Books I Read in 2013

  • The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
  • The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad
  • Brick Lane, Monica Ali
  • Crash, J. G. Ballard
  • A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Julian Barnes
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, S. G. Browne
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll
  • Afternoon Raag, Amit Chaudhuri
  • City of Lost Souls, Cassandra Clare
  • Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare
  • The Bane Chronicles: What Really Happened in Peru, Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Struck by Lightning, Chris Colfer
  • Generation X, Douglas Coupland
  • Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
  • The Passage, Justin Cronin
  • The Twelve, Justin Cronin
  • Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
  • House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
  • White Noise, Don Dellilo
  • Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai
  • Do Androids Ddream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  • Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Clouds Beneath the Sun, Mackenzie Ford
  • The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
  • Gone, Michael Grant
  • The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moshin Hamid
  • And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
  • Atomised, Michel Houellebecq
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
  • The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Memoir of Afghanistan, Christina Lamb
  • Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
  • Martha Peake, Patrick McGrath
  • A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  • Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  • Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  • Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
  • Hana, Lauren Oliver
  • Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver
  • Requiem, Lauren Oliver
  • The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
  • The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick
  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
  • Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare
  • A Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare
  • Coriolanus, William Shakespeare
  • Henry IV, Part 1, William Shakespeare
  • Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
  • Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare
  • Richard II, William Shakespeare
  • The Tragedy of King Lear, William Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • Scent of Magic, Maria V. Snyder
  • Touch of Power, Maria V. Snyder
  • The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas
  • The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
  • Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
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‘Oh Lord, we’ve got zombies.’

The exclamation made in the title of this piece belongs to HISHE’s (How It Should Have Ended) sketch of World War Z (2013), and it addresses quite nicely the sudden influx of the ‘zombie’ into popular culture; in film, books, video games to name but a few. A quick search on ‘Ngram Viewer’ reveals the steady incline of the term zombie in books alone, but you hardly need me to tell you that zombies are appearing on the screens and pages at an incredibly fast pace. The zombie is not the living dead, but, perhaps more aptly, the animated dead; they’re not sexual or social beings (as the vampire has increasingly become)… they are not the living dead; they are not social characters, but a good old zombie apocalypse sure as hell tells us a lot about what it means to be human (or at least what scares the human).

ngram zombie

Simon Pegg protests that ‘ZOMBIES DON’T RUN!’[1] and the appearance of his character of Shaun (from Shaun of the Dead) in HISHE’s sketch, ushering Gerry Lane and his family onto the helicopter as ‘non-essential personnel’[2] before standing amongst a host of other ‘zombie fighting heroes’ certainly embeds and compounds his criticism into the context of the film World War Z, whose zombies do, of course, run (inhumanly fast). Pegg argues that ‘[t]he speedy zombie seems implausible’ on account that ‘[d]eath is a disability, not a superpower’.[3] Pegg reads zombies as analogous to the fear we have of our own deaths; ‘[z]ombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach… the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable’.[4] In World War Z, the figure of the zombie, quite literally, avoids those already dying from a fatal illness; their fate is sealed, the zombie/virus desires a healthy host in which to infect in order that the virus can survive for longer. Either way, the human is consigned to death, and in the latter instance, it demonstrates the colonisation of the human by the virus. So, yes, the figure of the zombie in World War Z does, for the human, represent an inescapable fateful death, but it is also a colonising force; the virus has a survival instinct, and the humans fight them by injecting themselves with that which would bring them closer to death, deconstructing (or perhaps accepting) the fate that Pegg suggests the zombie symbolizes.

Perhaps, then, it is not so much the physical death which we should be concerned with in World War Z. The acceptance of an inevitable physical death perhaps serves to further deconstruct (at the end of the film) what we are confronted with (at the beginning of the film); not the living dead, but the animated dead. In World War Z ‘the person does not even die before turning into what is now being described as a zombie’, but instead inhabits an ‘interstitial state of being between life and death’, or ‘bare life’.[5] Jon Stratton suggests that zombies ‘express our anxieties over the relationship between bare life and the modern state’[6] which I take to be that of simulacrum. Jean Baudrillard states that ‘the characteristic hysteria of our time [is] the hysteria of production and reproduction of the real. The other production, that of goods and commodities… no longer makes any sense of its own’.[7] The idea that zombies/ bare life is not so much an analogy for the fear of our own death, but the fear of our loss of the self in the flux of a commercially based simulacrum is something that was addressed in a lecture I attended a few months ago, by Matthew Charles (Westminster University). Charles suggested that the influx of apocalypse narratives was due to it being easier to accept the end of the world, as opposed to the end of commodity; there is a dependency on capitalist society. To demonstrate this, Charles casts the character of Neville in I am Legend (2007) as, not the last man, but the last capitalist, as he drives his car (as a commercial symbol) through the lonely streets.[8] To inject yourself with a deadly virus, as Gerry Lane does in World War Z, is to accept the end of the world (as we know it)… to dispense with the simulacrum.

And this is where the film begins, as the audience is confronted with this commercially orientated simulacrum, the animated dead, in the opening credits of World War Z.

The title ‘WORLD WAR Z’[9] appears, fragmented, over the top of the images in the opening credits, before eventually forming a readable title. It splices and angles clips, having a direct, physical impact on the societal scenes that the clips depict, and further affects these snippets of society by blurring the image on the screen in fragmented sections. This affect both serves to show how our image of society is filtered, cut and, edited… a simulacrum, as well as super-imposing the title that signifies the ‘zombie’ onto this simulated society. What is even more chilling is the fact that we digest these images, fragmented by the title, without realising that is being super-imposed over these images, until we see the bigger picture. The entire edited sequence figuratively, and literally cuts the viewer off from the bigger picture, the destination of a commercially orientated life. This life is constructed from talk shows, and the stock exchange, is a bare-life; we are already essentially inhabiting the destination that the film, through the actual zombie, metaphorically suggests.

Commercial life is a distraction… a simulacrum: images of festivals, and work, talk shows, and applauding audiences, are edited to appear besides images and discussion of unexplained health crisis’s and CO2 emissions. The world is edited and viewed just as it is literally displayed on the screen. At one point a distinctive voice states that ‘all this talk about the doomsday is a hoax’;[10] the doomsday is fake and, by extension zombies are fake, but so is the film, which, itself, is a commercial construction. We watch the film and ingest the edited images on the screen, and the music (Muse, ‘Isolated System’), and the credited actors; the whole system is a commodity that can be bought and sold. The film implies that, actually, the doomsday is not a hoax, it’s happening right now; it’s simply disguised by the very thing that it is: a simulacrum. As a man upon the screen directs his camera phone directly at the screen, straight as us, the audience, we realise that to say that there are no zombies in the title sequence of World War Z would be a lie; we are the zombies.

A disclaimer: this is a brief, microscopic analysis in view of (the opening of) the film, World War Z. It is not written about the novel and does not have any intentional/ direct bearing on the book.


[1] Simon Pegg, ‘The Dead and the Quick’, Guardian, 4th November, 2008 <http://www.theguardian.com/media/2008/nov/04/television-simon-pegg-dead-set> [accessed 13/12/13] (para 2 of 12)

[2] HISHEdotcom, ‘How World War Z Should Have Ended’, 29th October, 2013 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow2Uh51IMh4> [accessed 13/12/13]

[3] Pegg (para 3 of 12)

[4] Ibid (para 4 of 12)

[5] Jon Stratton, ‘Zombie trouble: Zombie texts, bare life and displaced people’, in European Journal of Cultural Studies, 14 (2011), 265-281 (p.267)

[6] Ibid (p.277)

[7] Baurillard, Jean, ‘Simulacra and Simulations’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 2ndedn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pp.365-77 (P.374)

[8] Matthew Charles, ‘“Not Even the  Dead Will Be Safe”: The Catastrophic Function in Contemporary Culture’, 16th October, 2013, Lancaster University

[9] Marc Forster (dir.), World War Z (Skydance Productions, 2013)

[10] Ibid

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An apology and an explanation

I made a terrible mistake and decided to start this blog just before I started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Any time that I could have spent writing pieces for this blog was re-designated to writing my novel to try and hit the ominous 50k target.

Apologies for my long absence.

But, I am glad to say, November is over, I have a shiny (digital) ‘Winner’ badge and I wrote 50,121 words in 28 days. It was an incredible (and incredibly stressful) experience; God knows how I managed to juggle it with my degree and work all at the same time, but I am very glad that I did. I’ve got the beginnings of a story that I’m very proud of having written and I can’t wait to finish it. It was a great personal challenge that I am very happy to have accomplished.

Now that I’ve said my piece, the world of academic writing beckons forth once more, and you guys can expect something from me very soon.

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‘Down the Rabbit-Hole’: Part Three

Part Three: Conquering the ‘Nightmare’/ Claiming the Crown

To grow up, the girls must overcome the ‘nightmare’ represented by the tyrannical, false Queen: the instigator of chaos and/or violence. Sally Adair Rigsbee writes that ‘[b]elieving in the reality of the fantasy realm represents a necessary openness to the deeper levels of the psyche that fosters the growth… of the self’.[1] Alice’s and Lucy’s openness to the world around them gives them an imaginative, fantastical space in which they are able to mature by engaging in a conflict that represents a negative part of their psyche. Jacques Lacan explores the significance of the ‘mirror stage as an identification’;[2] a process that establishes the relationship between ‘the organism and its reality’.[3] Narnia and Wonderland, as dreamscape, are this mirror; a place in which the child can openly explore her own identity and create out of it, not simply the ‘I’, but the emotionally mature ‘I’.

In Wonderland the Queen’s sentiment attitude for not getting what she wants (in a trivial matter) is that ‘she’d have everybody executed’ (105) while the White Witch of Narnia turns her subjects into stone if they are disobedient (where disobedience is actually moral and kind acts). Both Queens are powerful, with either the authority, or the magic, to essentially end the life of their subjects for either trivial or immoral reasons. The two heroines’ must develop an ‘I’ that is neither trivial, nor immoral; but composes a responsible, serious, and good-natured adult, removed from this ‘nightmare’ vision. This transition is signified by the crowning of Alice and Lucy; their growth given both emotional and political weight.

In Looking-Glass, upon wearing the crown, Alice decides that ‘it’ll never do for you to be lolling about on the grass like that! Queens have to be dignified, you know.’ (297). She separates herself entirely from the first image we have of Alice in Wonderland, where she ‘was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank’ (11). In conjunction with one another, these moments imply that Alice has become tired of her childhood and has decided to ‘grow up’. Lucy is similarly crowned ‘and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant’ (184). At this stage, there is a significant difference in the ending of Alice’s and Lucy’s journey. Alice crowns herself and shakes the Red Queen with the threat that ‘I’ll shake you into a kitten’ (318) to which she then awakens to discover that ‘it really was a kitten, after all’ (322). In the final pages of Looking-Glass Alice continually refers to her adventure as a ‘dream’; Alice’s journey has been, for the most part an isolated and selfish one… she crowns herself. Her conviction that her experiences are a dream at the stories end suggests that she is perhaps not so imaginatively powerful after all; she certainly doesn’t mature to the same degree as Lucy, who is crowned and loved by ‘her own people’, serving as a ruler, and literally aging. Upon her return, the talk is not of dreams, but a conviction of truth, that they ‘know’ (189) of Narnia and will return. And herein lies the crux of the matter: they go to Narnia; Lucy shares her experiences with her siblings, inviting them into her fantastical world. Alice’s is a selfish dream/story, while Lucy’s is readily available to all children.


[1] Rigsbee, 8:1, 10-11 (10)

[2] Jacques Lacan, ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience’, in Literary Theory: An Anthology, ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pp.441-446 (p.442)

[3] Ibid, p.443

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‘Down the Rabbit-Hole’: Part Two

Part Two: Arriving

Both Alice’s and Lucy’s dream/story cannot be contained within one single texts, but spreads, for Alice, across two texts, and, for Lucy, to the other stories in The Chronicles of Narnia. Similarly, the text within these stories cannot contain the dream wholly and both Lucy’s and Alice’s adventures are represented, quite prolifically, and significantly in illustration. It would appear that the dream is too large to be restrained; just as the openness of the two heroine’s perceptive and imaginative minds spills into a fantastical world that develops clear material qualities.

In Wonderland Alice observes the Cheshire Cat disappearing and finds that ‘she was not much surprised at this, she was getting used to queer things happening’ (78). These ‘queer things’ refer to the fantastical nature of the world Alice has fallen into, a world that, for Lucy too, is both literally and distinctly separate from ‘earth’. What is most important is the heroines’ acceptance and openness of the new conditions and laws of the world they have entered; Alice, for example, by this point has no issue with a disappearing Cat. Similarly, despite entering Narnia through ‘a magic wardrobe’ (25), Lucy completely accepts this new world and, despite her sister’s and brothers’ teasing, ‘she knew that she was really in the right’ (26). Lucy’s conviction and Alice’s acceptance of these fantastical worlds’ places both girls at the centre of these stories and, perhaps, even results in the construction of the dream/story.

Image

The dream/story is constructed and wholly accepted by the child at its centre who participates within in it, until it grows not only so big that it bursts at its textual seams but also grows too large for the child. Carroll’s opening poem to Wonderland calls it ‘a childish story’ (10), but if the story is too large to be maintained within a single text, envisioning a single, young girl, then the dream/story must transgress these boundaries: it must grow up.

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‘Down the Rabbit-Hole’: Alice’s and Lucy’s Imaginative Journeys in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Part One: Setting Off

The first chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is entitled ‘Down the Rabbit-Hole’[1] and it is this premise of an impossible journey made by a young child that recurs consistently within children’s fiction into the present day. I will consider the process of the child’s fantastical journey in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis, and Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll (although they are distinctly different stories, Alice remains at their centre). There is ‘ambivalence about the relationship between adult and childish selves’[2] and it is this dichotomy between the childish and the mature self that accentuates the journey where ‘belief in the reality of a fantasy place is a crucial issue in the developmental process of a child’.[3] Specifically I will consider, in brief, Lucy’s and Alice’s entrance into an imaginatively rich world; progressing from ‘dream’, to  ‘nightmare’ whereby their overcoming of this nightmare results in the maturation of the self where they, quite literally, become Queen.

Peter Hunt asks ‘[a]re the texts [children’s literature] we are talking about of childhood, for childhood, or by children?’[4] Children’s literature is a complex topic, as both the construct of ‘child’ and ‘literature’ are ‘infinitely varied concept[s]’.[5] However, the imaginative journey that both girls make signifies their agency within the stories that are, metaphorically at least, written by the children. In the poem that preludes the text of Wonderland Carroll writes that:

Alice! a childish story take,

And with a gentle hand

Lay it where Childhood’s dreams are twined (10)

The inference of childhood’s dreams is key to the entire construction of both Alice’s and Lucy’s journeys as children, unlike adults, ‘can enter their own dreams and make these dreams come true’.[6] The story, or journey, that Alice is about to participate in, according to this poem, is a construct made within childhood’s dreams; an imagined reality that allows for the Alice’s, and Lucy’s, escape from boredom.

Boredom leads to exploration and curiosity (‘[c]uriouser and curiouser!’ (21) Alice proclaims), resulting in the discovery of Alice’s and Lucy’s fantastical lands of Wonderland and Narnia. But there is more to it than simply curiosity; it is the fact that they are ‘gifted in imagination and, therefore, readily accept a fantasy realm as a valid reality’.[7] In Lion, though ‘a little frightened… [Lucy is]… inquisitive and excited as well’.[8] This inquisitive nature of both Lucy and Alice; their ready acceptance to follow the faun with a red scarf, or the white rabbit with a waistcoat and pocket watch, is what shapes the story constructed within and by their ‘Childhood’s dream’ (10). Lucy’s initial excitement and fear anticipates the potential of her dream; the desired fantastical world, and the nightmare (of chaos, of evil, and of betrayal) which she, and Alice, must negotiate in order to mature; and so Lucy and Alice set forth on their journeys.

Image


[1] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (London: Vintage, 2007), p.11

[2] Kimberly Reynolds, Children’s Literature in the 1890s and the 1990s (UK: Northcote House, 1994)

[3] Sally Adair Rigsbee, ‘Fantasy Places and Imaginative Belief: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Princess and the Goblin’, in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 8:1 (Spring 1983), 10-11(10)

[4] Peter Hunt, ‘Iinstruction and Delight’, in Children’s Literature: Approaches and Territories, ed. by Janet Maybin and Nicola J. Watson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp.12-26 (p.13)

[5] Peter Hunt, Children’s Literature (Oxford and Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), p.6

[6] Amy Christine Billone, ‘The  Boy Who Lived: From  Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan to Rowling’s Harry Potter’, in Children’s Literature, 32 (2004) 178-202 (p.191)

[7] Rigsbee, 8:1, 10-11(10)

[8] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (USA: Harper Collins, 1978), p.8

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