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Darker Fables

Writing and reviews. Adventures, maybe? Exciting, definitely.

Review: Kaui Hart Hemmings’ ‘The Possibilities’

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Hmm… I’m not going to lie. This wasn’t as good as I hoped it might be.

Last year I read The Descendants, by the same author, and it was one of my favourite general fiction reads ever. Probably, my expectations of this were unrealistic from the start.

The Possibilities is a first-person novel following Sarah St. John, a forty-something shopping channel TV host, and her experiences as a newly grieving mother.

I’ve become stormy and difficult, mean and sad. If I was confronted with someone like myself I’d feel sorry for them. Then I’d get bored by them, and then I’d hate them for their sad, sad story.

She’s not the most likable protagonist. Her thoughts, and not just as a result of grief, are often unkind, and her treatment of other characters is frequently careless. However, I don’t think that’s a failing. She is well-fleshed, complex, and her development through the stages of grief is mature and convincing.

I don’t know though, it just didn’t do it for me. Somehow the delicate undertones of feeling that made The Descendants so strong were muddled here. The tension was uneven, and I couldn’t share in the sentiments, as I felt I could with the other novel.

The plot wasn’t the focus, so I can forgive it for being predictable, and there were moments that hinted at the emotional punch this novel fails to deliver. However, it was all a bit like the smell of next door’s cooking on an empty stomach. Tantalising, but ultimately unsatisfying, and more than a bit frustrating.

It’s a beautiful day, I realize. I live in a beautiful place. The surrounding pines, so impossibly tall, sparkle with snow. I tilt my face up and inhale, willing my surroundings to enter me somehow and to remind me how small I am.

I liked most of the secondary characters, especially Sarah’s father, and I think from an empirical perspective the novel is effective in exploring the different ways people mourn, but there was no one I adored.

The humour, also, is an acquired taste (but maybe that’s cultural – it’s no secret American humour doesn’t always work so well across the pond), and the prose is an inch from average.

But I liked it. I did. The portrayal of female friendships is actually quite exceptional. I just didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

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Review: Sandra Gulland’s ‘The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Joséphine B.’

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My first read of the year, and I’m pleased it was a good one.

I have been told that long titles are a no-go if you want people to actually read your work, but I would like to object to that. I have been eager to read this book for some time, and it did not disappoint.

Joséphine B. is the first in a historical fiction trilogy, styled as the diary of Empress Joséphine, or Rose, as she was known, up until her fateful marriage to Napoléon Bonaparte.

The historical accuracy is to be praised, and Gulland does an excellent job of covering an extremely complicated time without losing readability.

“You will be unhappily married. You will be widowed… You will be Queen.”

This is not a faultless text, and its diary format suffers some serious pitfalls, by far the least of them the fact that Rose’s writing voice does not noticeably mature between her teenage years and the age of thirty-three.

It is also by nature episodic, and given the number of years covered in 431 pages, the pace is a little manic.

However, Gulland does succeed in evoking the spirit of a remarkable woman, whose life needs no embellishment to make a fascinating story. As a tribute to Joséphine, or Rose, this book stands as a great achievement. Although I know the eventual fate of the characters, I am looking forward to reading the next installment.

‘The woman I saw was a stranger to me. Her gaunt face was lined, aged, without colour. Her teeth were black, her eyes sunken – furtive, fearful eyes.’

One of the great strengths of this book is the way Gulland does not romanticise its protagonist into a Venus-like figure. Rose is written with her bad teeth and wrinkles, and her sufferings affect her, particularly her months of imprisonment during the Terror, after which her own children did not recognise her.

As a character, this woman who was told she would one day marry an extraordinary man is written as kind, ruthlessly intelligent, and utterly selfless in her pursuit of saving others, even at great cost to herself. Gulland’s portrayal of her makes her one of the most likable characters I have ever read.

Also worthy of note is the diversity in this novel. I do think it is sometimes difficult to include ethnicity and sexuality in historical fiction without pushing these characters to the fringe, or denying the unpleasant treatment many were subject to, but Gulland makes an admirable effort. This book features a host of black secondary characters, and allusions to the queerness of many a French noble.

I liked it a lot, basically. I’m hoping the next part is just as good…

Songs for Writing: January

It’s been five days, and when it comes to my resolutions, I’m pleased to report that so far, so good.

I traipsed my way across the city yesterday to visit The American Library in Paris, and withdrew three books. I’m already halfway through The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine. B, and I’ve made another valiant stab at Ivanhoe (this will mark my fourth attempt to finish it).

I’ve also been writing, every day. If I’m going to make it a habit I think I’ll need more than just my willpower, however.

I am often in need of inspiration, so here are some songs I’ve found to write to.

1. Trevor Something – ‘Enjoy the Silence’

It can be a rather controversial thing, to admit you prefer a cover to the original, but damn me as you will. This has a darker sound than the original Depeche Mode release, and, in my humble opinion, the sultry, hypnotic vocals give it added depth.

2. Ryder – ‘Pretty Little Gangster’

This one has been on my playlist for a while, but it retains its position as one of my favourites. I think it’s especially appropriate for orchestrating scenes in which badass female characters do their thing, gangsters or not.

3. Julien Doré – ‘Le lac’

I guess you can’t live in France without getting a taste for French music. I discovered Julien Doré by listening to RTL2. It’s not something I regret.

4. ‘Pookkal Pookkum’ from the movie Madharasapattinam

If you’ve been paying close attention to my personal updates you’ll be able to make a good guess about how this came into my life. I’ve been watching lots of Indian movies lately thanks to a certain someone, and none of them are without songs. I haven’t actually seen Madharasapattinam (yet), but based on this song, I want to. Just don’t ask me for any translations. At the moment my Tamil is basic, to say the least!

5. Rae Morris – ‘Push Me To My Limit’

Surprise! My favourite singer is back! Her new album comes out next month, and based on what snippets have been released so far, my expectations are high.

So, that’s that, and it’s time I was writing my writing, rather than writing about the writing I plan to write… I’ll leave you to figure that out. Goodbye and à bientôt! 🙂

Excalibur

Swimming in the black lake,
I was shivering by night.

All my bones were aching,
soon to fall asunder.

There was one white moon
blinking over the water.

It differed from my dreams.

On shore stood a horseman,
with his slender red mare.

I knew him as my brothers,
though we had never met.

The blade was mine to give,
and so it parted from me.

He left, and I forgot him,
until the mists came,
and a boat crossed the water.

© Deanna Scutt, 2018

My New Year’s Resolutions

It’s time to make some promises.

2017 was probably the best year of my life. So many things happened that I didn’t even have the time to write about all of them, which is something I will probably regret when the day comes for me to look back on my life. But I don’t think I’ll ever really forget the momentous events that happened.

I wrote more poems than I knew I had in me, and became a little wiser from the benefit of experiences both good and bad. I made some new friends, met the man I love, and most importantly, I proved to myself that I am capable of making a life for myself in the great wide world beyond the places where I grew up.

I don’t imagine 2018 is going to top it, since I had it so good, but I know that even if circumstances can scarcely be improved, I can, so here are my goals for the year ahead.

1. Write every day.

And I mean every day. I’ve really lapsed since I finished my undergraduate in terms of discipline, so it’s time I took myself in hand. I’m not going to set a daily word count, since previously I have found this promotes an attitude geared towards achieving, rather than exceeding, the limits of my expectations, but I am going to write something each day, be it a story, a scene, or just a sentence, and go from there.

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2. Read every day.

I set myself a target to read 100 books last year. I managed about half of that, which was rather disappointing. This year I’m going for it again. It’s roughly two books a week, so if I allocate some reading time every day (and steer clear of 500+ page monster novels), I think this is achievable.

3. Become more proficient in French.

If I’m going to get anywhere near fluency, there’s no opportunity better than the one I have right now. I’ll be living in Paris until the end of July, so the next seven months will be a concerted effort on my part to really embed this language in my head.

4. Become conversational in Tamil.

Before I moved here, everyone was joking about how I would have a spectacular love affair with a Frenchman, but it didn’t quite work out like that. My boyfriend is from southern India, and if I’m really going to make it work I need to form good relationships with the rest of his family. This means learning to communicate. It’s going to be considerably more challenging than the French, I think, given that I’m really starting from the beginning, with a new alphabet to boot, but I am determined.

So, here we go. My 2018 started last night with a distant view of the fireworks thundering over the Champs-Élysées. Today I started to read Ivanhoe, and I wrote this post. Not a bad beginning. I hope it will be a great year for us all ❤

 

Emigrée

It has been a mercy,
this bottling of bated breath,
this hanging
on his every word.

She knows how it feels
to be a sack of beans
on the back of a lorry,
trundling away from the earth
where she grew.

Like all the young and ambitious,
she forgot her parents’ names,
and never tells anyone
where she really came from.

On Sundays,
she does nothing
but work like an orphan
in a city of plagues.

Maybe sometimes,
when the dark hisses words
and her hands quiver on his skin
she wonders how all roads
lead to the same places.

Nothing is softer than her lips,
or the quick beneath her nails.
Nothing save promises,
and the moon
on her pillow.

© Deanna Scutt, 2017

Flight

Sitting on my bed
in a spill of old pajamas
and a duvet not quite cold,
I was thinking about windstorms,
and the way things used to be.

The waking world is a wintry place,
peopled by spectres and snow.
There was no one save me
and the taxi driver,
humming along to the radio.

I’ve been there, and I’ve been there,
with sleep in the corners of my eyes,
suitcase on the laminate behind me.

I’ve spent days in the small hours,
with the smell of new cups, coffee.
So many times now…
but that was the one time
I knew where I was going.

© Deanna Scutt, 2017

Sorry…

Dear Lord! Where did those sixteen days go?

I have been a crappy blogger so far this month. Literally as crappy as crap gets, because prior to today I wrote a grand total of zero new posts for December.

But in my defense, I did say December was going to be busy, and I was right. It’s been an eventful month so far. My little brother turned eighteen, so I went home for a weekend to see him (and to put up the Christmas tree – because no one was willing to do it without me). It meant getting up at four on an extremely frosty morning to catch a flight, but it was well worth it.

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There have also been some interesting developments in my professional life. Through some major bluffing I managed to secure a little extra work doing translation, and I didn’t botch it, so maybe I’ll even get some more. If I could stop being a nou-nou I really wouldn’t mind.

University is also going well, and… I’ve now been in a relationship for several months, which is, I think, a major success, since I’ve never made it this far without getting bored or beginning to go insane before. To my great surprise I’ve found out that there is nothing wrong with me. I can actually be happy with someone, and this is easily the best lesson Paris has taught me.

I hereby pledge to actually write some stuff for the rest of the month. I guess I know what my New Year’s resolution is going to be…

Neon

All the moons
in all the skies
of the old world
and the new,
could not sway
the tide
of my desire,
pulling me to you.

All the bones
in all the graves
could rattle
and rise again,
but I would walk
in search of you,
even after
the last amen.

Dogs might bark,
and tear my clothes.
The wind could
strip my face,
but I would still
know something
that time
cannot displace.

© Deanna Scutt, 2017

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