The Testaments

Margaret Atwood

I have been looking forward to reading the widely anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale ever since I first heard about it so my expectations were high, and I was not disappointed.

The story takes place 15 years after the previous novel and gives us a lot more insight into the inner workings of Gilead. The book follows the lives of Aunt Lydia, the only character brought forward from the first book, Agnes, a girl who is born into and grows up in Gilead as a fully formed society and knows nothing of what society was like before, and Daisy, a teenage girl living in Canada.

The book being written from three different perspectives is an intelligent way for Atwood to provide us with a greater understanding of Gilead and nuances of it. Where the first book focuses entirely on the life of a handmaid, only giving us minimal understanding of the lives of other women who aren’t handmaids, this book flips that on its head and spends very little time concerned with the handmaids.

Instead we spend most of our time in Gilead focused on the lives of the aunts, finding out how Aunt Lydia ended up where she is, how she lives in Gilead and what the purpose of the aunts is. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the book because Aunt Lydia is presented almost as a villain in the first novel and so to be able to understand who she was before Gilead, how she gained her position in society and what her motivations are was fascinating.

Similarly, to see what it is like to be born into Gilead, as Agnes is, was incredibly interesting because she has no knowledge of what society was like and therefore, doesn’t understand why women in the rest of world may believe things contrary to the doctrine of Gilead. The perspective Agnes has of the world also felt fairly juvenile to me which I did not expect because although she is a young child at the start of the book, by the end she is an adult and yet because she lacks so much understanding of the world outside Gilead she possesses a naivety that makes her seems almost child-like even as an adult.

The only issue I found with the changing perspectives throughout the novel was that it was at times slightly confusing to read. This is particularly prevalent at the start of the book because you are still getting to know the characters of Agnes and Daisy, so I found myself getting the two confused at points, forgetting who was who. This confusion was also increased by the chapters not alternating equally, with the book sometimes spending three or four chapters on Aunt Lydia before returning to the others.

However, once you have a clearer idea of each of the characters, this book really comes alive. Finding out about the true power dynamics within Gilead, once you go beyond the surface level perception that men have all the power, was intriguing and greatly added a level of suspense at crucial points in the story, which was enhanced by the switching perspectives which always left you desperate to find out what was going to happen to each woman.

My one difficulty of this novel was that I found that the plot progressed quite slowly. The pacing of this sequel is very similar to the original novel where the plot progression only picks up as you are coming to end of the book. Although I can recognise that this is an intelligent stylistic choice on the part of Atwood given the topic of the novel, I personally find it slightly slow going and with both books felt a slight lull in my motivation just before the plot all comes together.

Having said that, this in no way takes away from my enjoyment of this novel, which presents a world that feels scarily possible and yet so dystopian. This a genuine masterpiece of a novel.

February 2020 Round Up

Unfortunately February proved to a pretty slow month reading wise (even with the extra day this year) but I’ve always believed in quality over quantity so here’s my February round up.

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

  • Author: Angela Carter
  • Publisher: Virago, 1st January 2005
  • Synopsis: A collection of beautifully dark fairy tales that will rival those of the Grimm brothers.
  • My Rating: 4/5

The Testaments

  • Author: Margaret Atwood
  • Publisher: Penguin Random House, 10th September 2019
  • Synopsis: The sequel to the novel The Handmaid’s Tale takes place 15 years later and follows the lives of three women; Aunt Lydia; a character from the previous novel, Agnes; a young woman living in Gilead, and Daisy; a young woman living in Canada.
  • My Rating: 4/5

Emma

  • Film Director: Autumn de Wilde
  • Screenplay: Eleanor Catton
  • UK Release Date: 14/02/20
  • Original Novel: Emma by Jane Austen
  • Synopsis: In Georgian-era England, Emma Woodhouse meddles in the lives of her friends and family in the name of matchmaking.
  • My Rating: 3/5

Applying for Internships

So if you read my last post about publishing, you’ll know that I’ve been stuck doing nothing for a while, unable to start applications or make progress towards entering the industry. However, those days are finally over and I am now officially sending off my CV and submitting applications to internships. Therefore, I thought I would post my top tips for applying for publishing internships.

1: Tailor you Cover Letter

This may seem like an obvious one but you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of not only tailoring your cover letter to publishing, but also ensuring that it is specifically written for the company you’re applying to. Make sure you research the publishing house, what their goal is and what kind of books they publish.

2: Keep Track of your Applications

You will be applying to so many different roles at different places that this is absolutely crucial. Personally, I have a spreadsheet listing which publishing houses or literary agencies I’ve applied, what the role or scheme was I applied for, key dates and salary information and I cannot overstate how helpful this has been. It has meant that I haven’t missed important application deadlines, I know approximately when I’ll hear back about different roles and that I can check the details of each scheme or job.

3: Know what your Skills are

You should be able to list at least five skills that you have that would be helpful for the internship your want. You will absolutely have built skills from a variety of different things and being confident in these is so important. It’s fine if you don’t think you have best IT skills but you may have impressive commercial awareness or ability to problem solve.

4: Don’t Underestimate the Value of your Experiences

When considering the experiences you have make sure you don’t dismiss the ones that you don’t think are relevant to the industry. Just because the you did work experience in a completely different industry doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn transferable skills. I have taken level 1 British Sign Language classes throughout my final year of university and whilst this may not seem especially relevant to publishing, it does show that I like to take on new challenges and gave me insight into the issues faced by the Deaf community whilst expanding my ability to communicate with people.

5: Don’t give up

You will get rejections and it will feel disheartening but this should not stop you. Most internships within the publishing industry are very competitive, making it a very hard industry to get into. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible, you just have to keep applying and taking on board any feedback you get. Periodically review your CV, look for every opportunity you can to build your experience and don’t give up. Eventually you will be successful.

January 2020 Round Up

It’s been a busy month for literary content, clearly my year is off to a good start.

My Sister, the Serial Killer

  • Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Publisher: Doubleday, 2018
  • Synopsis: Korede is forced to confront her personal morals and examine where her loyalties lie when her sister, Ayoola, who has killed her last three boyfriends, begins to show an interest in her friend and colleague, Tade.
  • My Rating: 4/5

After the End

  • Author: Clare Mackintosh
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group, 2019
  • Synopsis: A couple with a toddler with cancer are divided over one of the hardest choices a parent has to make.
  • My Rating: 3/5

Only Ever Yours

  • Author: Louise O’Neill
  • Publisher: Quercus, 2014
  • Synopsis: At 16 years old Frieda is preparing to leave school having been selected to be a companion to an Inheritant, but can she remain controlled or will she crack under the pressure and be faced with the life of a concubine? How much will she sacrifice in aid of perfection?
  • My Rating: 5/5

Little Women

  • Director: Greta Gerwig
  • Screenplay: Greta Gerwig
  • UK Release Date: 26/12/19
  • Original Novel: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Synopsis: Follow the childhood, and subsequent adult lives, of the four March sisters.
  • My Rating: 5/5

Anne with an E (Season 3)

  • Platform: Netflix
  • UK Release Date: 3/1/20
  • Original Novel Series: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Synopsis: A coming-of-age story about an orphan with a big imagination, seeking love and acceptance in the world.
  • My Rating: 4/5

Only Ever Yours

Louise O’Neill

Louise O’Neill quickly became one of my favourite authors after reading her novels Asking for It and The Surface Breaks and so I was thrilled that her debut novel, Only Ever Yours, did not disappoint.

The book is told from the perspective of Frieda, an eve entering her final year at school and struggling to hold up under the pressure to be perfect in order to be chosen as a companion. The book follows Frieda’s desperate attempts to remain ranked in the top 10 eves whilst her friendship with Isabel, who is buckling under the pressure, slowly fractures.

O’Neill writes with an intelligent severity that creates a world in which you can find nothing good and yet cannot stop reading. She generates a hope for a happy ending that you ultimately know is never possible.

She beautifully creates female characters so far removed from the heroines we so often seen that are kind, pure and, above all, good. In all her books, O’Neill focuses on young women trapped by their flaws of selfishness or jealousy, generated by a society that tells them that their value is limited to their beauty.

However, what is truly remarkable about her novels, is that despite the lack of likeable qualities she gives her characters, O’Neill never fails to make you sympathise with them because of the trauma they experience.

I will admit that at the start this was my least favourite of O’Neill’s novels, however this could have easily been because it was the first YA novel I’ve read in a while and so it took me slightly longer to get used to writing style or it may have been because this was her first novel, either way after a few chapters I was thoroughly engrossed in the book.

Frieda’s desperation and intense loneliness is beautifully conveyed, but what is truly fascinating is how convincingly O’Neill creates a world in which it is true that no cares about her. In contrast to our world where the response people with a state of mind like Frieda’s is to tell the individual how loved they are and to help them see their own worth, as eve every fear of Frieda’s is constantly reinforced for her. In this world it is true that no one really cares what happens to her, except Isabel, and it is true that worth is solely found in her appearance.

I would describe this book as being somewhere between Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. As the reader you are thrust into an unknown dystopian world reminiscent of Atwood’s novel, but the YA style and teenage protagonists feel closer to Collins’ trilogy. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone looking for a YA novel with overtly dark edge to it.

Anne with an E

Anne with an E is a Netflix original show based on the story of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, a favourite childhood book series of mine, but with a darker twist.

The show is truly impressive in how it serves to retain the integrity of the original story whilst fleshing out the impact Anne’s childhood in an abusive orphanage had on her mental health and expanding the cast and subplots to be far more inclusive and diverse.

The consideration given the Anne’s mental health is a particular focus of the first season of the show which presents us with multiple flashbacks that Anne experiences of her life at the orphanage. Further into the show these lessen, most likely as a reflection of Anne settling into life at Green Gables and leaving behind her abusive past.

Whilst some may consider this a failing of the show, perhaps an unrealistic representation of dealing with traumatic experiences, I choose to consider the show in a more generous light. I believe that not only does the historical context allow for a little more forgiveness regarding the limited extent to which the show can explore mental health issues, but also accept that various narratives moved on and leaving behind the exploration of Anne’s traumatic past opened up the show to demonstrate other diverse narratives.

One of my favourite things about this show is that it is set in the 19th century in Canada but does not lazily insist on only portraying the storylines of straight white people. Instead, we are given both non-white and LGBTQ+ characters, both of which are rarely seen in historical dramas.

This led to one of my favourite story lines of the most recent season which followed a young Native American girl being taken to a reservation school where she was forced to assimilate to white Christian culture. I will acknowledge that I am unsure of the opinion of any Native American individuals so I cannot comment on the sensitivity or accuracy of the story line, and will therefore limit my commentary to simply expressing how much I enjoyed watching it.

Furthermore, the themes of women’s rights and racism that are threaded throughout the season stand up nicely against the backdrop of 19th century life in Canada and the prejudices expectations, or lack thereof, women and people of colour come up against. However, the success of the show’s inclusion of such themes and story lines is found its ability to in no way lose any of the charm found in the original books.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the original book series or just a good historical drama but looking for more diverse representation then I would definitely recommend giving this show a watch.

After the End

Clare Mackintosh

After the End follows two parents having to make a decision no parent should have to; whether to stop pursuing further treatment options and agree to only providing their 3-year-old son with palliative care going forward.

Pip and Max are parents to their son, Dylan, who is on life support because of a brain tumour and, despite various surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, it is unlikely he will ever recover. They are told they must decide whether they should just pursue palliative care and not resuscitate him should his heart fail again or continue to look for other treatments. However, Pip and Max don’t agree.

The first half of the book alternates between Pip, Max and Dylan’s doctor, Dr Leila Khalili’s perspective, through the process of making the decision and ultimately going to court in the process. However, then the book follows two different directions, presenting us with what would happen in either timeline; one where Dylan is provided with only palliative care and one where he is taken to Houston, Texas for an alternative form of treatment.

I found this to be an interesting method of structuring the novel, and an unexpected one, because you never find out which timeline actually takes place, in a sense there is no true reality, there is just the two possible realities. I think this was a clever approach to the book because it manages to circumvent a more predictable narrative arc where the novel concludes with the judges’ decision.

Although I am unsure if I preferred reading about both realities, because whilst there is a lot of overlap between the events that take place, which reinforces the idea that what will be, will be, I found it in some ways uncomfortable to have a clear comparison of the two potential futures. I believe the intention is to demonstrate that there was no right or wrong decision and that either way life will present its trials and tribulations, but I personally found that it highlighted ways in which each choice was the wrong thing to do. Perhaps this was the actual intention, as it makes you confront how you would make that decision and what you would ultimately want in life, but instead I simply found it slightly frustrating to read.

That being said, I would still recommend the book as it is a truly moving account of what it is to be a parent in such a heart-breaking position, caring for a terminally ill child and subsequently coping with the loss of a child.

Entering Publishing: Step 1

The Art of Doing Nothing

I thought I’d make this post to kick off documenting my journey into publishing, even though it hasn’t exactly started yet. I am currently half way through my final year at university, hoping to graduate in July 2020 (fingers crossed) and very on edge about having no concrete plans in place beyond that.

That’s not to say I don’t know what I want to be doing come July, I just currently have no significant way of getting there. Once I graduate I am hoping to be starting either an entry-level job or some form of internship within or related to the book publishing industry, but this is easier said than done.

Not only is this a very competitive industry to get into, but it also means that because I can’t start working until June 2020, I can’t start applying for jobs before April 2020 and this is proving incredibly frustrating. While everyone around me is applying for grad schemes or masters programmes, I feel very much like I am sitting on my hands, playing the waiting game and trying not to check for available jobs that I cannot start applying for yet.

I have always been someone who likes to plan and prepare to the nth degree and I am definitely struggling with the art of doing nothing but waiting. However, in the mean time I am still trying to do what I can, even if it’s not a lot. I have started this blog, which has not only proven to be a great motivator to find more time to read but I am also really enjoying doing, signed up to edit for my university’s newspaper, I researched various different internships I can eventually apply for, created a LinkedIn to keep up to date with job opportunities and started following the twitter accounts of different publishing houses and literary agents to get all their news, both with regard to career options and general changes within the industry.

While this may sound like a fair bit to be getting on with, it unfortunately hasn’t satisfied my need to know what I’ll be doing in 6 months time, other than potentially having to move back home for a bit. So for now I can do nothing but wait, and hope that when I can apply the wait will pay off and getting in my applications early will increase my odds.

Little Women (2019)

Little Women is one of my all-time favourite books so when I the recent film came out I went to see it as soon as possible and it did not disappoint.

The film starts by following the March sisters as adults and then proceeds to alternate between scenes of their childhood together and scenes of how their adult lives have turned out together. This distinction is most clearly demonstrated through the use of a warm, golden overtone when watching their childhood, contrasting greatly with the cooler blue hues used to depict the cold reality of their adult lives, a stylistic choice of Gerwig’s that ought to be applauded.

Furthermore, the outstanding cast truly completed the film, the performances drawing you into this other world seamlessly, with Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh’s performances being particularly impressive. Ronan truly embodies the character of Jo March whilst Pugh gives Amy a well-deserved likeable quality, I have not previously come across with regard to the youngest March sister, who is often portrayed as merely a selfish and somewhat immature younger sibling.

Finally, one of my favourite parts of the film is definitely the ending which cleverly pairs the dramatic scenes of Jo chasing the man she loves with her also discussing the publishing of her novel, mirroring a scene from the start of the film.

However, a more important aspect of the film is the undercurrent of feminist thought that runs throughout this 19th century story. The principle that stories of domestic life; that women’s stories are important, as Amy tells Jo, adds an emphasis to the significance of the film. Similarly, the discussion between Laurie and Amy where Laurie poses the question: ‘how many women are allowed into the club of geniuses anyway?’ holds an even greater weight in light of the recent Academy nominations which have once again overlooked the work of many talented women. Finally, Amy’s powerful speech about how marriage is ultimately an economic proposition for women makes for a breath of fresh air next to so many films that centre women, particularly period dramas, who simply look to find a romantic partner and give no reference to the practicalities of what this might mean for them.

Overall, this film was one of the best I’ve seen in a while and more than does justice to the much beloved novel it is based. I would recommend to anyone, whether you’ve read the book or not, that you go to see this film.

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Brathwaite

This quick read was a true joy to read. Set in Nigeria, the book follows Korede, who has helped her sister, Ayoola, cover up the murders of her last three boyfriends. However, when Ayoola takes an interest in Korede’s colleague and close friend, Tade, Korede is faced with a dilemma of how to prevent her sister from killing again.

Whilst this book on the surface sounds as though it could be a fast-paced thriller, it is in fact a very light-hearted, humorous read, focusing primarily on the relationship between the two sisters.

The women are in many ways opposites, but at their core hold a loyalty for one another that extends beyond all else. However, this loyalty also leads to a resentment on Korede’s part as a result of the responsibility she must bear for Ayoola’s actions, both benign and lethal in nature.

I was incredibly impressed with how Braithwaite managed to keep the book light and enjoyable whilst exploring the resentment Korede regularly feels for her sister over the being complicit in the murders of Ayoola’s ex-boyfriends as well the guilt that she particularly suffers from after the third murder.

What was particularly clever on the part of Braithwaite, however, was that the focus on the sister’s relationship, rather than the narrative of Ayoola possibly killing again, allowed you to step away from the sinister nature of her actions and more fully understand the dilemma Korede faces, of whether to betray her sister by preventing her from killing again or remain silent but loyal.

Additionally, the reoccurring themes of everyday sexism found within daily Nigerian life for a woman added another perspective to the book that allowed you to sympathise with the female characters despite their questionable morals. This was further emphasised through the flashbacks of what life was like prior to their father’s death, when they lived in fear of his abuse.

Overall, this book manages to touch upon many intensely dark and harrowing issues whilst maintaining a comedic edge with great success. I would thoroughly recommend reading this book.