Language as Identity

I’m thinking about something a bit different today, not literature but instead language. If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know I am Welsh/British, living in the States, after a few years in Denmark.

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Wales…land of the Dragon!

More and more recently I have noticed a change in how I speak. And it feels as though I have somehow lost a part of myself. I recently asked my husband for a ‘cwtch’ which is the Welsh equivalent of a cuddle or a hug, and the word felt alien and wrong in my mouth. My Welsh accent (which I love) is barely there anymore, and when I try to speak in one it sounds awful and fake.

It all began before I ever left the UK, when I moved to Birmingham, England, words which had never seemed odd to me, or registered as particularly Welsh weren’t understood. In a Welsh accent Ear, Year, and Here, are all pronounced ‘yer’. I used the word ‘sosban’ not saucepan…never really registering that it was any different.

I began to consciously modify and change my language. After a short time these words were no longer consciously altered but were now natural to me. In Denmark there were comparatively few problems, as most of the people I interacted with were using English as their second language, any odd words or colloquialisms I used were just assumed to be unknown to the listener.

And then I moved to sunny California…where people speak English, so I didn’t even think about it before hand. But American English is very very different to English, more so than I ever would have expected. Words which again are totally ordinary to me are met with confused stares. I try my best to moderate my language but sometimes things are unexpected, and for a few instances I hate the American version and refuse to use it! Some examples, I will never call underwear, panties (EW!!), and trousers will not be pants, pants are underwear. Others I just never get used to, crisps and chips, I end up referring to either as both and ending up not knowing which way is up! And then there is the unintentional use of the incorrect word, ‘it was only a few pounds…no wait, I mean dollars, arrrgh!’

Another thing which is more surprising to me about the American use of English is that, by and large in my experience so far (just short of a year), it is far more polite. No one ever says they are going to the toilet, (or the loo!), they are always going to the bathroom…at work…you know there isn’t a bath in there right?! Saying bathroom doesn’t make me believe you are doing anything other than using the toilet…! And I don’t think I have ever heard an American swear, which I find hard, I swear a lot, maybe too much, and Danes swear a lot, so I am used to doing so and hearing it, I miss swearing!

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Swearing rules!

Anyway, back to my point, the longer I live in America, the more I feel I lose part of myself. I love living in America, but the loss of my accent, my colloquialisms, and fun expressions that never seemed anything other than mundane previously, upsets me. I never realised how much of our identity is tied into our use of language. And I live in a country where people technically speak the exact same language as me…I cannot imagine moving to a culture where the language was completely alien. I did so in Denmark, but everyone there speaks such good English and I quickly learnt to read signs, instructions and basic necessary terms in Danish that it was oddly never a problem.


I wish I could go back, and retain my accent, be proud of the odd little terms that confused people, but as I said, now when I use a Welsh expression it sounds wrong, odd and forced. Oh well, living in a different culture changes you in many ways…this is just one I didn’t expect!

Literary Love…

In honour of Valentine’s Day lets take a look at some literary lovers. Love, as a mysterious thing, so hard to describe is widely pondered throughout literature. There is a wealth of it to be found in, unrequited love, tragic love, young love, perfect love, confusing love, indescribable love. So here is a look at some romantic couplings, some obvious but hey…all you need is love!

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1. Romeo and Juliet

A classic to begin, what is left to be said about Shakespeare’s ultimate star crossed lovers? Households at war, naive love, tragedy, and loss. Still as beautiful and tragic as it was when it was written, there is a reason they are still held up as the pinnacle of romantic love. Even if their being teenagers makes it a bit creepy to the modern mind!

Best moment –  A long one!
Juliet. Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
Romeo. It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
Juliet. Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I:
It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
Therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone.
Romeo. Let me be ta’en, let me be put to death;
I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye,
‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow;
Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat
The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
I have more care to stay than will to go:
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.
How is’t, my soul? let’s talk; it is not day.

2. Catherine Barkley and Lieutenant Frederic Henry

Ernest Hemingway might not be the obvious choice when it comes to love, but Frederic and Catherine’s war torn romance, another tragedy (what does this say about me that so far all my choices are tragedies?!) is so beautifully sad and desperate. The need to cling to something, anything, just to make it through the utter annihilation of WWI is utterly heartbreaking. And try getting to the ending and not sobbing your eyes out.

Best moment – a moment which epitomizes the clinging desperation of their love

“Will you be away a long time?” Catherine asked. She looked lovely in bed. “Would you hand me the brush?”

I watched her brushing her hair, holding her head so the weight of her hair all came on one side. It was dark outside and the light over the head of the bed shone on her hair and her neck and her shoulders. I went over and kissed her and held her hand with the brush and her head fell back on the pillow. I kissed her neck and shoulders. I felt faint with loving her so much.

“I don’t want to go away.”

“I don’t want you to go away.”

“I won’t go then.”

“Yes. Go. It’s only for a little while and then you’ll come back.”

“We’ll have dinner up here.”

“Hurry and come back.”

3. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy

Another classic but Austen’s literary lovers in Pride and Prejudice and their journey to love is wonderful. The errors, the pride, the prejudice, and of course, the happy ending.

Best moment – Darcy declares his love (doesn’t hurt to picture Colin Firth saying it either!)

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority — of its being a degradation — of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.

4. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester

I know, I know, another classic, I am obviously a complete sap for the classics, sigh! Jane overcomes so much, and despite her utter heartbreak at the hand of Rochester, eventually returns to him, blinded in the rotting corpse of what once was Thornfield Hall. But she returns to him and they live happily ever after…well it is Bronte after all, it isn’t going to be all sunshine and roses!

Best moment 

“I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”

5. Wesley and Buttercup 

Fairytale romance, utterly hilarious, and a cast of fantastic characters rounding out the wonderful The Princess Bride.

Best moment – there really can be only one, Wesley’s coded declaration of love

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“As you wish.”

That was all he ever answered. “As you wish.” Fetch that, Farm Boy. “As you wish.” Dry this, Farm Boy. “As you wish.”

6. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar

A forbidden love set among the vast sweeping landscapes of Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain. Tragic, raw, and beautiful, another one to read if you don’t mind shedding a tear or a thousand. A moment has never broken my heart like this one can…a final act of love, when it is already too late.

Best moment

The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeve’s carefully worked down into Jack’s sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own, two skins, one inside the other, the pair like two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.

 

Broken Promises.

Look I know we’ve been here before, I won’t deny it, we’ve all made mistakes, words were forgotten and promises broken.  But I swear this time things will be different…I promise?!


 

So I know, I know, I know I said this time would be different, I’d keep on top of posting and for a little while there it really looked like I was going to.  But who knew completing my MA, moving across the globe, and starting a new career would be so tiring! I started writing and editing for Life in the Bay a great expat blog which I am hugely enjoying, as well as starting a new job which actually involves writing and editorial work! It has been a good and busy few months.

But this has all meant of course, less reading, and less writing. I have a million and one half written posts, and even more ideas. So now that I am settling into more of a rhythm in my new life I am going to try to get back to it.


Currently reading: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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This has been an interesting experience. I read these first time round, and only time so far, as they came out. So there is a strange bittersweet nostalgia to re-reading them. It’s not that they have lost any of their magic, but I remember the total love and astonishment and amazement I felt first time around. And whilst I still love them, knowing what is coming, and all the hype which surrounds the now far too vast franchise does take something away from them. I remember enjoying the later entries in the series more anyway, so perhaps when I get there I will find some more of that magic and sparkle.

Don’t get me wrong, I am really enjoying finally giving it a second go, I just guess I wish it was all still new to me.

 

NSFW: Sexless Sex.

I have absolutely no problem with sex in literature. Apart from, I HATE sex in literature. I get that it is totally necessary, but it’s just all so, unnecessary. 

Let me explain. I have no problem with sex, at all, but it is just so rare to find a depiction in literature that does not make me cringe in some way. There are of course better and worse examples, but for me almost all are just a bit awkward and weird. I got to thinking about this after reading an article at The Guardian – Five of the Sexiest Sex Scenes in Literature – and could not have agreed more with this statement.

Here’s my theory: just as the most effective horror movies leave the horror unvisualised (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity etc), the best sex scenes are ones that leave the sex undescribed, so you can do the imaginative work.

For me sex in literature falls into one of three categories:-

Clinical

The problem with these sex scenes is that they are so mechanical, a clinical description of a scientific act. Now this is all fine, in a manual of some kind, but in literature is just strange and jarring. The bizarre use of anatomical words whilst people are supposedly in the act just makes for awful reading, who thinks like that whilst having sex? I admit, that the example I am using is not something I have read…and for that I shall be eternally grateful!

And inside the door of her womb she felt her inner organs and tissues, all her muscles and glands, felt them roll, squeeze, squeeze, and roll, and felt that every inch of her whole being stretched, reached, felt out, felt in, felt all around the shape of his penis. So magnified and so keen were her feelings that her inner nerves could even feel the bumps, the ridges, the pimples, the few stray hairs along the shaft of his male rod. – Woody Guthrie

The door of her womb?! Nominated for the (in)famous Bad Sex in Fiction award 2013 – there is really only one thing which can be said – WHY?!?!

I feel like the utter horror of reading these words will leave a lasting scar upon my conciousness!

Metaphorical

Fear

There is nothing wrong with flowery language and I appreciate a truly novel and beautiful description as much as anyone. But when it comes to sex it is just a bit weird.

Her mouth was intensely ovoid, an almond mouth, of citrus crescents. And under that sling, her breasts were like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop – Psalms were about to pour out of me. – Erica Jong – A Fear of Dying

I’m sorry, but what? Her boobs were like young fawns??!? How? In what possible way? Bizarre! This is another of Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction nominees, this time for 2015. I am intentionally picking the worst possible examples to illustrate my point! But just…what?!

There are however times when this does work, in older works where perhaps things could not be presented in the same way as they are now it is understandable that a clever use of language may be needed to disguise the act of sex. Or if the way in which it is described is key to the plot then it can work. One of my favourite examples is Iago’s description of sex in Othello as ‘making the beast with two backs.’ Such a strong image, but there is a reason for it, he is attempting to garner a reaction and such a visceral image will do just that. But generally, its a no from me!

Cringe worthy 

Fifty

This can cover two things, so poorly written you wonder if the author has ever had sex/knows what it is. Or so described by the character as to make you wonder if they should be having sex. My example here is the much derided, and so perhaps far too easy to target, Fifty Shade of Grey trilogy. Which admirably manages to smash its way into both of those categories. This novel is so poorly written as to be laughable in many places, and the sex is no exception. And I know that the main character Ana is supposed to be a virgin and as such naive about sex…but when she constantly, in her own thoughts, refers to her own genitalia as ‘down there’ all I can feel is she should definitely not be having sex. Many books do this, his thing, down there…and so on. If the character was speaking out loud, and perhaps a giggly inexperienced teenager fair enough. Ana here is a grown woman, experiencing sex, and cannot even in her own mind think the word vagina…poor writing.


Sex in literature is totally necessary, and is often key to plots and characters developments, and so I have no issue with its presence. But for me it is definitely a show not tell situation, what is left unsaid, alluded to, or built up to without needing to be explicit works far better. Once you start describing the specifics things just start to get a bit awkward. There is one person who does sex well in my opinion, and that is because he approaches it with humor. Chaucer – sex is supposed to be fun, and he makes it fun!

What are you thoughts on sex in literature/fiction?

100 Followers!

Today I reached the milestone of 100 followers! Thank you all so much for following, I really appreciate it and I love all the interactions and comments from you guys, makes me feel really good to hear your thoughts and know that you are enjoying the things I post!

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Photo via Visual Hunt

 

Books, words, and reading are such huge passions of mine and I am so happy to be able to share that with so many people who have the same love for literature and language.

Keep reading, keep commenting, let me know what you like or don’t like, want to see more of or less of.

Review: ‘Melody Bittersweet and The Girls’ Ghostbusting Agency’ by Kitty French

So breaking myself back into posting regularly with a review – this book was received through Netgalley in exchange for a review – this in no way affects the honesty with which I will approach this review.

I was really looking forward to this one and I like to give an in depth view on a book so there will be SPOILERS! Read as far as the rating and outline for a brief idea without ruining the plot!


 

The Book:

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The Author: Kitty French

Star Rating: 4/5

Outline: Melody Bittersweet has reached the grand old age(!) of twenty seven with little to show for it. So she decides now is the time to break out from the family business and set up her own ghostbusting agency, with her inherited talent (only a spoiler if you don’t read past about the 3rd page) for the psychic/ghost seeing abilities.

The Good: This book was funny…actually funny! Whenever I read a book that claims to be funny I am inevitably disappointed, so whilst I felt from the premise that this was a book I would enjoy, I wasn’t so sure I’d find it that way, but it really was. Despite what I say in the ugly part of this review, there was something inherently British about the humour, the use of language, and the swearing…I find (apologies if I am wrong) in my experience at least, that Americans are far more squeamish about instances of potty mouth and I am constantly toning down my foul language because of that, so, I found it weirdly comforting. Now I am not saying that this book is full of filthy foul language, but its occasional use felt believable and relevant.

‘Jesus, Artie, lower her down a bit! You’re not tossing a fucking caber!’ 

The little details make a book and I liked the idiosyncrasies of the characters, Artie’s pet python Pandora, Marina, Sicilian glamour puss/snooker aficionado, and Melody herself, epic fantasist of a very specific taste…superheroes. Whilst that last one was perhaps slightly overused, it was amusing and made the characters more real…we all have our things, as Melody herself points out.

Emotions – I wasn’t expecting it for a…what shall we call it paranormal/mystery/romance/comedy…but there were at least two points where I had a little bit of a blurry eye…though I’ve been known to cry watching Eastenders (I HATE Eastenders)!

The Bad: The mystery, now don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this aspect of the novel, I liked the ghosts and learning about them, and I really liked how only Melody, for the most part, could interact with them and had to relay information. However, it was very obvious from the get go who the ‘bad guy’ was. I enjoyed the unearthing of, and the solving of the crime, I just wish that who/what was going on had been less obvious, but it is the first book in the series so maybe this aspect of the books will get better.

Leo Dark – UGH. Did not like, do not want more of. That is all.

The Ugly: This is probably a just me thing, but I cannot abide books where every body is unbelievably attractive, floppy haired, sparkly eyed, beautiful, effortless, chic, and so on and so on. The heroine here, as in so many similar books, describes herself in ordinary terms, short, dark hair, unremarkable, but every eligible male, with, and without, a pulse is hurling themselves at her…yawn, sorry not believable. And further, again on the same it is probably just me point, I find it even harder to believe when it is set in small town Britain. I’m not saying there aren’t attractive people in the UK, but I’ve lived in a lot of small towns and I’ve never seen all of these preternaturally attractive people. It gave me this weird sense of reading an American book set in the UK somehow…as if it should be LA instead. As I say not necessarily that ugly, but a real turn off and pet peeve to me!


Summary: This was a book which when I requested it on Netgalley I really wanted to get my hands on. As such I was pretty worried that it might not meet my expectations, but for the most part it did. I genuinely enjoyed it, and I read it in only one afternoon, what with the thesis being over and all. It was funny in parts, moving in parts, and a bit sexy in other parts.

I liked the characters and really felt like the little details coloured them in and I am looking forward to learning more about them in later instalments. This refers to the main characters Melody, Marina, and Artie. Side characters Fletcher, Grandma Dicey and Mother Silvana were good too, though I think if they continue with Mum and Grandma being so present, they maybe need a bit more of a secondary story line of their own, they felt well drawn but under-utilised. Everyone being so overly beautiful was a real sticking point for me, and I might have gone wild and given it 4.5 stars had it not been for that, but this is probably a personal thing. LEO DARK – was an utter frustration for me, ex-boyfriend of Melody and fellow ghost seer. Was I supposed to like him? I don’t know! Between the love interests of Leo, Fletch, and dead Douglas…I’d choose all over Leo. He was an obnoxious caricature and I was a bit annoyed there was no overall resolution to this story, seems like he will be hanging around, shame!

I enjoyed the language style and was surprised that the billing of the book as funny turned out to be true. I was a little disappointed in the mystery side of things, whilst the mystery’s parts were all there, the solve was obvious and so I hoped it’d flip it on its head, it didn’t. 

This was a light read spanning romance, mystery, paranormal, and humour, but a thoroughly enjoyable one.

Bonus points – The definitely two-eared, mad, lazy Pug called Lestat!

Freedom! Dystopia. &  Normal Service Resumes

So, Sunday was thesis deadline day, I managed to hand it in on Friday and took a few days off to recover! Now I am back and will be updating a bit more regularly. Here is a bit on my thesis and the writing of it:

Thesis 1

The final week = edit, edit, editing!


Writing the thesis was a pretty interesting process, I have never written such a long piece of non-fiction before. My subject was freedom in dystopian literature – specifically Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The basic premise being that though dystopian literature by definition is a reaction to the contemporaneous world of the author, it retains relevance and understanding through the ever present themes of freedom, free will and liberty.

Of course I have written a lot of papers over my studies but I think the reason I enjoyed the process as much as I did is because I love the books so much. The first part of the process, as with any paper I write (after reading the novels, of course) is research, research and more research. This is normally the most tiresome part, though I love the literature and getting a more in depth perspective on it some of the writing on it can be shall we say…pretty dry! But with these novels I thoroughly enjoyed this, being able to really pick apart the books and get down to such a detailed level, and having such a large word count to meet, meant no constraints on my research. So often I have to curtail my research and narrow my focus so much more as the paper required is so short, here I didn’t need to do that and I was in my element…!

For a lot of people these books are so bleak and dark that they cannot understand my passion for them, firstly, Nineteen Eighty-Four The Handmaid’s Tale particularly are just so well written that even with such depressing subject matter they are worth reading. And secondly for me, it is this presence of hope which makes the books worthwhile.

Thesis 2

Submission Time!

If the books were truly so dark, why would freedom, and the pursuit of freedom always be so present as a theme? Yes, these attempts to gain freedom, more often than not, fail. But someone tried, someone hoped enough, even in such bleak prospects, that freedom could be gained. The authors write these books as a prophetic warning, a warning which would not be worth giving if there was no hope of freedom from the chosen constraints was possible.


Nineteen Eighty-Four is probably my all time favourite book, with one of the best opening lines, and most heart wrenching endings in literature. If you haven’t read it, what have you been doing? Prepare yourself for that ending though…every time I get there it is like a knife through the heart.


“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen…” – George Orwell