Book Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Great GatsbyIn The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald captures the flamboyance, the carelessness and the cruelty of the wealthy during America’s Jazz Age. The Great Gatsby lives mysteriously in a luxurious Long Island mansion, playing lavish host to hundreds of people. And yet no one seems to know him or how he became so rich. He is rumoured to be everything from a German spy to a war hero. People clamour for invitations to his wild parties. But Jay Gatsby doesn’t heed them. He cares for one person alone – Daisy Buchanan, the woman he has waited for all his life. Little does he know that his infatuation will lead to tragedy and end in murder.

As readers and writers, the hardest thing to accept is that you didn’t understand the intentions or purpose behind a piece of work. It comes with this stigma of unintelligence; that the author and your fellow readers who do ‘understand’ are operating on a higher plane of thought than you. In reality, it’s far more likely that a combination of the story structure, language style, and impossible or unlikeable characters threw you to the point where your mind didn’t want to understand and disengaged as a matter of self-preservation. That was the case when I read The Great Gatsby.

Scott Fitgerald’s writing is exquisite – he sure knows how to turn a phrase. It’s a pity that his plot dragged and his characters were equal parts boring and despicable. There were moments when I couldn’t distinguish one character from the other in dialogue, and I couldn’t bring myself to try to work it out. I knew I was in trouble at the first paragraph. Fitzgerald followed in Emily Bronte’s footsteps and uses a narrator that has the barest level of involvement in the actual plot, and comes across as a prying bastard that peers over his neighbour’s hedges and rummages through their underwear drawers. I think Nick is supposed to be a hardworking and slightly broke foil to the other characters’ ill gained wealth and excess. All I really know is that I hate this style of narration because it makes the whole story more unreliable, and I never know whether the unreliability of the account is deliberate, or simply a result of the flaws in the characterisation as a whole. Either way, the end result is a festering pile of past-tense exposition. Daisy and Jay’s ‘great love story’ is hinted at in fragments and then info dumped at the last moment. Even the events of Jay Gatsby’s death are told in past tense from a third character. What is the point of having a narrator who is respectively the cousin and neighbour of two protagonists, if he never actually talks to these characters about the plot points? Nick gets most of his information from Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker or Husband Tom. I felt as if everything actually interesting was happening behind a screen somewhere.

The only way I can excuse how unlikeable the characters are is to tell myself that F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing a social criticism. Daisy and Tom Buchanan represent the idle and frivolous rich who neglect their almost invisible child Pammy, and Tom’s mistress Myrtle and her husband are representative of the trodden down middle class. If that’s the case, then he did a bog awful job of it. I have no idea what the titular character is meant to be bringing to this critique of the Jazz Age. He’s a poor boy turned rich through dubious means. This might be an allusion to the unattainability of wealth. Perhaps Gatsby is simply there to parody traditional love stories. After all, Daisy and Gatsby’s ‘love’ was so unbelievable that it actually gave me a headache. I understand Gatsby’s original motives to get rich and rub it in her face, but the endless infatuation smacks more of obsession than love. It’s ludicrous that Nick and Daisy’s friend encourage this behaviour, especially after Daisy’s less than warm reception. I also don’t understand why Gatsby didn’t directly invite her to one of the parties, instead of turning on all of the lights, playing music, and hoping she showed. The only relationship that actually made sense to me was Tom and Daisy’s dysfunctional marriage, and that’s because the two selfish creatures deserve each other. Tit for tat affairs and ignoring children do not make an ideal home life.

To sum up – F. Scott Fitzgerald chose to exhibit his excellent vocabulary and (possible) social criticism in a novel written in the most boring and ineffective manner conceivable. The characters, their relationships, and the novella itself has been undeservedly glorified to classic status, probably because no one knew what the hell F. Scott Fitzgerald was doing and didn’t want to admit it.



Review: Zine-O-Matic, April 2017


Price: 13.99 USD + 9.99 USD shipping
What is it: A monthly subscription of zines, independent art, stickers, and paper goods.

April’s bounty of weirdness arrived and boy was it a good one. This envelope again contained three zines: ‘Kackle Issue 3d: Skullwater’, ‘Soliloquy’, and ‘Guile Guild Press #1’. There were also other little extras and a mini zine called ‘Why are you dumping me?’.


I quite enjoyed Kackle’s 3rd issue ‘Skullwater’ by Bruce Wilson. A short story that comes with 3D glasses? Yes please! I was initially doubtful about this one, as it’s a horror story about reanimated corpses. Horror and I do not get along, but this is the year of trying new genres so I gave it the old college try. It turns out that ‘Skullwater’ isn’t that scary. It’s definitely creepy, and everyone dies, but the story isn’t long enough to get emotionally attached to anyone. The plot follows a young boy who brings his elderly mother back to life, and accidentally reanimates his father, who died months previously, in the process. His father ultimately murders everyone in the house, including the boy, and then lies down with his reanimated wife. Months later two hunters stumble into the cabin and the two corpses beg for help to ‘fornicate’. I enjoyed the read, but I feel that veteran horror fans wouldn’t appreciate it much. ‘Skullwater’ doesn’t break any new ground, and sticks to a pretty traditional plot. The writing was well structured, and I found the final scene funny, but it lacked the tension expected of a horror. Instead Bruce Wilson used a very deadpan tone, which brought an element of comedy that I appreciated. The 3d illustrations had novelty, but I didn’t find that they brought any extra personality to the story.

476‘Soliloquy’ is really cool. The title on the front cover is embossed in Braille, with the translation typed on the inside flap. The zine contains guides to learning and using the following forms of communication: Tap Code, Morse Code, Braille, US Sign Language, and Binary Code. It’s a really cool concept, and I’m planning to put a few days aside to at least learn Tap and Morse Codes and Braille. The tutorial on US Sign Language doesn’t help me much, as Australia has its own system (is dialect an appropriate word in this context?). This has definitely inspired me to seek out some lessons in Australian Sign Language on the internet. Soliloquy was clearly a well thought out and executed zine that provides information about the various forms of communication that it then teaches. I’m really pleased with this one.

480‘Guile Guild Press #1’ is yet another art book, made up of various contributions instead of one or two artists’ work. There’s plenty of variety, but the quality between contributions varied widely. One particular comic ‘Proletarian Comix’ was drawn very heavily with limited space, and as such it was hard to read the captions or even differentiate arms from legs. A lot of the art has underlying political or social commentary, which is cool for a while but does tend to drag your mood down when every art work tells you that we’re selfish and doomed. You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind to peruse it, or you’ll just end up angry and more depressed than when you first opened the covers.

478‘Why are you dumping me?’ was good for a quick laugh, but it’s funnier when you can’t relate at all. Sandra’s real-life dumping scenarios will hit too close to home when you have a few tragic stories of your own to bring to the table. I reread this following an awkward attempt at wooing and I found that it wasn’t nearly as funny as when I was innocent and free. Or maybe the wound is still too raw. Either way, Sandra has a real skill with drawing expressions in simple cartoons, and the accompanying illustrations made the captions even funnier. She has a zine available on her Etsy store ‘BogusPress’, and I just might make the purchase and see if the rest of her work is as good.

464Out of all the extras, my favourite is a post card with art by Joe Elias Tsambiras. It’s so pretty, and I love the contrasting shades and textures. Is it weird to frame it – because I want to. There was a sticker of a dismembered arm with a mouth that reminds me of a band shirt from the 80s, and a card illustration of two giant lizards fighting. I do not know what to do with that. I sense a spontaneous gift to a stranger on a train in my future.

Overall, I got a decent haul of zines and a pleasant afternoon whiled away reading them. There was a good mix of thought provoking and hilarious. I have no regrets, and I’m definitely gonna be an oddball and frame that post card.

Review: Zine-O-Matic, March 2017


Price: 13.99 USD + 9.99 USD shipping
What is it: A monthly subscription of zines, independent art, stickers, and paper goods.

It seems that the more I age, the more I resemble a crazed, literary badger lurking in its den and refusing to venture into the sun. A subscription for independently published articles, fiction, poetry, and art is therefore incredibly enticing. I don’t have to leave my house and hunt these things down for myself, allowing me to maintain my hip street cred without actually going to the street. Bliss.  Zine-o-matic offers a few subscription options, and I opted for the smallest (read: cheapest) option – 3 zines and a few little extra goodies. This month’s delivery had a nice variety of zines: ‘Our Best Shot: The True Story of an Illegal Supervised Injection Facility in the USA’, ‘Imaginary Homework’, and ‘KJC #3’.  The subscription came in a large envelope, and everything was packed well to prevent damage. The extras were slipped into the pages of the zines. While other people would have found pleasant surprises as they read, I shook the pages vigorously to uncover the bounty.

Anonymous gives it to us straight

My favourite zine would have to be ‘Our Best Shot’. With raw humour, cynicism, and a kind of seething and restrained fury, the anonymous comic follows the development of an unnamed and illegal Supervised Injection Facility in the USA. I love anything that’s both informative and hilarious, and the author’s dealings with the addicts she works with had me in stitches. There was a lot of medicine slipped in with this honey: I learned that the leading cause of death in the USA is drug overdose, how to recognise the signs, and how to treat it. She also explains how the facility she works for, while technically only a clean needle exchange, originally allowed participants to shoot up in the bathroom before moving on to become a (highly illegal) supervised injection facility. The data collected by her organisation, and others, shows that having access to clean needles and a safe place to get high prevents the spread of disease and discourages the habit of leaving dirty syringes in public places, as well as reducing the risk of overdose by having staff like herself on hand. She also highlights the stark reality that pretty much the only people who care about the welfare of addicts are other addicts. The comic was incredibly interesting, and while I don’t condone illegal drug use, I do believe that better systems and programs need to be in place to support addicts to go straight.

It’s better than algebra

‘Imaginary Homework’ by Theo Ellsworth was…interesting. I originally misunderstood the title to mean homework that doesn’t exist, as in an imaginary friend. It turns out that this zine is a collection of illustrations and activities designed to inspire and exercise your imagination. Some of the activities look fun. Others appear bat shit insane. It’s the perfect blend of surrealism and inspiration, and I’m minded to try a new “Homework Task” each day to get my imagination stirring. I may also end up as a lucid dreamer who sees elephants where tables are. Either way, it sounds exciting.


  I have no idea what is happening here

Despite my earlier crowing, I am not cool. I have no actual hip street cred. This was shown excruciatingly well when I opened the final zine. ‘KJC #3’ a collaboration between artisits DW and Kevin Uehlein, is a psychedelic wonder if indie art that made me feel like a worthless, uncool amoeba. I have no idea what was happening in any of the artworks, and I constantly felt like I was staring at something beyond the grasp of my puny, wretched understanding. There was a deeper meaning. I’m sure of it. But all I can say is that the colours were striking, the geometric patterns were cool, and I could make neither head nor tail of the comics.

There were a few extras included in the parcel. These were:
A booklet of ‘Tasteful Insect Nudes’ (funny)
A fake 10,000 yen note (odd)
A sticker, possibly inspired by Beatrix Potter, of kittens wearing dresses (cute)
A second sticker of a vintage lady crying over a couple kissing (went immediately on my laptop).

I’m pretty pleased by the collection I received this month, and I’ll probably maintain my subscription to see what other baffling and amazing zines will be revealed.

Book Review: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

milk and honey 3this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

2017 is my year of trying different genres and styles, and there was no better place to start than reading poetry. Poetry and I have had a fraught relationship. I loved it in primary school, and grew to hate it in high school when the only poetry I was exposed to was the ‘classics’ (which seemed to consist solely of lengthy descriptions of nature and sexist poems on ‘love’) and the emo angst on myspace (which featured anarchism, despair, and sexist poems on ‘love’). Needless to say by the time I started studying at university I actively avoided every poetry unit that I could. Then the little imp in my brain decided that I needed to try new things, and also pointed out that the poems I’ve experienced so far probably weren’t the best example of the art form. So I picked up a copy of ‘milk and honey’ by Rupi Kaur. And thank god I did.

I won’t lie, the use of all lowercase letters put me off at first. As a purist when it comes to punctuation, I was wondering how being permanently irritated was supposed to improve my experience with the poems. Kaur provides an explanation for her choice here  and her beautiful language and imagery pulled me in so completely that I stopped noticing the absence of capitals. I intended to read a few poems before bed, and instead I stayed up half of the night devouring them all.

The anthology is split into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. The theme of abuse is represented most strongly in poetry from both the hurting and the breaking, while female empowerment and sexuality is represented through the work as a whole. You get the sense that when Kaur writes of abuse and rape, she is writing not only of her own experiences but those of women as a whole. She captures not only the experiences themselves but the lingering fear that all women have that one day they will endure that fate. With stark language she also highlights the everyday language and behaviours that contribute to female oppression as a whole, such as in the poem below:

milk and honey 2While a large number of the poetry in ‘milk and honey’ is love poetry, it’s love in all forms. Mutual love, sexual love, and dysfunctional love are all represented, as is a growing sense of physical and mental empowerment. The women conjured by these poems are not meek and waiting, but strong beings who’d rather do without than suffer a self-destructive relationship. Kaur beautifully conveys both the pain of leaving and the joy of escaping a love turned sour. The poetry is also accompanied by simple yet striking illustrations, which enhance the imagery of the language without distracting from the content. They are a beautiful embellishment, and make me want to frame my favourite poems and put them on my walls.

‘milk and honey’ is aptly named. It slides sweetly through the mind, and it’s only when you close the book that the questions Kaur’s poetry provokes swims to the front of your mind. Of course, now I’m worried that I’ll never find another poet whose works I enjoy as much as I do Rupi Kaur.



Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

From the dawn of the world to the twilight of the gods, this is a dazzling retelling of the great Norse myths from the award-winning, bestselling Neil Gaiman.



While I’ve always been interested in Norse myths, it was more of a passing nod than the full on obsession that I had with Grecian and Roman mythology. I knew enough about the Norse Gods to know that Marvel’s rendition of Thor and Loki was somewhat off point and little enough to allow that to rekindle my interest. Neil Gaiman’s retelling of common Norse legends seemed as good a place as any to start learning.

Gaiman uses a lot of modern language in his retelling, but he writes with a cadence that captures the spirit of the oral story telling of Norse tradition. While each chapter contains a separate myth, Gaiman still creates an over-arching plot, with events being alluded to that eventually occur in the later myths. There is none of Marvel’s influence in the characterisation of Thor and Loki, and I enjoyed how other gods and goddesses were portrayed. The depiction of Freya was one that I particularly enjoyed – she was a powerful goddess in her own right, and refused to be used as a pawn in other gods’ difficulties. This is demonstrated particularly well when she refuses to be sold as a bride to a troll in exchange for the return of Thor’s Hammer. Gaiman also humanised the Gods of Asgard, showing the motivations behind their actions and how these lead to their downfall. Of course, being a collection of legends, characters did have a tendency to die in one tale and then magically appear, whole and well, in a later story. This occurs frequently in mythology collections, and I always get a little chuckle imagining a long-ago storyteller concocting an excuse for the god’s reappearance to an outspoken child.

I’ll have to read further retellings to understand if this is unique to Gaiman or common across Norse myths, but I really enjoyed the sense of destiny in the tales and the version of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is referred to intermittently across many of the myths, and you read with a growing sense of dread as all of the gods unconsciously begin the chain of events that lead to the destruction of the earth and the fall of Asgard. Ragnarok is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which every move the gods make to prevent it becomes an action that causes the end. Except it’s not the end – the sons of the gods are shown to have survived, and it is suggested that a new world is built. The gods moved like chess pieces across the board, and it is time for the board to be reset and another game to begin. It had a sense of hope to it, which was refreshing in this world of doom and gloom.

Neil Gaiman really is a wonderful storyteller, and I find that he did the mythology of the Norsemen justice. This was a great introduction to the mythology, and I look forward to reading more accounts.


Book Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

screaming-staircaseWhen the dead come back t haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts – some very dangerous indeed.
Lucy Carlyle, a young psychic investigator, hopes for a notable career. Instead, she finds herself joining London’s smallest, most ramshackle agency, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have a last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in the most haunted house in England, and trying to escape alive.
Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour, and truly terrifying ghosts. Your night will never be the same again…

‘The Screaming Staircase’ is a supernatural mystery novel, and as such I need to provide a general disclaimer: I scare incredibly easily. I have to close my eyes at choice moments in ‘The Mummy’ and the only jump scare in ‘Donnie Darko’ made me scream. I couldn’t read ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ at night without hearing Hollows in the wind outside. For comparison, the friend who lent the book to me laughed when I asked her if she found it scary.  The chances are that this book will not scare any adults who are not quivering jellies such as myself. I can’t speak for the intended age group, but as a 12 year old who was afraid of the dark I would’ve been terrified.

As plots go, ‘The Screaming Staircase’ is pretty standard of YA fiction. A trio of plucky youngsters fighting the battles that adults cannot, or will not, fight against terrifying forces. It’s no surprise when the two cases Lockwood & Co are investigating overlap. Even the ghosts are pretty stock standard: victims are pushed down stairs and walls drip with blood. Stroud did create a legitimate reason for useless adults: they can’t see the ghosts. They can be attacked and killed by them, but the most they can do is sense an ominous presence. I think Stroud did a good job of capturing the tensions that would arise when a threat could only be seen and stopped by minors, and the ways that adults would attempt to control the situation even at such a disadvantage. Lockwood, Lucy, and George are talented psychics and ghost hunters, but they are also underage and their independent agency is often passed over because of their lack of adult supervision. Because of the lack of an adult mentor in the narrative, the three children tend to display an uncommon level of maturity, Lockwood especially. This is beautifully counterbalanced with the amazing levels of immaturity that the trio can display, particularly when they squabble in life-threatening situations.

Stroud also appears to have put an incredible amount of forethought into this novel and its sequels. While the ghosts weren’t anything new (she writes, hiding under her blankets) Stroud definitely researched paranormal phenomena before beginning ‘The Screaming Staircase’. The rules of ghost hunting are firmly established in the novel, and there’s no contradictions regarding the abilities of the ghosts or ghost hunters. The ghost –fighting methods are firmly established, from using iron to ward off ghosts to drinking tea and chewing gum to ward off the creeping fear generated by haunted houses. Stroud also alludes to developments in future novels concerning how ghosts rose in number and how Lucy’s psychic talent could be a key to the mystery. There are also hints that the government might be trying to enable adults to fight ghosts, or be exploiting powerful ghosts for profit or psychic power. While solving a case Lockwood & Co. discover and steal a strange pair of goggles that I suspect will turn out to be some sort of ghost seeing device.

All in all, while the plot points of ‘The Screaming Staircase’ were very predictable, Stroud creates excellent backstory and witty characters that more than make up for it. I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the Lockwood & Co. series to see if my suspicions are correct. I’m giving an overall Fear Rating of 4/10, accounting for my friend’s utter lack of dread and my need to close all the windows after finishing the book.



Book Review: The Man with the Dancing Eyes by Sophie Dahl

the-man-with-the-dancing-eyes-1‘In the golden half-light of a midsummer’s evening, the sort where any kind of magic can occur, and often does, in the midst of a party held in a wild and rambling garden, stood Pierre, teetering on highly unsuitable heels, surrounded by a symphony of overripe roses.’
On that midsummer evening, Pierre, the daughter of a bumbling botanist and a ravishing Italian soprano, sweet and shy and gangly as a baby giraffe, meets a man with dancing eyes.
Alas, in the midst of a glorious affair, an indiscretion is committed and Pierre flees to New York. But forgetting her beloved proves far harder than she imagines.
Magical, bittersweet, and utterly charming, Sophie Dahl’s debut is an old-fashioned romance for a modern-day world.

The plot of ‘The Man with the Dancing Eyes’ is quite simple: Boy meets Girl, Boy screws up, Girl runs away to Major City (in this case New York). Will Boy win back Girl? Take a guess. The plot is very predictable, but Sophie Dahl has a very beautiful style that is highlighted by the easy storyline. ‘The Man with the Dancing Eyes’ is filled with lovely phrases like the one provided in the blurb, and there is a subtle humour in many of Dahl’s most romantic or heartbreaking scenes:

‘As day poured through the bedroom window, Pierre opened her eyes to see seven tiny men singing madrigals on the deck of the Glimmety Glammety. Her beloved appeared at the bedroom door.
“I’m mad about you,” he proclaimed.
“Lucky, lucky me” she said.
He later won a sweeping victory at Scrabble which made her cross and distinctly ungracious.’

While the beautiful turns of phrase beguiled me, the lack of character development or relatable characters was annoying. Pierre works at a bookshop and lives in a houseboat, but can somehow afford Christian Louboutin heels and flights to New York. Presumably her Soprano mother and Botanist father help to subsidise this. When in New York, she lives off the generosity of a friend of her mother’s and a job modelling for an artist. When money is tight they go to China Town to buy fans and slippers. Pierre never really changes as a character – she doesn’t find a purpose or inner strength and if anything appears to become more vapid and clueless than she was at the beginning of the novella. Despite the problems in the relationship before her boyfriend’s ‘indiscretion (the nature of which is never explained) at the close of the book none of this is resolved and they simply state that they love each other and can’t stop.

Wacky seahorses on parade make reading even more enjoyable.

As a result of the lack of character development, the fantastic illustrations by Annie Morris felt more like candy to distract the reader from the novella’s flaws rather than added value to a story. Line drawing and watercolours are the primary techniques, and they flow beautifully with the narrative. My one issue is that the character Blue is always drawn with bare breasts, for no comprehensible reason. In a world where the female form is already over sexualised, and many feminist artists retaliate by portraying women’s breasts in art for political reasons, having a character drawn with her tits out makes me confused and wary. It felt like the author and artist were making an attempt at being edgy by ‘daring’ to have nudity.

Overall, ‘The Man with the Dancing Eyes’ resembles its main character Pierre – a thing of beauty, but with little depth. This novella is fun to read and the illustrations are both gorgeous and quirky, but it isn’t a story that stays with you for weeks after you close the final pages.