tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
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Rule Britannia by Daphne Du Maurier

That is what happens to people, Emma thought, bewildered, when they lose their identity, when they stop being themselves; it happens to individuals when they fall in love with the wrong person, the personality doesn't develop, it gets swamped, and it happens to communities, to villages, to countries, under invasion, however benign the intention, however all-embracing the ultimate design.

This, Daphne Du Maurier's final novel, is far from being one of her best. I struggled to get through it in places because the extreme naivety of the novel's heroine is often grating (she's meant to be twenty but frequently comes across as being much younger) and the supposed comic relief mostly takes the form of crudely racist stereotypes, which - thankfully - have absolutely not stood the test of time. Despite these not inconsiderable weaknesses, however, Rule Britannia is still worth reading just for the contrast it provides to Du Maurier's more famous works like Rebecca. In this novel, though the scene is still Cornwall, we are a very long way from dreams of Manderley. The action takes place in a might-have-been political future in which Britain withdrew from the common market shortly after joining, a decision that has left the country financially crippled. In order to relieve the situation the coalition government agree to an alliance with the US, creating the new USUK, a 'friendly' union that is belied by an alarmingly large and violent military presence. These events are seen through the eyes of young Emma and her eccentric family: "Mad" (Madam) Emma's aged thespian Grandma, with her unruly brood of six adopted sons. Living in isolated Poldrea (a thinly fictionalised version of Cornwall's Par) the family are on the periphery of this brave new political world and at first struggle to find out the meaning of the power cuts, road blocks and battleship in their bay. I enjoyed this thriller-type aspect of the novel and feel Du Maurier captures well the uncertainty, fear and internal conflict of a rural community under invasion.

As the villagers begin to rebel against the new regime, Rule Britannia becomes a satire on the Kernow separatist movement, for whom Du Maurier was known to have moderate sympathies. The whole story is somewhat oversimplified with rather too much emphasis on eye-for-an-eye justice and above all, plucky gung-ho Celtic spirit. So not a great novel, but one with, at least, I felt, an interesting premise which does still feel surprisingly topical, given the military and political events of the past ten years or so - particularly during the Bush and Blair years.

Man Crazy by Joyce Carol Oates

I don't play games, I never did. Crazy for men they say it's really your own daddy you seek. I hope this is so, maybe one day I'll find him.

A relentlessly dark and brutal portrait of a romance - and a life - gone horribly off the rails. I just picked this up out of curiosity in my lunch break one day and found myself at once captivated and wishing I'd never started it. Rather like watching a train-wreck, this novel is gut-wrenchingly violent but so gripping that it's very difficult to tear away from. It tells the story of Ingrid Boone: aged nine, she is used to being hauled from one depressed US town to another by her beautiful young "white trash" mother while her Vietnam-veteran father ducks and dives from the law. As she grows up Ingrid transfers her affections idolising her absent father to seeking the attention - and brief ego-boost - of a string of liaisons with men. This behaviour culminates in her abusive relationship with Enoch Skaggs, the charismatic but evil leader of a Satanic biker gang. Oates does not shy away from depicting Ingrid's extreme physical abuse in the clutches of the gang and this novel is very far from being an easy read. According to one review I read Oates herself justifies the horrors she chronicles in the following way: "if you are going to write about a romance that is evil, and the character is redeemed, then there must be something she is redeemed from, so I felt the imagery of the novel was justified." I think that makes a lot of sense, and ultimately, as the quote suggests, this is the story of Ingrid's redemption, ending with flashes of hope rather than darkness.

Although Ingrid's is (I would hope) a very extreme story, Oates' unflinching honesty throughout the book makes it easy to relate to at least parts of her experience: if not the promiscuity, drug-abuse, and enslavement, at least the longing for an absent parent, the endless popularity contest of school life and the desire to be desired. Indeed, more than anything, this is a novel about the love and loss: the eternal craving for one and the devastating effects of the other, and that is something that touches all our lives.

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tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)

September 2010

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