Review: Great Expectations (1998)

I watched Great Expectations the other night. The movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. If you have read the novel, or if you are as far behind the movie times as I am (it was released in 1998), you might want to check it out.

Ever since I heard of this adaptation back in 2008, I have been searching for it everywhere. (As many of you might have guessed from reading this blog), I kind of have an obsession with film adaptations of 19th century literature. Luckily, a friend of mine had a copy of the movie on hand, and I was able to borrow it from him and enjoy it myself.

An alternate version of the cover (from Google Images)

Let’s face it: Dickens is usually depressing. After all the torture he puts his readers through in small victories for each character, and long-winded (but frequently beautiful) descriptions of every atmospheric detail of the setting, he rarely ever offers a hopeful end for his primary characters. He  certainly does not give Pip a happy ending in Great Expectations.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Great Expectations the novel- although I do acknowledge its genius, I find reading it absolute torture emotionally (which, I also acknowledge as part of the genius). Pip and Estella are never really redeemed, and may only get worse and worse. There are not many characters who readers can connect with that don’t get slapped in the face by life, or Pip, or Estella. By the end of the novel, I always want to yell at them all, especially Pip.

In contrast, this newer adaptation of a similar story, unexpectedly set in a contemporary age, in a location between Florida and New York city, gives its characters much needed humanity, and I would argue, redemption. I did not want to yell at Pip or Estella after finishing the film, yet my heart felt similarly broken to how it feels after reading the novel, and throughout the movie I was also annoyed with Pip quite a large percentage of the time (as it should be).

I did not expect to like this movie very well, but before and after the first hour, I felt continually interested in it. The director and actor choices were really fascinating. I usually never say this, but I may like this movie as much, if not better than, the book, if only because I felt less debilitated after it was over. The movie made many of the same points as Dickens does, but was also more hopeful for the state of humanity. I also loved that Pip became an artist, and the beautiful messages that the artwork was used for throughout the film. It felt rich, complex, and not entirely hopeless, and for that, I was grateful.

Although it is set in America, something that bothered me at first, the storyline and the character motives were still pretty well-drawn. There are many differences between the film and the book, as there always are, yet the characters retained their integrity and had enough similarities to the originals that they were highly recognizable.

Another hesitation I had that was overcome while watching the movie, was that the actors are so well known I was wondering if I would believe them in their roles. However, I was extremely impressed with the acting and I actually think that the difference in setting from the original was a smart choice. Giving the adaptation some spatial distance was effective, as it both gave homage to the old while creating a new piece of art altogether.

My favorite parts of the film surrounded Miss Havisham. The woman who played her as “Miss Dinsmore” (Ann Bancroft) was an amazing actor. The Havisham role was portrayed with incredible and eccentric detail, and her broken down mansion was stunningly recreated in a very Florida way, wedding tables and all. Even though I didn’t know exactly what to expect from her modern doppelganger, I felt that the exploration of her insanity was even better played out in the film than it was in the book. She was not just tortured from being stood up on her wedding day. Dinsmore was shown to have a severe mental disorder and a drinking problem on top of that lasting grief and self-induced heartbreak. She also was shown to have way too much money and time on her hands. There was also a lot of creepy sexual tension and lack of boundaries in the film coming from Miss Dinsmore, which I feel Dickens did not point to quite as much, but made total sense with her character. In the film, Miss Dinsmore wants to destroy both Estella and Pip through creating this alternate (and very weird) space for them all to exist in misery and be motivated by their obsessions to both possess and destroy one another. Her character was just as terrifying and disturbing as Miss Havisham’s was, if not more so.

Miss Dinsmore and Pip drawing

There is also an amazing part of the movie, that had to be my favorite. **Spoiler alert** Pip (Finn) goes to see Estella and profess his love for her, but instead finds Miss Dinsmore (Havisham). There she tells him of Estella’s marriage to another person, all part of her cruel and scheming plan to use Estella as revenge for her past, as a vehicle to break mens’ hearts. He takes her hand and puts it to his chest, saying “do you feel my heart? It’s broken.” This mimics an earlier moment in the film when Miss Havisham says something similar to him to performatively gain his pity, and is his second act of defiance against her in the film.

I loved the portrayal, and was so captivated by Anne Bancroft’s performance that when she was on screen I almost forgot about the other characters.

Parts that were left out included: more tension between Pip’s past and present, and his inability to feel truly comfortable in either, Estella’s second marriage, the final realization about the criminal (won’t give too much away in case you don’t know the story), his relation to Miss Havisham, and Pip’s anger towards him were either left out or diminished.  Pip’s name is changed to Finn (short for Finnegan), which I thought was really interesting considering the tense relationship between Ireland and England (where the novel was written) in the 19th century.

There were also certain things added to the movie version that were not in the original story line, such as Pip as artist (painter), negative consequences of Pip’s actions on his family, and Pip’s isolation from his home community when he comes back to visit. I really liked that Pip was an untrained artist, but that his pictures were still impactful. I guess the drawings and paintings were done for the movie by Italian artist Francisco Clemente, who has become quite famous from it.

Finn's (Clemente's work) depiction of DeNiro's character

Watching this movie was a very weird, and very singular experience for me. It was beautiful, and also felt revelatory in a lot of ways.  I wrote for hours after watching this movie, and wanted to start drawing again (it’s been a few years since I just sat for hours and did nothing but draw- writing has become my primary form of artistic outlet).

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but contrary to some of the bad reviews of the film, I found the adaptation very inspiring. Even though I am enthralled by adaptations, such a positive reaction to one is unusual for me. I would highly recommend it to all adult viewers.

Here is the trailer: 

I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, for despite all of its problematic elements and loose ends, and the fact that it is set later than 100 years after the original on another continent, it keeps that same Dickensian mood, and the singular and almost dreamlike tension/ obsession that Pip feels throughout the novel would be very difficult to achieve in film.

I would suggest watching it with a glass of water (a theme throughout the movie).

Hope you can get inspired,

Miss E

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Review: Bride and Prejudice

Hello readers!

Some of you will remember that I wrote a review a while back about a Sense and Sensibility Kollywood adaptation that Aishwarya Rai was starring in, as the Marriane-inspired character. Well, she has had a hand in more than one Indian cinematic Jane Austen adaptations, because she also plays the Elizabeth Bennet lead in the Hollywood meets Bollywood Pride and Prejudice adaptation, “Bride and Prejudice,” directed by Gurinder Chadha. Of course, as always, I rented from Scarecrow Video in Seattle. One of my readers from that old review had recommended I review this movie, so here I am.

If you are curious, here is the trailer:

The trailer itself actually purports in many ways what Lalita (the Elizabeth Bennet Character of the film) was trying to counteract in many of her interactions with Will (Mr. Darcy). It advertises somewhat of an imperialized and Anglo-cized version of Indian cinema, and this trailer version seems directed at an American audience.  At one point in the film, Lalita says that Will, an entrepreneur from America, is trying to sell India to tourists who don’t want to see the real India, but who instead want to have “a touch of culture thrown in” during their vacation. Tourists who, “want to go to India, without having to deal with Indians.” This moment is made light of in the film, but it is a serious concern for the main character. Disappointingly, the movie almost becomes just that in its marketing strategy, geared towards an “Americanized” audience used to Hollywood films.

This movie is pretty hard to explain, but I will do my best to give you what in my opinion were the best and worst moments.

Think: cultural cross-pollination and filmic shots between Amritsar in India, London in England, and Los Angeles in America, with some big name stars and some who may be unknown to you.

screen shot from B & P

Pros:

  • Pretty colors, and lots of them;
  • First wedding dance number is very fun, and really sets the tone for excitement throughout;
  • Lots of music to dance to (if you are into that);
  • Aishwarya Rai plays a much better Eliza Bennet character than she does a Marianne, in my opinion.
  • Fun if you are an Austen fan to see how the director interprets some of Austen’s characters from P&P;
  • Underlying critique of American Imperialism;
  • Defense of a developing India after independence from British rule;
  • Not your typical Bollywood film, and quite a bit shorter, which is refreshing;
  • Balraj (Mr. Bingley) is one of the actors from the old television show Lost- Naveen Andrews;
  • “Take me to love” song and Montage that includes helicopter rides, a canyon, and epic choir moment on a beach…

Cons:

  • Unrealistic acting, singing (often in English), and storyline;
  • A definite classism, with characters easily able to traverse the world, and even the “poor” Bakshis (Bennet family) have quite a few servants at their disposal (which is actually true in the original novel as well);
  • Light and fluffy in places it might serve from its modern direction and have some sort of social commentary;
  • Has some pretty heavy colonial overtones in a lot of problematic ways, and makes light of some pretty serious cultural and racial tensions that are present in the movie
  • “Cobra Dance” as the youngest sister’s embarrassing moment- it just felt way over the top, and also kind of another moment of cultural clashing just barely touched on.
  • It must be hard to pull off a mix of so many different genres and cultural references, but I don’t know that this film necessarily did it in a very graceful way.

I won’t recommend it, even though I enjoyed parts of it, because honestly I think it appeals to a very specific niche, and falls short in many other ways. If you love cheesiness, silliness, Pride and Prejudice and dancing, then you may enjoy the movie. Honestly, if you are strapped for time, I would recommend the two songs mentioned above- epic choir moment and intro wedding dance number, as they are probably two of the best moments in the movie.

For story coherency, creativity, energy, and the way it connects back to its source of inspiration (you can at least tell who the characters are supposed to represent from the novel within the first 20 minutes), I would say that the film Bride and Prejudice deserves a 2.5-3 /5 rating.

Warning: do not watch this movie unless you in the mood for pure brain candy, or if you want to do an analysis of the cobra dance moment and share it with me. Honestly, right now I just don’t have the mental energy.

Happy Monday,

Miss E

The Grapes of Wrath

I am still reading the books from my ridiculously ambitious list as mentioned in this post. 

When I started reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics version), I have to admit that I was doing it more out of a sense of obligation than an interest in the plot or characters.

I have heard so much about the novel throughout the years, from sources that vary from friends who have read it to literary tests that discuss its overarching themes and character struggles. I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in middle school or early high school. While I thought it was well-written, I also felt like it wasn’t an experience I’d like to repeat.

I also don’t think that I’d like to see the movie version.

The movie version that I don't care to see- fun poster though!

I feel the same about The Grapes of Wrath to a large extent. The last 80 pages or so were pretty depressing. I mean, I did know that it was a novel about the struggles of one family through the depression, but at a certain point I did feel a bit like I was torturing myself by continuing.

The characters suffer so much, and the “epic” narrative style paints an American capitalist process that I’m not necessarily fond of. Large corporate interests overtake hard working “common” men and women during the great depression, and those men are literally driven off of “their” land (which they stole/ was stolen for them from Native peoples), then pretty much slowly starved because a few greedy landowners want to make more of a profit.

The novel switches between a close and distant narration, alternating chapters between the telling of one specific family, the Joads, and the larger narrative of American “progress.” I found this description chilling and timely when we consider the wealth disparity now in place in our country. It is not only the small farmers and tradesmen/women who are struggling now, but it is also the home-owning middle class.

In the novel, the Joads, along with hoards of other tenant farmers from Oklahoma and surrounding areas, are pushed off the land they tend by the banks, quite dramatically with large plows. In this telling scene, many of the family members are looking for someone to talk to about the matter, for someone to fight with about it. However, they soon find that what they are fighting is so large that they are not even able to find it, let alone fight it.

The Bank is driving them, but they are unable to respond. I feel like this ties directly into the current argument being touted by the Occupy Movement, that corporations are Not people. The fact that Steinbeck was already addressing this phenomenon in 1939 so eloquently, and also the fact that the machine that is the Bank destroys human life, destroys crops, and destroys community, is pretty astounding to me.

One of the quotes I think best illustrates this feeling comes early in the novel. In one of the chapters where the narrator is distant, he points out the conversation one feels is echoed by thousands.

We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there.

The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in the                       ~bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is ~something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but ~they can’t control it. (emphasis mine -sorry, the formatting got all wonky when I pasted the text).

I feel like this discussion is very relevant for today, and because of this, I think that I devoured this novel with more zest than I was expecting. It made me appreciate how far we have not come in our understanding of the capital machines that still control and drive our country.

It also made me appreciate the taste of food more. I definitely understand why it’s an American classic. It tells our story pretty poignantly, and asks some questions about the capitalist value system that are not only necessary, but that are also still being asked.

Points taken away: There are definitely a few offensive-to-contemporary-readers storytelling moments in which the characters glorify the old colonial period and the killing of Native Americans, but I also don’t feel like Steinbeck necessarily agreed with those sentiments as much as he was trying to portray the Joads and other Oklahoma residents in the truest way possible.

I would give this book 4.5 of 5 stars for its beautiful writing, its interesting character details, and its importance in our current historical moment.  I would also highly recommend it.

Read with Milk, and some sort of rustic camping food such as fried potatoes, baked beans and coffee.

Regards,

Miss E

Ryan Gosling Rant

***Spoiler Alert***

I just visited Portland this past weekend, and saw the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling. The movie theatre we went to was incredible. It was in an old refurbished building that potentially used to be a brothel according to a friend. There were local brews, yummy nosh foods like cheese plates and Thai roasted nuts, and very cozy chairs. I was pretty excited to see a movie in such an awesome location. I would love to go back and see another movie there.

However, Drive was a major disappointment (and that is putting it nicely).

The throwback to the 80’s could have been fun with the synthesized music and hot pink lettering in the credits, but after a short while I had lost patience with the theme of the film, the treatment of women and ethnic minorities, and the lack of actual driving and plot points surrounding the title of the film.

Ryan Gosling with his 80's Jacket in Drive

My biggest problem with Drive was the underlying “White America” message which (perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally), permeated the entire film. In addition, not only was it also anti-Semitic at times, but the female characters were shown to be kind of flat and/or weak. The male and female protagonists are both blond Americans of European descent. Many of the most unsavory characters, on the other hand, are ethnic minorities. Hmmmmm….

For example, Ryan Gosling’s character (by the way he is never named, just called “Kid” or “Driver”) is falling in love with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a who is married to a Latino-American man named Standard, who is also in prison during the opening of the film and the subject of violence throughout the film.

Her husband is shown to not only be incapable of performing his “duties” as husband and father, but is also shown to be weak and cowardly in more than one scene. He eventually needs to ask Ryan Gosling for help. He, not surprisingly, also gets shot in the head during the movie.

I will not go into any symbolism here, but I felt that this whole patriarchal battle for Irene and her son Benicio between the White and Mexican man, even thought supposedly a subplot, was pretty obscene. Gosling also didn’t have to even try to “win” Irene in any way. He is shown by the filmmaker as the  more stable option, who Irene also seems to prefer (or at least the option last standing).

He is usually the one controlling violence, not the subject of that violence, for example. He’s somehow shown to be “better than” or exempt from the violence until it finally catches up with him. And even then, he gets a long, drawn out death, and he gets agency in his death.

I didn’t understand why Ryan Gosling’s White male character was glorified and masculinized. Isn’t that formula kind of tired by now?

He’s a good driver- OK, so what?

Hey look- Ryan Gosling in a car. That doesn't happen much in this movie, considering the title.

He is also shown to be emotionally and socially off, violent towards women at times, potentially racist, and doesn’t seem to know how to shop for clothes. Ok, so we’re supporting That White guy again? Yet another example of White Male Exceptionalism.

I was pretty “on guard” after the comment in the movie made by Gosling’s character about a picture of her husband Standard. He asks, “What is he?” and she responds, “In prison.” At that point I was thinking, Ok, that was a gutsy script choice. I wonder what they will do with that moment.

However, instead of delving into any of the background, racial tension, ignorance, or potential racism on the part of Gosling’s character that elicited the comment, it was glossed over in the film as Gosling begins his slow usurpation of the role of Male Protector/Patriarch in the threesome’s familial structure.

The only way I can see the film attempting to take power away from Gosling’s character is in that he is a bit volatile, has little no emotional expression, and dies in the end (but still in a glorified and ambiguous way). Irene also seems a bit upset with him after seeing him crush someone’s skull in an elevator directly after kissing her.

Also, Irene’s character really pissed me off. She had no agency, and was always dependent on the men in the film. Her son was suffering, but he only seemed to get better once he had a White male father figure to hang out with. WTF.

I felt very glad there was alcohol available, because this movie annoyed me on many levels, and I was bummed to see the supposedly “feminist” man Ryan Gosling who has been the subject of the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme star in such a clueless and racialized film which propagates glorified White Americans and male violence.

I would not recommend this movie to my readers, ever.

Quite Annoyed,

Miss E

Sense and Sensibility adaptations: Janeite Movie Marathon!

Sense and Sensibility Movie Adaptations all over the place.

Last week I rented the 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from Scarecrow Video, which came with a bonus disc, Miss Austen Regrets. When I checked out Sense and Sensibility, I was blissfully unaware that the bonus disc was included in my rental. Scarecrow Video came through for me yet again. Needless to say, I was very happy when I got home. Two movies for the price of one, amazing. Extra surprise Jane Austen-based movie to feed my addiction, priceless.

I also found a movie with Aishwarya Rai,  advertised on the cover as a Tamil “Kollywood” adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, called I Have Found It. I figured that renting two different adaptations of Sense and Sensibility would make for a fun-filled movie marathon.

I got both of them from the Literature section of Scarecrow’s vast room selection.

Literature room at Scarecrow Video, Seattle

I watched the two BBC movies first , and loved them both.

Let’s start with the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This same version of Sense and Sensibility was playing every Sunday on Jane Austen Season when I was staying in London, Spring 2007. I have also seen bits and pieces on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in the states, but it was really nice to view the film in its entirety. The whole movie felt right- it felt like being in the novel, with rustic simplicity of the English countryside in the background.

My favorite things about this version:

  1. The Casting. Most of the characters really seemed authentic to the period, and behaved in believable ways, or as their characters might be expected to from what we know of them. It took me a while to warm to some of the secondary characters, but it was not long before I fell in love with them too. In my opinion, the cast in this newer Sense and Sensibility just felt right. For example, Mrs. Dashwood was cast wonderfully. She was just aristocratic enough to be polite in rough situations, and to whether the family crisis with class, while still not quite understanding the financial predicament that her family was really in.
  2. The script. The words in the script were chosen very well, and it seemed enough like the sentiment and tone of the novel without being a recitation of the novel.
  3. Costumes. Marianne and Eleanor were dressed very believably, and so were the other characters. They were not so worried with appearances, especially when they moved to the cottage. Marianne dress was simplistic with a touch of whimsy to match her character’s personality, and Elinor’s sensible and more rustic dress suited her character as well.
  4. Marianne. I was bracing myself to hate this new version of Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne, since I loved the 1995 version with Kate Winslet so much. Although Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses in the world, (and I still love the older version of S&S), I thought this Marianne (Charity Wakefield), knocked her role out of the park as well. She was not only NOT disappointing, but was instead very much like Austen’s Marianne.

Marianne from the 2008 BBC Adaptation

This new Marianne looked and acted as I’d imagined her character when I read S&S for the first time, and it was refreshing to see her vs. Kate Winslet’s version of Marianne. Kate brought more fervor and passion to the role, but Charity Wakefield brought more subtlety, and I think was closer to the correct age of the character when she played her. Her hair also seemed more natural, and Kate Winslet’s blond curly wig in the 1995 version just drives me bonkers when I watch it because it doesn’t even look like real hair.

Three rainy versions of Marianne

  1. The awkwardness. This awkwardness, created by the crass country company and the impropriety of the new connections is downplayed by the social skills of Elinor and her mother; although Marianne handles it somewhat less gracefully, she also confronts the rudeness more directly and changes the behavior of her “attackers.”

What I didn’t like about this adaptation:  honestly, I can’t say much about that. Besides missing Kate and Alan Rickman simply for nostalgia’s sake,  I enjoyed this new adaptation thoroughly. It was one of the first times I’ve really been able to sit and watch an adaptation without critically analyzing it. I think this is because it felt so comfortable to me. As I said, the film makers really did a wonderful job with it, and the music was spot on to convey the tone of the different scenes, none of which were hyperbolic or as dramatic as the older movie version. I was impressed. I would recommend watching this movie with a cup of warm cider, since the scenery gets a bit chilly and wet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now, I Have Found It, although intriguing on the exterior, was a little too far out there for me. I was definitely in the right mood for a long Bollywood-esque movie, which I later learned (thanks M.) is different from Kollywood, and prepared myself to sit for hours on the couch enjoying musical numbers and Janeite references. However, I was pretty confused during the first 30 minutes of the film. It starts with footage of a war, and gun fighting, which of course was never a part of Sense and Sensibility.

I didn’t really understand at all how this movie had been even loosely adapted from the novel until at least 30 minutes in when the family loses their home to their brother and his wife (who seems really nice at first, and then suddenly turns into a greedy evil sister-in-law,  an unrealistic character shift). The person who is responsible for the home is the dying grandfather (not father/ husband of the Dashwood women), so that threw me off.

Once I finally figured out which character was supposed to refer to which, I didn’t feel that the sentiments of those characters were in any way matching. I was also disappointed in Aishwarya Rai’s portrayal of a young and excitable “Marianne.” Her acting was too controlled and had no emotion, the opposite of Marianne. She kind of just acted like a spoilt brat through most of it.

Aishwarya Rai

The cover says that the film is about two sisters who are opposites, (ahem, one with “Sense” and one with “Sensibility”) but it really seemed to be primarily focused on the Colonel Brandon character, and his struggle loving the Marianne character unrequitedly. He is also a war vet (hence the first part of the film), is a raging alcoholic when first introduced on screen, and has lost his leg. It seemed a bizarre representation of his character, and although I appreciated a more imaginative Colonel Brandon, the Marianne character still seemed to keep him grounded and sober, while in the novel he is the steady one who rubs off on her more.

So, not only did the director choose to focus on the man and his plight, making the female story less impactful, but the gender roles between Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s characters were reversed as well.

I could go on and on about this movie, but really, it doesn’t seem worth it. If interested, I found this fairly entertaining and pretty thorough summary of the film. I think that Jane Austen’s works are so fabulous because they are open to various interpretations. However, this one really missed the mark, and I think that it is almost nothing like the novel. In fact, they may have just referred to already popular and already very famous Sense and Sensibility to sell more movies.

If you value your time and sanity, don’t watch this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone, not even to someone with loads of time on their hands, and will never suffer through it again myself.

Until next time,

Miss E

Year of Pleasures, Elizabeth Berg

So, number one on the aforementioned Winter Book List ticked off and read: The Year of Pleasures, by the author Elizabeth Berg.

Look at the delicious looking food on the cover 🙂

I bought this novel from Third Place Books in Ravenna, Seattle.

I read this on the plane ride home for Christmas holiday. It was quick and enjoyable, and I only got my pen out three times, a record low for me in recent years.

That isn’t to say that it was boring, however. I’ll call it subdued, but I didn’t mind that for this type of story. I thought the message embedded in the novel was that living for oneself, and living the best life possible, is never a mistake, while wallowing in grief or pain is a definite mistake, and in fact destroys the pleasure in life.

Good point.

Betta, the main character in the novel, seems to know this pretty well. She is a writer, after all. However, it is with the death of her husband that she is forced to really recognize the importance of living her own life, for herself.

Although Betta herself seemed a bit dull as a character exploration, despite hints throughout the novel at her bravery, adventurous nature, and creativity, her personal story, and the idea of the novel itself was beautifully executed from a writer’s perspective.

My favorite parts:

  1. Female empowerment. The lifelong female friendships portrayed and discussion of women giving of themselves for each other and for loved ones, sometimes at the expense of simple pleasures in life was well-done. While not as dramatic as it could have been, I appreciated that Berg had addressed this issue, one that rings true for many womens’ lives. For example, Betta realizes that she can play music that she hasn’t listened to for years in compromise to her husband’s taste. She can eat when and whatever she likes, and etc. She is, in a way, beautifully freed by his death.

Even though there is some sadness and pain alluded to, Betta is in no way portrayed as tortured over the loss of her husband. At the same time however, the reader’s sense of her freedom is lessened by the narrator’s constant mention of her husband.  She does often wonder if he would approve, and most of the time, he does. I wanted to know, why does it matter?

It was Betta’s story, not his, and at times I felt it was the author’s sense of duty to Betta’s husband, rather than Betta’s. We get a sense as readers that he was a kind and loving man, who showered Betta with thoughtful support and encouragement. However, we as readers don’t actually know him as a character. While it’s expected that Betta will think of him, I felt like some of the narrative reminders of her husband were forced, and made Betta less of an interesting character.

The language on a sentence level was often lush in description, rich in parallel construction (I am a sucker for parallel construction), and done with an elegant respect for language.

  1. I brought out my pen to underline beautiful sentences, something I usually only do in workshop. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading nineteenth century lit. However, since that is the area I research, I usually take out my pen much more often and underline a few beautiful sentences, while focusing primarily on the social constructions of gender, national identity, or class commentaries in the novels I read from my research period.

That being said, those elements of interest still existed in this novel as well. They were just couched in simple and elegant language, and they were more overarching and systematic, inherent to the very nature of the novel itself, as opposed to statement after statement, passage by passage.

  1. The descriptions of food and cooking- YUMMY.

Problematic elements of the novel:

  1. White upper class privilege. It was practically screaming at me. Betta is a white woman from the East coast, and the most financial trouble she seems to have ever endured in her life is during a hippy phase in college. I feel like this might be one of the only explanations of why she seems so lackluster despite the allusions to her interesting personality. She never has really suffered until her husband’s death, and even then, she is a millionaire who can do whatever she pleases. It seemed just a little too convenient, and a little too boring.
  2. She moves to the Midwest, outside of Chicago, so she can experience the “simple” life. I am from the Midwest, and am in fact on a visit there while I write this. I still don’t know how “big city” people, like the fictional Betta, can romanticize it as much as they seem to, while deriding it all the same. I wish Berg would have more deeply imagined her characters from Betta’s new Midwestern town a bit more as well. Many of them were hollow representations. There were a couple that could have been interesting, and Betta only has a few interactions with the most interesting one (the old woman with spunk and history who she buys her new home from). Since it was Betta’s dream to move to the Midwest and open a knickknack store, and her personal goal to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, you’d think that the people in the town she moves to would be painted a bit more clearly. They were not, because they apparently didn’t matter in Betta’s egocentric “search for herself.”
  3. The other problem I had with the novel was that even though Betta and her former husband were supposed to be the main focus, they were so dull that I just really didn’t care. Her old college friends and some of the characters even just mentioned from the town she arrives in seemed much more interesting than Betta herself.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, despite the small disappointments, and in its optimism I can see why it sold well. The writing tone and style was warm and inviting, and Berg treats her characters very kindly.

I would recommend the novel if you are in the mood for a quick read that is not complete trash, that has some literary merit without being actually literary, and that focuses on renewal and new beginnings.

I would not recommend it if you get jealous easily, since I think it is very easy to envy the fictional Betta and her cushy gushy, yet lonely and somewhat dull life.

It gets 3.3 of 5 stars from me purely for entertainment purposes and beautiful sentences.

Read with a DR. Pepper (a drink that gets mentioned so many times you start to crave it) and Indian food leftovers (because it’s something Betta might eat, and because they are simply delicious).  Or, herbal tea and a fruit pie, which is also discussed in the novel often.

St. Trinian’s

In my last post I talked about doing a movie review soon. They seem to be fun for readers, and they are fun for me too 🙂

So, one of the movies I got from Scarecrow’s England section last week was St. Trinian’s. I didn’t have a hard time picking this one. It looked kind of chintzy, and definitely cheeky. I was attracted to the actor list. I mean, what self-professed Anglophile (aka England-a-holic) could resist a movie with both Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Stephen Fry, and Russell Brand. When I choosing my movie, I sure couldn’t.

Bonus points in my book- it’s also about education. St. Trinian’s is a school, after all. I also found the tagline intriguing, “taking higher education to a new low.” And, since I study gender and the story is about a girls’ school, and there is a cross-dressed character, I figured there would be some potential discussion of gender dynamics within the story.

Movie Cover

I would definitely recommend the movie if you have watched a lot of English films or have lived in England, because it definitely requires a certain knowledge of the culture. For example, one of the most funny parts of the movie was the satire of the English social/ class youth groupings, like chav, posh, and emo.

I really enjoyed it. Of course, the movie was absurd, but that was pretty much the whole point. I mean, when Rupert Everett is playing an eccentric school mistress in drag, that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the movie. I Enjoyed his role in this film though, and Colin Firth’s. It’s always both startling and refreshing to see Firth out of his Darcy-esque roles for me. In St. Trinian’s he plays a hard nosed political reformer who is trying to shut down the school.

Interestingly, he’s also a former lover of Miss Fritton (Everett), and they have some hilarious scenes together in the movie.

I give the movie a 4/5 on the funny scale. I was laughing pretty hard throughout most of it, but a lot of that was because it resonated with my sense of the ridiculous and also with some of the experiences I had in England. I was also in the right mood when I watched it. I was in the mood for irreverence, and this movie is nothing if not irreverent. I thought the story line was a bit weak, and the idea of having a girls’ school where “everyone is accepted” for their quirks is just hard for me to suspend disbelief for, even though I enjoyed it.

Apparently, England and the UK loved it. According to the site for the movie, this was one of the highest grossing indie British films in history. It is based off a classic English film that I need to go rent now.

Watching this movie may inspire you to go drink a bottle of moonshine or rob a bank, but it is damn entertaining.

If you are in the mood to laugh, and enjoy British humor, or if you are really stressed out in school, I would recommend it. Also, check out their site first- it’s pretty informative and should give you a great idea of what the movie is about of if you’d be interested.

Let me know if you do watch it- I’d love to hear what you think!

Miss E