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Right, okay, been far too long since I did one of these. Kind of trailed off in 2013 there, but here goes:

1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

I enjoyed this and I think it's a masterpiece, and I liked Frankenstein's monster. It's a pity that he was the only interesting character in the entire piece! And this is the part where I start talking about another piece of Victorian literature - somewhere buried in Part III of Great Expectations Dickens makes a throwaway reference to Pip being pursued by Magwitch as if he were the monster, and Pip Frankenstein, and my teacher in high school was at great pains to point out the sheer wonkiness of that subverted reference, because after all Pip is Magwitch's creation, and wants nothing so much as to get away from Magwitch. It's interesting thinking about the creator/created dichotomy in both these Victorian novels, too - after all the period was one of massive social upheaval and the connections between created specifically to vicariously ascend the socio-economic ladder (Great Expectations) and scientific & technological advances are fairly delicious.

Although the best friend and lover in Frankenstein weren't half as interesting as Herbert Pocket and Biddy, of course. (Having cast my eye over the beginning of this review - what a dutiful opener! I suppose I didn't enjoy that much after all, but someone who has read it and has deeper thoughts about this book should come talk to me.)

2. The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall.

Ugh I know that Well is understood as an essentially conservative if sympathetic (even pathetic) encapsulation of early 20th century lesbianism, and that it's not considered great literature because of its refusal to examine the implications of queerness in same-sex female relationships (pretty much the dynamics of the main relationship maps on to those of a conventional, even fairly sexist heterosexual relationship) and its knee-jerk judgmental treatment of the queer scene in Paris, BUT I enjoyed it a lot despite that? I think it was either Mik or Rosalie who said a while ago that they had absolutely no interest in examinations of masculinity unless it was a tormented, self-loathing kind of masculinity, and it's exactly this you get in The Well of Loneliness, IN A WOMAN. It's great. I even love the sanctimonious as hell ending.

3. A Kiss Before Death, by Ira Levin.

A fairly competent debut - Levin shows off some chops with the expert perspective-switching and the unexpected reveal which fuels the momentum of the plot about half to two-thirds of the way in. It's not as interesting as Rosemary's Baby, but it shows some of the promise which absolutely comes to fruition in Rosemary's Baby, which gets better and better the more I think about it. Yay thrillers, I guess?*

*note: thrillers are not my favourite genre

4. Borstal Girl, by Eileen Mackenney.

Autobiography of female career criminal who grew up and lived in Southeast London. I liked this for the social history it provided (especially given that so much of this is set where I live now) and the swearing. My god, there is a lot of swearing. It's also, if I want to get all wanky and positivist about it, an interesting psychological study into the factors that fuel repeated/career delinquency and a great firsthand account of police abuses (the book never gets graphic about police violence and there are no more than two mentions, but several instances of police injustice are recounted in great detail). Not great literature, and not hugely compelling, but Eileen Mackenny is who we'd call "a salty old broad". Hugely enjoyable for that. So, yeah!!!

Now I'm reading: Yu Hua's To Live in the original Mandarin. Not as grueling an endeavour as I hoped, due to judicious attendance of Mandarin lessons + having read the English translation + having seen the movie about three times. Also, bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. But to be honest, I'm not reading very much at the moment and it sucks, you guys. I haven't yet sussed out a public library close to where I live and being broke means that I really can't afford to buy books, even secondhand. THAT BEING SAID. At some point I really want to read these:
- Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selassie
- The Orchard of Lost Souls, by Nadifa Mohamed (!!!!!!!)
- Staying Power, by Peter Fryer

Any other recs welcome! I started rereading Jane Eyre before I left Singapore, but didn't get to finish it. Still not impressed by (the lack of engagement) with how so much of its racism feels inherent to Jane's creation of her self through narrative, but also I got reminded of how much I enjoy 19th century feminist literature. Maybe I should start reading George Eliot?
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July 2014

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