Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"But I do love him!" she told herself.
What difference did it make; she wasn't happy, she'd never been happy! Why did life fall so far short of her expectations, why did whatever she depended on turn instantly to dust beneath her hand? - Flaubert
Emma Roualt, a young and exceptionally beautiful woman catches the eye of a humble country doctor, Charles Bovary. The doctor frequently visits her father's household, and unbeknownst to him he falls in love with her. However brief their encounters might have been, Charles asks for her hand in marriage and Emma's eagerly accept it with a certain child nativity. In her mind's eye, she can already picture a blissful life with Charles, never-ending love and passionate moments just as she has observed in the romance novels that she covetously read in her early adolescence.
Reality sets in, and to Emma's horror she realizes that her hopes and dreams can never come to fruition. Charles is a good, steady lad, but he lacks the ambitions and heroic spirit that epitomizes the romantic lovers in her beloved novels. Dissatisfied with the humdrum quotidian lifestyle that she must endure on their old country farm, Charles decides to relocate to a more populated town to revive her spirits. Little does the poor doctor know the great lengths his wife will take in order to fulfill her passionate dreams, even if she must sacrifice her own family's happiness in the process.
This is the first book that I have ever read by Gustave Flaubert. I am somewhat familiar with his writing style, since I have heard he painstakingly wrote this novel with several drafts, never truly satisfied with the outcome. I suppose all artists are their own worst critics. Flaubert wrote an exceptionally piece of work! His attention to detail is exquisite. I could almost imagine the rolling landscapes, the garden outside of Bovary's household, the exotic aura of the small hotel where Emma frequently engaged in rendezvous with her lover. The dialogue felt so intensely real, it felt as though I was sitting there beside the characters, silently taking in their conversations. Indeed, this French writer has an incredible knack with his attention to detail, a quality that is often lacking in in novice writers.
The frequent allusion to religion was something I thoroughly enjoyed. The constant debate about Christianity in the background of a woman gradually falling into the role of a tempting mistress was highly amusing. I could sense that the author was battling with his own feelings of religion, pitting Christianity against rational idealism and well-known philosophers of that time that extolled a more secular worldview where the Holy texts are merely "moral guidelines" and that "prayers can do no good." I can understand the reasoning's behind the difficulties of publishing this book, it would have been horrendously difficult, especially with the scandalous subject matter of a woman having multiple affairs. I am certainly glad that Faubert was able to publish this book in the end, it was a delightful read.
In relation to this novel, I believe the reader is forced to question their own moral codes; test their own sense of morality when it comes to the hardships and pitfalls that the main character, Emma, inevitably faces in life. Can we really blame her for falling so far from grace? Was it truly the romance books that corrupted her mind? Or was it the men that she encountered, their carnal lust that was gradually transferred onto her? In the end, she spurns all men, and can you really blame her?
"Madame Bovary" is without a doubt a tragedy, but an incredibly beautiful one. Flaubert magnificently pulls the heart-strings of the reader with subtle ease. I confessed at the end I did get a bit teary-eyed. But how could I not? It was truly a wonderful read! Sensational, erotic, shockingly immoral, but wonderful all the same. I highly recommend this to any reader that is looking for a world of escapism, or a deeper reflection upon their own thoughts of morality and extramarital affairs.
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MELANCHOLIC MADNESS by ALARKA SHIVA
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A thought provoking read. Shiva's short stories dive into the inner consciousness of man. There is an element of self-awareness for the characters, a knowledge that their ideas can lead them to self-destruction or inevitable heartache. For me, I felt the stories were deeply philosophical. The reader can gain a lot into the character's mind, whether it is their dependency to alcohol, cigarettes or sex, all of them stem from a deeper problem which lies in the character's subconscious mind.
In each story there are memorable quotes, a few lines that make me stop and deeply contemplate over the melancholic muses that storm the mind of the brooding character's. I think my favourite story by far is "Four o'clock," because the story is highly relatable. It deals with an unyielding obsession with a woman that the main character has loved and lost. Her sudden departure has dogged him all his life, ruining his relationship with his wife and disrupting his job. All of that time he is fixated on that person he fell in love with when he was younger, and when he finally see's her once more it just stops- the dream dies and then he comes to the sudden epiphany that he lost almost ten years waiting for someone that is not the same girl he first met at a bar all those years ago. It is stories like these that make the reader contemplate about their own life. It also makes me consider whether I am guilty of making the same mistakes, if I let my obsessions from the past effect my future.
I will leave two memorable quotes down below just to show the brilliancy of Shiva's writing:
"Sometimes good and sometimes bad, but the craving is compulsory. Sometimes I feel the mind is a monster who just needs to get fed, irrespective of good and bad. Maybe it's trying to hug the temporary hoax to forget reality, but the soul will be like "No, you can't do this. This can destroy you."
"Human nature is so nomadic and human feelings are unstable. But there are many who, in spite of all this, are loved and get loved till they die."
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Arcadians : Lullaby in Nature by Katrina Thornley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Arcadians" is a touching and heartfelt book of poetry that is dedicated to the author's home town. You can really get a sense of passion from the poet, as if there are strong ties to the land that she shares with her ancestors. The majority of the poems touches on nature, such as deep forests and peaceful landscapes. My favourite poems often center around being still in the environment, and focusing on the subtle beauty that revolves around nature.
This book is best read outdoors. I would also recommend purchasing a physical copy of "Arcadians" since reading the e-book on my phone felt like a strange juxtaposition when contemplating the idea of self-isolation to really enjoy the stillness of nature. The front cover design is absolutely lovely! I suppose that is another incentive to purchase a physical copy of "Arcadians."
My only gripe is the poems did feel a bit repetitive at times. I believe less content could have held a stronger impact upon the reader's mind, such as selecting the strongest poems that will resonate with the intended audience. I think experimenting with different poetry styles or implementing rhyming schemes might have brought more variety to the author's poems as well. This is my own opinion, however, and not reflective of other people's experiences. I have some background knowledge in poetry, since I took some courses in University that focused on it, so I will view "Arcadians" differently than everyone else. All in all, it was an enjoyable read. If you are a fan of simplistic poetry that focuses on nature, it will be an ideal read for you. I will leave two of my favourite poems down below.
My memory lane
Is a wooded path
Bathed in grass
With your shadow
He was the tide
And I was the child
Barefoot and chasing,
For a gentle caress
But always missing
- Ocean's Love
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The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan W. Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To me, this book felt like an unexpected left-hooked punch to my jaw, which left me dazed and defenceless. Even now, I can still feel my head spinning (figuratively speaking). "The Book" tackles some very tough issues, mostly ones that we are forcibly indoctrinated into children at a very early age, especially those that live in the Western society. Watt's words tackled my own long-held beliefs, but I chose to read them with an open mind. In the beginning, he discusses the idea of "self" and "ego" (both were intellectually stimulating, especially the analogy of the ego behaving like an onion with many layers). I am somewhat familiar with this concept, but Watts' took it a step further by declaring that the self is actually an "It" and that the individual is not separate from the environment, but ultimately a part of it. Watts' successfully challenged the pillar beliefs of Christianity, and even though I am a Protestant raised, I can clearly see that his arguments did have some merits. I also enjoyed the fact that he implemented Eastern philosophical beliefs, as it educated me on some subject matters that I was entirely ignorant of, prior to reading this book.
Still, the idea that we are not truly individuals, and that I am "It" AND you are "It," AND that this entity of "It"- God or whatever power that connects all sources of life on earth (and even beyond) has this uncanny ability of residing in all living souls while playing an "endless game of hide-and-seek with oneself" is still a difficult topic to grasp. I suppose not intellectually speaking, but the belief in Watt's philosophical arguments is something that I found myself unable to stomach fully. I suppose this is the reason, Watts' ended his book with the following passage:
Now you know- even if it takes you some time do a double-take and get the full impact. It may not be easy to recover from the many generations through which the fathers have knocked down the children, like dominoes... On the contrary, you're IT. But perhaps the fathers were unwittingly trying to tell the children that IT plays IT cool. You don't come on (that is, on stage) like IT because you really are IT, and to come on like IT- to play at being God- is to play the Self as a role, which is just what it isn't. When IT plays, it plays at being everyone else.
As you can see, Watts' tends to speak in parables and analogies, but it works because of the difficulty of his complex ideas, much of which derived from Buddhism teachings. After all, how am I supposed to believe that God is not only in me, but that I AM God? As a matter of fact, he is in everyone of you? From the small grasshopper, to the farthest galaxy, there is a part of God's spirit or soul that resides in these things. It is difficult to comprehend, but I am slowly coming to terms with Watts' philosophy. As a man that holds a master's degree in Theology and a doctorate of divinity, he is a man well versed in Christianity thinking. I find it interesting that he goes against his own religion later on in life, and that he leans more towards the teaching of Zen Buddhism. Watts' is a highly knowledgeable man, and a wise one at that. I suppose I will take what I can from "The Book" and brood over it for a couple of days. It is not a light topic, and it is one that goes against Westernized teaching. I do agree, however, with the importance of living in the present moment and the common fear of death among people in North America. The idea of purgatory/heaven/hell does create a sense of unease for people, since they fear their sins will condemn them to a certain place for all eternity (i.e. Heaven or Hell). Alan is correct in stating that death is a certain "Taboo"- a topic that no one wants to speak about, and that we vainly contrive to use all modes of life/artificial technology to extend it to the last possible second. Does everyone fear death? No, not exactly, but I believe it is because of people's fears or beliefs which compels them to take on a certain view of departing from this world. I suppose this is the reason I enjoyed one of the final segments of Alan Watts' passages as he closes up his last argument about "It" and the idea of "It" reincarnating itself into a different selves (i.e. person or animal after death). This passage was written not so long after he passed away. I will leave this remarkable speech down below for you to ponder over, as I still do even after the final page.
"I presume, then, that with my own death I shall forget who I was, just as my conscious attention is unable to recall, if it ever knew, how to form the cells of the brain and the pattern of the veins. Conscious memory plays little part in our biological existence. Thus as my sensation of "I-ness" of being alive, once came into being without conscious memory or intent, so it will arise again and again, as the "central" Self- the It..."
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