Sunday, 3 March 2019

Book review: Winter

For most of the time I was reading Winter it was twenty degrees outside, so that didn't really match up.




4.5/5


I read the first book in Ali Smith's seasonal quartet last autumn (the book is also called Autumn) and absolutely loved it. The way she writes is so easy to read, very colloquial and generally just like someone is telling you the story without trying to make it sound super intellectual or 'fancy'. I don't know why it took me so long to get round to reading the next book, Winter, but nonetheless, it was another great feat by Smith.

The novel is set primarily over the Christmas period of a recent year (I would guess around 2016), and follows the events at a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall. There are four central figures in the novel, Sophia, an ageing businesswoman; Iris, her sister and humanitarian; Arthur, Sophia's son; and Lux, who Arthur is paying to pretend to be his, now ex-girlfriend, Charlotte.

The main bulk of the story is set on Christmas day, with a few segments jumping back in time to past events. Christmas seems very significant in the novel, as it provides a time of togetherness for the family who have spent a large portion of their lives apart. It's equally a time for reflection, as the individuals gaze back on past events, and begin to understand more about one and other.

There is, though subtly done, a big focus on current affairs within this book, but the way Smith presents these to her readers is not particularly bold or argumentative. There is a conversation going on throughout the book about the refugee crisis, brexit, workers' rights, and even the Cold War, which is perhaps the best depicted of all of these. Iris was a major protester throughout the Cold War and believed strongly against nuclear armament. Her sister, Sophia, thinks she is foolish for this, and finds her prioritisation of actual people over the country's readiness to fight back quite absurd.

The dynamic between the two sisters is highly reflective of the leave and remain campaigns for the EU referendum. In fact, the referendum is even sited as a difference between the two, with Iris challenging Sophia claiming to know exactly how she would have voted. There is a distinct 'us vs them' argument throughout, which is where the character of Lux comes in.

Lux is originally from Croatia, though spent a portion of her childhood also living in Canada. Having therefore been born in a country bereft by war, she creates a thought-provoking question regarding both the Syrian refugee crisis and another regarding the future of EU citizens in the UK. Lux works in a warehouse, where she also sleeps, and, despite being highly intelligent, had to drop out of university in the UK because it was too expensive. Her character, though sided clearly with Iris, provides something none of the others can, which is an EU nationality-based insight into living in a place that has become hostile to 'outsiders'. And yet, despite this struggle, she is the kindest, smartest character of all. Her story is very sad, but one that is, unfortunately, highly recognisable right now.

Arthur's main contribution to the novel involves both the online voice: how we portray our lives online. He has a blog, called 'Art in Nature', where he depicts fond, colourful imagery of nature and how it brings beauty and art into our lives. However, as he admits in the novel, basically all of his posts are based on research and his imagination, as opposed to anything he has actually seen, therefore portraying his life as colourful and beautiful when it is really just spent researching what these things would be like, online. It's interesting to consider how many of the things we see or read about online are embellished or entirely untrue. And with social media at the height of its time, this contribution to the novel struck a chord.

It reminded me that most of what I see when I scroll through Instagram is set up and not natural, and actually probably didn't bring the person posting the image the kind of joy, or sense of experience, that it would have done if they'd been thinking about anything besides getting a great picture. It seems that when Arthur turns off his phone - his ex-girlfriend is posting all sorts of madness on his accounts, which she has access to - he finally begins to see, or recognise, beautiful images. When Lux describes a print left by a pressed flower in a Shakespeare book, her description of it blows him away, and he seems to realise that perhaps it would be nicer to really see things, instead of creating an image he thinks that other people want to see.

Overall, I loved this book. Ali Smith is such a delight to read, her style so accessible and readable that I feel able to recommend her to everyone I know. The book deals with so many different themes and topics of interests - and relevant, current issues, that everyone should take more time to consider. I think the characters she has created and the way that they affected one another was truly remarkable. A joy to read.


Until next time.



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Email: abbielour18@gmail.com

Friday, 8 February 2019

Currently Coveting: ASOS S/S

Over recent years, I've definitely moved from being an A/W clothing girl, to a S/S sun worshipper. Never thought I'd say that, but here we are. The cold is not ideal.

Loads of brands are starting to release their S/S collections, and even though there's still some snow on the ground whilst I'm writing this, I'm here for it. I feel like I mention my undying love for spring every year, so this year will be no different. It's the season that takes an age to arrive and then is usually gone in a flash. But it's my favourite time to try new clothing and usually has the nicest colour palette.

Today I'm going to share some of my favourite S/S pieces on ASOS right now, items that I'll definitely start ordering as soon as we get above 10 degrees and spring is truly on its way. I've got quite a few trips planned throughout the spring and summer so I'd love a few new pieces for those. We're mostly looking at short European city breaks with a sunny holiday in June, and I think a lot of these items would serve me well for those trips as well as the everyday UK sun (if we're lucky enough to see it this year).


Tops












Jeans








Shorts/Skirts










Dresses






Activewear






Swimwear






Until next time.



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Instagram: abbielour
Twitter: abbielour
Email: abbielour18@gmail.com

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Book review: The Mars Room



2/5



I thought this year I would try writing lengthier, more in-depth book reviews, focusing on just one book at a time. As much as I find it's nice to compile a few short musings on a long list of books, the tradition single book review is easier to read through without losing track of which book was about what.

I'm starting with The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018. Though being on a shortlist for a prize isn't necessarily a symbol of an amazing book, I tend to find at least a few books on the list that might not have caught my interest without the publicity (essentially what the Man Booker is there to offer: exposure).

The novel is set in California, primarily between San Fransisco, LA and Stanville, and jumps back and forth through time to reach these destinations. The main time period in which the book unfolds is the 00s, when Romy Hall has been convicted of murder and is sentenced to life in prison, at Stanville. The reader is not clearly informed of Romy's crime until the end of the novel, and even then, the crime is depicted from another person's point of view, not necessarily giving the clearest indication of the actuality of the situation.

Whilst in prison, Romy's mother dies, her mother who was now the guardian of her young son, Jackson. It seems that Jackson is the one person that Romy truly cares about, and the one person who she's desperate to find and check up on but equally knows has a better chance of a life without her. The desperation expressed by Romy at the loss of her son effectively shows the humanity of a woman who is being dehumanised as a prisoner. The way that her need to check on her son spurs on the rest of the plot portrays the agony of a woman who only ever wanted to protect her son, even if it meant murdering someone.

Prior to prison, Romy worked as a striper at The Mars Room, where she met the man who would lead to her prison sentence. Kurt Kennedy became obsessed with her, tracking her down and following her every move outside of work, to the point that she felt the need to abandon San Fransisco and move herself and her son to LA. There's a kind of mental violence going on here, where even though Kennedy hasn't touched Romy outside of The Mars Room, his presence and appearances have caused her great enough concern that she feels she must move away. Despite the expectation, he never threatens her physically throughout the book, but rather simply keeps appearing and watching her, showing the mental damage stalking can cause for a vulnerable woman.

I found the present-time discourse in the prison the most interesting, portraying the dynamic of a women's prison and how people with certain crimes are shunned or attacked. The friendships within Stanville initially seem somewhat performative, as though you work out what people are like and adapt as necessary, but show slightly more depth further on in the novel, with friendships and enemies forming. There is some discussion of how transgender people are positioned in prison and the lack of concern for their welfare based on the grounds of their physical sex. This is an interesting topic to have raised, especially in a novel set during the earlier 00s when these issues weren't so heard of, but seemed underdeveloped, like more needed to be said. The transgender conversation is essentially used as a plot device to contribute to Romy's eventual escape, rather than a focused discussion of this issue itself.

There is a strong sense throughout the book that Romy would not have been in prison if it weren't for the poor legal representation she was offered. There are vague references to class and privilege, more so the lack that lessens Romy's chances, throughout the novel, but there's no majorly focused discussion of this or the poverty she's been living in in the book. It's made apparent that Romy's lawyer basically hands her over to receive whatever sentence she gets without even trying to reduce her prison time. But this is presented more as a fact and not something to really reject and feel outraged by. The lack of sympathy in the tone throughout the novel adds to the unsettling feeling that the character we've been saddled with really has committed an inexcusable crime, but perhaps this is just the voice of a middle classed world who doesn't care about any lower class.

The ending of the book confused me. We finally find out how Romy ended up in jail, but the perspective is off. Did she brutally kill an infatuated man, unprovoked? Or did she murder someone she felt was a truly threatening stalker, to try to protect herself and her son? It's not made particularly clear, but the murder was frantic and yet quick and to the point, almost like it was premeditated. Is this a book about violence against women and, more specifically, the mental fear of violence, or is it about the violence of fearful women? Because in the way the book is left, it feels like it can't really be about both.

Romy briefly escapes from prison at the end of the book, whilst a riot is taking place over the outrage vs acceptance of a transgender women in the prison. Romy escapes and evades capture for some days, before being found. In this time before her capture, it seems she realises the uselessness of what she's trying to do. She's driven by the need to find her son and check up on him, but on her way to trying to get to him, she realises that despite her love, he's better off without her now. Her reason her killing Kurt Kennedy is positioned as protecting her son, but now that she's a murderer she poses as much of a threat to him and his future as Kennedy had.

As much as the book flowed nicely and moved through time effectively and interestingly, ultimately I didn't like it very much. I felt the ideas were underdeveloped and confused amongst each other, making it hard to gain a coherent understanding of anything going on. Perhaps this is an accurate representation of a women's prison and that was Kushner's intention, but overall it just lacked something. There were sad depictions of the reality of inequality in US prisons, but this wasn't made the focus of the novel as much as trying to find out what really went on with Romy and why she committed the murder.

Good intentions and an interesting culmination of ideas, but not put forward in a very effective manner.


Until next time.



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Email: abbielour18@gmail.com

Friday, 18 January 2019

A year of calm



With the new year well upon us, I thought I'd share my plans for a year of all-encompassing calmness.

For me, this is a year where I just want to relax and see where things take me. I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself and fail to celebrate the small victories in life. So this year, I'm operating on a no pressure basis, in aim of achieving a feeling of calm that I've never truly had.

My main focuses for achieving this are my body, my mind, and my desire to travel.

I feel like a large part of the things we go through in life are related to how we treat our bodies. Your body is the thing that makes you a physical entity; it, literally holds you up. And I think it's important to take this into account when considering the way we treat our bodies. In the past I've been unhappy with mine, because of it's size, shape and physical ability (those darned knees). But, since going to the gym regularly for the past year and a half, I've realised just how wonderful and powerful and strong my body is, and how much I have to thank it for. Now, I love my body, irrespective of the size of my thighs or how my arms jiggle a little. None of that matters because I've finally realised that I have a strong, dependable body that's unlikely to give way under pressure or fail to lift a box.

So this year I'm definitely planning on keeping up with my fitness routine, continuing to go to the gym and get stronger, hopefully only making my body feel better. And when my body is feeling good and well, my mind usually follows suit.

As much as I wouldn't class myself as having any serious mental health problems, I do still struggle sometimes, as do we all. As mentioned, I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself to make lots of progress and be busy achieving, and honestly, I've realised how pointless that pressure is. I've decided to just slow down, for the sake of my mind, and to focus on making things easier for myself by just going with the flow. It is absolutely not necessary to constantly be working on big goals and so many different commitments that you can't keep up with them, so this year I'm focusing on winding down a little and making more down time for my brain to feel calmer. Exercise, like with the body, also does wonders for my mind. It's a time where I can focus entirely on what I'm doing, just for me. Going on a walk or going to the gym just puts me in a really calm mindset that completely separates me from anything else going on in my life. I love my national trust walks, exploring nature and putting myself in a different environment. Which moves me on to my final focus for this year.

During my lifetime I've not had the luxury to travel very much. It wasn't something that was ever in the budget for my family, making it even more special for me now. I'm at a point in my life now where I can afford to go on trips, big or small, where I can disappear and explore something completely new and different to what I'm used to. In the past two years I've been lucky enough to go to New York and Barcelona, and those trips definitely got the wanderlust in me fired up. This year I'm planning to bounce around Europe a little, somewhere I've barely explored at all. My friends and I have some long weekend breaks coming up in Spring and a big group holiday in the summer; I can barely wait to get out of the country for a while and experience new places.

So far, so good. I'm feeling pretty calm despite some big things going on, I'm making time for the gym and moving my body, planning travel and taking time out to relax when I need it.

I'm hoping this truly will be a year of calm.


Until next time.



Social media/email:
Instagram: abbielour
Twitter: abbielour
Email: abbielour18@gmail.com