Recommended Reads: Roald Dahl’s short stories.

Roald Dahl is one of my favourite authors of all time. As a child I grew up reading his children’s fiction, then began to explore his adult works in the last few years. His short stories are possibly some of his best work, and at times are just pure genius.

 

So to celebrate Roald Dahl I have written a list of my five favourite short stories. Enjoy!

 

Lamb to the Slaughter

This is a fun little tale about devoted housewife Mary Maloney reacting to her husband giving her some bad news. The news is never said explicitly, but it’s safe to assume he plans on leaving her to raise their baby alone. Mrs Maloney proceeds to murder her husband, and manages to hide the murder weapon right under the noses of the investigating officers. This story is genius, pure and simple, and is one of my favourite works of fiction ever.

 

Skin

This is a story about a destitute ex-tattoo artist named Drioli reminiscing about a young painter supported before the outbreak of World War 1. During the flashback, both artists get very drunk and the painter is convinced to tattoo his work on Drioli’s back. Flash forward to the present, and Drioli finds himself at one of the painter’s exhibitions trying to convince patrons the work on his back is by the same artist. Several patrons then attempt to buy the work straight off his back, with Drioli finally accepting the offer of a seemingly kind man. The ending of this story is rather macabre, but possibly left open to some interpretation.

 

The Great Automatic Grammatizator

This story focuses on inventor Adolph Knipe looking for purpose after inventing a new mathematical computer. Knipe reasons that the rules of English grammar are governed by almost mathematical principles, and uses this theory to build a massive machine that is capable of writing award-winning novels in a very short amount of time. Knipe and his old boss go into business and attempt to buy out all of England’s successful writers. It turns out the story is written by a writer whom Knipe is attempting to buy out, and serves as a warning for any future recipients of the offer.

 

Poison

Set during the British rule of India, this story is set almost exclusively in the bedroom of protagonist Harry Pope. Harry believes a poisonous snake has crawled under his bedsheets and is lying on his stomach. Harry then sends his friend Timber Woods to fetch the local doctor, Ganderbai. As tension builds, Ganderbai works to try and remove the snake from Harry’s bed, only to find there was no snake there. The story then ends with Ganderbai attempting to lighten the mood by suggesting there was no snake, only to be met with Harry shouting many racial slurs. Timber attempts to diffuse the situation, but Ganderbai’s only reply is that Harry is in need of a long vacation.

 

Dip in the Pool

This story is set on a cruise ship that has its own betting pool, based on how many miles the ship will travel in a day. The protagonist, William Botibol, bets his entire savings on a “low pool” bid, hoping bad weather will slow the ship down. When he wakes up the next morning to find the weather is fair, William decides to cheat to slow the ship down. He decides to jump over the side of the ship so it is forced to turn around and save him. Before doing so, he makes conversation with an elderly woman whom he believes will raise the alarm. Little does he realise she is evidently suffering from dementia, and after he jumps overboard, she is not believed that a man is in the water. This is another very macabre tale from Dahl, but told with his usual dark humour.

 

 

These are my five favourite short stories by Roald Dahl, but there are so many more that are worth a read. I would recommend getting hold of several of his collected works, as there’s bound to be something in there for everyone. Thanks for reading!

Recommended Reads: Queer Fiction

Afternoon friends! I hope you’re all having a lovely weekend.

 

I’ve decided that after I review a book, I’ll post a list of recommended novels to try. Either by the same author or in the same genre. So off the back of my Mysterious Skin review, I’ve decided to recommend a list of Queer fiction.

 

Queer fiction is an interesting genre title. It is both uniting and exclusionary. By its separation in book shops it is kept away from “normal” fiction, and as a result is not explored or praised as much as it should be. Many novels that fall into the genre of Queer fiction are complex and powerful tales, and some certainly deserve more attention than they receive.

 

Anyway, I digress. Here is a list of five novels I have read, or am going to read, that are similar to Mysterious Skin. Enjoy!

GAW

The Great American Whatever – Tim Federle

 

This is award-winning author Tim Federle’s first venture into YA literature. The story focuses on Quinn, a gay teen, struggling to come to terms with his sister’s death. It follows the traditional queer Bildungsroman narrative, but in a fun and flirty way while never letting Quinn’s sexuality be the primary focus. This is a book I am very interested in, and it’s certainly placed high on my to-read list.

ColorPurple

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

 

Walker won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for this novel, and it was later adapted into a film and musical. The story focuses on a group of African-American women in 1930s south USA, and addressed themes of race, class and sexuality. The book has been widely censored since its release, due to its explicit content and scenes of violence. If you haven’t read this book before, do.

OrangesAreNotTheOnlyFruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

 

This novel is a coming-of-age story focusing on a young girl called Jeanette, who attempts to understand her sexuality in a heavily religious family environment. The book is semi-autobiographical in nature, based on events from Winterson’s early life. The story is at times saddening and chilling, and while I’m not the biggest fan of Winterson’s work, I have to appreciate the concise way in which she tells her tale.

City_and_the_Pillar

The City and the Pillar – Gore Vidal

 

This novel came out back in 1948 and is recognised as the first novel featuring a gay protagonist who was not killed off for their sexuality. For such a novel to be released at a time when homosexuality was still illegal is an incredible thought, and of course sparked massive public controversy. The story focuses on Jim Willard, a young man growing up in 1930s Virginia, coming to terms with his own sexuality. If there was ever a queer novel to read solely due to its historical importance, it’s this one.

gilded razor

The Gilded Razor – Sam Lansky

 

The Gilded Razor is a memoir of Lansky’s early adulthood, and addresses his descent from Ivy League hopeful into broken teen, by way of drug addiction. Lansky attempts to fill the void in his life with copious drugs and a string of affairs with older men, but manages to tell the story in a frank and sensitive way. Lansky manages to look into his own life and reveal common issues we all face. I would recommend this book to everyone, regardless of its applicability to your own life.

 

Well that’s my five recommended novels, I hope you like them. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, I’d be happy to hear. Thanks!

Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim. A review.

Mysterious Skin is certainly not a novel that is approached lightly.

 

Scott Heim’s coming-of-age story centres around two young boys who are connected through a life-changing event, and it explores the very different ways they are affected. Heim certainly doesn’t hold back in this novel, and chooses to explore some very dark themes in the protagonists’ journey to realise who they are.

 

The story begins with a young Brian Lackey being found bleeding in the crawl-space beneath his house, seeming to have lost five hours of his life. After years of strange dreams, he eventually he becomes convinced he is the victim of an alien abduction, and devotes his life to discovering the truth. The second protagonist, Neil McCormick, is fully aware of the events that led to this moment, and realises he is the only one who can help Brian deal with his missing time.

 

Neil is certainly the anti-hero of the novel. His life is centred around the events of his childhood, and the love he believes he has found in his baseball coach. Fast-forward ten years, and Neil, having come to terms with his sexuality, works as a teenage hustler with dreams of something more. He moves to New York with his soul-mate Wendy but eventually falls back into his old ways, landing himself in more trouble than ever. Some of the events that take place with the New York “johns” are genuinely some the most harrowing the book, and that’s saying something. Neil is a very complex character with an incredibly strong sense of agency, he knows exactly what he wants and is willing to manipulate anyone to get it. He also has a soft side however, taking his friend Eric and Brian under his wing to guide them through their own troubles. Neil is wise beyond his years, and loyal to a fault, and for me was the break-out character of the novel.

 

Brian however is a sweet kid. He deals with his experience by becoming introverted, and after his dad walks out on the family becomes rooted to his home town. His inability to move on from his supposed alien abduction forces him to become obsessed, eventually befriending another abductee; Avalyn Friesen. With her help Brian is able to uncover more details in his dreams, leading him to Neil. The closing scenes between the two characters are some of the most emotive I have ever read, and it is incredibly satisfying for Brian to finally find closure. Brian’s quiet obsession perfectly balances out Neil’s explosive voice, and their narratives are linked in complex and interesting ways. They are yin and yang, light and dark.

 

A special mention should be given to the supporting cast too; Wendy, Eric, the moms. It is with their help that Neil and Brian are brought together, and are able to move on from their traumatic childhood. Something from which they can all benefit.

 

I think this book can only really be summed up with my opening statement; do not approach it lightly. But I don’t say that as a warning, simply guidance. The novel deals with its themes in a mature and sensitive way, and is certainly thought-provoking literature. So if you haven’t read it, please do. And if you have read it, read it again.

Thanks for reading!

Power Rangers 2017: A Review

Hollywood takes on childhood classic

The Hollywood reboot machine has finally turned its gaze upon an often forgotten 90s show: Power Rangers; a campy kid’s show about a team of high-schoolers saving the world from the evil Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. I grew up watching Power Rangers, and so this remake was having to compete with a childhood classic. Director Dean Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins have attempted to modernize the franchise while staying close to the source material, but in doing so may have isolated viewers unfamiliar with the original series.

 

For the film, Israelite has played it safe with the Ranger’s origin story, opting for a slow-paced build-up to a possibly anticlimactic reveal. The film begins with Red Ranger Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) being put in detention with Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) and Blue Ranger Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler). While exploring a gold mine, they encounter Black Ranger Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan (Becky G.). The way in which the Rangers are thrown together initially feels rather forced, but their characters ease into each other once they discover the ancient spaceship containing Zordon and Alpha 5. The pace of the film often felt too slow, with the Rangers training becoming a tedious montage of their mediocrity. The pace finally picked up in the final Act with the Rangers confronting Rita and Goldark, but this battle certainly peaked too soon and I was left with an overwhelming sense of “I guess that’s that then.” Israelite can be forgiven to an extent for this, it can’t be easy to make a two-hour film about the Rangers becoming Rangers. As usual though, it’s safe to assume this film will be leading to a minimum of 50 sequels, until the name Power Rangers makes even the most die-hard fan cringe.

 

For the most part, the actors chosen for the Rangers are a good fit and bring emotional development to the film. Special mention to Israelite for the decision of Billy being on the autistic spectrum, but also not letting this define his character. Another nice touch was the nod to Trini being not-straight, something I feel should have been developed further but this may be due to the limitations of releasing to a worldwide audience. On the subject of Trini, it would have been nice for an Asian actor to be cast in this role, especially seeing as they decide to keep her original surname of Kwan. But following examples of Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell, it’s possibly too much to ask Hollywood to cast more than one Asian actor in a lead role. Becky G. does try her best as Trini, but the script does not allow her enough time to really shine.

 

The Rangers themselves are a diverse mix, something Israelite should be commended for. Jason is the only white member on the team (Naomi Scott being of English and Ugandan heritage), and while he may be the de-facto leader, he certainly isn’t the hero. That role easily falls to Billy. For a character to be considered the hero, they must experience some sort of personal growth, and if this film is nothing else, it’s certainly about Billy’s growth of character. From outcast weirdo to the first Ranger to morph, the audience is made to care and relate to Billy from the start. It is also refreshing to see an autistic character not being defined by their autism, but rather embracing it to assist with their growth. Zack is another perfect example of Israelite smashing Hollywood stereotypes, as it’s refreshing to see an Asian male who is not the typical computer genius, but instead as a wise-cracking bad-boy who really does love his mum. The example this sets for the younger audience is a positive change, it shows them that things like race, gender and sexuality don’t matter in a group of friends. Especially when it comes to kicking some alien ass.

The role of Rita Repulsa was cast to the Elizabeth Banks, possibly one of the best, yet most underrated actors. Rita is probably the most heavily doctored character, being made a turncoat Green Ranger who betrays the others before disappearing for 65 million years. The inclusion of this back story feels unnecessary, but much like the new Blofeld in Spectre, a baddy can no longer be evil for evil’s sake. Gone are the days of characters being evil, now are the times when we must have a reason to relate to their angst. Banks however makes the role her own, she injects Rita with the campiness she needs, while still retaining an evil, and sometimes scary, mystique. It was nice to see a female character not relying on her sexuality to progress in the film, and being allowed to eat doughnuts without comments being made.

 

It would be unfair of me to suggest the film does not have its flaws though. As a mega fan, I was disappointed by the new suits and Zords. They felt too “edgy” and “modern”, the original suits were one of the best thing about the series. It would have been possible for Israelite to modernize the suits, but keep in line with their original aesthetic. Zordon was certainly another bone of contention for me. It was apparently decided somewhere along the way to provide Zordon with more depth of character, because apparently being a giant face in a wall doesn’t cut it in modern Hollywood. Zordon is given a selfish streak not in keeping with the character he is made to be, but luckily thinks better of himself before making the move. This addition is another area that feels forced, nothing more than a plot device to aid a bigger part of the film’s narrative.

 

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Power Rangers. I went in with a mix of excitement over seeing a childhood classic re-imagined, and fear over how Hollywood would bastardize such a classic. Israelite, as a somewhat unknown director, has attempted to keep to the campiness of the series while injecting a modern dark vibe to bring the whole thing up to date. There is certainly room for improvement, but luckily it was no Fantastic Four (2005, 2007, and 2015).