. It is tragic that fewer children are being brought up as bookworms, and I fully believe that efforts must be made to encourage literary curiosity in the young. I do think, however, that an attempt to popularise the art of literary creation through reality TV is not the way forward. Such action debases the intensely personal nature of the writing process and oversimplifies its complexity. A literary talent show will also, by its nature, skew towards 'popular' fiction, neglecting the rich variety of genres and prosaic styles that make literature so important to human growth and insight. 

'9 Beautiful Bookshelves Of Questionable Functionality' - Book Riot

Why you would ever want a normal and functional bookshelf after reading this article, I have no idea. I spent easily 10 minutes trying to figure out the 'Bias of Thoughts' bookshelf and I still have a complete lack of understanding as to how it works. Which means that it must be good.


I realise that I've somewhat neglected this feature over the past few weeks. But with the holiday season upon us, I felt that it was an appropriate time to highlight some impending book-themed events.

'Exhibition: Dedicated To…The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories And Lost Loves In Second-Hand Books' - 9 December To 30 December, Foyles Bookshop

You are all well aware of my penchant for second-hand books. Few occupations are as satisfying as trawling charity shops in search of hidden gems. Other than serving as an optimal means for money saving, shopping for second-hand books provides the potential added bonus of discovering the weird and wonderful messages that adorn inside covers. This exhibition at Foyles is an insightful celebration of inscriptions, collected by W.B. Gooderham.

'Picture This: Children's Illustrated Classics' - Until 26 January 2014, The British Library

I actually had the good fortune to stumble upon this exhibition while on a jaunt around London with my friend from the US, Katie. This is the most recent of the British Library's free exhibitions and features a brilliant collection of illustrated children's books - from Roald Dahl and J.R.R. Tolkein, to the joys of The Wind in the Willows. Well worth a trip!


Last night was a tough one. In the throes of my usual pre-travel worries, I am suffering from a general inability to sleep or relax. This post comes to you a day late because I fell asleep, on my laptop, while halfway through writing. I have two default reactions to stress of this kind: (1) Watching a BBC adaptation; and (2) Reading some Roald Dahl. Having watched both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre over the course of the past couple of weeks (they are practically on a loop in my flat), I decided to dip into my Dahl collection and unwind courtesy of Matilda. So, as a thanks to Roald for turning my evening around, I give this week's Book Fetish feature over to him.

'Quentin Blake Matilda Cushion Cover' - Leahandherlovelies

What is there not to love about this? When I finally have my home library, all chairs will be adorned with Roald Dahl-themed cushions. It is the only way.

'The Fantabulous World Of Roald Dahl Lampshade' - Roald Dahl Museum Shop

To go with the above, obviously.

'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Spineless Classic' - Roald Dahl Museum Shop

A poster featuring the complete story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have now pretty much decorated an entire room for you. And you are very welcome.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Assessing Adaptations - Part II

Last week I responded to a reader request and listed out my Top 5 literary adaptations. While I am sure that no one was shocked by the revelations that the post entailed, I hope that it was at least a little informative. There was, however, some purposeful negligence on my part. One of my major obsessions is rooting out brilliant Shakespeare productions. Since these are not strictly 'adaptations' in the sense intended by my wonderful reader's request, I decided to leave my favourites Shakespearean productions out of the list. The pain inspired by this neglect was tremendous. And in order to ensure that I could continue to sleep at night, I decided that I would need to devote a post exclusively to a Bardean bonanza. Here, then, are my 5 favourite Shakespearean screen productions. 

5. Richard III (1995)

Running Time - 104 minutes
Starring - Ian McKellen, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, Dominic West, Robert Downey Jr.

A star-studded lineup that should serve as some indication of this production's calibre. The film takes one of Shakespeare's great histories and transplants it to a fictionalised, fascistic 1930s Britain. I am a big fan of Shakespearean adaptations that abstract from the original setting - if done well, they have the capacity to deliver an interpretation that casts the plays in a new light. They give an unexplored power to the works and serve as fundamental proof of the continued relevance held by Shakespeare's plays. This 1995 production of Richard III is irrefutable proof of the capacity of Shakespearean screen adaptations to deliver a shiver down the spine.

4. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Running Time - 120 minutes
Starring - Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes

I am aware that in picking this particular adaptation, I am walking the path of controversy. To many Shakespearean purists, Baz Luhrmann's screen production represents a step too far in relocating the plays to alternative settings. The film is set in the modern-day location of Verona Beach, a world of business-motivated mob violence. While the adaptation is undoubtedly unorthodox and, I would argue, does not cast the play in a new light, it effectively highlights the notions of thwarted love and cyclical violence that stand at the heart of the work. With Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the leading roles, the play is given life. Also featuring the world's most fantastic Mercutio.

3. Richard II (BBC The Hollow Crown series, 2012)

Running Time - 142 minutes
Starring - Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Clemence Poesy, David Suchet, Patrick Stewart

As part of the UK's 2012 Cultural Olympiad, intended to coincide with the hosting of the Olympics, the BBC adapted 4 of Shakespeare's history plays. Richard II was the first to air, headed by the fantastic Ben Whishaw. Unlike many contemporary screen productions, the BBC's The Hollow Crown series places the plays within their intended settings. True to form, Richard II is fantastically well cast and expertly executed, with the added bonus of featuring a whole heap of beautiful British scenery. Undoubtedly a long one, but well worth the time commitment.

2. Henry IV, Parts I and II (BBC Hollow Crown series, 2012)

Running Time - 230 minutes
Starring - Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Alun Armstrong

In actuality, Henry IV Parts I and II of The Hollow Crown series were broadcast as separate entities. For continuity, however, I thought that I could get away with featuring them both in the number 2 spot. The merits of these productions parallel those listed above for Richard II - a fabulous setting and brilliant casting. It is Tom Hiddleston's portrayal as Prince Hal (and, subsequently, King Henry V) that really distinguishes this adaptation as one of the best. Truly, truly spectacular.

1. Hamlet (1996)

Running Time - 242 minutes
Starring - Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Rufus Sewell, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Jack Lemmon

In my eyes, Kenneth Branagh can do no wrong. But it is this production of Hamlet in which he most fully excels. Both directing and taking the title role, Branagh plays the second best Hamlet that I have seen to date (beaten only by Michael Sheen in the Young Vic's 2011/2012 staging). Using the beautiful Blenheim Palace as the setting for Elsinore Castle, Branagh's adaptation is set in the late 19th century and features a stellar cast. This screen production is spot-on in every respect, but it truly is Branagh's portrayal of the conflicted Prince that earns this adaptation the top spot.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Monday Musing

Well, what an amazing couple of days it has been. One of the greatest things about starting The Book Habit has been becoming part of a fantastic community of bloggers. Having formed a firm friendship with Anjali from From L&P to English tea over the past few months, we finally realised our ambition of meeting and paying a visit to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Needless to say, we were in our element. A Literary Excursion post to come! How better to follow such an epic trip than with a Monday Musing courtesy of J.K. Rowling?

Friday, 15 November 2013

Just For Fun Friday: Dressing To Impress

I truly admire those bibliophiles brave enough to take their devotion to impressively public levels. A literary love affair is not something to be hidden away, but celebrated in full view of the watching world. That said, the courage of some fictional fanatics deserves applause. And none more so than those who explore the excitement of literary costuming. This week's Just For Fun Friday celebrates five of the best.

Starting with the creepiest...

Onto those after my own heart...

And finally, possibly the greatest literary costume of all time...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Weekly Reader

Well, friends, it's official. The heating has gone on, which means there is no more denying that winter is almost upon us. In two weeks, I will be trading in the UK for the even colder climates of New York and Missouri. Jumpers, mittens, and hats at the ready. In the meantime, you will most likely find me sofabound with duvet, hot water bottle, and a massive mugful of tea. All an absolute necessity, particularly with tonight's farewell to David Suchet's Poirot (and attached moustache). Tissues and chocolate acquired, ready to onslaught my emotional state with some further instability. But, thankfully, I am preparing today's post while I still have the capacity for coherent thought.


'Christmas Picks Lined Up By Independent Bookshops' - The Guardian

A poll organised by The Booksellers Association is promoting Christmas present diversity, as independent booksellers voting for the top literary hidden gems. With 14% of annual book sales taking place in December, competition between publishers is fierce, leaving readers and gift-givers subject to a yearly inundation of new titles. The poll's Top 10 list points to a number of brilliant works that might be otherwise neglected, with purchasers opting instead for well-known bestsellers. My hope is that this poll will not only provoke shoppers to stray away from the bestseller lists, but will also motivate some to spend their money in the nation's independent bookshops.

'10 Really Terrific Reading Nooks' - Book Riot

You all know that I love a good reading nook. Nothing beats snuggling up in a cosy corner with book in hand. So this collation of some of the world's most fabulous nooks is a brilliant source of inspiration. Now if only I can get myself enough money and space to put the inspiration to good use!

'Haruki Murakami Gets Back To The Beatles In New Short Story' - The Guardian

Any news relating to Haruki Murakami is bound to earn itself a place on The Weekly Reader. But this particular article is all the more important because it combines two of my greatest loves - Murakami, and The Beatles. Having already borrowed inspiration from The Beatles with the title of his novel Norwegian Wood, Murakami has returned to the infamous Rubber Soul album for the title of his new short story - Drive My Car. The story follows in quick succession from Murakami's recent piece, Samsa in Love, published in the New Yorker. Drive My Car was published in Japan on 9 November, but unfortunately those of us in the English-speaking world will have to await translation.


An appropriate follow-on from the above, this week's Book Fetish feature turns to Haruki Murakami. One of the greatest contemporary novelists, and deserving of this insubstantial homage.

'Haruki Murakami TShirt' - Miaoutia

Utterly vital for the launch of my Haruki Murakami fan club. Now if only I can find another member…

'Haruki Murakami Pin' - The Literary Gift Company

"I'm not so weird to me." A quote true to life. And now it is possible to let the world know, thanks to The Literary Gift Company.

'1Q84 and Wind Up Bird Chronicles A3 Posters' - MadeForHomeee

Beautiful posters inspired by two of Murakami's greatest works. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Assessing Adaptations

I am a bit of a snob when it comes to film and television adaptations of great literary works. It is, I think, a rule that the book is always better. But it is also well known that a good literary adaptation can lead me into a state of obsession. Case in point, my ongoing love affair with the BBC versions of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. I am quite sure that none of you reading this post will be in the least surprised at this revelation. My constant allusions to both are something of a clue as to the extent of my devotion. It is on the back of one of my many romantic gushings that I recently received an email from a reader, asking whether I would write up a post with adaptation recommendations. I am nothing if not obliging. Plus, the opportunity to indulge in yet more Jane Austen/Charlotte Bronte fan ravings is always welcome. So, without further ado, here is my list of adaptations to adore.

Laura's Top 5 Literary Adaptations

5. Bleak House (2005)

465 minutes

Bleak House was, somewhat inadvisably, my first foray into the world of Dickensian literature. Hardly the easiest start. However, I was enthralled. Dickens offers unrivalled characterisation and some of the most descriptive prose in the history of English literature. Given the complexity (and length) of Dickens' works, I am always somewhat sceptical of any adaptations. But the 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House is expert in every respect. Featuring the talents of Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan, and Gillian Anderson (as in The X-Files, yes), the casting is precisely as envisioned. The novel is a brilliant exploration of the depravities of the Victorian legal system and this adaptation truly brings it to life.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

New Line Cinema
192 minutes

An honest reflection of my feelings would probably feature the entire trilogy of films in number 4 place. But in an effort to avoid appearing greedy, I felt it best to hone in on my absolute favourite of the three. The Return of the King is a brilliant book and an amazing film. Apart from the confusion caused by the numerous apparent endings to the film (and the hilarious attempts of cinema-goers to leave the theatre on five separate occasions), I believe this to be as faithful an adaptation as possible in the space of three hours. Mostly, however, my love of the trilogy can be reduced to two things: (1) My unquestioning adoration of Samwise (the Brave) Gamgee; and, (2) The enjoyment I get from hating on Frodo at every available opportunity.

3. The Princess Bride (1987)

20th Century Fox, MGM
94 minutes

'My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.' Because The Princess Bride represents the most quotable literary adaptation of all time. Thank you Dread Pirate Roberts for being amazing. And thank you Peter Cook for perhaps the greatest clerical performance of all time (and making all subsequent attempts at marriage officiation pale in comparison).

2. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

330 minutes

SHOCKER. Actually, I spent a good deal of time battling it out over first and second place on this list. The BBC's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever produced. Not only is it one of the most beautifully constructed attempts to bring a classic novel to life, it is also responsible for launching the career of the wonderfully talented Colin Firth. This is a fact for which we must all be grateful, particularly given the one scene that we all know is the main contributing factor in his subsequent success. Truly though, this version of Pride and Prejudice is flawless - the casting, the setting, the almost-verbatim replication of the novel in script form. All perfect. For anyone who claims that the 2005 Kiera Knightley adaptation of the book has anything to offer, I would urge you to reconsider. Once you go BBC, you never go back.

1. Jane Eyre (2006)

232 minutes

Pride and Prejudice is my go-to cure all. Illness, sadness, stress - an evening of this magnificent serial has the mystical power of eradicating all bad feelings. Given this fact, it may come as some surprise that it has been beaten to the Top Spot by the BBC's 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre. In comparison, Jane Eyre is not an easy watch. It is not one to curl up with for solace or comfort. Because it will, as with the novel, take you on a rollercoaster of emotion that offers no quick cure for the sick of heart. That said, stick with the serial to the end and you will feel incomparably uplifted. It is for the journey to which Jane Eyre submits its viewers (and readers) that this adaptation takes the number 1 place on my list. The casting is, as with most BBC adaptations, perfect - no small feat given the legendary status of the book's main characters. Ruth Wilson makes the most faithfully depicted Jane imaginable, and Toby Stephens' Mr. Rochester will have every girl emitting involuntary sighs. Utterly and incomparably perfect.