The Unreliable Narrator

The Unreliable Narrator

girl on the train

You can have too much of something. When I first discovered Jodi Picoult, I read every title I could get my hands on. A solid six months of the same author can show flaws and patterns that make every book feel the same. Having learnt my lesson, I restricted myself to one a year. Maybe two. A lot of her new stuff have come away from broken families fighting law room drama. During my time at Waterstones, we were encouraged to put similar books together. If You Like, You’ll Love! Now I’m thinking that’s a bad idea…

Last week I read a book my mother asked me to read, she needed my opinion and more importantly, my clarity. It was called Sometimes I Lie. A woman is in a coma after an accident. The clue is in the title, she’s a liar. But who is she lying too? The people around her or us? Having read a few of these books I’m questioning if the use of an ‘unreliable narrator’ is lazy storytelling. Let’s discuss.

Maybe the most iconic of these is The Girl on the Train. It would be a short book if our narrator had a good memory rather than being an alcoholic. Told from three viewpoints, two present their version of the truth and the third is a professional liar. She convinces her roommate she has a job but travels to London every day. On top of that, it’s frustrating that she holds the key to this murder but her alcoholic brain can’t make the pieces fit. Given this it’s a third of the book and it’s character flaw, maybe we can forgive it. She’s not lying. It’s a device to create suspense.

On the opposite end of the scale we have I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Spoilers ahead. The book opens with a child being killed in a hit and run. A woman runs away to a remote Welsh cottage. We’re led to believe that she is the suffering mother. It comes out she was in the car and she may have been behind the wheel. Like the rest of the book, the prologue was in first person. In my mind, it’s lying to the audience and I hate that. We have set up to believe one thing for a big reveal that is oh so fashionable. The narrator refuses to discuss what happened and withholding that information. It’s a neat trick but it’s a trick.

Another way a narrator could be unreliable is if they are bias. One of my favourite books of 2016 was The Truth about the Harry Quebert by Joel Dicker. A young writer visits his mentor during a small town scandal involving him and the killing of a young girl. There are many layers to this novel which is why I worship it so much. There are twists and turns but rather than withholding information or lying to us, suspense is created by the narrator’s doubt. He knows the truth and shares it with the reader but he also shares his doubts.

There are many ways to keep your readers in suspense, some are cleverer than others. Lying is wrong.

Child of the Underworld

Child of the Underworld

moulin rouge.jpg

This is one of the worst kept secrets of the cinema world. It’s not how Tom Cruise stays so young or why they’re still making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Welcome to the world of immersive cinema. Launched in 2007, Secret Cinema is redefining the movie experience. No more headache inducing 3D, get your headache curtesy of alcohol! Did you really expect me to visit 1899 Paris without indulging in the good stuff? I’m talking about the Moulin Rouge and champagne, darling! (No green fairy hallucinations for me).

The experience, for me, started with panic. My invitation to the Moulin Rouge was last minute and a costume had to be acquired, for I was a journalist. I don’t remember too many of them in the movie but I was grateful for a… erm… comfortable costume. I was identifiable by an orange handkerchief. I had notepads and pens in abundance. I had just put the final touches together on the tube as we pulled into Canning Town. Venue unknown, we were left in the hands of stewards as scores of people in feathers, stockings and top hats left the station uncertain and excited. Phones in plastic bags, francs distributed and away we go.

Enter the errr … Time Tunnel … There were flashing lights and black curtains. Beyond those curtains is 1899 Paris! Actors were dressed in the fashion and it was quite obvious who was who. I don’t know how they found these people but they were the spit of the original actors. Fake Christian had a fantastic voice. And that’s something I wasn’t expecting. High quality entertainment and higher quality setting. It almost seemed a shame that was all set up for such a brief period of time! And you had the odd dickhead in modern clothing.

What a privilege to experience. The movie was screened on the Moulin Rouge stage, the gentleman in the circle and the children of the underworld on the dance floor and, in my case, hanging off the supports and banisters. It always feels good to be a part of something sold out rather than be green with jealousy. The Diamond Dogs gave us a show before the credits rolled, mixing the old favourites from the film and some modern stuff like Kayne West. They took what we know and love, and they made it better. After the Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann can’t be trusted to be Baz Luhrmann. Let these guys give us the next big musical movie sensation.

 

C.Hay Versus J.Kay

C.Hay Versus J.Kay

hpatcc

Spoilers ahead.

Duh.

You have been warned.

I am a Harry Potter fan. I was a little younger than Harry when Hagrid brought him his Hogwarts letter when I started reading the books. I grew up with the trio. I laugh with them in the common room. I froze at the sight of Dementors. I cried with them at Shell Cottage. I was extremely vocal about casting choices for the films and had a little crushes on members of Dumbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters. Seriously, Mr Isaacs, stay blonde. For me, Nineteen Years Later was closure. I craved more but accepted that happiness and balance had been restored. There would be no more from the Wizarding World.

UNTIL!

We have prequels and sequels everywhere, though we can’t call them that. Fantastic Beasts is ‘inspired’ by the textbook that was created many moon ago for Comic Relief. I think everyone got a slap on the wrist for calling Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a sequel. If we can’t call it a sequel, I think we should call it for what it is: a thought experiment. What do we want? Nostalgia! When do we want it? Yesterday today! My tickets for the Cursed Child were booked back in 2015. I did my waiting. Eighteen months of it. I brought the script and wrapped it up. I avoided reviews. I avoided social media. (That one was hard.) Now that I’ve witnessed it for myself my opinion is this: What was the point in that?

Having seen several internet videos on my favourite boy wizard, namely A Very Potter Musical and Harry Potter; How It Should Have Ended, I couldn’t take the plot seriously. Yes, it’s pretty to look at but time travel, really? Not only that, I’m upset because JK Rowling has done it better. When I speak of time travel, I hold Prisoner of Azkaban up as the gold standard. Almost twenty years ago, Harry James Potter’s name was pulled from the Goblet of Fire. (Counts to ten, trying not to get furious about Dumbledore charging across the trophy room.) But what if someone else won? Alternative realities, really?

What we have as a ‘continuation’ of our children story is over five hours of magical Back to the Future. The offspring of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy (not together, it’s pretty much fan fiction but not that kind of fan fiction) go back to the Triwizard Tournament to save ‘the spare’. They cause drastic ripples that give the audience possibilities they could never have fathomed. The smallest changes saw the subtle Nazi nuances of the books be practically rammed down our throats; our favourite characters cease to exist and our favourite villains live. Am I terrible person for asking: why bother?    

I’m not normally full of short or snappy ways of describing things but I think I summed up my feelings perfectly during dinner between Parts One and Parts Two: It’s nostalgic, not progressive. I haven’t learnt anything new about the characters or the current state of the wizarding world. There are some jokes to lighten the mood that give us a glimpse into being Harry Potter in his late thirties, for example, they too are doing that no sugar thing. Albus and Harry have a troubled relationship. Albus is reserved and hates being under his father’s shadow. James Jnr, apparently, loves it and resembled the Weasley Twins more than his own mother and father. How did that happen? Lily and Rose were in there somewhere too. All but three characters are underdeveloped and only used to further the plot. There is nothing new. There is nothing in the now.

I hate myself. I was the same with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I wanted to be memorised like everyone else but I was dismissive. (An angry black cloud, that would never happen.) I crave more from JK’s imagination but I’ve imposed my own rules as to what is possible and impossible. It’s her world! Who am I to judge! If Squibs can turn into angry black clouds, then they can turn into angry black clouds. If they go back twenty years and create alternative realities, then get the blackboard and let’s figure out when Biff got the sports almanac. Going forward, I will be grateful. I will open my mind. I will keep the wonder and excitement 11 year old Charlie had.

Turn it off and turn it on again…

Turn it off and turn it on again…

roy.jpg

 

Right. 2016 was a right off. It doesn’t count in any way, shape or form. Some have been amended. Some have been deleted. Seven is the magic number.

 

  1. Visit two new countries/cities.
  2. Read 70 books.
  3. Write one million words.
  4. See theatre once a month.
  5. Be a tourist in my own country.
  6. Run a half marathon and beat last year.
  7. Be the female Captain America: be good and be buff.
Who am I running for?

Who am I running for?

In just over a week, I run the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles making a half marathon 13.1 miles. That’s a round 21k. Sorry, I should have warned you, this paragraph is going to be quiet maths-y. Before I signed up to the half, the furthest I’d run 7.8km. On the 30th May, I did a 10k. It was tough. I did it in one hour and fifteen minutes. The half was looming and I kept telling myself the half was just like the 10k: I just have to do it twice. To date, the furthest I have run is 15.5k in two hours. I just have to do another 5k on top of that. 5k is my short route that takes me about half an hour. So I can do it in two and a half hours, right?

 

The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon starts and finishes in the stunning Hyde Park. Runners take part in the route through Central London, taking in the spectacular sites of the capital and the beautiful Royal Parks. On that day there will be 16,000 runners and me: fat asthmatic me who is not as ready as she wants to be. I could be fitter and I could be thinner. I know I’ll run quicker if I was lighter, less to carry. But I also let myself eat more because I go to the gym five times a week. Most weeks. I never forget I am doing it for a reason.

 

The Princess Alexandra Hospital Breast Unit is a charity that has raised over £1.9 million over the past 10 years. “This money is used to fund specialist clinical trials equipment, introduce new initiatives and support further research. Breast cancer clinical trials improve our understanding of the disease, leading to new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer.” Thankfully, I haven’t experienced cancer first hand. I’m rather fond of my boobs. I’m going to do what I can to protect them.

 

I’m running for a charity. Rather, I’m raising money for charity by running. I’m running for me. I want to prove to myself that I can run 13.1 miles. I want to prove to myself that I’m fitter than I think I am. I’m more than a fat asthmatic mess. I can be a superhero. I want to be the best I can be in every sense of the word. My mind to be the best and my body to be the best. Maybe then I can live forever.

 

Morbid Fascination

Morbid Fascination

Like any good commentary, let’s start with some definitions:

Morbid: too interested in unpleasant subjects, especially death.

Fascination: the fact of finding someone or something fascinating.

Example given by dictionary.cambridge.org: Mass murders hold a gruesome fascination for the public.

 

It’s a thing! Don’t judge me for my love of serial killers, murder and all things psychotic. I’m curious about these things despite my hatred of blood. I can’t see it but I can read about in my true crime books or listen about in my new favourite podcast: Sword and Scale. Hosted by Mike Boudet, this hour-ish long podcast covers the underworld of criminal activity and the demented minds that perform the most despicable and unthinkable actions. Calling it one of my favourite podcasts is a bold statement as I have only listened to six; but I’ve already encountered the most prolific female serial killer, a state wide child prostitution ring and familicide. Familicide was a new one to me too, it’s when someone murders multiple family members. The more you know.

 

The thing I’m really curious about is: how can this fascinate me? Why do I actually want to listen to this? Sword and Scale gives a 360 account of these terrible acts. They have first-hand interviews with serial killers such as Aileen Carol Wuornos and a mother placing a 911 call after her son admits to killing a 10-year-old girl. I’m not a complete monster, I had a little cry after listening to that particular recording. However, I’ve listened rather passively listening to all this. My emotional response is similar to psychopaths: emotionless. Psychopath and sex offender, Robert, talks calmly and methodically about grooming a child to be the ‘perfect mate’.

 

I’ve been listening to all this and the only thing that’s kept me up at night since I began was a creepy little girl ghost I got in my head and couldn’t get it out. For me, my morbid fascination comes from two thoughts; I could never do that and what if I could do that. I hope I fall into the first school of thought. On the other hand, we all joke that we would kill our families. ‘If my sister steals my hairspray one more time, I’ll kill her.’ We’ve all said it. Curiosity is defined as an eager wish to know or learn about something. That something could be ourselves. Can we be the monsters we love?

The Long Walk by Stephen King

The Long Walk by Stephen King

the long walk

At the end of it, you get whatever your heart desires for the rest of your life. First, you must walk. Before The Hunger Games and before Battle Royale, there was “The Long Walk”. On the first day of May, 100 teenage boys meet for a race. A race might not be the right word. The boys must walk the length of America, the last one standing wins. There are rules and if you break those rules, you get a warning. Three strikes and you’re out.

The story was originally ‘written’ by Richard Bachman, we know him today by his true identity: Stephen King. I consider myself a fan having only read a small spattering of his books. I like to think if I’d read the majority of them and read Richard Bachman, I would know it was Mr King. There’s something so immediate and sensual about his writing. It breaks convention to make you feel every moment; feel the pain and the fear. I run and after reading this book it’s not the same. Even walking, I have never been more aware of the movement of my feet, the muscles at work and know exactly how they would feel after walking nonstop for days.

There was much discussion about the book in the office, it was read for the book club I initiated. What did the walk represent? Was the walk reflecting war? Walking and marching towards a better future. I don’t think so. Was the walk reflecting life? The sense of direction but not necessarily purpose, we are only given so many chances before we’re out of luck. For me, I think it’s about greed. At the start, one hundred boys talk about riches, material things and women. That’s what they want when they win the walk. At the end, the skeletal like remains of the boys dream of the end. Their heart’s desire is to stop.

Watch my video review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T1NGyk9Fpc