Thursday, June 27

My Enduring Love for Ian McEwan

This week, I finished reading Ian McEwan's 1997 novel, Enduring Love.  It tells the story of Joe Rose, whose life is turned upside down after a freak ballooning accident.  One of the witnesses to the tragedy is Jed Parry.  Unbeknownst to Rose, Parry believes a powerful connection to have been forged between them during the aftermath of the accident, birthing a dangerous obsession that threatens to destroy Rose's world.  


My excitement to read it was heightened by the enthusiastic reviews printed on the back cover:

'A page-turner, with a plot so engrossing that it seems reckless to pick the book up in the evening if you plan to get any sleep that night'

'He is the maestro at creating suspense: the particular, sickening, see-sawing kind that demands a kind of physical courage from the reader to continue reading'


'I cannot remember the last time I read a novel so beautifully written or utterly compelling from the very first page'


And I agreed wholeheartedly with all of these statements.  


As you know, it was his famous masterpiece, Atonement, that first led me to fall in love with McEwan's work.  Enduring Love has two major things in common with Atonement.  

One:  Quite simply, beautiful writing.  The critic from the NEW STATESMAN was right on the money when he stated that McEwan was the "maestro" of suspense.  The book is a thriller, that's for sure.  I stayed up late every night for a week, rapt in the words that he wove around me.  

The characters are so human, and I found myself emphasising with Joe to such a degree that I sometimes felt sick with exasperation when Clarissa and the police didn't appreciate the danger he predicted.  

Two:  The story.  Just like in Atonement, the story of Enduring Love is ingeniously original and riveting.  It is such an exceptional treat to be able to enjoy beautiful writing and an amazing story.  It is so unexpected, so real, so thought-provoking and mind-boggling, putting together characters and scenarios in imaginative ways for results that are shocking and memorable.  

Reading McEwan, I have begun to feel like a collector of experiences.  His books give readers a chance to live astounding stories.  


The film adaptation, staring Daniel Craig and Rhys Ifans, is also excellent.  Even if you don't feel like reading the book, a trip to the video library will ensure you appreciate the story-telling genius of McEwan.  I was pleasantly surprised by the way it was handled, and it's beautifully shot as well.  I popped the trailer down below for your viewing pleasure.  

Wednesday, June 19

The Aftermath of 'Atonement'

Here is my promised review of Ian McEwan's masterpiece, Atonement.  And I hardly know where to start.  


Cecilia Tallis as played
by Keira Knightly
The thing that drew me so irresistibly to Atonement was the writing.  From page one, my appetite for his words could not be sated.  

In her interview with McEwan, ABC's Jennifer Byrne described his style as almost "crystalline", and I completely understand what she meant by that.  The people, places, and images that McEwan constructs are amazingly specific and clear.  I feel that this made each person, place, and image so much more wondrous, as I was presented with the intimate intricacies and difficulties of them.  

While some authors prefer to give the reader plenty of space to colour in the story with their own imagination, the glory of Atonement is being able to step into a world that is already perfectly articulated.  

Perhaps it's better described as falling forwards into McEwan's world, as though down the rabbit hole.  Indeed, I felt as though each page was like tunnelling deeper in a version of Wonderland.  


Instead of feeling cheated of the chance to let my imagination run wild, I felt honoured by the opportunity to live a reincarnation in an alternate reality.  I emerged from the end having lived another lifetime, and it was exhausting, but endlessly enriching.  

It definitely boils down to being able to make mistakes and decisions through the characters instead of in my own life, watch the consequences and outcomes, and not have to make those errors myself.  This is undoubtedly one of the greatest privileges of reading.  


Walking away from this book was incredibly hard for me.  The intimacy of the narrative and the specificity of the descriptions made it feel as though I was uprooting myself from a lifetime of experience.  

It was painful.  I needed to have a good sob.  But now, after the tears are dry, I'm left with the tendency to reminisce sadly but sweetly on the memories it has allowed me to add to my own.  


Upon finishing Atonement, I knew immediately that I would have to get my own copy, because this is a book that must read again and again.  (I think I may just add to to out 100 Books to Read Before You Die.)

The experience of it was incredible, and thank goodness it's possible to relive the memories. 

If you would like to read more about Atonement, follow the link to the page.  

If you would like to watch the Ian McEwan's interview on Jennifer Byrne Presents, follow the link to my blog post, A Sweet Tooth for Ian McEwan.  It goes for 30 minutes, and gives a very eye-opening insight to his writing style and backstory.  I think I might need to re-watch it myself!

Monday, June 17

The Mastery of McEwan

I have just finished reading Ian McEwan's Atonement.  I am so blown away and shell-shocked by the experience that I don't feel quite ready to talk about it yet.  I just need a little more time to think and let the experience sink in.  

In the meantime, I wanted to share some samples of his writing that I hungrily hoarded up as I was reading.  He is a truly beautiful writer.  His words are gorgeous and hand-picked with such delicacy for crystal clarity of meaning.  Please feast on these sumptuous extracts.  I have bolded the lines that made me swoon.  

How guilt refined the methods of self-torture, threading the beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime.  

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001), p 173. 

During her stay in Primrose Hill she borrowed her uncle's typewriter, took over the dining room and typed out her final draft with her forefingers.  She was at it all week for more than eight hours a day, until her back and neck ached, and ragged curls of unfurling ampersands swam across her vision.  But she could hardly remember a greater pleasure than at the end, when she squared off the completed pile of pages - one hundred and three! - and felt at the tips of her raw fingers the weight of her creation.  All her own.  

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001), p 281.   

Cecilia moved round behind Betty to see what everyone else could see - a huge blackened tray recently pulled from the ocean bearing a quantity of roast potatoes that still sizzled mildly.  There were perhaps a hundred in all, in ragged rows of pale gold down which betty's metal spatula dug and scraped and turned.  The undersides held a stickier yellow glow, and here and there a gleaming edge was picked out in nacreous brown, and the occasional filigree lacework that blossomed around a ruptured skin.  they were, or would be, perfect.  

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001), p 104.

Expect a full-fledged review sometime this week.  I really just need a few days to recover from it!

Friday, June 14

Going Gaga for Tintin

Although I adored Spielberg's recent adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, I had never considered reading the original stories.  That is until I dropped into the library for some holiday reading.  I made a bee-line for the children's section with Enid Blyton and Lemony Snicket in mind, but I ended up grabbing two volumes of Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin in my eagerness.  

I never imagined what I was getting myself into.  

The Adventures of Tintin are comics, written in and around the 50s.  They are adventure stories, offering plot twist after plot twist, packed with suspense and action so that from start to finish, I had barely a second to catch my breath.  

I don't believe that I've ever been so entertained before, even by a movie.  Because while even hardcore action movies have slow scenes and plenty of talking, Tintin is a wild, racing wonderland of fun.  

The action is propped up by slap-stick comedy and endearing character development which leaves you with a little bit of a crush on the dashing young protagonist.  Or maybe that's just me.  He has such a great heart and a lovely old-fashioned manner of speech, that it's impossible not to adore him.  

I am in awe of Hergé's talent for plot-writing.  It feels like he pulls out all the stops in each comic, leaving me wondering, how can he possibly top that in the next?  But of course he does!  

Helicopter chases, boobie-traps, explosions, avalanches, car pursuits, sword duels and gun fights, ship-wrecks, kidnappings, horseback chases, Indians, cowboys, gangsters, you name it.  It doesn't get more exciting than this!  

I find myself giggling aloud and gasping and cheering even when I'm in public.  The Adventures of Tintin are irresistibly wonderful!  

To read more about the incredible Hergé.  

To read more about The Adventures of Tintin on the official website.  

Please also watch the trailer for the Spielberg and Peter Jackson film adaptation.  It is a fantastic adaptation that combines an all-star cast and crew to faithfully portray the characters and action of the comics on screen:

Monday, June 10

My Day at the Bookfest

Every year, Lifeline holds a Bookfest at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition centre.

I haven't been since I was little, so today, despite the rain, I hustled together some Coles shopping bags to protect my purchases from the wet, and got on a train to the city.  

I may have gotten slightly carried away...  Here is what I bought:

  • Treasure Island
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Best of James Herriot
  • Collier's Junior Classics: Legends of long Ago
  • King of the Wind
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • The Children's Treasury of Fairy Tales and Nonsense Verse
  • The Complete Rudyard Kipling
  • Britannica Great Books: Swift and Sterne
  • Goodnight Mister Tom
  • Flat Stanley
  • Tom Swift and His Aquatomic Tracker
  • Ben Hur
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Around the World in Eighty Days
  • The Water Babies
  • Tale of Two Cities
  • Tom Sawyer
  • The Old Man and the Sea
  • I Capture the Castle
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood Second Omnibus
  • Agatha Christie's Crime Collection
The purchases that I'm most excited about are The Water Babies and The Best of James Herriot.  For only 50 cents I managed to snag a beautiful hard back edition of The Water Babies.  I've had my eyes out for it everywhere for years!  And The Best of James Herriot, well it's gorgeous, really.  Hardcover, illustrated, perfect condition.  I'm so very very chuffed!

Sunday, June 9

The Hieroglyph of my Pleasure

This riveting little excerpt from Chapter One of Ian McEwan's Atonement really stole my attention.  It is talking about thirteen-year-old Briony, and her hobby, turned obsession, for writing.  

Her efforts received encouragement.  In fact, they were welcome as the Tallises began to understand that the baby of the family possessed a strange mind and a facility with words. The long afternoons she spent browsing though dictionary and thesaurus made for constructions that were inept, but hauntingly so:  the coins a villain concealed in his pocket were 'esoteric', a hoodlum caught stealing a car wept in 'shameless auto-exculpation', the heroine on her thoroughbred stallion made a 'cursory' journey through the night, the king's furrowed brow was the 'hieroglyph' of his displeasure.  

Ian McEwan.  2001.  Atonement.  p6.

There is definitely something hauntingly quirky and appropriate about this, like an invitation to search for deeper meaning in ordinary occurrences.  It definitely gave me a little thrill to read.  

So far, I am adoring this book.  I'm up to page 156, and still gripped by the intrigue that tangled me up in the first sentences.  I'm hoping that you might start to feel motivated to pick it up too!

Saoirse Ronan as Briony Tallis

Wednesday, June 5

A Sweet Tooth for Ian McEwan

I just started reading Ian McEwan's Atonement.  Ever since I read the first chapter for a study in narrative voice in my Creative Writing course, I have been hooked and desperate to read more.  

I feel like so many of the things I have experienced and felt in my short life on earth have been validated and articulated beautifully in the first two chapters alone!  

Here are some of the things that critics have written about it:

'It is rare for a critic to feel justified in using the word "masterpiece", but Ian McEwan's book really deserves to be called one'

'Subtle as well as powerful, adeptly encompassing comedy as well as atrocity, Atonement is a richly intricate book ... A superb achievement'

'A slow, suffocating build-up of tension from a master of suspense; his most powerful novel to date'

Ian McEwan was recently on Jennifer Byrne Presents on the ABC.  The interview, focussing on his latest release, Sweet Tooth, gave me insight to the author's life and backstory, his writing style, and his attitudes on writing.  

I've included the video here, as I'm aware that readers outside of Australia might have issues watching the original video on the ABC website.  

It is well worth a watch, even if you have no intention of reading Atonement or anything by McEwan for that matter, simply because of the perspective and insight it offers into a writer's life.  For writers and readers alike, this is a great watch:


Saturday, June 1

Potty-Mouthed Poet

I'm so very close to finishing my first semester of university!  Unfortunately, that also means that everything is due.  

I was putting together my writing portfolio for submission on Monday, and I remembered I had to take photos for my 'Experimental Piece'.  

We were challenged to explore the limits to which we could push ourselves, breaking our habits, and playing with the physical form of our written work.  

I asked myself, how could the physical form of my written piece help me to tell the story?

So here's what I decided to do.  I wrote a short poem, line by line, on sheets of toilet paper, so it can be read gradually off the roll.  

My experimental writing piece, titled "Where My Words Go" (Copyright 2013)

It was great fun coming up with idea, and I had so much inspiration for it, it was hard to settle on the one!  As I continue on in this course, I'm going to keep my mind open to weird and wonderful ideas.  There are no limits to what we writers can do.  

Some of my other ideas included:

  • Carving into tree trunks
  • Messages in bottles
  • Writing on origami cranes 
  • Leaving poems on post-it notes in public places for strangers to find

Feel free to steal these ideas and go nuts, or come up with your own.  This is a great and eye-opening writing exercise.  To get started, just ask yourself:

How does the physical form of your written piece help you to tell your story?