books

In honour of “Cruella” here are some of the wildest things which happen in the original 101 Dalmatians

Not the Disney movie, the book!

It’s a very good children’s book but full of “What?!” moments, far many more than the Disney version or indeed “Cruella.” In no order:


-A lot is made about how it’s terrible for a dog to harm a human, but also Pongo and Missus (his wife, Perdita exists but isn’t married to him) meet a dog near the end who’s just totally down for murder. In fact he’s so casual about it one has to wonder how many troublesome humans he’s killed.

“Why not kill this Cruella?” said the Staffordshire. “And I’ll help you. Let’s make a date for it now.”

Pongo shook his head. He had come to believe that Cruella was not an ordinary human but some kind of devil. If so, could one kill her? In any case, he didn’t want his pups to have a killer-dog for a father. He would have sprung at Cruella if she had attacked any pup, but he didn’t fancy cold-blooded murder. He told the Staffordshire so.

“Your blood would soon warm up, once you started the job,” said the Staffordshire. “Well, let me know if you change your mind. And now you take a nap, mate. You’ve still got quite a job ahead of you.”

-Pongo is right! Cruella is said to be descended from what might be the LITERAL DEVIL:

“By this time,” the Colonel went on, “people were calling the place Hell Hall, and the de Vil chap plain devil. The end came when the men from several villages arrived one night with lighted torches, prepared to break open the gates and burn the farmhouse down. But as they approached the gates a terriffic thunderstorm began and put the torches out. Then the gates burst open—seemingly of their own accord—and out came de Vil, driving a coach and four. And the story is that lightning was coming not from the skies but from de Vil—blue forked lightning. All the men ran away screaming and never came back. And neither did de Vil. The house stood empty for thirty years. Then someone rented it. It’s been rented again and again, but no one ever stays.”

-And her husband (yep, she has a husband) seems weirdly chill with this.

They dashed towards Cruella and seized the hem of the cloak. It slipped from her shoulders quite easily—and fell on top of Pongo and Missis. Blindly they hurled themselves along the Outer Circle, with the cloak spread out over them and looking as if it were runing by itself. Cruella screamed. “It’s bewitched! Go after it—quick!”

“No fear!” said Mr. de Vil. “I think an ancestor of yours is running away with it. You’d better come indoors.”

-Cruella’s henchmen in the book are called Saul and Jasper Baddun, and they’re obsessed with a television game show called “What’s My Crime?”

Two ladies and two gentlemen, in faultless evening dress, had to guess the crime committed by a lady or gentleman in equally faultless evening dress. Stern moralists said this programme was causing a crime wave and filling the prisons, because people committed crimes in the hope of being chosen as contestants. But crime is usually waving and the prisons are usually full, so probably “What’s My Crime?” had not made much difference. Both the Badduns longed to appear as contestants, but they knew they would never be chosen unless they committed a really original crime, and they had never been able to think of one.

One of the contestants “stole two hundred bath plugs from hotels” a bit of a far cry from “murdering a hundred puppies” like the Badduns plan to do. (They end up really enjoying prison because all the cool criminals are there.)


-Mr Dearly (not Darling) has some sort of very high-up government job which makes me incredibly suspicious of him.

At the time when this story starts he was rather unusually rich for a rather unusual reason. He had done the Government a great service (something to do with getting rid of the national debt) and, as a reward, had been let off his income tax for life. Also the Government had lent him a small house on the Outer Circle of Regent’s Park—just the right house for a man with a wife and dogs.

All sounds a bit dodgy (dog-dgy?) if you ask me.


-Cruella is punished not with death or prison but by her hair turning hideous.

“She won’t look very well in anything,” said the cat. “You’ve heard of people’s hair going white in a single night, from shock? That’s happened to the black side of her hair. And the white side’s gone green—a horrid shade. People are going to think it’s dyed. Well, I’m glad to have finished with the de Vils.”


-There’s a child, established as being two years old, who just randomly roams about near roads with only his dog for supervision.

When they reached Dympling they went for a walk round the village and met Tommy Tompkins out with the Sheepdog. So the little blue cart was returned then and there—rather a relief to the Dearlys, who wouldn’t quite have known what to say to Tommy’s parents.

(He also can communicate with said dog.)


The book has a slightly religious bent. An open church is what saves the puppies from death, though they don’t know what a church is. Cadpig, the youngest puppy, muses on this in the novel’s closing sentences:

She often remembered that building, and wondered who owned it—someone very kind, she was sure.

And considering that Cruella is descended from Satan himself… turns out this novel is actually a battle between heaven and hell as played out via dognapping.

The Testaments

Is it fair to say The Testaments is a book I’ve waited for for over half my life? Well, I first read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was about 15, in high school, and I’m 31 now, so… yeah, pretty much? Also, let’s get the big question of the way first: it delivered.

(BIG spoilers ahead!)

The Testaments revolves around three women/girls: firstly Aunt Lydia, secondly June’s daughter Agnes, and thirdly June’s other daughter Nicole, who you might remember plays a pretty big part in the TV series right now. Nicole goes through various names during the course of this book, including “Jade” when she’s sent to infiltrate Gilead.

Ah, so that’s why the cover is green.

The most common complaint I’ve seen about this novel is “So, plucky young girl is sent into a dystopia and meets her long-lost sister, helps bring down a regime? It reads like a YA book.” And you know what? It DOES! And you know what else? I am DELIGHTED! YA books, with their cascade of brave and brightly-coloured teenage girls fighting injustice, they get a bad rap. People mock them. After all, we all know it’s stupid and unrealistic, the idea of smart, uncompromising young girls enacting large-scale social change.

So yeah.

Here’s the thing: I actually didn’t like Nicole all that much at first. I couldn’t relate to her one bit and I found her obnoxious/extremely likely to blow the plan and get everyone killed. But I’m happy she was one of the heroines and I hope that if teenage girls do read The Testaments, whether for high school or not, that they’re inspired by her.

I did love this line from her, regarding Gilead:

What am I doing here? This place is weird as fuck.

Ah, Nicole, you’re definitely your mother’s daughter.

Agnes was my favourite character in this book. If The Testaments does end up being the basis for the next few seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale TV show I cannot wait to see who will play the older version of her and how she’ll act out some of the things detailed in this book. Agnes (I keep wanting to call her Hannah, since we know that’s the name her mother gave her, but I guess we’ll stick with Agnes for now) delivers one of my favourite lines:

The man eyes that were always roaming here and there like the eyes of tigers, those searchlight eyes, needed to be shielded from the alluring and indeed blinding power of us – of our shapely or skinny or fat legs, of our graceful or knobbly or sausage arms, of our peachy or blotchy skins, of our entwining curls of shining hair or our coarse unruly pelts or our straw-like wispy braids, it did not matter.

How often have girls heard that, that sexual assault is about just attraction, when it’s more about power? Gilead is so messed up. We knew that already of course but it’s so messed up, and I loved seeing Agnes break out of its brainwashing.

I had trouble reconciling this book’s Aunt Lydia with the Aunt Lydia of the first book, until it occured to me that maybe the Aunt Lydia of the book wasn’t actually as bad as I remembered? She’s much, much worse in the TV show and that’s the image of her I have now, but maybe that wasn’t the image Atwood had while writing this book. I really wish I could check my old copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t have it with me. Still, I don’t think anything in this book really stops me from being able to call her one of my favourite villains of all time, like I used to?

Another complex villain in this book is Tabitha, adoptive mother of Agnes. She’s sympathetic but she is a villain, she’s raising a stolen child whom she knows damn well is stolen, going along with the regime and filling her “daughter’s” head with lies.

That is what Tabitha used to tell me: “I went for a walk in the forest,” she would say, “and then I came across an enchanted castle and there were a lot of little girls locked inside, and none of them had any mothers, and they were under the spell of the wicked witches. I had a magic ring which unlocked the castle, but I could only rescue one little girl. So I looked at them all very carefully, and then, out of the whole crowd, I chose you!”

AND NONE OF THEM HAD ANY MOTHERS. Tabitha is a victim of Gilead too but despite the love Agnes had for her I can only feel hatred when she’s mentioned. Well done, Atwood.

I didn’t feel that same hatred for the main villain of the story, because there was so little there to feel anything about. Commander Judd is a one-dimensional monster with no redeeming features whatsoever, he might as well have been a literal demon. I can’t really criticize Atwood for that though because I imagine she did it on purpose: complicated female characters, uninteresting male ones. I’ve seen the same thing noted about The Handmaid’s Tale too.

June (I refuse to call her “Offred”) doesn’t show up in this story til the end, and when she does she’s immediately reunited with her daughters. I’ve heard complaints about that, too, that it was too pat and easy. And I literally could not disagree more because, my god, you’ve seen the world we’re living in? People are dressing as Handmaids at political protests because the point still needs to be made. June, Agnes and Nicole deserved that happy ending after everything they went through but we deserve that happy ending too. It’s not a cop-out, it’s hope. Come on! You don’t think we could use some? Really?

The Testaments ends like its predecessor did, with historians gathered to try and put together the pieces. As a budding and extremely amateur historian I always loved the epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale. This one, though, I loved even more because of how it gave one of the story’s unsung heroines a moment in the spotlight. If I had to name one Theme this novel has, it’s “Don’t forget the women who came before you and sacrificed everything.” You know, I’m not going to reveal the identity of the last woman this book mentions, but I loved her too. And I also love that the last line of the original Handmaid’s Tale is

Are there any questions?

and in this one,

A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter, love is as strong as death.

All that time and we finally got an answer.

Book Discussion

r-we-taire-yet:

geekgirl101:

banahbanah:

thebiscuiteternal:

bookcub:

What were your childhood favorite books that no one else seems to know? Not Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, but the book no one else has ever heard of. Mine is Princess from Another Planet. 

The Books of the Named by Clare Bell. Prehistoric colony cats with identity politics and survival shit. Great stuff. I was so mad when the Warriors series came along during a period they were out of print and completely stole their thunder.

Just Ella. It’s a no-magic version of Cinderella where Ella gets married and realizes that rich people are terrible. It made an impression.

SECRETS OF DROON!!!!!

The Girl Who Could Fly. I even pressed a rose in it and kept it as a bookmark for my favorite part.

The Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman.

(Apparently a TV series has been greenlit, I hope it comes to fruition…)

book meme

Tagged by @szyszkasosnowa!

Rules: In a text post, list 10 books that have stayed with you in
some way. Don’t take but a few minutes, and don’t think too hard – they
don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have
touched you. Tag 10 friends, including me, so I’ll see your list. Make
sure you let your friends know you’ve tagged them!

1. Maus by Art Speigelman. Honestly…everyone on the face of the planet should read this book.

2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Well, you’ve seen this blog

3. The Return of the Jedi novelization by James Kahn, my first introduction to Star Wars

4. Holes by Louis Sachar, just an amazing book (that got made into an amazing movie)

5. Carrie by Stephen King, it awakens dark things in me

6. Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett’s non-Discworld books don’t get enough love, but they’re wonderful

7. Watchmen by Alan Moore. Don’t watch the movie, read the book

8. Atonement by Ian McEwan. Home to Briony Tallis, one of my favourite fictional characters ever

9. The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. I love Holmes and Watson. Sherlock doesn’t do them anywhere near justice

10. Watership Down by Richard Adams, my favourite childhood book. They’re making a new adaptation! John Boyega’s gonna be in it!

Les Mis / A Tale of Two Cities meta

[crossposted to Tumblr]

So, almost a full year after meeting Grantaire from Les Miserables, I met Sydney Carton from A Tale Of Two Cities, and oh god they would have gotten along so well.

Grantaire: “I want a drink. I desire to forget life. Life is a hideous invention of I know not whom. It lasts no time at all, and is worth nothing.”
Carton: “As to me, the greatest desire I have, is to forget that I belong to it. It has no good in it for me—except wine like this—nor I for it.”

Grantaire: “I am tired to death, and I am stupid!”
Carton:There is nothing in [me] to like; you know that.”

Hugo on Grantaire: “…humanity, civilization, religion, progress, came very near to signifying nothing whatever to Grantaire…He was, himself, moreover, composed of two elements, which were, to all appearance, incompatible. He was ironical and cordial. His indifference loved.”
Dickens on Carton: “…the cloud of caring for nothing, which overshadowed him with such a fatal darkness, was very rarely pierced by the light within him.”

Hugo on Grantaire: “He had need of Enjolras. That chaste, healthy, firm, upright, hard, candid nature charmed him, without his being clearly aware of it, and without the idea of explaining it to himself having occurred to him…Grantaire in the presence of Enjolras became some one once more.”
Carton to Lucie: “I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned fight. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.”

There’s more, loads more-

-both are cynical, both have very low self-esteem, both drink too much, and both almost certainly have clinical depression. They express it in different ways- Sydney goes sullen and moody while Grantaire talks on and on to anyone who’ll listen- but you can tell so easily. Sydney does seem a bit more actually functional than Grantaire (he’s holding down a job and everything) but perhaps that’s because we know him for longer, we don’t actually see that much of Grantaire outside the bars he frequents.

Possibly the root cause of Grantaire’s problems (I dunno how popular an opinion this is, but I’m sticking to it) is that, whether in an abstract way or not, he cares way too much about things he knows he can do nothing about. “There are a hundred deaths a year of hunger in the parish of Charing-Cross alone.” “Shall I admire Brother Jonathan? I have but little taste for that slave-holding brother.” “People strive, turn each other out, prostitute themselves, kill each other, and get used to it!” And so on. (I strongly suspect that’s one of the main reasons for his popularity, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) He hates what he’s seen of the world, and you can’t really blame him, as even for a relatively financially secure student 19th century France seems a pretty crappy place to be- but he can’t hate the individual people that are his friends. One of my favourite ever lines from him (which- gasp- is one of the few R Lines I’ve never really seen discussed) is

“So much for myself; as for the rest of you, you are worth no more than I am. I scoff at your perfections, excellencies, and qualities.”

He literally just tried to insult his friends and ended up complimenting them instead. Oops.

Onwards to Sydney: the possible root of his depression might be his being orphaned at a young age, but whatever happened as he grew older it left him thinking “no man on earth cares for me.” I think he probably got stuck in a self-destructive cycle: after losing loved ones, he didn’t want to get close to anyone else and began pushing them away (much as Grantaire does with his friends, as you’ve just seen), and sinking deeper and deeper into himself as he did so. Come to think of it, you can see this in Book 3, where Sydney sincerely tells Mr Lorry he thinks of him as a father, then quickly slips back into self-deprecation once the situation has become too emotional.

Anyway. Apparently, once you’re a cynical alcoholic, you need to find a hot blonde to devote yourself to. Sydney has Lucie and Grantaire has Enjolras- even though Enjolras never became involved with anyone else, I can see Grantaire reacting to such a scenario just as Sydney did – “[I] would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down…I know very well that you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am even thankful that it cannot be.”
Both characters actually seem pretty grateful that their affections aren’t returned, because it confirms what they thought about themselves: that they’re unloveable.

And finally: both unrequited love stories end in death, but triumphant death. Sydney dies to save Lucie’s husband so that she can be happy; Grantaire dies declaring himself “one of them” out of love for his friends and Enjolras. But I think the most significant things about their respective endings, actually, is that they both go out doing even more than what they’re capable of. Sydney doesn’t have to comfort the young seamstress who’s riding with him, they’d both going to die in five minutes no matter what, but he does it anyway because he’s a good person. Grantaire doesn’t have to ask Enjolras’s permission to die with him, it’s not like it would have made that much difference really, but he does it anyway because Enjolras’s feelings are more important than his own. Not bad for people who thought themselves essentially worthless.

(no subject)

I read the book Unwind by Neal Shusterman the other day- anyone else read it? It’s good, but disturbing as hell.

Full of body horror, which I’ve always found horrific. ‘Unwinding’ is the process in which someone’s organs are harvested from them while they’re still concious, which is awful, awful, awful to read when it finally happens in the book. Parents voluntarily send their troubled or ‘useless’ kids (like Connor, one of the protagonists) for this operation, having been kinda brainwashed or whatever into believing it’s okay because their kid will still live on, just…as the organs in other people’s bodies. Brrrr.

For a book that’s sort of about abortion (unwinding is basically ‘retroactive abortion’), it doesn’t really have anything new to say on the subject. And in a way I wish Shusterman had cut the abortion thing altogether and just focused on the other issues (especially since, of all the people who could write about abortion, cissexual men are kind of at the bottom of the list, you know?) like how, how do the people in this society think it’s okay to kill their children for minor misdemeanors or not getting good enough grades? How long did it take for that to become normal? Anyway-

-I’m gonna try and get hold of the sequel, I think, I want to know more about the world and about the characters. (I’m especially curious as to how Connor can continue to love his parents. Any parent who would do that isn’t worthy of the name, in my opinion.) Ooh, and I hear there might be a movie! Cool.

Also: I am an organ donor and I hope this book won’t put anyone off being one, but OH GOD PLEASE MAKE EXTRA SURE I’M DEAD FIRST

(no subject)

Hollywood Executive 1: We have a book here called ‘World War Z’, it deals with the global impact of a zombie outbreak, features many different cultures and politics, explores the stories of many countries-

Hollywood Executive 2: Yes! I’m seeing, “White American Man Saves World From Zombies”

HE1: No, it’s not about-

HE2: Get me Brad Pitt on the phone!

HE: No, you’ve missed the point entirely-

HE2: There aren’t nearly enough movies about a man protecting his wife and kids from danger! We need to get Brad Pitt an adorable family! Is Angelina busy? Yes? Get me someone else!

HE1: But there’s a huge, diverse cast in this book-

HE2: WHITE AMERICAN MAN. PURE BOX OFFICE GOLD.

HE1: Look, can we at least get the actual zombies right-

HE2: PURE. GOLD.

The Casual Vacancy

I finally have it! And I read it! It was good, but so bleak and sad.

Very bleak and sad. I didn’t expect the ending, not at all- two children dead, and very little punishment dealt to the most awful characters in the book. Which, of course, probably reflects reality- but I wanted to see Simon at least suffer, and he didn’t.

Let’s go character-by-character:

Sukhvinder

I loved Sukhvinder, loved her. She was by far my favourite- I related to her most out of everyone. And she’s easily the most heroic character in the novel, risking her life without a second thought to try and save Krystal’s brother.

(Here’s an awful thought- would she have succeeded, if she hadn’t cut her foot on Simon’s discarded computer? Or was it too late for Robbie anyway?)

Before I read this book I heard there were complaints about the unflattering descriptions of her physical appearance. But I don’t think the people making the complaints had read the book at all, because all these comments come from Fats, an odious little bully making her life a misery. The insults about her size and facial hair come from him, definitely not from Rowling- Sukhvinder’s wonderful, and easily brave enough that she could have fitted right in to Harry Potter’s Gryffindor…

Simon and the Prices (Andrew, Paul and Ruth)

I hated Simon. SO MUCH. Obviously we’re meant to, because he’s a violent abuser, but…oh, it drove me insane that he never got his punishment. He lost his job, true, but he deserved prison. Or worse.

And Andrew decided to make him an ally! Oh, Andrew. And then there was Paul, who seemed to have it even worse…he barely says much through the whole novel, he’s just there to be verbally abused or hit.

And Ruth doesn’t leave her horrible, horrible husband and nothing gets better. What if Andrew or Paul grow up to be Simons? They still might and it’s awful, one of the bleakest things in the book…

Krystal and the Weedons (Terri and Robbie)

…the other one is Krystal’s story, it’s horrible. Especially since, everything she did she did for her brother, and he ended up dead because of it. With him gone she had nothing left to live for, and her last day on Earth was full of pain and panic and she died to the sound of her aunt calling her a bitch…her life was so wasted, it made me want to cry.

But you know what I haven’t seen anyone else mention in reviews, to my surprise? She saved Andrew’s life! When she was just a little girl, her cleverness and confidence saved him- he’s alive because of her. That bit broke my heart, that here was this girl who goes to her grave written off as a ‘soulless creature’, (while it was Fats, of course, who gave Andrew the peanut that nearly killed him) and yet she saved a child’s life and spent all her teenage years trying to save another. Some ‘soulless’…

Colin

My own OCD is very similar to Colin’s. Not as bad, but similar-

-reading the reviews for this book confirmed to me beyond all shadow of a doubt that people don’t get OCD. Because: Colin was not a paedophile, nor did he have paedophilic fantasies. He was just terrified that he might, or that he’d already done something awful, or that he was a rapist or murderer. Because that’s what OCD does to you, it gets inside your head. Colin had a serious illness, well explained by Rowling, and yet the reviews that talked about him being a potential paedophile were numerous. Well done, world, you’ll do me so much good…

Fats

I don’t know what to make of him. I think he may well have been a psychopath- he tried to kill another child in primary school, after all. He subjected Sukhvinder to vile, racist bullying for no reason, he was cruel and thoughtless and played a large part in the death of a child-

-but was that all his fault or did his start in life play a part? I don’t know.

I hated him, but I think he does have the potential to become a better person. Probably. Hopefully.

Everyone else

There were other people in the novel, obviously, but they didn’t really jump out at me as much as the above mentioned did.

I certainly admire JK’s ability to juggle so many characters at once, though- and to make me care so much about a lot of them. And you know what…even though it’s nothing to do with Harry Potter, I’d love to see a fanfic where Krystal Weedon recieves a Hogwarts letter. If no-one else has written it, I might write it myself.