Tag Archives: Made Into Movie

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

miss peregrines

Rating: A-/ I’ve been in a huge reading slump lately, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children helped me get out of that slump and back to reading on a semi-regular basis. I finished it in six days (quickly for me, considering what a slow reader I am) and I’m excited to get my hands on the next book in the series! The author’s idea to incorporate vintage photographs into his storyline was really cool, and the hours I spent reading the book just flew by. Continue reading Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

shutterisland

Despite the huge Dennis Lehane kick I’ve been on lately, I was unsure about reading his 2003 novel ‘Shutter Island’ because I wasn’t a big fan of the Leo DiCaprio film. While I still highly question the realism of the twist ending, I’m as utterly in love with Lehane’s writing as ever, and this is a slightly different offering from him, an entertaining riff on Gothic mid-20th century pulp fiction that pulsates barely contained malice. I just wish I hadn’t watched the movie first, since nothing was as big a surprise to me as one might hope for.

Teddy Daniels, an emotionally traumatized, serious U.S. Marshall and veteran of the second World War grieving the loss of his wife Dolores in an apartment fire a few years prior, arrives at Ashcliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane searching for an escaped patient, Rachel Solando. Solando was incarcerated for the fillicide of her three children and has seemingly vanished into thin air, leaving nothing but a few puzzling hand-written codes in her wake. Teddy comes onto Shutter Island, the foreboding location of Ashcliffe Hospital by ferry with his good-humored partner, Chuck Aule.

A place that houses only society’s most dangerous and volatile inmates, eerie hints of ongoing human experimentation, a doozy of a hurricane heading their way and threatening to total the control panel and release the crazies from their cells- what could go wrong? Poor Teddy is continually haunted by visions and nightmares of the most macabre variety, spooky reminders of the wife he lost and the uncertainty surrounding her death, He’s not well… and things are going to get a whole lot worse…

Teddy is a tough cookie, but the island begins to not-so-slowly get under his skin, and soon the bereaved paranoiac begins to believe that everyone, and everything, is out to get him. There’s a ton of historical context to this novel, from flashbacks of World War II concentration camps, to Cold War-era anxiety, to the ongoing stigmatization of mental illness. However, none of these things are pedantically pushed upon the reader and the novel as a whole is a fast-paced, exhilarating read.

The setting is fascinating (especially for a self-proclaimed fan of the macabre and Gothic like me) and the characters are easy to picture in one’s head with Lehane’s adept descriptive passages. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this book horror- more of a dark psychological thriller with tons of sinister build-up and uncertainty going on, as well as some extremely strange dream sequences that unsettlingly (but accurately) portray Teddy’s troubled psyche. There’s a very important message beneath all this weirdness, a commentary on the horrors that spring up from denying escalating mental illness in a loved one, an all-too-common occurrence in the recent past.

‘Shutter Island’ isn’t perfect, and it isn’t as riveting as some of Lehane’s work. As I stated at the beginning, the end twist seems so improbable that it almost ruined the movie for me. I would go so far as to say it doesn’t really make sense under close scrutiny. Dennis Lehane’s dialogue can be a bit unrealistic at times (while being utterly plausible at others,) especially when he tries to hard to make a particular point, and Teddy’s conversation with the bile-spitting, expletive-screaming warden is one such instance where a little bit of editing and subtle toning-down of the subject matter could have done wonders.

Of the three Lehane novels I’ve read (“Gone, Baby, Gone,” “Mystic River,” and this book, “Shutter Island,”) I recommend you read the one you haven’t seen the movie for first. I was kind of bummed to already see the twist for this and “Mystic River” coming, while “Gone, Baby, Gone”  was a riveting experience unmarred by already seeing the characters and the situations pictured in my head by the movie. I don’t think this is a very believable book when you examine it under a microscope (the other two are much more plausible in terms of plot,) but it’s just as exciting and entertaining as the others, plus there’s the Gothic backdrop that offers some dark spookiness to to the author’s repertoire.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

oneflewover

If you are among the multitude of viewers who have seen Milo Forman’s 1975 film adaptation of this novel, you probably know how this story of a fun-loving rebel who bucks the system and butts heads with the tyrannical Nurse Ratched plays out. Upon reading the Ken Kesey novel, however, one comes upon deeper dimensions within the original source material; namely, the added perspective of Chief Bromden, the physically imposing, profoundly introspective, and perpetually silent American Indian.

For those who haven’t read this book or seen the movie, an overview- Bromden is a Schizophrenic inmate in a section of a mental institution lorded over by power junkie Nurse Ratched, who rules with an iron fist. Ratched controls the ward with quiet fear-mongering, politely menacing intimidation, and calm, calculated mind games. Her rule is much like that of a totalitarian state, a metaphor the novel seems all too aware of- everything is for the wretched men’s own good, of course and initially reasonable-sounding requests wheedle and nettle at the patient’s sanity while Ratched invariably comes out on top.

Hulking half-Indian Bromden knows all about Ratched’s power plays; he’s been there longer than almost anyone. He’s seen patients come and go, have their brains fried to a crisp during extended bouts of electroshock therapy or be rendered obsolete vegetables through sadistic and unnecessary lobotomies. But Bromden, who has been playing the role of a deaf-mute for years, and thus learning the darkest secrets of the clueless patients and staff, who are none the wiser, never counted on Randle P. McMurphy.

McMurphy, an amusing ne’er-do-well, a redheaded rapscallion who takes the ward by storm, is exactly what the institution needs to bring up their spirits and make them question their docile obedience of Nurse Ratched. A hellraiser from square one, he fights Nurse Ratched’s authority every chance he can get, and although at first his mad scramble at rebellion seems arbitrary to the meek patients, his free spirited independence is infectious, and begins to creep over the whole ward.

Chief Bromden seems more like a lawn decoration of a character in the movie, lingering in the background while Jack Nicholson  as McMurphy (suitably mischievous, but definitely not redheaded) takes the center stage. In the book, he is a fascinating and vital protagonist. I’ve always liked characters that were introspective and quiet, considered to be fools and reacting mildly to the insanity around them. Bromden is always thinking, always assessing. The joy of his character is that we get to see into this silent man’s thoughts. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ deals with a multitude of themes, including the fascism, gender roles, racism, industrialization, and the woes of a life half lived, ruled by sterility and quiet timidity.

Chief Bromden is Schizophrenic, so he often seems like a bit of an unreliable narrator, prone to sporadically ranting about thick waves of fog rolling over the ward, things shrinking and growing before his eyes, and the inexhaustible evils of the ‘combine,’ or society as a well-oiled, malevolent machine. Other times he seems sharp, bright-eyed, and impossibly wise. The supporting residents of the mental faciity presented in this novel are unique and arresting without seeming improbably quirky or kitschy, always a concern in books dealing with extreme mental illness.

If there’s one thing I would point out in this book that I wasn’t crazy about, it’s the portrayal of minorities and particularly women. While Chief Bromden is a strong, admirable, and likable character, Nurse Ratched’s ‘black boy’ minions are total fucking assholes who speak in jiving pigeon English. McMurphy repeatedly refers to the men as ‘coons’ and although his behavior isn’t exactly condoned, it isn’t treated as unacceptable either. He even refers to Turkel , the kindest of the ‘black boys,’ as an ‘old coon’ at one point. I know, I know, Kesey’s portrayal of bigotry is historically accurate, but it’s also discomforting for a modern person to read.

The fact that the racist language doesn’t get chided or sternly corrected by the author or any of the characters throughout the book is probably part of the reason it was banned and challenged multiple times since it’s publication. And censorship isn’t right. This book has many good qualities that overshadow it’s racially sensitive content. Many parents don’t like books that don’t spoonfeed their kids political correctness and pat moral lessons. My main issue was with the women in the book. The only remotely redeemable female characters were prostitutes for Chrissakes,come to relieve our poor stuttering Billy Bibbitt of his virginity. Ken Kesey seems to have some rather barbed things to say about women’s lib and us ladies in general beneath his story of the epic struggle between a gargantuan she-bitch and a rabble of cowed, frightened patients.

But never mind. Good writing is good writing, and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ got it. Often lyrical, sometimes beautiful, the book observes our complacency as a society as well as our habit of overlooking life’s outcasts. Powerlessness is a continuous theme- the black aides, given shitty jobs and generally crapped on by society, torment the patients, while Nurse Ratched bullies them all into quiet submission. Ironically, many of the patients are here by choice. If men would choose this hell, what awaits them in the outside world? What horrors have they escaped in their home lives, their jobs and their families? Anyone whose seen the film adaptation know that things don’t end well here. But the book is a worthy read even for those who already know the film’s story.

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

GoneBabyGone

The world can be an unforgiving, ugly place, and Dennis Lehane does a good job depicting this while also portraying the mordant sense of humor law enforcement officers and police detectives sometimes have to adopt to deal with the darkness ‘out there’ as well as inside themselves. Still, there are some things being a hardened detective with a life time of seeing some hardcore shit under your belt can’t prepare you for- for Detective Patrick Mackenzie, the events of “Gone Baby Gone” are comprised of some such times.

I went into this book warily; I have minimal experience with mysteries of any kind, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to follow the twists and turns that made up the novel’s plot (true, to some extent; recalling many of the intricacies of the story leaves me drawing a big fat blank.) Also, it is the fourth in a series, so I’m kind of starting in the middle of a continuing storyline. However, while the former had me perpetually confused (it should be a piece of cake for seasoned mystery readers though,) the latter did not distract me from the book, which is fairly stand-alone even among it’s predecessors  and sequels.

The plot of “Gone Baby Gone” focuses on detective Patrick Mckenzie and his willful and beautiful partner/lover, Angela Gennaro, searching through Boston’s toughest neighborhoods for the abducted daughter of a neglectful addict mother. Not for the squeamish, it portrays the shadowy world of pimps, pedophiles, whores, and crooked cops in such a way that it will make you frown at humanity. Have we really evolved that much? Or we a not very funny joke God played on the hitherto unviolated earth?

I think Lehane particularly has a gift with character description, and providing character details so acute and well-observed that we can picture the creations he has offered up to us. The people making up this twisted urban world are frighteningly believable, with the possible exception of Leon and Roberta Trett, two over-the-top pedophiles; but even the sordidly kitschy moments admittedly have their place. In the search for little Amanda McCready, the two leads not only have to fret whether the’ll find her, but whether she’d be better off staying gone, possibly exposed to unspeakable horrors or maybe spared from a slow spiritual death at the hands of Helene, her selfish crack ho mother.

Sparing my visitors from major spoilers, I’ll just say that the ending really got me furious, in a good way (which is to say, the writing and plotting were not at fault.) After some seriously disturbing and shocking events existing within the plot, I was hoping I could be satisfied by an ending that seemed ‘right,’ just and appropriately comforting. But justice, as it turns out, is a double-edged sword. Would any other ending have seemed as contextually appropriate? Hell no. But I want my evildoers vanquished, my ending wrapped up, my protagonists making a final decision I don’t want to throttle them for.

I seriously wanted to kick Patrick in the nuts at the end of this book. He was a likable lead for the most part, but the final choice he makes is certainly not the one I would have picked. Then again who knows, if I was placed in a crazy situation like that? The compelling thing about the conclusion is it isn’t a simple showdown between good and evil. Both decisions have consequences, and both sets of consequences will hurt someone regardless of how carefully the final course of action is chosen. Am I fit to judge? No, probably not, but I still want to kick him in the nuts.

“Gone Baby Gone” is a quietly harrowing look of police officers working child abuse cases who often have to stand by powerlessly, even impotently, lacking the power to save damaged young people in the face of a broken system. Does society owe the Amanda McCreadys of the world to provide them with a safe place to live, to protect them from the monsters and molesters as well as the coked-up fuck-up living in their own home? Can we be expected to take on the responsibility of every such child? Are some of these kids beyond help? Toeing the line between popular fiction and literature, “Gone Baby Gone” offers a fresh, even occasionally funny voice in Patrick Mckenzie and a suspenseful plot.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

farenheit

Political ignorance. Emotional disconnect. Reality television craze. No wonder butthurt educational administrators have tried to ban and censor ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in schools. This book predicted the 21st Century!

Guy Montag is a regular joe, occasionally prone to  sporadic bouts of philosophizing, who happens to live in an appallingly dumbed-down futuristic America where books are confiscated and burned. He should know; he’s a ‘fireman,’ whose job is not to stop fires but to start them. Guy has very rarely questioned his place in the world, his role being to destroy literature and condemn errant readers to death by the lethal injection of the deadly robot dog ‘the hound.’

One day Guy meets free-spirited teen Clarisse McClellan, and their burgeoning friendship is the beginning of an eye-opening but dangerous transformative experience for Guy. He sees what a shitty façade the so-called comfort and prosperity he lives in entails. In Bradbury’s America, people (including Guy’s brainwashed, reality-TV addicted wife Mildred) sit glued to their interactive, inane programs, people are spoonfed political rhetoric and propaganda like blind, deaf infants, and teens and adults alike express their rage and ennui by getting in a car and running over anything- man or animal- they can find.

There are definitely some similarities between the discord making up ‘Fahrenheit 451”s pages and today’s overly social conscious yet utterly socially ignorant world. It’s a quick read, lovingly written, with mind-boggling precursors to modern technology. The society pictured here takes anything stimulating or challenging from people’s ready access, and the sheep-like civilians don’t even put up a fight. Instead, people who like to read or even explore the world and themselves beyond instant gratification and inane excess are considered freaks, abnormal. and subhuman, and thus worthy of extermination by ‘the Hound.’

Everybody is unhappy, but nobody knows they’re unhappy, or why. In the style of something like “Fight Club,” violence is the only conceivable release from boredom and empty consumer culture. I loved this book mostly because of the writing. I found myself inwardly nodding to myself while reading the incisive prose, and wanting to jot down some of the things written within the slim, but potent little novel.

The world-building is also fantastic. Bradbury creates a bleak but instantly recognizable world riddled with violence, apathy, and drug addiction. People are so fixated on the devices and happy pills they have forgotten what makes them happy, much less human. They’ve certainly forgotten each other, so focused are they on their flickering, opium-soaked electronic worlds.

Although Guy is the protagonist of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Beatty, Guy’s maniacally evil boss, may be the most interesting out of the cast of characters. For a man who hates books and reading, Beatty is certainly well-read, and belies his disgusted attitude toward knowledge with a plethora of classic literary references and quotes. I kind of wish they had gone into Beatty’s past a bit more, a backstory that Bradbury himself goes into a bit more depth about in the afterward of the edition of the book I read.

Don’t let the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” is a ‘classic’- a double-edged term often associated with dusty bookshelves and interminable boredom get in the way of reading what is surely one of the best dystopian novels of all time, loaded with spiritual and social significance without being wordy or a drag. Teachers and parents who try to withhold this book from teens’ hands  are certainly barking up the wrong tree (though if I’m not wrong, teenagers will find a away to acquire those books and videos which are kept from them.) This is great discussion material, and much more substantial than most young adult books on the market today.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

girlwithallthe gifts

Oh, will someone think of the (zombie) children? 😛

“The Girl With All the Gifts” is about twice as good as you’d expect a novel about a wide-eyed, sensitive, lesbian zombie child with an off-the-charts IQ to be.

At first the premise threw me off- call me a traditionalist, I but I think of zombies as shambling wrecks of people who moan and groan and have absolutely no qualms about eating human flesh. They do not think, reason, and enthuse about Greek mythology. A precocious zombie tyke with a nagging conscience? Puh-leeze (to be fair, there were some of the voracious mindless variety of undead in this book too.) But further on through this odd but innovative book, I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall in love with little Melanie and her benignly waffling ‘should-I-shouldn’t-I ‘ approach to cannibalism.

Melanie isn’t like other kids, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to make connections as she navigates a cell block where she is kept prisoner in post-apocalyptic Britain. During the breakdown, millions of people died from a rampaging fungal infection and were suspended in a middling state between life and death, These ‘hungries’ soon wiped out the majority of the population, and the remaining British population has either holed itself up in the crime-ridden city of Beacon, escaped to a large research facility, or become a vicious, feral ‘junker.’

Then there are the ‘others,’ children who incongruously are neither Hungry nor human, but straddle both worlds and are used as experiments by the cure-seeking government. Enter Melanie, a bright, clear-eyed girl who loves her kind, lovely teacher, Miss Justineau (although this infatuation is less lust than hero worship.) In truth Justineau is there to gauge the children’s intellectual capabilities to prepare them for dissection, but she has grown to quite like her zombified, studious little pupils, especially Melanie, a strange child whose intelligence is only matched by her eagerness to learn.

Melanie dreams of saving Mrs. Justineau and whisking her away from the awful research facility, but it is Justineau who saves Melanie from going under the knife on the cold operating table of evil scientist and uber-bitch extraordinaire Caroline Caldwell- just in time for a devastating junker attack. On the run from junkers and hungries alike, Justineau, Caldwell, Melanie to two military men named Parks and Gallagher escape in an RV, intent of staying away from the evil that has consumed their base. Meanwhile, Melanie tries her hardest not to succumb to her cannibalistic desires.

Even Miss Justineau would be on the menu, and nobody wants that, least of all Melanie. While Parks and Caldwell seem to be somewhat archetypical (Parks is a hard, brutal military man, while Caldwell will do anything in the name of science- even dissect zombie children without anesthesia,) Justineau comes off as just plain naive at times, balking at the idea of Melanie being restrained despite Melanie’s intense yearning to devour human flesh (you can’t do that! She’s a child! How would you like to be tied up if you were a homicidal cannibalistic zombie child?”)

The book is pretty well-written, with a handful of decent metaphors and a rich vocabulary, and Melanie herself is a compelling character, once you get past her distinctly non-zombie-like affect. The science is studied- a little too studied, in my opinion; the passages on the contagion get a little long winded- but the upside of this is that the virus and it’s effects are frighteningly and acutely believable. Despite the fact that several of the main players are slightly stereotypical, “The Girl With All the Gifts” has fairly good character development, especially considering it’s genre (sci-fi/horror) and the author’s background (mostly comic books.)

Most of the novel is exciting and fast-paced, with lots of fight sequences and scenes of horror and gore, but it ultimately has it’s heart in the right place as well as teeth bared at your throat. Containing scenes of both touching tenderness and biting social commentary about those who are only considered worthy as far as they can help us move forward in society- in the name of science and otherwise, “The Girl With All the Gifts” is an easy read, but by no means a brainless one (no pun intended.) It’s intense, compelling, and sometimes scarily plausible.

A note on the movie- Hearing that Paddy Considine (“Dead Man’s Shoes,” “My Summer of Love”) was going to be in the film adaptation is the best news I’ve heard all week. But I’m a little puzzled as to why Miss Justiineau (portrayed as a black woman in the book) will be played by Gemma Arterton (“The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” “The Voices,” a lily-white actress. I like Arterton, but cannot fathom her playing a character that was written to be African-American.

Likewise, Melanie (who was described as ‘very fair’ within the first few sentences) and Gallagher (who was supposed to be a ginger) are played by African American actors. I mean, what the fuck? I know I’ll get flack for this (mix it up and all that,) but can’t the characters stay within the races the author assigned for them? Just a thought. Nevertheless, I eagerly anticipate this movie and hope it can live up to the the potential the book established. She-Who-Brings-Gifts-2

Boy A by Jonathan Trigell

BoyA

Harrowing. Heartbreaking. Fabulously discussion-worthy. All these are apt ways to describe Jonathan Trigell’s lightning bolt to the nervous system, ‘Boy A.’ It would be pretty accurate to say I loved this book, and even when I hated it, I loved it, because I realized when it was making me edgy and mad it was actually making me think. You don’t have to agree with it’s political viewpoint, but you will have to allow your beliefs and preconceptions to be challenged for the sake of the experience.

Jack is not an orphan, but he might as well be. After years locked away for a ghastly childhood crime, Jack has been reintroduced to society under a different identity, hiding from the media and potential acts of vigilantism. Jack’s Liberal social worker, Terry, believes he is essentially good. But can Jack really start his life over? Can he fall in love? Does he deserve to be given a second chance, considering what he did to another life?

Throughout the book Jack is portrayed to be a bit childlike and naïve, without coming off a saccharine or eye-rollingly idiotic. His romance with Michelle, a more experienced young woman, is touching and real. Finally a love interest with more reason for being than simply saving a troubled young man from himself. Michelle is not a manic pixie dream girl. She reminds me of the character from “Silver Linings Playbook” (the movie.) She’s made up of parts- strength, shrewdness, vulnerability. And she likes all those bits, even the dirty ones.

‘Boy A’, above all, a meditation on growing up, the possibility and unpredictability of change, and the horrors of living under the scrutinizing eye of the media. The writing is incisive and laden with layers of meaning. The ending is bleak, but also leaves us to contemplate how such a pay-off could’ve been avoided.

The only thing I really didn’t like about this book is the snide judgment with which the author portrays Angela, the victim of Jack’s adolescent crime. Angela is ten, but the author seems to treat her as responsible beyond her years, while the blame is displaced from Jack and his unnamed, delinquent friend. Once a bitch, always a bitch, the novel seems to say, which really didn’t sit well with me. I think less time could be spent on portraying Angela as a spoiled princess that ‘bad things just didn’t happen to’ and more time showing the grief of her family at such a senseless crime should have been incorporated. While focusing almost entirely on Jack’s pain is novel, it also seems kind of inappropriate considering the subject matter.

Although I found that aspect of ‘Boy A’ somewhat reprehensible, the rest of the book was so beautifully written and psychologically complex that I cannot help writing a glowing review. The shifting perspectives (though fully grounded in third-person) give a darker, deeper look into the events that make up the book’s chapters. I also highly recommend the film adaptation with Andrew Garfield. Garfield gives a beautifully realized portrayal of Jack, and the most important aspects of the book are retained in the film version. Happy reading!