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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

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It’s March. We are a quarter of the way through the year and already I have found a book that I believe is a serious contender for my book of the year.

The Leftovers takes place three years after an event known as the Rapture by some, and the Sudden Departure by many. Basically, 2% of the earth’s population just disappeared in a split second. The monumental event, whatever it was, did not discriminate across gender, sexual, religious, colour or race lines. Set in the fictional town of Mapleton, New York, this novel examines the effect the Sudden Departure has had on the residents, focusing mainly on the Garvey family – father Kevin, the town mayor, who tries to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of normalcy; wife Laurie, who has left the family to join a cult known as the Guilty Remnant; daughter Jill, who is rebelling as a form of coping with seeing her oldest friend disappear; and son Tom, who put his faith in a man who calls himself Holy Wayne and who believes he has the power to absorb other people’s pain.

A lot of the events in the book could be described as mundane, in that it is people just trying to live their lives, coping with loss, not knowing what happened or why, and searching for ways to get through the pain and confusion. It does make you think ‘what if’, but what I loved about it was the fact that although the Sudden Departure itself is implausible, the reactions of the townsfolk to it do seem entirely believable. I wouldn’t class it necessarily as dystopia, and definitely not as sci-fi, but perhaps alternative reality. A reality that I personally would not want to contemplate!

Lives go off on their own trajectories, and people react in different ways. I loved reading about the residents of this small town, and I only wish there was a sequel. Incidentally, I tried watching the TV adaptation before I even knew that it was based on a book, and while the premise fascinated me, I couldn’t get past two episodes before giving up. The second long flashbacks annoyed me and there seemed to be too many storylines going on, but in the book the storylines all meld together perfectly.

Highly, highly recommended.

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This is a fairly low-budget British ‘horror’ film (albeit light on the horror aspect), which Cassie (Christina Ricci) is a young woman knocked over by a car in the sleepy town of Ashby Wake.  When she recovers, she has lost her memory and cannot remember what she is doing in the town.  The woman who knocked her over lets Cassie stay with her and her family, and Cassie forms a bond with the young son, Michael.  However, she is curious and concerned about the strangers who she keeps seeing in the town, but who seem oddly familiar to her, and she enlists the help of a man named Dan (Ioan Gruffudd).  Meanwhile, a buried church is discovered underground, and various members of the Anglican church in the neighbourhood are anxious to discover the mystery behind it.

I watched this film for the sole reason that Ioan Gruffudd was in it.  Horror is not really a favourite genre of mine, and religion is not a subject which would normally draw me to a film.  Nonetheless, I actually found this entertaining enough, despite a few plot holes and unresolved questions.

Christina Ricci was fine as the lead character, although some of the choices that character made seemed unlikely.  Ioan Gruffudd (who surely must have an ageing portrait in his attic, as he looks no different eleven years later than he does in this film) was also good as Dan – actually the best thing about the movie, from  my point of view.

In all, while this film does present more questions than it answers (or more truthfully just leaves some plotlines dangling), it’s an undemanding, slightly hokey experience, and not bad if you are a fan of the genre, or any of the main actors.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Brian Gilbert

Producers: Patrick McKenna, Pippa Cross, Rachel Cuperman, Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson, Steve Clark-Hall

Writer: Anthony Horowitz

Main cast: Christina Ricci, Ioan Gruffudd, Stephen Dillane, Kerry Fox, Simon Russell Beale, Peter McNamara

 

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At the request of the family of Martin Luther King, Jr., King Scholar Claybourne Carson used Stanford University’s vast collection of King’s essays, his speeches and interviews with King, to construct this book, which tells the story of King’s life, with particular attention on his work for Civil Rights and equal opportunities for black Americans.  Each chapter focuses on a specific time, campaign or incident, and describes not only the events taking place, but King’s own determination to keep going, the difficulties that he faced – both emotionally and physically – and the reasoning behind his actions, including his absolute determination that the campaign should be non-violent.

I found the book thoroughly absorbing.  King was clearly an eloquent man with a passionate belief in justice for all, and this comes through on every page.  I knew about the man and his life prior to picking up this book, but reading his thoughts in his own words was still very enlightening.  I was full of admiration for a man who knew that his work put him in physical danger and indeed saw friends and colleagues die for the cause, who felt sometimes that he was fighting a losing (non-violent) battle, who encountered differences of opinion even within his own campaign, but yet refused to give up striving for what was right and fair.

Clayborne Carson has done a wonderful job of using King’s writings to build a clear chronological narrative, and it was often heartbreaking, but never less than inspiring to read.  I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

(For more information about Martin Luther King, Jr., his life and work, and his legacy, please click here.)

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Harriet Beecher Stowe was a staunch advocate for the abolishment of slavery in the mid-1800s, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is her most famous book, was a novel about the evils of slavery and the slave trade.  It is said that when Beecher Stowe met Abraham Lincoln, he said to her, “So you are the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war in reference to the American Civil War.  However, while is it certainly true that the two met, it has never been confirmed that Lincoln said such a thing, although I can see why the book would have caused a large stir when it was released.

The titular character starts the novel as a slave owned by Mr and Mrs Shelby.  He has lived for several years on their plantation, and has a wife and children there.  Due to financial woes, Mr Shelby sells him to a slave trader, and the novel follows Tom’s life through two more owners.  It talks about the other people he meets, some benevolent, such as Augustine St Clare, who determines to give Tom his freedom, and others not so.

Because of the historical and political significance of this book, I really really wanted to like it.  I had meant to read it for ages, and finally picked it up after a friend told me she had enjoyed it.  And the thing is…I came away a bit disappointed.  The main thing that hit me about this book was just how preachy it is.  There’s a lot of religion in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  A LOT.  And people are divided into one of three categories.  If you are a Christian, you are a good person.  If you are not a Christian, you are an evil person.  If you are not a Christian but are striving to be, you will probably be a good person in the end.  I understand that books have to be read in context; it’s important to remember when this novel was written, but whereas some classics age well, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has aged badly (well, it’s just my little opinion of course).  It’s overwhelming preachiness – which appears without fail on at least one out of every two pages – got somewhat tiring after a while.  It’s a shame, because when Beecher Stowe stepped away from the religious aspect, her writing could be quite enjoyable and even amusing.  I’m not a religious person, but I don’t have anything against religion.  I just don’t need it ramming down my throat quite so often, or to be told that anybody who is not a Christian is inherently bad.

Also, for a book which strives so hard to point out that slaves are just as much people as anyone else (which sounds obvious in today’s world, but again remembering when this was written – slaves were seen as commodities or possessions, nothing more), it is a shame that the slaves themselves are spoken about in broad stereotypes (several times, Beecher Stowe makes reference to a trait that is common “to their race.”), and rather patronisingly.

Although there is little characterisation, the story itself was a quite enthralling one, and would have been much more enjoyable if it had been told as a more straightforward narrative without the religious lecturing part.  My favourite part was the section of the book where Tom was living with the St Clare family, and within the confines of his situation was happy.  The ending contained a ridiculous amount of coincidence, which made the last few pages hard to take seriously, but I cannot deny that the book did make me cry on a couple of occasions.

I think I would probably recommend this book, but more because of its significance, rather than because I especially enjoyed it.  At times, it was enjoyable, but I found it hard going at times.  Nonetheless, it did help to change the widely held view that slavery was acceptable, and it’s worth reading the book that managed to do such a thing.

(For more information about Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, please click here.)

 

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This is the story of famous lovers Abelard and Heloise, and the tragedy of their relationship.  Abelard was an intelligent but provocative philosopher, whose religious views caused contention within the church.  When he falls in love with his student Heloise, the niece of Canon Fulbert, their relationship causes further scandal, and steps are taken not only to keep them apart, but to take revenge on Abelard.

I thought this was a fabulous production, by the English Touring Theatre (and which was originally performed at Shakespeare’s Globe).  As well as telling the love story of Abelard and Heloise, it also provided debate about the Bible, and religious and philosophical beliefs at the time, putting Abelard (played by the appropriately charismatic David Sturzaker) squarely at odds with the Monk Bernard of Clairvaux (a superb Sam Crane).  The play required the audience’s concentration and full attention, but we were extremely well rewarded for it!  Jo Herbert also was great as Heloise, capturing her independent spirit and fierce intelligence.

The rest of the cast included Edward Peel as Fulbret (Heloise’s uncle), Rhiannon Oliver as Denise (Abelard’s sister), Julius D’Silva (King Louis VI), John Cummins and William Mannering as Alberic and Lotholf respectively (who provided much of the comic relief of the show).  They were – as well as the rest of the cast – excellent, without a single weak link.

There are emotions aplenty in this production – shock, grief, and surprisingly lots of humour.  The simple but effective scary stage set perfectly set the scene for the unfolding drama, and there was some lovely music provided by William Lyons, Rebecca Austen-Brown and Arngeir Hauksson, who remained on stage, sitting above the action throughout.

With a superb cast, and an utterly compelling story, this is a production that deserves to be seen.  Eternal Love is currently on tour in the UK, and if you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Told in 24 short chapters which are each assigned a date from 1st – 24th December, this book was apparently designed to be read like an advent calendar, with the appropriate chapter being read on the specific date.

On 1st December, a young boy named Joachim is given an unusual advent calendar, and behind each door contains a chapter of a story.  As the story unfolds, Joachim (and his parents) learn about a young girl named Elisabet who disappeared from Norway years earlier, and a pilgrimage of angels, shepherds and wise men who travel across land and time, to be present when Jesus was born.

Unfortunately, I did not particularly enjoy this book.  Although I am not religious, I can enjoy reading books about religion, but I felt that this particular story was preachy and sanctimonious.  Also, while it might be considered a magical tale of a pilgrimage, it could equally be seen as the story of a young girl who was tempted away from her mother by a cute animal, and led away with an angel who promised to look after her, but instead took her away from her home, and left her mother wondering for years about what had happened to her daughter.  (Which to me anyway, sounds a bit sinister.)

I do think the idea was quite a good one, because it could be a useful tool for learning about the history of certain places, but I just couldn’t connect with it at all. There was no characterisation – I didn’t know Joachim or his parents any better by the last page than I did on the first page, and I felt the same way about Elisabet.  The writing just seemed too simplistic, and the story was also somewhat repetitive, and the ending was – possibly deliberately – a bit unclear.

I should add that I have only read one other book by this author, and I didn’t enjoy that either.  Plenty of reviewers have loved this book, so it may just be that I am not the right reader for Jostein Gaarder.  I wanted to enjoy this, particularly reading it at Christmas time, but sadly, was just not able to.

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The diminutive (in size, but certainly not in heart) Owen Meany is the subject of this book, narrated by his best friend Johnny Wheelwright.  Owen believes himself to be God’s instrument, and that he has a very specific purpose on earth.  As an older John (in the late 80s) tells the story of his and Owen’s childhoods and adolescence in the 50s and 60s, the story takes several threads and brings them neatly together at the climax.

I wanted to read this, because I have read and enjoyed John Irving in the past.  However, I always find him to be a writer I can appreciate rather than always enjoy, and this book was no different.  The story started slowly and I wasn’t sure whether I would like it or not, as Johnny describes himself and Owen in their younger days, and how Owen accidentally kills Johnny’s mother with a baseball, as well as Johnny’s interest in the identity of his unknown father.  However, as the narrative progresses and the boys become young men with the shadow of the Vietnam War hanging over them, it picked up pace and I started to be drawn in.

As a narrator, Johnny is something of an enigma – I never felt that he was really fully fleshed out, but that actually worked, as it made Owen the true focus of the story, as he should be.  Owen was an extremely interesting character – highly intelligent, shades of arrogance, and not always likeable.  He rubbed people up the wrong way, some people were even frightened of him (not least Owen’s own parents), but it was clear that he always felt he had a mission to complete that was more important than himself.  A few times I wondered about the significance of certain plot points – exactly why was Owen so determined to master a tricky basketball shot? – but this made the ending so much more satisfactory as events are brought into sharp relief, and everything clicks.

Some parts are genuinely moving, and other parts are extremely funny – the nativity scene with the four feet tall Owen playing a swaddled baby Jesus, had me laughing all the way through.

Overall, I am very glad I read this book.  It was not always easy going, but I felt that it paid dividends to readers who kept with it, and I imagine it will be a story that I will remember for a long time – particularly the wonderful ending.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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