Self Portrait

Self Portrait

I have been told that I have my father’s eyes. I hope they are his kind eyes, with corners that crease with laughter as he spins me in dizzy circles, and irises of silver-blue filled with dreams of aeroplanes diving through the sky, parting the clouds.

I remember evenings spent cross-legged in his high-backed armchair waiting for the clink of his key in the front door, the weight of a book laying open in my lap. My grandmother taught me to read, and I borrowed large hardbacks from her shelves because I liked the way they felt between my hands, and I liked the way they looked on the table beside my bed. Even then, I liked the way I looked with a book in my hands.

I didn’t understand the longer words, but I patiently sounded them out and I liked the way they tasted, hard consonants flicking from the roof of my mouth, long vowels lingering on my tongue. He would nod his approval with a smile that crinkled around his tired eyes like crêpe paper.

I have been told that I have my mother’s hair. Curls that tumble down her back, unwinding like a ream of cotton falling from the table top, as she releases the clip that binds it neatly to her head. It is braided with silver now like ribbons of moonlight trailing through the night.

I remember hours spent cross-legged in front of her dressing table, balancing on the velvet-cushioned stool to see my reflection. Pinning my hair on top of my head with unpracticed hands, whilst beside me she blended glittering gold eyeshadow into her brow line with the tip of her index finger.

I never could perfect her technique, becoming instead a flawed copy; I was a paper doll dancing in the wind, skin snagging on sharp words and pointed looks that tear holes in the thin membrane of myself.

My grandfather taught me to play draughts on quiet afternoons in their living room. I always played with black, lining up circular counters like a double row of unblinking eyes, pupils wide. I liked to build pyramids with the white counters I won, stacking them symmetrically at the edge of the board. It is only now I realise he was letting me win, his slender hands aged copies of my own sliding discs across the board.

I sit cross-legged in my father’s high-backed armchair, the weight of a leather album in my lap; I thumb through old family photographs searching for myself in the faces of strangers. A distant cousin has the curve of my neck, the shadows that settle above my collarbones. A great-great uncle has my shy half-smile, staring out from the corner of the frame.

I am the sum of inherited parts.

 

(January 2014)

Thoughts on the TFiOS Film

(Originally posted on 21st July.)

So, this is probably the latest film review in the history of film reviews, but bear with me because as well as talking about The Fault in Our Stars I want to use it as a jumping off point to talk about film adaptations in general and what makes them successful, for me.

I went to see TFiOS film with one of my best friends a couple of weeks ago and I was both excited to see it and worried I wouldn’t like it; I’m always wary of book to film adaptations and it would have been so easy to get the tone of this one wrong. I was dreading having another Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix moment sat in the cinema (you’ll be pleased to know, I have made my peace with that film now and actually quite like it). However, I needn’t have worried because TFiOS was everything it should have been, for me.

1. Some of the writing in the book is quite pretentious, namely a lot of Augustus’ dialogue, albeit deliberately so. Whilst this works for the book, I was a little worried about how it would translate to speech without sounding staged and being frankly uncomfortable to listen to (you know, when you have to turn off the news because a guest is just saying really stupid things and it’s physically painful to watch?). Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and somehow the delivery of these lines captured that slightly awkward discovering-the-world-and-acting-older-than-I-am essence of being a teenager. It’s sort of hard to explain what I mean by that, but it’s that awareness that you’re growing up but not realising you’re not yet grown up stage. Whatever it is, the film captured it really nicely and, more than anything, Hazel and Gus felt like genuine teenagers, not just sick kids, which was probably the most important thing the film had to get right.

2. The characters. Every character was brought to life wonderfully. Particularly minor characters such as Patrick, and Hazel’s parents who I didn’t have an overly developed picture of before the film. The film allowed these characters to take on shape in a way that the book, by its nature, could not. Maybe that’s a fault of my imagination more than anything, but I liked developing a clearer idea of these characters beyond their relationships with Hazel.

3. The details. Even things like the posters in Hazel’s room were exactly right, which was awesome.

I honestly loved this film in a way I didn’t expect to. With all the talk from John Green throughout the filming process about it being done well and by people who love and care about the story, I was still expecting not to like it, I think. Of course, there are things I wish had been included: the scene with the young girl trying on Hazel’s cannula, the scene with her friend Kaitlyn etc. but I only want those scenes as a reader and fan on TFiOS book. In reality, whilst such scenes are important to the book and its readers, the film stands complete without them. Director, Josh Boone, has succeeded in replicating the emotional charge of Green’s story and has created something that is simultaneously bound closely to the original text and is also a separate entity.

Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments

 

Originally posted on my Goodreads on Sunday 20th July 2014.

After reading Fangirl and then Eleanor and Park, I was excited to get started on Attachments, but I have to admit I struggled with it at times. I really enjoyed the email conversations to start with as it was a refreshing change from ordinary prose, particularly as an opening to the novel, and I am interested in the effects of digital technology on the ways we communicate with each other. For example, the effects of the lack of face-to-face communication on personal relationships which often rely on intimacy.

However, I could’t help feeling irritated by this book at times, particularly by the way everything just seemed to fit into place all the time. For example, Beth admiring Lincoln from afar without knowing who he is or that he just happens to be borderline obsessing over her. Also, the way this book relies on the love-at-first-sight trope, even whilst appearing to subvert that through the use of email to remove knowledge of Beth’s physical appearance; Beth eventually accepts Lincoln at the end with minimal questioning of his invasion of her privacy through reading her personal emails for months. In fact, after they meet face to face for the first time, less than twenty pages from the end, they jump straight into professing their true love for each other and it all feels a little insubstantial, a little bit rushed. I would have liked more conflict here.

Also, chapter 39 was just… unnecessary and disappointingly cliched.

Despite all of this, there are moments of brilliance that made me stop and reread passages. I even dog-eared a page (an unthinkable crime):

“‘It’s not like I fell out of love with you,’ Sam said. ‘I’m just not the same person that I was when I fell in love with you.’
Quiet.
‘People change,’ she said.

‘… I know that people change. I thought… I thought we were going to change together. I thought that’s what it meant to be in love.'”

For me, this captured wonderfully the differences between real love and infatuation. Real love is hard work, it’s flexible, forgiving, constantly shifting. Infatuation is static, unyielding, idealistic. This is Rowell at her best, summarising these complex ideas in a simple passage that really hits home.

Overall, I enjoyed Attachments for what it is: a light-hearted happy-ending love story.

October

October

The coast curves around the sea,

each jutting headland a ridge of its spine,

shingle beaches like shards of bone

chipped away by the force of the tide,

pressing angry against my naked soles.

The waves leap at the shore,

silver wolves with dark open jaws

and glinting eyes like blinking amber suns

stolen from the sky, just for a second,

before they crash around our feet.

The taste of salt in the air

stings my lips, pressed against

the smooth skin of your shoulder.

You shiver. The wind drags

across your flesh raising dimples

like pebbles beneath my palms.

Sometimes I wake in the night

and the cotton sheets feel cold between us

and just for a second I stop breathing-

I close my eyes tight against the darkness

pressing in around me, heavy as storm clouds

hesitating on the edge of relief.

Expectant silence hangs oppressive in the air.

Your breathing is loud near my ear, dragging

oxygen into your lungs like the waves

steal shingle from the shoreline.

I remember that autumn afternoon, anchored

together in the eye of the storm.

Beneath my drifting eyelids

you laugh, turn, grab my hand,

and we run along the spine of the earth.

(January 2014)

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

image from Goodreads because my own copy is at home :(

review originally posted on my Goodreads on 27th May 2014

I had high expectations for We Were Liars due to all the social media promotion in the weeks and months up to its release. First of all I almost had a melt down in the bookshop because I thought they didn’t have it, but then I saw it on a stand all of its own so crisis averted! When I finally got it home and started reading, I tried not to let those high expectations get in the way of enjoying the story. I needn’t have worried because within a few pages I was hooked. The characters were well written and likeable, I loved the prose-poetry style of certain sections, and way everything just slots together even when you don’t realise it at the time.

Of course, the biggest thing everyone’s talking about with regards to We Were Liars is the plot twist. I’m fairly good at working things out before they happen in books, but I missed this completely, and then.. wham. Honestly, it’s hard to know what to say about this book because it’s an experience best had with little prior knowledge, in my opinion. When I finished, the first thing I wanted to do was to start over and immerse myself further in E. Lockhart’s world.

Instead I lent my copy to my younger sister, because I’m nice like that, but I’ll be making sure I get it back ASAP.

Afterwards

Afterwards

Sitting on the front door step,

shirt sleeves rolled unevenly to your elbows,

you peel cooking apples with a paring knife

long slices of skin pooling at your feet.

You used to whistle with blades of grass,

palms cupped around a delicate green

as if you held a secret between your hands.

Sometimes, I almost thought your breath

could tempt petals from your fingertips,

daisies unfurling, falling at your feet.

Later, I picked them from between the roots

of the oak tree and wove them into necklaces.

You laughed as I looped yours around your neck,

my hands lingering at the collar of your shirt.

I ducked away from your kiss, your breathy

laugh teasing the hair at my temple.

I smoothed that concentrated furrow

between your eyebrows with my index finger

as you lay back in the grass,

looking so much the romantic lead

in some tear-jerking book-to-film adaptation.

That is how I remember you.

(January 2014)