December 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
^super heroes need vacations too.
Not going to lie, I feel that the above picture is meme-worthy HAHA. Took this yesterday when I went to my very first cosplay event at Suntec because Yew Hwei was cosplaying there!
December 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
I said I’d do a review on The Goldfinch and nearly 3000 words later here I am. In all honestly, I wasn’t really intent on doing a book review but hey, it’s not like I have anything better to do and I also don’t want my writing skills to regress.
For those who stick around the 2,800 word rambling mess that is this review, you’re the best.
To give those who haven’t read the book, here’s a quick run-down (SPOILERS):
- Novel’s protagonist is Theo Decker, who is 13 years old at the start of the book
- Theo’s mom (and sole parental figure ever since deadbeat alcoholic dead buggered off) was killed in a bombing when they went to visit an art gallery together
- It’s complicated, but somehow through the chaos and confusion after the bombing, Theo survives and in his disorientated state, steals a famous painting – The Goldfinch, at the bequest of the final dying wish an elderly man
- Theo is sent to live with the wealthy Barbour family of a school friend and all is semi-okay and it seems like Theo is going to have happy ever after with the Barbour family when suddenly
- REAPPEARANCE OF (reformed) DEADBEAT NON-ALCHOLIC DAD – guest starring his trampy new squeeze, Xandra.
- Theo is whisked away from the Barbours (who we realise aren’t as great as we thought they were) and sent to live in relative isolation with his dad (still alcoholic and now also a gambling addict) and Xandra in Las Vegas
- He meets Boris, a carpe-diem teenage boy who does drugs and is also part Russian
- A whole lot of shit happens and basically the dad dies and Theo is now a true orphan and he runs away back to New York before Las Vegas social welfare can catch him (and in the process leaves Boris behind)
- Throughout the entire thing, Theo is also consumed with fear about his role in stealing the super rare and precious painting even though we realise he is overthinking it by too much
- More shit happens, he goes back to his old parental/grandfatherly figure in the form of Hobie, a guy who fixes up old antique furniture
- Somehow we skip 8 years in the narrative and adult Theo is a real huge fucking mess (considering the emotional baggage, PTSD, daddy issues, none of us are surpassed.
- Read the rest of the goddamn book because shit gets real crazy – like guns and sending your bloodstained clothes to the hotel dry cleaners level of crazy
- it’s a good book, I promise.
Reviews that I have read described the story as a modern dickisonian-esque epic. At first, I was rather confused in how exactly The Goldfinch was anything vaguely ‘Dickinson’ in nature (had the image of old England, where men wore top hats, counted silver, social welfare didn’t exist and orphans had to drink scummy soup)
But on hindsight, it does appear to have Dickinson narrative structures to the storytelling. A good parallel would be to Great Expectations, where both stories focus on the life of broken young boy (with the usual dead/sick/drunk parents) as they journey through adulthood, ultimately triumphing against societal/personal demons as a metaphor and social commentary of the human condition.
Uh, yeah. However, I promise you while ‘Dickinsonian elements’ isn’t the best selling point, the book is much more interesting than that. Promise.
One thing I have to say is that I adore how Tartt encapsulates the general mood/zeitgeist(??) of a certain setting or environment as the story progresses.
For example, there was a very distinct ‘feel’ between the chapters that covered Theo’s life with the Barbours versus his teenage life in Las Vegas, and then the shift again when he returns to NYC. Throughout the chapters set in Las Vegas, there was this underlying overtone of not dreariness per say, but exhaustion and stagnancy. The kind of feeling that I would describe as a painfully hot and boring summer’s day to borrow the overused clinche, where it’s just this dense humidity and sense of utter lifelessness. This was a great setting for Theo’s life with his dad, and also the aimless and drug-fuelled nature of his teenage exploits with Boris.
Similarly, the chapters after Las Vegas when Theo returned to NYC immediately evoked a different feeling in me as the reader. The humid and dense restlessness was replaced with the briskness of a rainy day in the city. And this emotional response to the change in settings as a reader helped to add that extra element of story-telling and engagement with Theo’s journey through the different stages of his life. In a sense, I was able to be Theo because I too could sense the shifts in his environment.
Story telling/Moral of the Story
Tartt does a fantastic job at describing emotions that are otherwise very difficult to encapsulate. Theo’s anguish and fear over hiding the painting through the various stages of his life are really well written. I can completely empathise with that same gut-squelching, back-of-your mind niggling sensation of that one secret or thing you hidden from your parents as a kid. The description of young Theo waiting at the flat for his mother (who would never come home) was also very evocative and I think that portion of the book was extremely realistic and fantastically nuanced. It really aptly captures the kind of concoction of utter desperation, childish hope and isolation that a child would face with the prospect of losing a loved one.
What I would say is that this kind of tight emotive writing kind of loosens towards the end of the novel and gives way to rambling, typically pretentious angsty-angst prose. Mind you, it doesn’t completely unravel on itself and on the whole, I would say even the rambling self-absorbed portions towards the end of the novel was still relatively well written. Also, some parts of the writing can definitely be streamlined without losing the pacing or narrative quality of the book. Especially in light that the book is essentially an “adventure story” kind of genre, it is essential that the writing doesn’t get too cyclical lest it bore the reader.
I do really like the existential ideas that the novel attempts to tie up at the very end. I say “attempts” as it was a really stick-in-your-face kind of moral ending/exploration. Kind of like how those chinese fables always end with a footnote on the moral the story is trying to convey, The Goldfinch essentially had the same footnote except in the form of three solid pages of something out of angsty teenager’s blog.
However, I did identify extremely with the philosophical rant Theo goes on at the end of the novel. I only wished it could have been woven into the general story instead of being spoon fed to the reader at the very end.
Nevertheless, I will type up one of my favourite passages as it sums up the very exact existential crisis I have been having ever since post-As life have dealt ego-crushing rejections onto me.
“Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game.
Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hell awaited them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seem satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat less mysterious or less abhorrent.
People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbours and poured over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organisations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were.
But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom. Putting your time in at the office, dutifully spawning your two point five; smiling politely at your retirement party; then chewing on your bed sheet and choking on your canned peaches at the nursing home. It was better never to have been born – never to have wanted anything, never to have hoped for anything.
Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence – of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do – is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks about: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c.
For me – and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beads, coffins, and broken hearts. No release no appeal, no “do-overs” to employ a favoured phrase of Xandra’s, no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death.”
-Pg 593 & 957 of The Goldfinch
Well balanced mix of male and female characters in the book, albeit the female characters could be considered as somewhat one-dimensional. However, given that the book is from Theodore’s (who is decidedly male) point of view, I suppose it is hard to give depth to other characters.
After all, people like simplicity, we like to view other people as one-dimensional caricatures in our own self-centred narratives. That’s why it’s so fucking weird when you meet your teacher in a supermarket/Taylor Swift concert (true story) because you start to think they don’t have lives outside marking your horribly written essays or terrorising you in awkward encounters in school.
However, we can analyse why some characters are given more depth and complexity than other characters and what it says about Theo himself.
In all honesty, Theo’s character is not exactly hateable, nor is he really likeable either. There were times where I found his self-indulgence and angst concerning Poppy rather tiresome, and yet there were also moments where I could feel his fear and his weariness with the world and his fate. It is hard to like a main character (because hello, no one ever says Harry Potter is their favourite character in the books/movies), mainly because we – by reading the book through Theo’s point of view – is actually being not only a detached observer, but also we are Theo himself. So it’s kind of how as humans we have this general ambivalence towards ourselves and our existence, we like ourselves well enough and at the same time we are also somewhat aware of our own faults and how dark and bad we can actually be. As a result of “being” Theo and living his life through his shoes, we as readers develop a sense of ambivalence towards his character. Everybody, for example adores Atticus Finch or Boo Radley but you hardly see anyone saying their favourite character is Scout.
Anyhow, we do learn about Theo’s character and his flaws through how other characters are presented to us through his world view. A prime example would be the “well-rounded” characterisation of Theo’s dad – a character so bland and uninteresting that I actually forgot his full name. One review noted that the writing and development of Theo’s dad was remarkably nuanced and multi-faceted. I will not deny that Theo’s dad was not presented to the reader as the stereotypical archetype of drunken abusive doucbag father figure. There were glimpses of a much kinder and caring side to him.
However, overall I found the progression of Theo’s dad’s character rather linear and totally unsurprising. I would argue that the so-called “well-rounded” presentation of Theo’s dad, was more revealing of Theo’s desire to have his dad be caring, to believe that his dad could be a good dad and parental figure that he needed after his mom died. His dad was not written as a stereotype because through Theo’s point of view, he couldn’t allow himself to believe that his father was still a drunken gambling addict.
Boris is the type of character that you wish the novel/movie was focused on his exploits rather than the comparatively normal and lacklustre main character. To be completely honest, he is also sort of a maniac-pixie-dream-boy character, albeit I would say slightly more well-develped. Come on – the scruffy hair, abusive drunk father, nihilistic hippie adolescent angst? Sounds like any old Wattpad/Hollywood bad boy to me.
That being said, I did like the relationship development between Boris and Theo. It was kind of that really subtle writing that kind of hinted at the extent of their relationship, but never really addressed throughout the entire novel. Even with my well-honed abilities after years of reading fanfiction, I was still shocked when the whole “I love you” bombshell was dropped. What I didn’t appreciate was how that wasn’t really handled or addressed directly in the later part of the novel when Boris re-entered Theo’s life again. It was kind of that typical rom-com moment where the male lead chases the female lead (except this time, both of them are guys) at the airport and stops them from boarding the gate to take a plane to Narnia or something with a huge over the top love declaration.
I suppose it wasn’t real romantic love between them as much as both of them were two desperate broken kids who needed each other at the right time and the right place. Something like those friendships where you realise you were only friends because of circumstance – you saw them everyday or you went through the same shit together. It’s still love, but not love love. It’s complicated.
However, if you think about it – Boris was essentially Theo’s knight in shining armour at the end of the novel when he re-appeared with the passport. Theo was literally about to kill himself before Boris literally waltzes back into his life and abruptly ends Theo’s self-destructive and suicidal tendencies.
As I mentioned in my face cast post, Poppy’s character is the epitome of the maniac-pixie-dream-girl archetype. One could say it is sloppy writing, however given that the novel is from Theo’s point of view, the reader cannot possibly see any other aspect/characterisation of Poppy other than what Theo shows us.
Going back to the reviews I have read of the book, some have suggested that Theo’s obsession with Poppy stems from that she is literally the only link he has with the last moments spent with his mother. Hence, this would explain his maniac obsession and typical YA male protagonist self-absorption/pity when she chooses to go off with a relatively boring schmuck who doesn’t have a history of childhood trauma, abandonment issues and possible drug addiction.
In my dream movies adaption of the book, definitely hope they would expand more on Poppy’s character, because the book kind of skimmed over on how exactly she was also a “damaged good” similar to Theo. However, knowing Hollywood’s track record of misogyny and lazy scriptwriting, pigs would probably fly before that happens.
All in all?
Really loved the book, definitely one of those books that stand up to re-reading . Despite the rather placid title and book cover, it is a very engaging and easy to follow story, with enough intelligent writing and philosophical musings to appease the jaded souls of book purists who demand a “good” book to always contain some sort of moral conundrum on the decay of the human endeavour.
And I would just like to end of with the solution that The Goldfinch attempts to come up with as a reconciliation of Theo’s earlier existential ramblings. Rather corny, but I do like it nonetheless.
“And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in the room with you. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.
And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch. For if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting [The Goldfinch] down through time – so too has love.
Insofar as love is immortal (and it is) I have a small, bright immutable part in that immortality. It exists; and it keeps on existing.”
December 16, 2015 § 1 Comment
Just finished reading The Goldfinch! Might post a review on the book once I have time to fully digest it (the book really dealt with a lot of my own existential crises that erupted after A-Levels, so it’s one of those things where it is a “read it at the right moment, at the right time”) .
Anyway, I thought it would be a fun exercise to come up with meaningless face casts for the characters because I heard the makers of the Hunger Games actually auctioned the rights to produce a movie around the book. Not that I have much hope of it being produced any time soon, as book rights auctioned off to big production companies don’t always have the best track record of being produced (JG sold movie rights to Looking for Alaska 10 years ago and no movie has been produced thus far). Moreover, the key is to have them produced well. One only has to think of the horrendous and shameful book-to-movie trash that is The Giver to know that sometimes, it is best to have books stay books.
On with the face casts! Self-indulgent blogging at its best.
Young Theo: Asa Butterfield
A magazine also suggested Asa as young Theo and I would have to say I would heartily agree. He has that really breakable and destroyed quality to him. Must be those beautiful blue eyes.
A girl can dream, can’t she?
Teenage Theo: Dylan O’Brien
Okay, this casting is super indulgent, and technically if it weren’t for the fact that Asa looks like he’s twelve even though he’s eighteen (I can empathise) we wouldn’t even need a teenage casting for Theo. Continuing on with my love for brown-haired, soulful eyed male protagonists, I think Dylan is quite a fitting choice.
Adult Theo: that guy from Fight Club
Maybe it’s because Adult Theo and the Speaker from Fightclub are slightly similar in that they are really fucked up individuals – nihilistic tendencies, desire for self-immolation, horrendous drug habits etc.
One magazine suggested Andrew Garfield as a face cast but Garfield is honestly too innocent-looking to act as Adult Theo. Adult Theo is broken, disgusting and has the face of an everyman on the street. Garfield is too pretty for that.
Boris – Ezra Miller
Was also suggested by a magazine, which I heartily agree. Boris has that bad boy, dirty scumbag hair, carpe-diem quality to his character. To be honest, I wish the novel focused more on his and Theo’s relationship after they reunited (especially in light of the “I love you” bombshell) but whatever. I immediately thought of “that guy from Perks of Being a Wallflower” when Boris was first introduced.
Poppy – Emma Watson
Poppy also has that kind of wild, maniac-pixie-dream-girl vibe going on for her. To her credit, that’s because we are only allowed to see her from Theo’s point of view – a very rose tinted and self-absorbed picture. Kind of like the character of Summer from 500 Days of Summer, except slightly more unstable.
Alternatively, Emma Stone is also a good choice, but she doesn’t have that wild quality that Emma Watson embodies, just my opinion
Xandra – That chick from Harry Potter/Fight Club
Not going to lie, she was the exact picture of Xandra that I had in my head. Roughed up, trashy kind of vibe.
For Theo’s dad I’m pretty sure you can cast any old middle-aged Hollywood braggart. (not really fond of his character, so i couldn’t be bothered in all honesty)
As for Hobie, I can’t really think of anyone who could play the loveable, affable and homely vibe he gives off. Colin Firth perhaps.
December 15, 2015 § Leave a comment
Chill day today! Went to Yan Lin’s house to hang out and do random stuff (i.e play Scrabble/Boxhead etc) then randomly walked around with her, got $0.50 sushi, MRT-ed home, bought KFC (because there will come a day where my metabolism will slow down and I can’t eat as much as I want without exercising and not grow into a tub of lard) then read a bit more of my 1000 pg book (v. proud that it’s so long actually HAHA, I’m a #booksnob) and then contemplated by business model for my online blackmarket humanities empire. Overall, quite a productive day! Not sure what I am going to do tomorrow and literally ALL my friends, or most of them at least – are overseas so there’s no one to hang out with on a whim
Anyway, said 1000 pg book is titled “The Goldfinch”. Truth be told, I only got it because it was:
- Selling at kino (my benchmark for “good books” is “are they sold at kino”)
- It was going for at $5 at some random book sale where sometimes if you are lucky, you can get good books that are retailed at $17 + in Kino for less than $10 – granted you have to look through all the trashy romance novels
- Pulitzer Prize Winner – yes, yes I am a huge book snob, but it’s not as if I specifically only read prize-winning books anyway haha
I was expecting it to be quite boring because the summary wasn’t that compelling (albeit much more interesting than J.K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which was also selling at $5 which I didn’t buy) and the cover art was the type of book cover you look at it and immediately become bored with it.
But, to my surprise, the style of writing is actually quite engaging! Although I personally think some part of the novel can be omitted to make the plot more streamlined, the style of writing is surprisingly quite simple and easy to follow. This makes it easy to become drawn back into the story when your mind starts to skim overt huge descriptive chunks – which is the downfall to the more “heavier” novels where people just become bored and give up when the plot wanes and thins out a bit.
I am only halfway through but so far so good! A lot of the problems the protagonist – Theo, faces is actually manifestations of many of my own personal fears. So it’s quite scary to see someone (even though it’s a fictional character) live out what essentially is my own nightmare. It’s a really good book, I would encourage any one without much to do to get yourself a copy!
On the humanities black-market empire side of things, I was telling Yan Lin how it would eventually be my goal to earn $200 in just selling notes. Truthfully, I doubt I would be fully willing to part with my own personal notes/school notes until results come back. There’s just that back-of-your-mind fear you know? So far I have only been selling the extra books that I didn’t even touch throughout the two years haha
Maybe will go to a museum tomorrow. Hmm.
December 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have always thought about the word “extraordinary”because when you split it up it is literally “extra ordinary”, which technically would mean being extremely ordinary, when “extraordinary” is obviously the complete opposite.
I was in a bookstore the other day at the autobiography section, and it occurred to me that only people who lead quote-on-quote “extraordinary” lives have lives worth dedicating words to. You could be extraordinarily great – with the likes of Steve Jobs, Lee Kuan Yew etc. Or you could be extraordinarily bad – for example, I saw a book with the title “Sugar Daddy” with a generic cover photo of a woman’s legs on the spine. You should be able to guess the rough contents of the book.
Everybody wants to be extraordinary, everyone wants to lead a life that changes the world by leaps and bounds at a time. But unfortunately, the majority of us are going to end up as just – ordinary, by societal standards at least. Ordinary in the sense that we all tick the right boxes and colour within the lines, lives that can be summed up in a 140 character tweet.
Then there is the paradoxical thing that “special” people say – with the likes of celebrities, world leaders, politicians etc. They say they are just like “an other normal person”. Some even go so far as to wish that they could too lead the normal, boring, placid lives of the un-extraordinary, the extraordinary embracing normalcy, how mind boggling.
So the question I really want to find out during this period of total non-validation of my existence, is whether to embrace and pursue an “extra ordinary” life or an “extraordinary” life.
On a slight caveat, I find that social media intrinsically indicative of our collective desire to be seen as extraordinary. Even this blog could be construed as my attempt to appease myself that my own life is interesting enough to be read by others – a half-assed autobiography as you will. Granted, social media doesn’t have to be about gaining external validation from others, but to state we use it purely for “self-documentation” is just lying to yourself – I mean that’s what diaries are for people.
(Also, I have this extreme hatred towards ask.fm as a social media platform. Personally I find it the absolute epitome of narcissism, but hey that’s coming from a girl who has a pretentious blog, so.)
Every tweet you write, every blog post or photo is about proving to others – or maybe to yourself, that your life is special enough to be worthy of the extremely valuable commodity of: “other people’s attention”. Even if for that split half a second as someone looks at your picture and double taps (without reading your long-ass caption), for that split second your life was just a glimmer of extraordinariness.
In a way, we all clamour to make our extra ordinary life feel extraordinary. Or maybe there is something extraordinary in just being, well – ordinary.
December 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
(This was written yesterday. And posted in the future. We have flying cars whoo.)
3.00pm: everybody hold a prayer circle I can finally take out my damn braces today. The ortho has been telling I can take out “next month” for the past THREE MONTHS
Cut my hair today and was faced with the inevitable “is your hair dyed” and “did you rebond your hair?” Then with the dubious looks when I say that I:
1. Didn’t dye my hair
2. Don’t swim
3. Hardly spend time outside
PEOPLE I WILL SWEAR ON MY OWN GRAVE THAT I NEVER EVER IN MY LIFE DYED MY GODDAMN HAIR.
Like it’s so irritating when people give you that smirky I-know-you-did-something looks whenever I say I didn’t dye my hair. Like, excuse me, who do you think you are? My discipline master?