Archive for November, 2008

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

So begins what is probably Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel.

Our unnamed narrator is a young girl working as a companion to a lady in Monte Carlo, when she meets Maxim De Winter, a handsome and mysterious widower, who has come to get away from the aftermath of his wife’s death.  The narrator is instantly taken with de Winter, and a swift engagement and wedding soon follows.

However, when de Winter takes her back to his Manderley, his family home and estate, she discovers a very different way of life, which is still very much consumed with de Winter’s dead wife, Rebecca.  The staff and local residents are very intrigued by de Winter’s young wife, and she feels that she can never compare to Rebecca, especially in the eyes of Mrs Danvers, the cold housekeeper at Manderley, who seems to resent the new Mrs de Winter.

And our narrator soon learns that nothing at Manderley is quite what it seems, and she finds herself wondering who exactly she married, and what secrets are held in by the walls of Manderley….

I have meant to read this book for a very long time, and I wish I had read it sooner. There is a dark and sinister atmosphere thoughout the whole book, and the reader knows only as much as the narrator, so that her discoveries and worries become our own.

Manderley is effectively another character in the book, with it’s brooding intensity. Rebecca also, despite not being alive, is a major presence throughout the story.

The writing is very clever, and there are twists and turns in the story which, if I was not already familiar with the story, would not have guessed.  In truth, any reader who does not know the story would be kept guessing until the end.

The characters are also all very believable, from the hateful Mrs Danvers, to Maxin’s well meaning sister in law Beatrice, our narrator, and most of all, Maxim himself, who at times is a mass of contradictions.

I can certainly see why this novel has become a modern classic, and it is deserving of all the acclaim it has received.

Highly recommended.  I shall be seeking out more work by Daphne Du Maurier.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Alice Wunderland is an American who has lived in Paris for twenty years.  Suddenly finding herself unexpectedly made redundant, she decides that a change of direction is in order, and resolves to qualify as an English teacher.  After all, surely she should be in an advantageous position, as she is a native English speaker?  Alice launches herself with enthusiasm into the studying the course required for all wishing to find employment with the French education system, but what she found left her dismayed and astounded.  Native English speakers appear to be frowned upon, and in fact, speaking correct English does not even seem to be much of a priority; odd considering that they will be required to teach English themselves.

Alice discovers that the system is skewed, and disfavours anybody who is not of French nationality.  Passing the required exams almost seems to be a matter of luck. Disillusioned, Alice decides to investigate further….

This book is based on the author’s own experiences, and it would be interesting to know what the French authorities made of it!  It is very enjoyable, as ‘Alice’ is a warm and amusing narrator, whose frustrations it is easy to understand and share.

Having said that, about halfway through the book, I did think that she was whining somewhat (and her occasional unnecessary ‘sneering’ at some of the other students did not appeal to me, although that is a minor gripe), but I ended up admiring her for at least questioning the system, rather than just accepting it on face value, as so many of her fellow students seemed to do.

Little anecdotes from Alice’s family life (in reality, from the author’s family life) also pepper the narrative, and the parallel between Alice’s difficulty with her course and her daughters difficulty with her schoolwork gives more food for thought.

Overall, an interesting and enjoyable book.

(I would like to thank LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me this book to review.  LibraryThing’s website can be found here.  Laurel Zuckerman’s website can be found here.)

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This is a really terrific movie. It has been called Tarantino-esque, which is not untrue. it’s also been compared to films like Crash and Memento. I haven’t seen Crash, but I really liked Memento. However, 11:14 contains far more dark humour than that movie.

The film shows how the lives of some very different and unrelated characters in a small town, are all brought together by a car accident which happens at 11.14pm one night.  The two biggest names in the movie are Patrick Swayze, who plays an over-protective father, and Hilary Swank, who plays (rather fabulously) a down-on-her-luck shop assistant who gets dragged into a colleague’s scheming.  None of the characters are explored as deeply as they perhaps could have been, but this did not detract from the film in the slightest, as it is very much a plot driven, rather than a character driven movie.

The story is told from the different points of view of each character, and each point of view fills in a bit more of the story, which all ties up together with a surprising twist at the end.

Although it is predominantly a mystery, there are some laugh-out-loud moments. This film held my attention completely from beginning to end, and I would definitely recommend it. I much prefer a good storyline over lots of special effects, and this film shows how a great script can work brilliantly, even with a relatively small budget.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Greg Marcks

Writer: Greg Marcks

Main cast: Patrick Swayze, Hilary Swank, Henry Thomas. Barbara Hershey, Rachael Leigh Cook

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This is a very entertaining, very quick (I read it in one sitting) book, written by Bill Maher, American comedian, tv presenter, writer and social campaigner.

Maher hosts a HBO television show called Real Time with Bill Maher, and New Rules is a segment on that show, in which he comes up with ideas for new rules to help make society run more easily.  This book is a collection of those rules.  Most of them are flippant and funny (one of his new rules involves the idea of Bob Dylan being the ‘voice of a generation’; Maher makes the observation that if a generation could choose a voice, it would pick a better one than Dylan’s – and that is the kind of tone which runs through most of the book).

However, being a stauch campaigner for the Democratic party – although he did support independent Ralph Nader in the 2004 election – there are a smattering of rules which reflect Maher’s opinion on certain topical issues – stem cell research and same sex marriage, are two examples.  On these matters, Maher drops the flippancy somewhat, and talks passionately about what he believes.

Overall though, this is a funny and light hearted book – with plenty of “He’s absolutely right!” moments.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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For my money, Richard Lewis is one of the funniest men on the planet.  The actor/comedian has had a successful career spanning three decades, and is loved by many.  However, some fifteen years ago, he nearly died after the alcoholism which he had been battling largely in private finally took it’s toll.

This is not a comedic book, nor is it intended to be (although certain parts are laugh out loud funny).  Instead, Lewis tells us of his life from a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family, to his descent into alcoholism, and finally his battle to overcome his addiction.  It is not a conventional autobiography, told chronologically; rather it is a collection of essays on all manner of subjects – the aforementioned family, alcoholism and recovery, and other subjects such as his idols, specific incidents in his career, and random musings, which all piece together to tell a very honest tale.

His honesty is what makes this book so readable – Lewis is, by his own admission, self-centred and narcissistic, but he also shows great compassion and understanding of what anybody battling an addiction is facing.  He is truthful in admitting that life still sucks sometimes even after one has got sober, and that overcoming his alcoholism wasn’t like a magic formula which instantly made life wonderful.  He has many neuroses and worries, which he discusses with frankness (I got the impression that writing this book was definitely a cathartic experience for him).  He doesn’t try to offer solutions for others with similar problems – he merely talks about what, finally, worked for him.

Definitely recommended – and not just to fans of Richard Lewis.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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