Monday, July 28, 2014

LOTS OF LAUGHS AND CONFUSION IN "LUCY TALK"





Like Candace Bushnell's Sex &The City, Fiona Walker's Lucy Talk evolved from a newspaper column and is a modern epistolary novel as the story is told in the form of emails, blog entries,  Microsoft journals, notes on the fridge, answer machine messages, Lucy's disposable notes to herself, letters, postcards, posters, invitation cards, menus, newspaper cuttings,  telephone conversations and even memos! Hence, a fun book to read and the reader is immediately drawn into Lucy Gordon's  funny and rather exasperating world. I've re-read it so much that the cover's rather worn but it's always like I'm reading it for the first time.

It's immediately gathered that that the heroine Lucy Gordon is an employee at the marketing department of Widgetex Ltd, which manufactures time saving gadgets. She lives at Burr Cottage with two other girls- Jane Redven ( a driving instructor and horse enthusiast) and Bella Smith (an art teacher and a bit of a goth girl) and their neighbour , Mike Ensor (nicknamed 'Big Mike' throughout) is a vet. Several people have funny nicknames in the novel; Lucy's boss Gavin Slater is dubbed 'Slave Driver', a rival/colleague at work Dave Marks is 'Ambitious Dave', a bitchy superior Gabriella Peartree is 'Fruit Bat', Bella's boyfriend is called 'Brick' (real name Phil), Lucy's little sister's boyfriend is called Scrumpy (real name Carl) and the local riding instructor (who Jane fancies) is 'Horsy Tim'.

Lucy's family consists of Malcolm who spends most of his time in the shed taking apart machinery and putting them back, her mum Liv who loves to cook except some of her dishes are  very weird (Deep-fried artichoke hearts with vermouth and lime sauce, Bread and Butter ice cream lightly drizzled with date sauce), Violet, her alcoholic ( and I think rather senile) grandmother,  Alice, her troublesome vegetarian sister and her absentee big brother- Jeremy- who lives in New Zealand (to get away from his crazy family members, except Lucy).

For most of the story, Lucy writes to Jeremy and her absentee roommate (Bella's predecessor and Lucy' best friend) Mo who apparently joined a travelling cult... don't even get me started on that.  Lucy has a boyfriend Greg, who works as a pilot in a chartering service and it's apparent to those who really know Lucy and the readers that Greg is a dirt-bag; he takes her for granted, lies to her, cheats on her and takes advantage of her but she's too much in denial, too much in love or just plain too stupid to see it until after a long while. That's how she is for most of the novel and you feel like shaking her or screaming at her for being indecisive, obsessive and simply not seeing what's going on under her nose- aside for the fact Greg was not worthy of her, she failed to see someone she knew very well was clearly in love with her. One would wonder what the guys see in Lucy Gordon (who somewhat reminded me of a less promiscuous Ally McBeal) but she's constantly described as sweet and very beautiful. Despite those two traits, Lucy is really annoying and her second attempt of finding love with Alex ended partly because of her mishandling of the relationship and her own silliness- but in that scene where the truth was revealed to her in the worse possible way, you just  can't help but feel sorry for her and call her rival/backstabber all sorts of unsavory names.

Lucy struggles between rising up the corporate ladder at work despite obstacles like rivals and periods of stress and finding her real man and at the end of the novel when she does- all you can say is 'FINALLY, YOU SILLY FOOL!' and simply laugh at how nearly she missed her chance, congratulating the lucky man who finally won her after several pages of barely veiled hints of his love for her.

Lucy Gordon is a memorable character and one simply can't help but love her and going back to her world by picking up the book again!

Quote from book: 

It's no good. I adore him. I'm going to have to say something now. No time to send this. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

OPPOSITES ATTRACT: DOES IT REALLY WORK?

courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org




The most popular belief when it comes to romantic parings- based on the Ying and Yang principle- that two people can be the complete opposite of each other yet compliment each other and be one. This has been depicted a lot in media; best example is the sitcom Dharma & Greg about a couple who got married on their first date.

courtesy of anglerz.com
Dharma is a yoga instructor, the daughter of hippies and a liberal free spirit while Greg is a U.S attorney, the only son of a rich (and rather uptight) couple and more cautious in attitude  but at times Dharma's funny antics rub off him enough to be her sidekick but most times he was the 'straight man' of the duo. They had  different beliefs and a lot of differences in opinion and point of view but yet remain very much in love and happy with each other.
 What happened to the notion a couple has to have a lot in common for the the relationship to work out and last forever, does being totally different actually better than being the same in the real world?
Can two extroverts be a couple? They would always try to  outdo the other with talking. Can two introverts be a couple? What sort of relationship would that be, two socially awkward people living in the same house; that can't work. What about a hot tempered husband and an equally hot tempered wife- either both would be strong enough to stand up to each other during an argument or end up killing each other- it would be like having two elephants under the same roof. 
So, maybe two opposites make the better couple. A strong manly guy with a temper could be with a quiet lady who could keep him in order with soft words that calm him down and offer her advice he would take in good part rather than from someone more bossy. An extrovert wife could be a good influence on an introvert husband as her jolliness and zest for life is just what he would need enabling him to shed off some of the shyness and be more like her; or the introvert husband could be a good influence and source of calm and comfort for the extrovert wife by simply providing her with his gentle strength.  
I've seen my share of couples who are opposites and to my surprise they have wonderful long lasting relationships. I believe most people would prefer to chose a mate that aren't exactly like them because too much of the same wouldn't bring out the best out of them. A couple of opposites may not be able to change the other but instead always compliment each other- love and understanding  being the glue that keeps them together for life. 

LOVE, LEARNING TO FORGET & SHORTNESS OF LIFE IN "MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE"



It all began when a  recently divorced woman named Theresa found a moving letter -signed "Garret" and addressed to "Catherine"- literally in a bottle and went all her way to find the writer- after finding similar letters found by other people. She found Garret Blake and it turned out he was a widower still grieving his beloved wife Catherine who  passed away after an illness. However, despite Theresa's motive of finding him to satisfy her curiosity and Garret yet to let go of Catherine's memory- the two are immediately drawn to each other and spend a few days in each other's company. I was like wow... what a good thing. Garret will help her forget her bitterness and Garret immediately attracted to Theresa will pull him gradually out of his lingering grief.

Next thing, Theresa brings her son to visit and now it's the three of them in a close interaction, even better. But then came the unfortunate scene... Garret rummaged her drawer for paper in order to express his feelings for his new love on paper while she's out. But he found his letters instead and all hell broke loose as they argued about it when she got back; Garret storming out after accusing him of publishing his letter and hunting him down to fulfill some stupid fantasy. Such cruel words... and earlier he was trying to convince her and Kevin to live with him in his town in North Carolina- which she couldn't do easily because of her career which was really taking off.

This is where Theresa upset me further. You would think after finding love after a betrayal she would be more compassionate and give the man some time to cool off and do some soul searching- after all the man was clearly in love with her; finding love in the middle of his grief over Catherine. But what did she do? She ruled out the possibility of them being together because she was convinced he would never let go of Catherine... who wanted to always live in the shadow of a dead woman? Come on Theresa, how often does love come by after a terrible disappointment? Sure the guy is yet to fully bury the past but wanting her and her child to live with him, isn't that a start? No... she decided to end their relationship- before she got hurt and leaves, refusing to listen to Garret who tried to prevent her from leaving. Unfair and rather hasty on her part, it's not only her heart at stake here!

In the middle of his misery Garret 'sees' Catherine- whether in a dream or her ghost I'm not sure- who informs him she had guided his message to Theresa for her to find, to motivate her to search for him... she knew he would fall in love with Theresa once he saw her, which is exactly what happened! It all made sense to Garret at long last and he realised it was now time to move forward fully- leaving the past behind for good.

Tragic twist...

It was Theresa's turn to grieve as she received devastating news... Garret had gone sailing during a storm (ironically he'd gone to drop one more message to Catherine, probably to officially say goodbye to her) and drowned.

As if Theresa's heartbreak couldn't get worse, she got a message from Garrett a week after his funeral- her own 'message in a bottle' informing her of his decision to put the past behind him and commit himself to her and her son and his intention of leaving one final message to Catherine... the cruel irony he died after saying goodbye to her!

By the time I was done with this very moving  book, my hanky was soaked right through and my eyes aching and wet with my tears. It was later adapted to a movie starring Robin Wright Penn and Kevin Costner; but luckily for me, I got to read the novel first.

The whole time I kept thinking... why, just why? I'm not passing blame on Theresa or Garret but I felt the tragedy could have been avoided... Theresa was quick to write off the possibility of them having a future together- because of the shadow of a dead woman. Sometimes there is just one great love for a person but Garret found room in his heart for her, he was able to love her in the middle of mourning and she him in the middle of being once bitten; twice shy, Love is patient and compassionate, Time was kind and a great healer but she broke off things much too early.

Garret should've realised life was for the living... he couldn't expect a proper future with his new love if he was reluctant to let got of his late first love. I was happy he was able to love after Catherine; I just wish he was able to let go of the past before meeting Theresa at all. But it was not to be after all and Theresa is left with the memory of him and their brief time together before cruel fate took him away from her.

This novel clearly showed one is capable of falling in love after heartbreak but it also depicted the importance of learning to forget and how unpredictable life could be. It's the unpredictability of life that motivates one to take the plunge of changing one's life and outlook. If one kept the past and refused to LET GO of it, it leads to consequences one does not expect at all.

Message In A Bottle is  a heartrending story and major lessons derived from it.

Quote from book: 

“If you like her, if she makes you happy, and if you feel like you know her...then don't let her go.” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

THE OSU CASTE SYSTEM IN "NO LONGER AT EASE"




Every year on the first week of May, the International Book Fair is held at the University of Lagos’ multi-purpose hall. After buying a few books; I attended the writer’s forum. There were several writers, lecturers and a few journalists present and the topic discussed after “Social Responsibility & Activism” was about Chinua Achebe’s second book, No Longer at Ease. This novel was published two years after Things Fall Apart and it depicted pre-independence life in Lagos in the fifties; the age of colonialism and corruption. But what was talked about at the forum was “Chinua Achebe & the Osu Caste System in No Longer at Ease”. Professor Achebe described what an Osu was in his first novel, Things Fall Apart.

“He was a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart- a taboo forever, and his children after him. He could neither marry nor be married by the free born. He was in fact an outcast, living in a special area of the village, close to the Great Shrine.” – Things Fall Apart, chapter 18, pgs 113-114; African Writers’ Series, Heinemann.
No Longer At Ease is set many years after the missionaries and the British Government first arrived in Nigeria; bringing with it Western Education, Christianity and Colonialism. The protagonist is Okonkwo’s grandson, Obi- the son of Okonkwo’s first son Nwoye who was given the name Isaac after he embraced Christianity and the ‘white man’s book’- as education was called back then. Obi is the first son of Umoufia to win a scholarship to study in England so a lot of hopes and aspirations are on him. Obi meets a lovely girl at a dance, Clara Okeke and they fall in love. However, Clara drops a bombshell one night, she is an Osu and therefore can’t marry Obi or rather, Obi can’t marry her. Obi is taken aback but doesn’t care about that and assures her he will handle his family and they’ll get married. The first person he tells about this was a friend who was also from Umoufia, Joseph. Joseph hits the roof when Obi said he was still going to marry Clara despite her ‘status’.
What was discussed at the forum was why Professor Achebe wrote about this; if he was trying to state his own stand about the “outcasts” or to start a conversation about the whole Osu stigmatisation. I read this book several years ago and I was filled with contempt for this Osu thing; I probably would’ve been even if I was an Igbo and not a Yoruba woman. Such beliefs and practises are so archaic and you would think that it would’ve been discarded ages ago, after the advent of Christianity and western education!
Joseph’s words to Obi after his first reaction:

“You know book, but this is no matter for book. Do you know what an Osu is? But how can you know?”- No Longer At Ease, chapter 7, pg 64; African Writers’ Series, Heinemann.
With those words, he was trying to say Obi’s ‘mission-house’ upbringing (Obi’s parents were staunch and educated Christians) and European education had made him a stranger in his own country. Obi was ignorant to the traditional customs, according to Joseph. The book also informed and reminded the reader that when a woman marries a man, she is married to the entire family, hence her family tree and reputation is very important. Joseph says to Obi:
“Look at me, Obi. What you are going to do concerns not only yourself and future generations. If one finger brings oil, it soils the other. In future, when we are all civilized, anybody may marry anybody. But that time has not come. We of this generation are only pioneers.”
Obi’s reply, “What is a pioneer? Someone who shows the way. That is what I am doing. Anyway, it is too late to change now.”
“It is not. What is an engagement ring? Our fathers did not marry with rings.” - No Longer At Ease, chapter 7, pgs 67-68; African Writers’ Series, Heinemann. Two different men are seen here. Obi is the modern, liberal man, open minded and a pioneer of change; doing away with the outdated beliefs. But Joseph is the typical Igbo man, stuck in the past and its outdated norms.
Obi however stood firm in his decision to marry Clara, despite her own reservations; even buying her an engagement ring, along with a Bible; feeling sure at least his parents would side with him. Mrs. Hannah was a devout Christian and his father was a retired catechist. Personally, I thought Mr. Isaac (Nwoye) would be his son’s ally, when I read it the first time. In Things Fall Apart, Nwoye began questioning his clan’s customs and traditions after his foster brother; Ikemefuna was killed, as ‘pronounced’ by The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. Even though he was warned not to bear a hand in his death, Okonkwo was the one who delivered the fatal blow on the boy, with his machete; not wanting- as always- to be thought weak. That was the final nail on Nwoye’s disillusionment. He had begun having doubts about their beliefs long before, when he heard the sound of a baby crying in the thick forest. At that time, twins were regarded as evil so they were thrown into the Evil Forest to die there. Something had snapped within him and did again the night Ikemefuna died.
So when the missionaries arrived many years later, Nwoye joined the converts and became Isaac. Okonkwo cursed him for it and because Isaac never forgave Okonkwo for killing Ikemefuna, he didn’t return home for Okonkwo's burial; even though his teacher Mr. Braddeley urged him to go.
In No Longer At Ease, Isaac Okonkwo is an old man; retired from the church and we see him as a man who has done away with several ‘heathen’ customs. He wouldn’t allow invocations to be said over the breaking of kola, he forbade folk-stories as “stories like that are not for the people of the church.”
So I was full of confidence Isaac would side with Obi. Joseph played the telltale by informing the President of the Umoufia Progressive Union and word spread round about Obi’s Osu fiancée. The President was really patronizing, “You know book. But book stands by itself and experience stands by itself. So I am not afraid to talk to you.”
Obi was of course very angry when Clara and her ‘doubtful ancestry’ was brought up during the Union’s meeting and he stormed out; he and Clara refusing to speak to Joseph from then on.
With everyone’s objections towards Clara, the readers wait with bated breath for Obi’s parents’ stance. Joseph informed Isaac in a letter about Obi and Clara. Isaac tells his son he can’t marry ‘that girl.’ Obi is shocked at his father; he thought he knew him and for heaven’s sake, the man was a retired catechist! He argued:
“I don’t think it matters. We are Christians.”
Isaac after all shed off all the practices he regarded as ‘heathen.’ Wasn’t this objection towards Clara one too?
But Isaac is disappointingly resolute. “We are Christians, but that is no reason to marry an Osu.”
Obi: “The Bible says that in Christ there are no bond or free.”
Isaac: “My son, I understand what you say. But this thing is deeper then you think.”
Obi: “What is this thing? Our fathers in their darkness and ignorance called an innocent man an Osu, a thing given to idols and thereafter he became an outcast, and his children, and his children’s children forever. But have we not seen the light of the Gospel?” - No Longer At Ease, chapter 14, pgs 120-121; African Writers’ Series, Heinemann.
Good argument from Obi, one would say and as a man of the church, such a speech would strike a chord in Isaac; who went out of his way to become a Christian, shedding all the ‘heathen practices’, motivated by what happened to Ikemefuna. But no, Isaac still didn’t agree.
“Naaman, captain of the host of Syria, was a great man and honourable, he was also a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper. Osu is like leprosy in the minds of our people. I beg of you my son, not to bring the mark of shame and of leprosy into our family. If you do, your children and your children’s children unto the third and fourth generations will curse your memory.” No Longer At Ease, chapter 14, pg 121; African Writers’ Series, Heinemann.
Even with his education and religion, Isaac was still an Igbo man at heart, unable to shed off that particular archaic belief and actually comparing Clara with a biblical figure. Did he conveniently forget that Naaman was cured of the leprosy by God? And what’s the point of getting baptized and call yourself a Christian when you say “this thing is deeper than you think”?
Hannah, Obi’s dying mother added her own, “If you want to marry this girl, you must wait until I’m no more. If God hears my prayers, you will not wait long. But if you do the thing while I’m alive, you will have my blood on your head, because I shall kill myself.” No Longer At Ease, chapter 14, pg 123; African Writers’ Series, Heinemann. Yet this was the same woman who told her children not to accept “heathen food” and who cut off the head of a ‘sacred’ goat that wandered into her kitchen and ate up the yam she was preparing to cook- and received angry threats and for a while ostracised.
What therefore was Professor Achebe trying to tell the readers? That despite Christianity and Western Education, the Igbo still retain the ‘traditional/cultural mentality’ about certain things? Or that cultural beliefs are more significant than the ‘white man’s’ teaching; Isaac pointed out to Obi that the matter was deeper than he thought, even though he is a staunch Christian. Apparently, Isaac is an Igbo man first.
It can’t be said that Western Education and Religion didn’t civilize Africa, because it did. But In No Longer At Ease, it can be seen that culture has more priority than religion and despite it being many years since the missionaries’ first arrival; there are some beliefs that can’t or refused to be cast aside. How strange it is that in the novel, those who are fortunate enough to get an education and have Christian names lord over those who don’t (except Obi) yet in the eyes of the rest of the world; reading about this attitude, they are hypocrites who may be educated yet are still so backward in their thinking.

THE REAL MESSAGE BEHIND OLIVER TWIST






My introduction to Charles Dickens' second book (by the way the first one is The Pickwick Papers, a book I'm yet to read) was back in 1987. First via an animated musical adaptation I very dimly remember and a simplified edition I borrowed from a cousin. My first take on the book was the moving story of a boy born in a workhouse and brutalised from the moment he could walk and talk; overworked, almost starved to death and had the misfortune of falling into a gang of thieves but miraculously rescued first by Mr. Brownlow and then by Rose and Mrs. Maylie. The whole time I couldn't stop feeling so bad for poor Oliver and hating those who hurt him so much; Mr. Bumble, that odious creature Noah Claypole, Fagin, Bill Sikes and his crazy half brother, Monks.
Junior Secondary School, I found the complete edition in the school library and more things were revealed; Rose Maylie was Oliver's aunt- sister of Oliver's mother Agnes who had had a relationship with Monk's father, Edwin Leeford; who unfortunately was still married, hence the cause of the chain of events. Monks wanted to ruin Oliver however means possible and take hold of the money allocated to him. And it turned out Oliver wasn't only Monks and his mother's intended victim, their hatred for Agnes Fleming- Oliver's mother- was so great that Rose, her younger sister, was to be ruined as well but divine intervention in the shape of Mrs. Maylie prevented it and Oliver was taken under their wing, to Monks' great fury and then Mr. Brownlow- after getting valuable information from Bill Sikes' mistress- Nancy, pierced the pieces together. In the end, Rose got married and Oliver lived happy and free with Mr. Brownlow.
There's been many adaptations of this story but the only one that stayed true to the book was the 1985 T.V series starring Ben Rodska as Oliver Twist and Lysette Anthony as Rose Maylie (This actress played Florence Dombey in an adaptation of one of Dickens' other books- Dombey and Son).
But I'm not talking about the adaptations here- but the book. For years I've reread this book without stopping to figure out the reason why Dickens' wrote it to begin with. Recently, I read it again after finishing Dombey and Son and I thought more about the main character, Oliver. These days, well in my country, anytime anyone mentions the name 'Oliver Twist', there's the talk about the memorable scene where he walked up to the cook, held up his bowl and asked for more and the name's synonymous to anyone who is not satisfied. If they read the book thoroughly, they would discover that he was chosen to ask for more after the boys drew lots after suffering near starvation... who would be satisfied with just one spoon of gruel- or whatever the hell the children were given as food?
But I'm still digressing... what is the message behind Oliver Twist?
For starters, I noticed something about Oliver that I didn't ponder much on at first- despite everything he went through in that child abuser's (Mrs. Mann) place, in the workhouse and in Mr. Sowerberry's, those experiences did not harden him. He was hurt emotionally and physically but not exactly broken to the extent he would become cold, hard and turn to crime; he remained innocent and resistant to pressure to become a criminal from Fagin. When Bill Sikes and Nancy took him back to Fagin's house, all he cared about was Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin's opinion of him, he begged Bill Sikes- even though that bastard had a gun to his head- not to make him an accomplice to the robbery about to be committed in the Maylies' house; he preferred death to vice. The only time when he lost control was when Noah Claypole insulted his late mother, causing Oliver to punch him out- defending his late mother's honour, rather than his own. Other than that, no thoughts of revenge against his oppressors, only the need for kindness and a happier life. And Oliver hoped his friend Dick would be rescued too and nursed back to health but after returning to the Workhouse to end the mystery behind his birth, he is given sad news; Dick had died.
Charles Dickens no doubt was trying to show that vice is caused by the environment a person finds himself in. Born in poverty and no other prospects- the person no doubt would turn to stealing just to be able to eat. Dodger and Charley Bates advised Oliver to allow himself be trained by Fagin, Oliver refused. Apparently, Dodger and Bates were born in the same circumstances and their circumstances made them the way they were. But Oliver wasn't like that at all and we don't see him struggle with doing the right thing or give in to crime, committing a crime does NOT come to him at all. Maybe the message here is that being good or bad is inborn; it may not always be caused by circumstances.
However, look at another character, Nancy. Nancy was influenced by her environment and the people in it, Fagin especially. She was trained by Fagin to be a thief when she was child, as a young woman she's a prostitute and living with Bill Sikes- a robber and a sociopath. Is Nancy evil? Okay, unlike Oliver she succumbed to crime at an early age but I wouldn't call her evil. She's rough in speech but from the start is protective of Oliver even after she helped Fagin abduct him (Sikes made her to); she stopped Fagin from beating him and stood up to Bill, telling him to keep the dog away from Oliver. Oliver's gentle face is usually regarded with pity or scorn, Nancy was clearly moved by Oliver's innocence and didn't want it corrupted by Fagin. There's a scene in the book where she drunkenly tells Fagin that she couldn't bear to look at Oliver's face, she does not speak with repulsion, Oliver is clearly someone she wished she was and it further reminded her what she was. This led her to see Rose and tell her what she overhead between Fagin and Monks and Fagin; a heroic act that cost her her life. Nancy had a chance to have a new life but she turned it down, feeling she was so deep in crime already that she was beyond redemption... which wasn't true.
Dickens talked a lot about the workhouse and how the paupers there are treated, they are made to work and fed very little- begging on the street is punishable by imprisonment. He was talking, or rather condemning Britain's Poor Law of the time. In the book, Mr. Bumble scathingly said Oliver and the other paupers were ungrateful and it was made to look as if the paupers were granted a huge favor. In the 1985 adaptation, Harry Maylie commented, 'May God forgive parliament for that wretched Poor Law'. Just by asking for more, Oliver was flogged and locked away, five pounds offered to anyone who would make him an apprentice. No doubt, that was what went on during the era of the Poor Law, the funds allocated to the upkeep were misappropriated, the conditions so inhumane and, like described in the book, many of the workhouse inmates died.
And there was the issue of the stigma on illegitimate children. Oliver was bitterly described by Monks as 'their (Edwin and Agnes) bastard child'. Ironic, considering Monks is an evil man who actually paid Fagin to make Oliver a thief so as to prevent him from inheriting his share of their father's money. And for a long time, Rose thought she was illegitimate (she was very young when Agnes and their father died), thanks to a lie by Monk's mother to the people who took Rose in, which caused them to treat her very unkindly. Mrs. Maylie didn't hold it against her, nor did Harry Maylie, who was in love with her. But Mrs. Maylie was afraid of how Rose would be treated by society if Harry married her as he was planning on going into politics. Harry insisted he didn't care about society's opinion but Mrs. Maylie's fear was also about him- he could turn on Rose and regret marrying her if society continued to sneer at his wife; a fear unfounded because Harry's love for Rose was firm. Rose in turn didn't want to be the cause of Harry's reputation being ruined- although she found out she was legit, there was still the matter of her sister Agnes' affair with a married man (she of course did not know he was married until much later when she was carrying Oliver)- so Harry willingly turns his back on city life and politics and becomes a priest in the country and he and Rose are married at last. Children are not responsible for their parents' sins and such not be treated like they are, another message from Dickens.
There is a lot to learn from Oliver Twist, and more about the character that meets the casual eye. I no longer see it as a rags to riches story, more like an example of social criticism. It's a must read to the uninitiated.

Quote from book: 

Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, be sacred. A father, sister, and mother, were gained, and lost, in that one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in the cup; but there were no bitter tears: for even grief arose so softened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections, that it became a solemn pleasure, and lost all character of pain.

THE WOMEN IN 'LITTLE WOMEN'



Little Women is my second favorite book, the actual favorite being Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. My first impression of the main character- Jo March (I watched the 1970 adaptation before ever reading the book- at the time I didn't know it was a book) wasn't a good one. I liked the fact she was a bookworm and inspiring writer like me but her somewhat unladylike brash personality and tomboyishness- along with her initial resentment towards her brother-in-law after he revealed his feelings for her older sister Meg, she seemed like a childish clod hence she really irritated me. But I got to know her better after reading the book much later on and her determination to write good stories but at the same time very anxious to provide for her family and have financial independence. I admired her, I partly related to her and she motivated me. I also saw her struggles to control her temper and be more patient, finding herself and then accepting her destiny to be Professor Bhaer's wife and run a school for boys with him; instead of the independent life of a writer she'd long envisioned.

There's Meg; the first born and beauty of the family; the mother hen of the group, very dutiful yet longing for 'the better times' and finally realizing love was far precious than excessive wealth; her rich friend Sally Moffat ended up envying her for her happy home, devoted husband and beautiful twins. Amy, the youngest; budding artist and initially a strong willed, rather self centered and selfish spoiled brat. I'll never forget the chapter where she burnt Jo's manuscript during a quarrel between them... it's a wonder she was not flogged! But later on; to my amazement and delight, she gained more maturity than I thought possible.
And there was sweet, shy Beth; the third daughter and Jo's pet- who did so much and asked for so little and the chapter 'In The Valley Of The Shadow'; Miss Alcott wrote in great detail of her death; how 'the tide went easily'; a chapter that still brings tears to my eyes whenever I read it; Beth's death was such a huge loss and it broke my heart.
It's a lovely and classic coming of age story and told in the lines of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress; showing how Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy went through several stages and encountered different challenges, lessons and experiences as they moved from girls to women. What I liked especially about this book was how despite their poverty and having to work hard half the time, was how they were able to create their own fun; led by Jo, they staged plays and formed their own version of 'The Pickwick Club' and formed their own 'post office'- their rich but lonely neigbour Laurie Laurence (who fell in love with Jo but after her wise rejection, fell in love and married Amy) joining in and playing 'brother' to them, gaining his own maturity along the way, which was good as he really needed it- he did not gain just from the girls but also from their wise and loving mother, Mrs. March who kept the family together as best as she could while Mr. March was away at the Civil War and gave her daughters and Laurie precious pieces of wisdom. At the end of the book, she and her husband saw the fruit of their labor; Meg, Jo and Amy being a huge credit to them. As for Laurie, he too had to learn some sharp lessons; including how two people who were TOO much alike like he and Jo wouldn't make a good marriage hence his better yet unlikely pairing with the matured Amy.
Little Women has two sequels; Little Men and Jo's Boys; also good reads. But Little Women to me is the best of the series- reading it makes the reader feel like a silent observer as of the March girls' lives as they follow each stage of their 'coming of age'.

Quote from book:

"My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

SABRINA: SABRINA AND LINUS



1954 Plot: 


A chauffeur's daughter is hopelessly in love with the younger son of the Larrabee household;  womanising, fun loving and irresponsible David. Alas, David only sees her as the little girl living above the garage with her father and barely talks to her. Sabrina goes to a cooking school in Paris and returns a refined and confident young woman and David (though engaged for about  the fourth time) is smitten with the 'new improved' Sabrina- to his family's dismay as it would mean the loss of an important business deal between the two families. 

 So the older Larrabee son- workaholic and humourless Linus- decided to divert Sabrina's attention from David towards him with the plan to abandon her once David recommitted himself to Elizabeth after getting the wrong impression of Sabrina.
But the plan backfired big time; Sabrina- after some initial confusion- did fall in love with the much more mature Linus and Linus refused to admit that he was genuinely in love with Sabrina but her sweetness made him repentant enough to confess  the whole scheme- hurting her. 
More for Sabrina's happiness than his brother's, Linus told David to go to Paris with her but got a shock when David informed him and the family he was going to marry Elizabeth after all. Finally acknowledging his feelings, Linus rushed off to find Sabrina and shared an emotional reconciliation on the ship already on its way to Paris. 



1995 Plot: 


Sabrina is in love with David Larrabee who hardly notices her and her concerned father, John Fairchild- hoped she'll forget the player during her time as an intern at Vogue in Paris. While she's away- David courts Elizabeth Tyson; the daughter of a very wealthy family and they get engaged. 

Sabrina returns with beauty, refinement and confidence; to David's amazement and delight and becomes smitten; to Linus and their mother's dismay as it would mean the loss of a huge business merger between the Larrabees and the Tysons. So Linus diverts Sabrina's attention away from David but it ended up Linus getting to know Sabrina more than he ever did and becoming aware how most people see him while Sabrina saw there was more to the dour  workaholic she'd known all her life and falls in love with him, however Linus doesn't or wouldn't admit he loved Sabrina. Instead he confessed what he'd been doing and Sabrina returned to Paris heartbroken. David- finally mature and self aware- recommits himself to Elizabeth and they and Mrs. Larrabee trick Linus into admitting he loved Sabrina- urging him to go after her, which he did after convincing John Fairchild he would make his daughter happy and in return was given Sabrina's address. 
Sabrina found Linus on her doorstep and they are reconciled.





This is my favorite movie of all time, so much so that I don't like one version above the other, no... not at all! Sabrina is a modern day Cinderella story with an incredible plot and interesting characters; a true classic. 

However, in Sabrina, it's not a wicked stepmother and two step-sisters barring the heroine's path to true love, it's class difference. The object of her affection is the son of a rich household, she's the daughter of their chauffeur. Her father however is a man of dignity who is well respected and felt that people should know their place. According to him: 

'I like to think of life as a limousine. Though we are all riding together, we must remember our places. There's a front seat and a back seat and a window in between.' 


Let's compare the portrayal of Sabrina and Linus and the relationship of the two characters- the original and the 'years late' remake.  





Sabrina Fairchild was played in 1954 by Audrey Hepburn and Linus Larrabee was played by Humphrey Bogart- shocking since this particular actor was not known for being in romantic comedies. Hepburn played Sabrina with a moving aura of innocence and sweetness; with a touch of sensitivity and  tender emotion that I won't be surprised if a huge number of  male fans were in love with her and her character. 







Bogie, like I said, was not a romantic comedy actor (I'd seen him previously in The African QueenDark PassageCasablanca and Key Largo) but to my surprise he played the stuffy workaholic very well. It was when Linus began courting Sabrina that I really sat up, wondering how he was going to shed the gruffness and be romantic. 

I wouldn't say he did but he adopted a sort of rugged charm when he was around Sabrina and after a while he was like  a man who felt he was getting soft and trying very hard to disguise it. 





Sabrina and Linus were a very unlikely pair but I disliked David (William Holden)  so much that even though I thought Linus was very stuffy, I hoped the newly sophisticated  Sabrina would loosen him up and realize there was more to life behind a desk and have some fun for once. Their first scene together in the movie was when he found her under one of the numerous cars in the garage and helped her up to her apartment by slinging her over his shoulder, lightly scolded her for her supposed carelessness. 

When she returned from Paris a few years later, he didn't acknowledge her greeting but warned his infatuated brother: 'The last  pair of legs that were something  cost the family $25,000.' I  wasn't  pleased with that, it was like he was likening Sabrina to the bimbos David was involved in the past- all legs and no class or brains and of course wanting David to stay committed to Elizabeth. He's not hostile with Sabrina- deciding to
handle her with kid gloves by meeting her at the tennis court in David's stead (armed with glasses and a bottle of champagne) and realised from his discussion with her that she was no gold digging predator- just a young woman in love with his brother since she was a little girl. 

The kiss he gave her (according to him was 'from David') was a hint there was more to come between them- to us viewers that is! 


Anyhow, he had the plan- divert Sabrina from David and make her fall in love with him. Once David and Elizabeth were safe, he will dump her with money and 'gifts' including an apartment in Paris to 'soften the blow.' However he's not happy, not because it was a mean thing to do to Sabrina but because it was disturbing his work at the office and feeling he would make an ass of himself trying court a woman several years younger than him. Sabrina was surprisingly relaxed around him, recalling how she used to watch him going to work as a child and urged him to try and change his outlook.



He's at first cynical, saying that 'Paris is for lovers' but found himself unable to resist Sabrina's innocent charm and their tentative friendship turned rather playful, with him speaking the lines of French he'd learnt from her (in  a rather bad accent) and Sabrina turning down the brim of his hat. But the tender look he gave Sabrina when they were dancing and the scene in the car where he quietly asked Sabrina to sing La Vi en Rose to him: 'Suppose you sing that song again. Slowly.' clearly showed he was falling in love with her. 

And Sabrina felt her feelings shifting which got her worried and confused- she urged David to kiss her repeatedly and voicing her refusal to go out with Linus again... she was confused and frightened at how he was affecting her but of course David didn't know that at first. One would think that he would probe Sabrina about why she didn't want to hang out with Linus anymore but was just plain clueless. It's amazing, David- with his boyish charm and sentimentality- was suddenly a turn off for her, she was now longing for the gruff, unsentimental yet mature  Linus. But it's understandable she's confused since she's been in love with David for most of her life (I'm sure the viewers- like I did- saw that love was actually an infatuation). 

Linus' love for Sabrina was evident when he confessed to her the real reason why he'd been hanging out with her but since he was denying his feelings (probably because he'd never been in love before or maybe it was pride) he mostly likely acted on remorse and guilt and he had to watch the disillusionment on Sabrina's face. And Sabrina- though heartbroken and hurt- leaves the office with dignity with a parting that clearly showed the huge class difference between them had finally sunk in: 'Goodnight Mr. Larrabee. I'm sorry I can't stay to do the dishes.' That's enough to shame anybody! 
Linus finally gave himself away when he punched David who was dishing out nasty remarks about Sabrina but in actual fact, David was trying to see what his brother felt for Sabrina and Linus, realising the trick, had to smile ruefully before grabbing his hat and umbrella and running off to catch up with Sabrina on the boat. 'If you'll excuse me, it appears I have a previous engagement,' he said solemnly but the way he ran out of the office showed how he was eager to get to the woman he loved!





At the boat, Sabrina was puzzled to receive a request to turn down the brim of a hat (like she did with Linus' previously) and startled to see Linus himself who showed her he was ready to live life to the fullest with her by hanging his umbrella on the coat of a passing stranger and without a word, Sabrina walks into his arms and the movie ended on a happy note; probably in Paris they had a quiet wedding! 










1995 Sabrina. This time Sabrina is played by Julia Ormond and while people would say she's not Audrey Hepburn, she was enchanting as Sabrina Fairchild;  with an air  of innocence and sophistication and grace just like Hepburn before her. But she's more modern - instead of training to be a cook, she becomes a skilled photographer after her stint at Paris Vogue. 







Linus Larrabee is played by Harrison Ford- a more ruthless Linus Larrabee, a workaholic too, with zero sentimentality and no charisma. 

David (Greg Kinnear) gave her a lift home, wondering who 'the hot girl' was but Linus recognised her instantly and welcomed Sabrina home in a matter-of-fact kind of way and doesn't even say she looked beautiful, while David is stunned and kept repeating her name until Linus, exasperated asked, 'Why does he keep saying that?

Neither brother hardly noticed Sabrina as a child except for a few instances; so how come Linus was quick to recognise her and David didn't? Probably because David always saw beautiful faces while Linus saw people. But he was more into the family business than women; so he didn't have a jaw dropping moment like David on seeing the 'new improved' Sabrina, except say how grown up she looked. 




Linus and Sabrina started out a bit like wary adversaries. Linus antagonised Sabrina with 'the kiss from David' and she did what any insulted woman would do- she gave him a much deserved slap. However, though her action was justified, Sabrina immediately apologised- horrified she did such a thing but Linus acknowledged he had it coming. In the 1954 version, the subject of money to be paid off to Sabrina to leave David alone was handled tactfully and playfully, Sabrina gave Linus the message she wouldn't take a penny from the family; here Sabrina eyed Linus over her champagne glass and firmly said no to his barely veiled offer of a million dollars.  

In this version, there is more compassion for Sabrina by the Larrabees- at least by Mrs. Larrabee. In the original version, Mr. Larrabee was  contemptuous of 'the garage girl', wondering why his chauffeur would give a classy name like Sabrina to his daughter and Linus retorted in her defense, 'What would you suggest... Ethel?
Mrs. Larrabee subtly  tries to put Sabrina in her place the night she came back by asking her to cook something for the family on a chosen day- 'to see what she'd learnt'. 1995 Mrs. Larrabee wanted to find a way to nicely tell Sabrina David was 'jerking her chain' and does not approve of Linus' plan. 'I didn't teach you this,' she said later. 
While Linus realised Sabrina was no gold digger, to him the situation was just worse- it would surely make David forget Elizabeth (who too is a modern woman- although from a rich family is a paediatrician)  and it's bye bye to the business merger. So he began his ruthless quest- 'I like Sabrina. I always have. But I'm not about to kiss off a billion dollars; I don't care what she did to her hair.' 
Both Linuses didn't care she's the chauffeur's daughter, they were more concerned about  the business deal that will come with the marriage between David and Elizabeth. And like the first Linus, this one handled Sabrina with kid gloves- taking her to the family's summer cottage in Martha's Vineyard to take photos under the pretence he wanted to sell it hence needed photos for a catalogue. The whole trip is different from what he imagined, Sabrina does not pine for David and they learn a lot about each other. Linus found out how Sabrina got her name and listened to her outlook of life while  Sabrina  sees the man beneath the gruff millionaire and found herself more relaxed around him, even told him how people see him: 'the world's only living heart donor' and 'he thinks morals are paintings on walls and scruples are money in Russia.' And without flattering him, simply said he was good at what he did- running the family business. 
When they returned from their outing and Sabrina says goodnight to him, Linus just sits in the garden, staring at nothing... in one day Sabrina had gotten to him and now he's as stunned as David but more by the woman than her beautiful face and found himself doing an unselfish deed for once: donating an  family owned 1800 building he'd shown Sabrina at the Vineyard to the town to be used as a half way house, no tax advantage. 



They go out for dinner and a show and Sabrina managed to make Linus smile and  laugh, which was delightful to see. This version, it seemed, was more about Linus- the possibility of how a gruff man could change by the love of a woman, a woman he could both talk to and gaze at. Sabrina gets uncomfortable when Linus asked her to say in French, 'I'm looking at what I want.' and when she sees David on their return to the estate, the magic she felt with him is gone, to her shock and dismay- she can't understand why. David has finally noticed her but she was suddenly having feelings for his brother

The same scenario- Linus cannot go on with his plan, out of guilt (and love) and no doubt felt now that he knew Sabrina better, it turned out David was not right for her rather than the other way round, but since she loved him she could make him a better man. But Sabrina is upset and accepts a ticket to Paris from Linus- a small pound of flesh. Linus is shocked to see that David is marrying Elizabeth after all and upset at the idea of Sabrina hating him for what he did. His mother gave him her blessing to go after Sabrina after assuring him she'll get over it, 'No mother could be prouder, but I think it's time you ran away from home.' 



Sabrina is astonished to see Linus, wary about trusting him again but then came the heartfelt speech ending:


'Save me, Sabrina fair. 

You're the only one who can.'

Then the hug and the reconciliation kiss and the movie ended with them watching the view, in each other's arms. 
                      

Sabrina is a beautiful, classic love story and both versions depicted how a girl held a long cherished dream she hoped would be a reality. It didn't, because another man- whom she made a better man- swept her off her feet instead and gave her more than she ever imagined. The film should have been named Sabrina and Linus instead- the story was about both of them, overcoming obstacles and receiving their personal growth and unexpected love... with each other.





                                          

Sunday, July 13, 2014

BRAZIL 2014: ARGENTINA VS GERMANY - THE FINAL SHOWDOWN

 




Today's the day when the winning country gets the World Cup. And let me say, it's been a real exciting tournament this year; predictions were no use since it ended up merely expecting the unexpected. And the last thing everyone expected was Spain leaving early and five time winner Brazil defeated by Germany seven
 goals to one and then by the Netherlands yesterday; 3-0, with the Netherlands emerging third place. Definitely not Brazil's year at all!







So now, the last two football teams starting on this final day are Argentina and Germany- two titans but one winner will emerge the World Cup winner for 2014. Who would it be? No more predictions from me, not after what happened with Brazil and Germany- I'm just going to sit back and see what happens.... and with this final match with a lot of tension and pressure on both sides, just about ANYTHING can happen today!
Let's see.


The match commenced after the recitation of both teams' national anthem.


30 minutes in the first half Argentina scored but alas, it was OFFSIDE! What a pity. And Germany's Christoph Kramer got injured badly enough to be taken off the pitch and substituted with Andre Schurrle. For the most part, besides close saves from both goalkeepers, the two teams battled back and forth desperately looking for  that first goal before the other. The second half would be more brutal but it's best for any of the two to get a goal, it would be a heart attack moment for all the supporters if it turned out this World Cup final would result in a penalty shoot-out. Please... anything but that!

2nd half started with a substitution from Argentina; Lavezzi for Sergio Aguero. Argentina's hero Messi almost gets one for the team and I mean almost; such a chance wasted! Higuain went down but eventually recovered and the battle went on....
Ah, who will be the winner?!!!

This match just kept going on and on and still no goal in sight... Messi again tried for one but it simply went past the net! (Argh! and *YAWN*) Will at least ONE team score already???! Higuain was then subbed for Palacio. Why not, 78 minutes in the game with no goals, they need every man they have. While I understood the pressure both teams were obviously going through, the match was getting rather boring, even with the close calls. More subs... Argentina's Perez for Gago; and then Germany's  Klose for Gotze.

The inevitable 30 minute extra time! If both teams don't score at this time, the final WILL DEFINITELY end with a penalty shootout.

Except for a few narrow misses, it was a pretty much of a snooze fest and honestly I almost hoped it would end up with the penalty shoot out... anything to get some excitement and end the match once and for all.
Oh... a German player got hit squarely in the eye and he was taken off the field for treatment, bleeding and no doubt pissed off- Schweinsteiger, and yet the player who hit him Aguero... didn't get a yellow card, I guess ruled out as accidental.

And finally Germany scored!!!





 A memorable first goal by Mario Gotze- wow... and not MUCH time left... 5 minutes!!! Would there be time for Argentina to equalize before the final whistle? Oh my, Oh my...


Last minute sub- Ozil for Mertesacker.

Free kick for Argentina and Messi was chosen to take it... all eyes on him... and over the net the ball went!
And it's over; GERMANY WINS THE WORLD CUP!!! *APPLAUSE*







Well to round off... the sad looking players of the Argentine team received their silver medals; Lionel Messi sulkily took off his as he walked away from the podium. I can imagine his great disappointment  but still... very bad sportsmanship.
Then the triumphant German team going up for their gold medals, exchanging congratulatory handshakes and hugs from their Chancellor- Chancellor Angela Merkel and then the 18 carat gold World Cup is handed over to the captain and it's fanfare and loud cheers for the German team!


 Congratulations Champions!!!