A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka

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Another Kafka story which equally baffled me and even more sinister if you found that Noh-influenced Japanese short anime film. Its a story about a doctor and the snow stormy night when he was called out to meet a patient but weird things started happening to him which is hard to explain what happened exactly.

Personally this is more in line towards the Absurdist element than Melville’s Bartleby does since this novel is like a ride with Fringe’s Dr Walter Bishop on LSD. Unfortunately this story seemed to revolve around the idea of rape too. In fact, when the doctor’s horse died from the chill, a man gave him horses for his trip and seemingly went after the maid while the doctor speed to his patient house. Then later the patient’s family undress him and push him inside the bed naked and everything seemed to went against all sense of reasoning and so we’re left in a paranoid loop by the author and his character and neither of us could even make sense of anything.

Honestly, if there are more clarity in this story, I would have been impressed by it. There are moment when I got suck into the story like Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell-tale Heart and Raven, but then Kafka just pull out every strand of conscience and reality and jumble it all out and throw it out of the window.

There’s also a recurrent element of self-deprecating and suicide which was again the focus from the style and it wouldn’t be as menacing had it be more subtle. Kafka was an interesting character with a really dark passenger inside him. But it became obvious that while most touted him as a great influence in “existentialism”, all I see was a man grasping at his sanity and becoming aware of the futility of his reality which was suffocating him.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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The last time I read this book was when I was a teenager, I didn’t think of it much until I had to reread it for “Fiction of Relationship”. But now that I fully comprehend the title and its content as an adult, I didn’t think I’ve changed my initial perception on this book. Its a difficult book in content and atmosphere. The title are more appropriate autobiography of Jane Eyre unlike the Manon Lescaut.  The more I studied the novel, the more I find its harder for me to completely dislike the book and completely like it too. I find its puzzling when people constantly associate this novel with grandness of love. Sure the most memorable part of this book was a romance but I find the majority of the book quite hard to define on certain trope genre except to say that the book is just about Jane Eyre’s life herself. If I were to classify the novel, its a fictionalized autobiography divided in parts from a broken childhood where a child grew up too fast, a romance about the plight of a grown girl in face of a man who tempt her soul, the come of age of a child-woman into adulthood, a deeply religious novel with various embedded indoctrination, a satire and rebellion on the polite society and also a gothic tale of horror.

The book started with Jane reminiscing about her childhood in Gateshead Hall where she lived with her abusive cousins and unloved by her stern aunt who took delight in making a 10 year old suffer in misery. After a traumatic experience inside the Red Room (a word pun for “Murder” dont you think?), the apothecary who treated her recommended that Jane should be sent to a school. Instead, her aunt gave her to Mr Brocklehurst who managed the Lowood Institution where he believe that the more abusive nature he cause against the students, which are essentially by beating, starving them and depriving them from many things, for the sake of building good Christian ‘habits’ among the students. It was until an epidemic that wipe out nearly half of the students that left Jane mourning after a dear friend and the Lowood shift in management that Jane began to appreciate a new life in the school. She stayed for more years as a teacher until she decided to leave the school when she lost her reason to stay after the leaving of her teacher, Miss Temple, who somehow became a mother figure to her. Then she came to Thornfield Manor to teach the ward of a Mr Rochester, Adele Varens and found herself intrigued by her new master.

Jane Eyre is a very deathly long book to read for studying and as an assignment. Although I do enjoy the descriptive of the book, from the details of the interior of the manor, the fashions and textiles of 18th century which made Brontë a faithful contemporary writer of her time and also the beautiful nature the book explores which complement to the darker side of the novel where supernatural theme are quite prominent in dreams, interpretation and the secrets that alluded Jane so much.

As a character, Jane Eyre are quite a passionate proud independent woman and ahead of her time in a society where woman are encouraged to be sensible, demure and submissive. Even as a child, she basically reduce her aunt into tears and fears when Jane was accused to being a liar and spiteful child by her aunt which guarantee Jane a difficult life in Lowood. Although she soon grew up and leaving her childish fits, this streak of rebelliousness is obvious in her interaction between Mr Rochester, her reaction against the guests in his house who belittle and insulting her status as a governess, her fight with inner demons, her confrontation against the difficult St John Rivers and her stubbornness and loyalty with the Rochester in the end. Since I remember the story more from Ruth Wilson’s take on Jane Eyre, I do find its hard to completely interpret Jane into any adaptation. I became more sympathetic towards her in the book and understand her world and her personality more than I do from the various novel adaptations  I chanced to watch. Its hard to not like the obvious fire inside of her which became alive when someone torment her enough until she reach her limit. I do find its intriguing between the polarity of Jane and Bertha, especially the fact that they virtually mirror each other. I guess thats the purpose of the author.

Personally, I don’t really care for Jane Eyre and her relationship with Mr Rochester. I know, that he’s supposed to be a Byronic fallen hero figure and the story have been emulated into hundreds of historical romance with governesses and their liaison with their masters. But I do find Rochester simply too hateful to be liked by me. I do notice he had moments when he was too sarcastic, too masculine, too abrupt. He even enjoy torturing Jane to gauge the level of her love for him instead of giving her hints or even seduces her or display some sort of kindness for her. He even flaunt his past rendezvous and listing his lovers to Jane who seemingly perfectly fine with a guy detailing his past romances and neglected to mention about his marital status at the same. As much I love reading Alpha male dominance, I don’t think being jackass is right up in my alley. And although he completely changed after Jane left him and became what he is in the end after he lost her, I dont think its healthy to anticipate some God-like convenient intervention to punish the character. In fact, I am puzzled by Jane’s reaction on his sexual activities and she only took it as his “passionate nature and manly needs”. Up until she was back to Thornfield, she seemed to be accepting that about it and the fact he’s readily wanting to commit adultery with her and the fact she accept it as she convinced that Rochester have been outside England and back to his wicked ways. Which made Jane’s complexity and mood swings bewilder to me as her reader. But one thing I like about the two of them is that Jane saved his life from the fire and douse it alone without him waking up. That’s really impressive even to me.

As a prominent male historical romance figure, I keep drawing a comparison between Mr Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), Mr Rochester and Mr Thornton (North and South). I still insist that Mr Thornton are realistically more appropriate and admirable male figure rather than the other two and probably because Elizabeth Gaskell choose to write in third-person omniscient than the first-person narratives between these two novels. I seriously don’t get the whole excessive hero worshiping between Darcy and Rochester who apparently doesn’t do much except being  richly inherited (Thornton grew up poor and work his way up and are married to his work unlike the other two romantic heroes). Although I do find Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale (North and South) with obvious similarities but I think Jane are more concerned about her own welfare than the world around her unlike Margaret. Margaret were born in an easy middle-class life only to have her world, family, reality crumble all around her even when she tried to make some differences and try to understand it. Jane however instead of confronting her problem, she kept it all in her inside until it burst or until she couldn’t handle it anymore and run away and keep making everything worst and leading everyone around. Throughout her novel, its so apparent that the things that drove her on was her own need, her happiness and the fault of her pride which kept getting in her away which was often confused as being passionate. This book is maze of confusion and the fact that it kept jumping multiple genre until the author gave up the charade near the end which reminded me of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey at some point.

I think the only thing that made me emotionally invested with the story was when Jane found out that she’s not alone in the world and that she has living relatives. The story started as a story of abuse on a child who are so alone and unloved and jealous of others with family only to be a grown up teenager trying to be an adult and only to find the world continue to disappoint her happiness again. At this, I had wished the book explore that side of her more especially her solitude and loneliness instead of diverting toward longing for a male companion and the endless descriptive on the weather and insertions of constant foreboding Gothic descriptive atmosphere, and observance of people, religion and Jane’s monologues et cetera. For a thick book, it does feel like a patchwork of stories compiled into one. But as a thick book, I wished it could have been more revolutionary instead of a master guide toward modern romance writing.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories by Various Authors

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Steampunk! is an anthology of the magic thirteen stories from various authors attempting to write something original and exciting as the genre by mixing all kinds of genre fiction against the backdrop of steampunk world although some might feel out of context.

This is probably the first time I had some difficulties in judging an anthology that I use what is left of my algebra to determine the rating and this is what I came out with. The book is a worthy investment and there are great stories in this collection which outweigh its flaws. Considering most of the story is quite Young Adult, I don’t suppose many would like it that way. But the genre is quite vast and the enjoyment is to each of their own.

In Cassandra Clare’s “Some Fortunate Future Day”, it began with her character, Rose living alone with her mechanicals in her home amidst a war and found an injured you man and nurse him until he’s well with the help of her mechanical dolls. During the duration of time, she admires the man and fell in love in him and sought for his affection. Unfortunately as a teenage love, the story can border on needy unhealthy obsession and unrealistic view on love and also immaturity that made the story quite problematic and definitely morbid. Had I took the story in a somewhat less twisted point of view, it can be quite disappointingly shallow. (0.5)

With Libba Bray’s “The Last Rite of the Glory Girls”, which told a YA Western about a girl who infiltrates a group of girl gang and find her calling. As I am Asian enough to have no fascination over most romanticized Western stories, I also find the story isn’t as compelling as it is meant to be. I mean, gritty strong rebellious girls, who wouldn’t like that right? Except me. Plus the whole religion subtext is quite overwhelming for someone who basically have no Christian education whatsoever to understand why some of the characters behave in certain way (ironically for a muslim I know) or terms that the author think I should know. Most importantly, I didn’t really find clarity from those to connect with the plot which made the story lost its allure. (0)

Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” is one fascinating tale about an orphanage for the orphaned disabled kids and the kids suffered under a brutal caretaker which uses them to be beggars (happen in modern times too) and at the same time, abuses them whenever he like. Until one day a boy came and kill that cruel man and offered the kids a way to escape their cruel life with some ingenious mechanical trick. Honestly, I noted the Dickens in this story but then I was quite amazed through the story amid the gloomy storyline and suddenly there’s gore and then genius moments and then a satisfying and rather moralistic end. This prove to be one of the clever and unexpected story in this anthology. (1)

In Shawn Cheng’s “Seven Days Beset by Demons”‘s graphic story told in a week length interval of the thematic ‘Seven Sins’ about a smart clockwork peddler who sells clockwork pieces inside a globe and found himself in love with a girl. Interesting enough the story goes from hopeful to downright depressing as he found out that the love of his life is engaged to a jerk (well what other thing should the main character see in him really). If you aren’t easily pissed off by random graphic story, you should be aware that not all writer can draw and let alone draw graphic novels. However had the character not suffered this insta-love in such small time, he would have redeemed himself rather than becoming the way he is at the end. (0.5)

Ysabeau S Wilce’s “Hand in Glove” is more up to my usual reads about Constable Etreyo who had doubt about the incarceration of a man who is said to commit serial murders in the city and she became desperate when the man was doomed to be hung when she knew there’s a real killer out there. If one could remember the world created in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes and BBC’s Ripper Street, this story neatly align with the usual investigative story with a ‘Mary Shelley’ twist. (1)

On Delia Sherman’s “Ghost of Cwmlech Manor”, it began with the story of how Cwmlech Manor gained its ghost and a girl who became fascinated by the story and became the new heir’s housekeeper with a condition that he would cook for him as his automaton and his hobbies can’t feed him properly. Despite being a ghost story, the plot took an interesting turn that made the story unpredictable in some point. Another story deserving a full length novel as it should. (1)

Ah, “Gethsemane”. Elizabeth Knox’s literary fiction about a woman and a girl, a man and a boy on an island where everything flourish and filled with meddlesome gossiping folks of with stories of witches, airships people and weird events that forebodes the island ultimate fate. Personally I felt the story drags into meaningless oblivion with unnecessary characterization and no plot clarity whatsoever. The only salvageable came from this story was the probably comprehensible resolution at the end. I guess the point is to suck all the words and the style and the prose and immerse in a the solitary cocoon of written intricacies. Problem is, I question everything the author did to a story or a plot or the characterization and etc. I can’t accept these things blindly without mulling over to see what fits. I only see bloated ambitious writing with no context. It cause indigestion. Plus not single one review on this story actually told anything consistent about the story. What is the point in there? (0)

Kelly Link’s “The Summer People” is a YA fantasy about Alice in Wonderland and the fae. Normally I would have like it better at the author done well enough with the story without the christian elements (again, I don’t really mind about reading other’s faith but I don’t really find the connection with the story which make the element needless in the storyline. At least, write about it in a way anyone would have connected themselves with it instead of giving an afterthought on it). Personally, I don’t find Fran interesting as a character. It would be interesting if she was a protagonist who have some actual personality than going through the motions. (0)

Yes, there’s a Garth Nix story and this is it. “Peace in Our Time” is a compelling story of a man redemption and the story reminded me of some of Nathaniel Hawthorne which I’ve grown to love. When the protagonist aren’t the way you would have expected, it does make the story move away from conventional means. The steampunk element in this is quite possibly the most correct in this book which made the act of reading became an act of revelation. Subtle placement of conflict and effective world building in around 12 paperback page, so far it did what it meant to be. (1)

Christopher Rowe’s “Nowhere Fast” can be appropriately reason enough why I don’t look forward to stuff written for men or written in a way that made some people (me) hard to connect to the content. Its a post-apocalyptic story of a town and its community and the American culture. Sadly, the only steampunk element was in the vehicle that suddenly pop into the town. Honestly, this would have been better with zombies in it. (0)

Another graphic novel by Kathleen Jennings called “Finishing School”. If you like the art in Tin-Tin or Osamu Tezuka stories, this short story is pretty well crafted and the content is quite inspiring and girl empowering. Set in a boarding girl school where a school girl befriended a weird girl who was outspoken and too intelligent for her own good and challenge the conventional views inflicted upon her. (1)

Dylan Horrock’s “Steam Girl” introduce us to an inception of stories from the point of view of the narrator who found himself fascinated by an alienated girl in his high school where she told him the story of Steam Girl who had adventures with her father and fight evil in mars. I actually prefer this above the pulpy “Princess of Mars” and is quite similar in vein with the 2006 movie “The Fall”. (1)

For those loving steampunk romance, Holly Black’s “Everything Amiable and Obliging”. Although the story is quite similar to Jane Austen-like romance but there’s the clockwork machines that does the work for them instead of the servants and the house itself is a large machine. Despite the overall shallowness of the characters, the forbidden love and etc, I find myself enjoying the story. Its quite similar to Marrisa Meyer’s Cinder in a way. (0.5)

and finally the Roman tragedy classics appropriation by M.T. Anderson which told us about Marcus Furius and his story and the revenge element in it, the birth of “Oracle Engine”, the rise of Rome and the common Rome associated stories and the eventual destruction. I enjoy the inclusion of the known Roman works and was familiar with them from the online course I’ve involved in last year. But the story is quite passively narrated and the story is really just paraphrases of chosen classics and a summary of a very complicated story. I think it would do more justice had it been a proper length for it. (0.5)