Four Novels that Deal with Mental Illness

From the 8th – 14th May 2017, it is Mental Health Awareness Week. As someone who has experienced a variety of mental health problems in different people, I’ve come to understand people better and to learn to be more aware of their mental health. It’s not something that affects a minority. It affects us all, just like any other illness. And this week exists to highlight the importance of this.MHAW

As a writer, I’d consider myself widely read. I’ve come into so many different genres of, and what I enjoy about reading is the fact that they can say anything about everything. I’ve discovered novels that highlight what it’s like living with depression or anxiety, and tell individual stories that we can look at and realise what it’s like for other people finding their place in the world, so we’re not on our own finding ours.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was given to me by my brother when I was 17. It was and it stuck with me for a long time. It’s the story of Charlie, a shy, awkward 16 year old boy, who has just moved to a new town where he has no friends. It’s an epistolary novel, told in the form of letters (‘Dear friend…’), which gives the narrative a very solemn and personal feel. The book deals with loneliness and making new friends and relationships. It highlights a normal teenage boy’s life, and how things can escalate very quickly at that age. There are bad decisions, heartbreak and a deeper sadness, which feels like he’s opening up to you – the reader – that gives an almost uneasy feel, but nonetheless, quite empowering. The novel’s subject matter of suicide is handled very well and conveys the real reactions of other people. The book is saying this is depression, this is suicide, this is why it happened.

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is one of those books you hear about because it’s a famous title and almost everyone has read it. Similar to Perks, it portrays a lonely teenage boy in college. The thing about this book is its introspection and Holden’s (the narrator), attitude. He has a negative attitude about people. He seems like an arrogant, whiny boy who hasn’t a nice thing to say about anyone. But really, his attitude is a projection of his internal frustrations: growing up and becoming a man. He just doesn’t want to because he’s scared. Holden becomes increasingly depressed and is unable to express his feelings to anyone – at one point, getting a prostitute and only wanting to talk. Holden hears a boy singling: “If a body catch a body coming through the rye,” from the Robert Burns poem. When Holden feels he can talk to his sister, he tells her of a fantasy he has, where there are children running through a rye field near a cliff, and it’s his job to catch them if they fall. I think this is Holden’s hope of never having to grow up and leave his childhood, to enter adulthood and become that which he doesn’t want to be, but knowing its inevitable, so he selflessly imagines he could save other children from losing their innocence.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is an incredible novel about depression, suicide and relationships. It’s the story of a teenage boy called Toru Watanabe who, after the suicide of his friend, 17 year old Kizuki, begins a sexual relationship with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko. Naoko suddenly leaves for a sanatorium, leaving Toru to handle things on his own. Toru meets a girl called Midori, with whom he has a relationship with. Later, we learn that Naoko had been dealing with depression following the sudden suicide of her sister several years ago. The story is about dealing with depression and suicide, while forming relationships in order to cope. When Toru wants to be in love with Midori, she asks him ‘Where are you now?’ forcing him to make up his own mind, be strong, and have an understanding where his own mind is. It’s a story about how easily we can fall apart, but how easily we can build ourselves up again.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace is about boredom. It’s about a numbness. It’s about depression. It’s about nothing. Wallace was very clever, he put himself in the book, as the author talking to the reader, just his way to make the reader laugh. The book was published posthumously, not properly finished or properly drafted, and ended almost abruptly. It’s about employees at the Inland Revenue Service in Illinois in 1985. It portrays boredom to the extent its purposefully bland and uninteresting. But it’s funny. Wallace had a talent to describe exactly what it’s like to be depressed but to show that there is humour in everything. Tragically, in 2008, David Foster Wallace committed suicide. He often wrote about this subject using humour and irony and wanted to portray how he felt while telling a joke.

These books have stuck with me since I read them. They show insights into different perspectives. The importance of seeing different perspectives is to make everyone think and realise that mental illness exists, but the stigma that exists means people hide it away.

I’ve known women suffering with mental illness who’ve been brushed aside as having ‘women’s problems’ and men who don’t open up at all because men shouldn’t express their emotions. And this just isn’t true. It’s important that the stigma that comes with mental health disappears and it’s soon seen as any other illness.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, everyone should be more open and understanding. Instead of keeping things to yourself, talk to someone you know and trust or call the Samaritans for free to talk to someone over the phone.

20 Books That Inspired Me As A Writer

This is a list of 20 books that have had some sort of major impact on me as a writer.

20. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

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I read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was about 16 or 17. I was in school and back then I wasn’t much of a reader. I was drawn to this book because I’d not read what I’d later understand as speculative fiction. I liked that kind of story – it wasn’t the everyday life stories nor was it the typical science fiction – this was in the middle and it peaked my interest. It was the kind of fiction I’d later read in Children of Men, 1984, and Brave New World. It was fiction my young mind liked because it was using the imagination in a way I’d not seen before.

 

 

 

19. The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus

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The first non-fiction book on this list is The Myth of Sisyphus, which I read when I was about 24. A workmate of mine told me about Camus. I’d not heard of him, but he told me I’d like his work. He leant me his copy (which I still have to this day) and it was non-fiction. I wasn’t used to reading non-fiction. I thought I was only supposed to read fiction since I wrote fiction. It was a very interesting take on existentialism and life itself from an almost individual point of view. Sisyphus was punished to push a boulder up a hill until it fell back down and he did it again like pointless work. As a worker, I became miserable. But ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’

 

 

18. Last Evenings on Earth – Roberto Bolano

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The first collection of short stories is Roberto Bolano’s Last Evenings on Earth. I knew of Bolano from 2666, but his short stories stuck with me. I particularly remember the poignancy of Bolano’s stories which reminded me of Raymond Carver a bit. The stories The Grub and Anne Moore’s Life are beautiful stories told with a realistic sadness, which I hadn’t seen any other writer do.

 

 

 

17. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

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I read In Cold Blood, another non-fiction book, when I was in school and I was around 15 or 16. I think it was a substitute teacher who gave us a book report assignment. I just took any book from the school library. I loved the detail in the writing. It was non-fiction but it was written like a novel. It made the murder-case sound like fiction, but the whole thing was true, which made it much more frightening. I kept the book from the library (there are worse things a teenage boy could have done) and I still have it to this day.

 

 

16. Love is a Dog from Hell – Charles Bukowski

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The first poetry collection on the list is Love is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski. My creative writing tutor at the University of Central Lancashire told me about Bukowski, said I’d like his work since I was at the beginning stages of my writing life and was trying these transgressive type stories. I loved Bukowski’s novels, but I found his poetry much more accessible. They are very simple, sometimes unpoetic, as though giving a middle finger to the elite. But the reason his poetry is good is how mundane and trivial and yet they have such a lovely sadness that’s completely heartbreaking in his own alcoholism.

 

 

 

15. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist was probably the first book I had to read when I was at university. I was about 19 and was taking it seriously and I got right into the story. Dickens’ style of writing tells a good story with the ability to connect different characters for certain reasons. Oliver Twist showed me a person’s life story can work into a novel. It also showed me how bad things can happen to good people, which happens in life and makes good drama.

 

 

14. White Teeth – Zadie Smith

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I think Zadie Smith is one of the best writers going today. Her first novel, White Teeth, is on this list because of how the writing style has so much going on at once, so much detail, with a subtle darkness. Smith writes well with intertwining character plots, showing how you can write separate lives for separate characters. I love the British style of pathos and humour, something I strive to do as well.

 

 

13. Hamlet – William Shakespeare

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The only play on this list is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I never actually studied Hamlet in school, college or university. But I was always intrigued by Hamlet so I thought I’d give it a go. I won’t lie, it was a little strange to read a Shakespeare play in my own time and not academically. I’m glad I did. Hamlet is an incredible story of revenge, tragedy and even some existentialism. It gave me some inspiration for my first novel, too.

 

 

 

12. The Colossus – Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath has been a huge influence in powerful imagery. I’ve always thought she was someone who had a lot to say about her life and wasn’t afraid to say it. I read The Colossus while in university when I was about 20, I’ve read her other books, but this one has stuck with me. I still flick through the pages of my copy, looking at how she uses description like no one else, as though she’s invented the very practice of describing. Her words are filled with more and more meaning, which I admire.

 

 

 

11. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

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I read Frankenstein during university in 2006. I thought it would be good to read this, but I wasn’t expecting much, because of the Hollywood idea of Frankenstein. But after I read it, I think it’s one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever read. The whole horror icon of Frankenstein took something away from it, I think. It’s a story of existence and finding your place in a world where you don’t belong. After Frankenstein’s Monster is created from body parts, he becomes self-aware and educates himself with books. He just wants to fit in, but realises he is frightening to look at. He then questions whether he has a soul or not. He questions his entire existence. He just wants to be accepted and know what he’s supposed to be.

 

 

10. Trilobites and Other Stories – Breece D’J Pancake

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Another short story collection is Trilobites and Other Stories. I was attracted to the wolf on the book cover and when I read about Pancake I was intrigued. It was the only book he wrote before his suicide at a young age, the reason for which is still unclear. The story that sticks out the most was A Room Forever which is written in a similar simple yet vivid style to Hemingway. It is written in such a way that it hurt me to know that, yes, these things happen in life.

 

 

 

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Steven Chbosky

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I was becoming a better reader when I was about 18. I’d begun writing poetry and short stories more often and I’d found an interest in books. My brother’s friend from America came to visit him one summer and she gave him The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He’d noticed I was becoming bookish so he gave it to me to read. I loved it. I related to the narrator, Charlie, a lot. It’s an epistolary novel, so it’s written in the form of letters to his friend. Charlie was was going through a sad, depressive time while young as well, and I took a comfort in that. My brother knew how much I liked it and he bought me my own copy later on.

 

 

8. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

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I read A Clockwork Orange when I was about 23. I made the effort to read more widely and I’d seen the film A Clockwork Orange so I thought I’d read it too. I didn’t realise how it would blow me away with its use of language. Written in a made-up slang, Nadsat, it’s difficult to read but it all falls into place as you read it. I’d not seen such creativity and it opened my mind to the freedom you can have with language.

 

 

 

7. IT – Stephen King

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Stephen King’s novels are very accessible, but IT stayed with me because of the depth it goes into. It’s more than a horror story. It goes into such detail with each of the character’s relationships and lives. There’s a history since we see both their childhood and adulthoods and also the history of the town. This book opened me up to how you can use fictional histories as though they were real to make up a world in itself. It also showed me how children work well as characters – something I’d use in my first novel.

 

 

6. Generation X – Douglas Coupland

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Generation X is, to me, a defining novel of characters and society. I remember its bright pink cover in the shop and I was drawn to it. I just loved the disenchanted tone of the characters and I liked how they disliked society. I thought it was kind of funny that fictional characters could be so cynical. I’ve always remembered how the three characters drove out the the desert and started telling each other stories, which still inspires me today when I have a character tell his own story within the story.

 

 

 

5. Ulysses – James Joyce

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The same tutor from UCLan who told me to read Bukowski also told me to read Joyce. I suppose he saw I was trying different things with language and Joyce was the master at this. Ulysses is a difficult read because of the stream of consciousness narrative which throws words in here and there. But this kind of narrative falls into place as you read it, as it’s just like internal thought. Joyce was a genius who wrote a seemingly unstructured and chaotic piece of work, which is actually quite structured and filled with enigmas. Ulysses showed me you can play with language and have absolute freedom as the writer.

 

 

4. The Essential Hemingway (Short Stories) – Ernest Hemingway

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I chose, of all Hemingway’s works, his short stories because one in particular had a massive influence in the way I write. Hills Like White Elephants is a simple story about a man and a woman having a conversation at a train station in Spain, waiting for the train. That’s it. All the meaning and story is embedded in their dialogue. The simplicity of it still affects me to this day and almost all of my short stories turned into two people having a conversation about something.

 

 

 

3. Girl With Curious Hair – David Foster Wallace

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The fourth collection of short stories on the list is Girl With Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace. As one of my favourite writers, I could have put all his books in this list but I chose Girl With Curious Hair because I found his use of language, creative descriptions, dark humour and the ability to talk about trivial things for pages without losing interest. I love the talent Wallace had for keep his reader’s attention and I often use my copy as a reference book, flick through it and figure out how to construct good sentences.

 

 

 

2. Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

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Okay, I chose another David Foster Wallace book. Infinite Jest is on the list because I find it to be a work of genius. It took me a long time to get through it but it was worth it to read a story in so much detail with almost mathematical plot connections. This book showed me what you can do with skill as a writer, and that you can put so much of yourself into your work. Infinite Jest is inspiring in its ambition but also the fictional universe it creates.

 

 

 

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

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The book that has had a major impact on my writing is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. This book inspired my first book in a way no other has. Murakami’s characters are the kind of characters I’d love to have written – they’re weird, cool, mysterious and funny. The story doesn’t stay in a straight line either. The digressions are interesting but they even add up to something and a have a point. For this reason, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of the best books I’ve read.

 

Review: Pixies – Head Carrier

head_carrier_pixiesThe Pixies are a special band, being the major component to 90s alt rock and the catalyst to the grunge music scene two decades ago. What made them plunge into the hearts of rock-loving fans were their two magnum opus’s: Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. This is only what their new album, Head Carrier cannot be, but what it can be is the sixth studio album of the Pixies, a band so major it’s hard to fathom the influence they’ve had.

The three singles, released before the album’s release, Talent, Tenement Song and Um Chagga Lagga had us on the edge of our seats with the distinct return to their well-known strong melodic rhythms, especially in Talent with Black’s murky speaking tone and elevated singing voice. Then the memorable, head-nodding choral music of Tenement Song. Um Chagga Lagga is a fun, quick-tempo song with dirty out-of-time noise rock mixed with Black’s nonsensical shouting that’s nicely acquainted with new bassist, Paz Lenchantin’s vocals.

“It has characteristics of their old stuff

with the sound of where they are now.”

Head Carrier is a new turn to the old, after the so-so reviews of 2014’s comeback, Indie Cindy. It’s a more controlled return to style and form, lyrically haunting and slick, loud melodies of Joey Santiago’s guitar and a consistent grunge thump of Lovering’s drumming. Paz brings a new, much-missed charm, taking the baton from Kim Deal with ease – with Might As Well Be Gone acting as a sort of ode to Deal: ‘You’re the chosen one, but I could use a change.’ All I Think About Now, written and sung by Paz Lenchantin, is a direct thank you to Deal, sounding like her own version of Where Is My Mind?

Black gets back to his unmistakeable and characteristic screaming in Baal’s Back and ends the album with an almost Bossanova feel with All the Saints. Of course it’s difficult to compare this album to their past achievements, but this is still the Pixies, changing but somehow sticking to their guns. It has the characteristics of their old stuff with the sound of where they are now.

Head Carrier was released 30th September 2016

The Netflix Era – Are We In The Golden Age Of Television?

I’m not one to watch much television, not since I was a kid when I watched cartoons every morning and afternoon after school. But as an adult I just either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to give my time to something like that. I’d watch films, listen to music and read books. But TV? No. Not my thing. But in the last few years I’ve found myself watching more and more programmes, not just watching them but being engrossed in them. I never used to. Why is this? It must be a golden age of television, especially due to this Netflix era.

Breaking-BadIn 2013 Breaking Bad aired its final season. One of my workmates had told me to watch it and as usual I said I probably would but knew I wouldn’t. I just didn’t want to. I had no interest in it. I didn’t know what Breaking Bad was but I knew the name and I’d seen pictures of the characters in those hazmat suits. But to me, television programmes were inferior to films. The writing and directing were poor and were just something to watch to pass the time. ‘No, you’ll love it. It’s really dark. Just give it a try.’ So I did, reluctantly, I’ll admit. And I loved it. I watched every episode until I caught up to the final season which was currently being aired. I didn’t know TV could be so good, so cinematic. Where had this come from?

I remember when Netflix was just this website where you could rent DVDs like Blockbuster, but you did it all online and got the DVD in the post. It was a fun novelty that wore off when DVDs began to decline. In 2011, Netflix split the subscription in two: DVD rental and online streaming. In 2013, Netflix aired its first original series, House of Cards.house-of-cards-kevin-spacey In its initial conception, it was aimed at various networks as AMC and HBO, but Netflix outbid them, looking for it own original content. With big names for the online streaming service’s first original series, as Kevin Spacey, it was bound to do well. Produced and initially directed by David Fincher, he’d said he was interested in television because of its long-form nature. Adding that working in film does not allow for complex characterisations the way that television allows

“I felt for the past ten years that the best writing that was happening for actors was happening in television. And so I had been looking to do something that was longer form.”

David Fincher

House of Cards has been Netflix’s most popular series with the first three seasons put together with 6.4% of subscribers watching it in March 2015. However, with other original series being aired constantly, it’s easy to see them having a very consistent good quality. Daredevil (Netflix’s deal with Marvel) had 10.7% of viewers by its 11th day on Netflix. (By comparison, the third season of House of Cards had 6.5% of viewers over its first month). Even Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt beat House of Cards with 7.3% in its first month. But it shows the consistent choice and quality producing and writing has created a new space for creators to make new drama, comedy, and action programmes that are likened to the quality of cinema.netflix-ratings

But hasn’t there already been a Golden Age of Television? It was considered to have been from the 1950s until 1960 with programmes such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. But the difference is a Golden Age and a Genesis of TV, as in those times TV was just getting started. And each decade after spawned new, quality viewing for different audiences.

I was born in 1985 and I remember, other than the cartoons, such programmes as Mork and Mindy, MASH, Happy Days and Roseanne. Then I grew up in the 90s and watched The Simpsons, The X Files, Married with Children, Friends and Saved by the Bell. happy-days-1Surely, wouldn’t this be the Golden Age? The 90s was the MTV generation – full of teenage angst, punk rock and grunge – when young people were more in control of TV then ever before. I think this created a vastness in television viewing that caused a ripple effect in subsequent audiences and creators. This kind of control led to an alternative in quality. No longer formal tripe, it was fun, informal and pushing the boundaries. What creativity was meant for.

The reason the most recent generation is the Golden Age for Television (probably from 2011 – 2013) is that the focus for television programming is good quality filming and writing that tells good, cinematic stories over and over again.

“TV has really taken control of the conversation that used to be the reserve of movies. It’s sort of a second golden age of television, which is great for the viewers. … If you like your stories to go narrow and deep, TV is exciting.”

Steven Soderbergh

Where these programmes at 12 – 24 episodes per season can tell a story slowly and calmly with ease, a film only has two hours to resolve conflict. It seems that the ability and controlled creativity to do these types of programmes is overlapping with filmmaking. Where in filmmaking it consists of development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution, Netflix seems to have eased the necessity of this, mainly in distribution, since it’s only going to one place and each episode is uploaded all at once.

With Apple TV, Xbox, Smart TVs, and Amazon Prime competing, the mere fact that there is competition shows the huge increase in demand for this sort of programming. Even Amazon Prime have begun the hunt for original series, such as Mr Robot. And with shows on Netflix such as Better Call Saul, True Detective, Fargo, and Narcos there is more and more choice, and are even winning awards the way films normally would. I was mesmerised by the acting and story in both True Detective and Fargo, Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman in the latter were incredible to say the least. TrueDetectiveDVDCoverBut with excess comes waste as some viewers says they are now overwhelmed by the choice in programmes to watch. And because they are of such high quality, it becomes a burden to not watch them. There will be so much being produced that a number will be left unwatched. Great TV requires great content, and scripted television series are expensive to produce. This is a problem for Netflix’s competitors, as Netflix have already dominated the market and made sure they acquire licenses from traditional studios, to make money.

Where programmes were mainly comedy-based, we saw the likes of sitcoms surge in popularity through the 80s and 90s. The early 2000s saw an increase in drama/action with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias. I think from this we can see the newer programmes being aired from 2013 onwards have been drama-based, revealing great acting, writing and directing. Being an online service, the ease of distribution allows more to be produced, such as comedies like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, animated shows like BoJack Horseman, and even films like Beasts of No Nation.

I think this is the age for great quality content and it’s also a good time for creatives. It’s another doorway for writers and directors to get their own work recognised. Netflix, right now, is dominating the online streaming market for quality programming. It’s giving other studios and networks the idea that consumers want these types of shows, and that investment works. It’s saying ‘We’ll take the risk on this show, hey look how successful it is,’ and others follow. Stranger Things, Netflix’s newest and recently popular show, was apparently rejected from 15 networks before being taken on by Netflix. It’s saying these are the stories people can tell, lets invest in them and show the world an amazing show, which is sure to last as there are plenty of stories to be told.

Never Let Me Go – One Of The Most Beautiful Novels Ever Written?

Never_Let_Me_GoI read Never Let Me Go several years ago when I saw it in a bookshop and just decided to get it. I’d heard of it, it must have been around the time the film came out in 2010 so it was one of those books people were talking about. I was on my Masters back then, so I had to read what the others were talking about. To me, Never Let Me Go is one of the most beautiful novels ever written. The story is timeless as well as genreless and depicts perfectly the shortness of life and the tragedy of love.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a British-Japanese writer, born in Nagasaki in 1954 and moved to Surrey in 1960 so his father could begin research at the National Institute of Oceanography. Ishiguro then studied English and Philosophy at the University of Kent and an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Never Let Me Go, his sixth novel, has been difficult to put in a set genre by critics. It’s set in 1990s England with qualities of conceptual science fiction. The way this subverts the genre is how subtle the concepts are written, as the story pertains to the old fashioned English countryside (not dissimilar to Ishiguro’s 1989 novel The Remains of the Day). It’s speculative fiction, as it places the normal English setting in a world where people can live well over 100 years old due to advances in medical science. The three main characters – Kathy, Tommy and Ruth – grow up in a boarding school called Hailsham. All the children there are clones who will live short lives in order to donate their vital organs to normal humans. The subtlety in which this is done is so startlingly well done that the science fiction drops out of its own speculation and the rest of the focus is on the characters as a love story.

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Carrey Mulligan as Kathy, Keira Knightly as Ruth, Andrew Garfield as Tommy

The fact that, from an early age, the children are indoctrinated at Hailsham, they will, of course, try to be free once they find out the truth. What makes it strange is, similar to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, they sort of know who and what they are, they just don’t understand or cannot comprehend it. The story is narrated by Kathy who falls in love with Tommy from an early age. Her friend, Ruth, then manipulates him and as they grow older, Tommy and Ruth form a relationship, breaking Kathy’s heart. The three of them leave Hailsham at 16 to a residential complex called The Cottages. Here they make contact with the rest of the world. I think that the idea that they’ll soon die – that they know they’ll soon die – and at a young age, depicts their own self-sacrifice for humanity to survive. For others to survive rather than themselves. That they passively allow this is not only a commendable quality but also frightening in its own way. But the whole time Kathy is in love with Tommy. And to still tragically fall in love while their lives are merely medical devices for other real people (‘possibles’ or ‘originals’ from the film) shows just how painful human life can be. Not being who you are, still feeling love, but having to die for them. If I imagine Tommy’s organs going to the original Kathy – if he is a clone of himself and he must die to donate his organs, then this, to the woman he loves, must be the ultimate show of love through self-sacrifice.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I think, is one of the most interesting stories, had Hollywood not made out that it’s just a mindless horror story. Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyFrankenstein’s Monster escapes after being created and flees to the mountains, being afraid of people who are afraid of him. He stays in an abandoned structure near a cottage and grows fond of the family living there. He quickly learns to read books and becomes intelligent. He sees his reflection in a pool and sees he is hideous. But he still approaches the family, befriending the father who is blind. The rest of the family see him and run away in terror. Frankenstein’s Monster burns down the cottage in a fit of rage. He cannot understand his own existence and can’t come to terms with being alive. Does he have a soul or not? Who is to dictate who has souls or not? This is why Never Let Me Go is so interesting, the fact that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are merely clones of themselves, somewhere in the world are the real versions of themselves. Ruth, at one point, thinks she’s found her ‘possible’ but it wasn’t. This makes Ruth think maybe they’re just clones of ‘human trash.’ Making them the lowest of the low. Their lives, to them, seem completely meaningless now. They are only to be used as medical devices. They shouldn’t really feel love, but again, who is to dictate who has souls or not?

The existential crisis of the story is the realisation that their lives are so short. It’s sad that they are sort of aware of what they are, but blissfully unaware of what this means. The notion of love implies a longer life because love is ignorant. The closer the three characters get to what is called ‘completing’ or dying, the more urgent it seems they must sort out they’re short lives. Ruth later admits she manipulated Tommy to be with her, as she selfishly didn’t want to be alone, when it was Kathy and Tommy who had been in love all along. There were rumours in Hailsham of a deferral, which means a couple in love could defer completing for about three years, showing how precious life is. But to prove their love they have to show pieces of art. Kathy and Tommy discover this was just a rumour and there never was a deferral – there weren’t art galleries to see into their souls, but to see if they had souls at all.

‘None of you will do anything but live the life that has already been set out for you. You will become adults, but only briefly. You have to know who you are and what you are.’

Miss Emily (Never Let Me Go film)

There is a greater sadness in the novel that moves away from existentialism and focuses more on the relationships of the three characters. I’m drawn to Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and the coming of age, yet tortuous drama of Toru Watanabe.HM-NorwegianWood(UK)Paper He had two friends, Kizuki and Naoko. After Kizuki commits suicide, Toru and Naoko have a short sexual relationship, then Naoko is admitted to an asylum. Toru then meets a girl called Midori and Toru isn’t sure whether he loves her or not, but it takes for the suicide of Naoko for him to understand Midori is the most important person in his life. Tommy, in Never Let Me Go, is an idiot – although he was manipulated – for having a relationship with Ruth from a young age when he knew, as did Kathy, that he and Kathy were in love from the start. What is tragic is that it took so many years, when they’re in the late 20s/early 30s to realise. Ruth ‘completes’ soon after she admits manipulating them. Her death finally pushes Kathy and Tommy together. However, now they have very little time together. The fact that their lives are so short, it emphasises that life itself is, in fact, short. Norwegian Wood ends with Midori asking ‘Where are you now?’ with Toru pondering the question. I think in the whole of Never Let Me Go, Kathy has been pondering the same question. Having met Tommy at a young age and grows up to see him in a relationship with her friend has broken her heart almost completely. That they can be with each other is good, but for such a short time seems pointless. But for the two of them, it was the most important thing to make such short lives complete.

The Myth of Sisyphus by French Philosopher, Albert Camus, examines man’s futile search for meaning in a meaningless world. Does the realisation of this absurdity require suicide? The answer: ‘No. It requires revolt.’ Punishment_sisyphIf we imagine the Greek myth, Sisyphus, who had to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, this represents our daily struggle in a seemingly meaningless life. However, Camus affirms Sisyphus as the absurd hero. Sisyphus is superior to his existence because he endures it, he doesn’t moan or complain, he just gets on with it. The essay concludes with Camus stating: ‘One must imagine that Sisyphus is happy.’ I think in Norwegian Wood it took the suicide of his two friends and the absurdity of life for Toru to finally accept it and admit his love for Midori. And in Never Let Me Go, Kathy, mainly, accepts the absurdity of life and its seeming meaninglessness, and still strives for Tommy’s love. The fact that her life is so short indicates even she is using hers to the full advantage than the rest of humanity living over 100 years old, as she is aware of what little time she has.

For me, Never Let Me Go is one of the most beautiful novels ever written for the shear fact that it created a terrifying existence that seems so possible. The frightening idea of being a clone is to not be who you are. To lose your sense of identity is to lose everything about yourself. Your life, your soul. This story is not only this frightening landscape, but conveys how these people would cope, building relationships and feeling different emotions, those little things that ultimately make us human. Kathy and Tommy, I think, managed to accept this existence the way Frankenstein’s Monster could not and the way Sisyphus could. They had strived to find meaning in a meaningless existence.51

Brexit – Of Course There Was No Plan, They Just Liked The Idea Of It

Last week the UK voted to leave the EU by 52%. Like many Remain voters, I was surprised it came out this way and surprised even more at the statistics showing an overwhelming majority voting Leave in most counties. But it was a referendum which should not have taken place. David Cameron had been pushed time and time again by tradition-loving Nigel Farage – the same man who had quit the UK Independence Party in May 2015 and promised to quit politics once the UK was out of the EU. The fact is, Cameron put forth the referendum for his own political gain, provided the UK vote Remain, which to his dumbfoundment, they didn’t.

But why? The people I’ve spoken to about voting to leave have talked to me about economics, which is a valid, non-bigoted point of view. I was told that the UK wouldn’t leave for another two years, and during then there would be deals set up which could still involve freedom of movement throughout Europe. The European Economic Areas (EEA), such as Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein, all outside of the EU, allows for freedom of movement and participation the the single market. Switzerland is in neither EU or EEA, but works with a series of bilateral agreements, adopting some, not all, of European laws and policies.

The main argument for the Leave campaign was immigration. This unfortunately stirred up tension in society, causing bigotry and hate, due the the current political climate with the war on terror. People are angry and frustrated (a lot of the time anger and frustration don’t act as bigotry) but the fact of the matter is, a lot of people were convinced their vote would lead to illegal immigrants being deported. Since then, racial tensions are high and Muslims and other migrants are being targeted with: ‘What are they still doing here? We voted them out!’brex

Unfortunately, I don’t think people were educated enough before the vote, and even I found more information as soon as the result came in. Directly after the UK voted to leave, Nigel Farage went back on his promises and revealed several lies in his own campaign. One being printed on a bus: ‘We spend £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.’ He could not promise this because it’s simply not true. Given that it is a gross figure of the year 2015, it’s hypothetical because the UK has a 1% of GDP rebate. So 2015 figures show £17.8bn, if you deduct the rebate of £4.9bn you get £248 million a week (recognised by the independent fact-checking organisation Full Facts). Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account money that comes back into the country, as the reason every EU country puts money in is to get something back. In 2015, £4.4bn came back in, which was spent on the private sector, distributed between public bodies and spent on the poorer parts of the UK. So, if you deduct the rebate and the money sent back you end up with £7.1bn – £136 million a week. So voters were mislead, as the campaign used a gross figure with the word “sent” which is a terrible misuse of power, poor judgement, and an outright lie. This money has nothing to do with the NHS, it is money already funding poorer parts of the UK, as we would receive more than we would pay.

A lot of Leave voters have acknowledged this deceit and a petition has been set up for a second referendum with over 4 million signatures from the time of writing. I would normally say it is democracy, and the majority of people have made their minds up, however the amount of lies and lack of information meant a lot of people didn’t know what they were voting for. And we can see this now in so much regret coming from the Leave voters.

It’s a shame the majority of Leave voters were working class, but in retrospect it’s obvious. They are consistently ignored by Parliament and are fed up with austerity cuts and having to struggle day after day to make ends meet. A vote to leave the European Union, to them, sounded good – forget the big businesses, the bankers and all these rich people, forget the EU and put some focus on us instead. But that’s not how it came about, as they will, again, be ignored because they are no longer needed. For a lot of people, their hearts were in the right place, even though it has led to bigotry in the streets, but the reality is no one knows what’s going to happen or what to do. It’s frustrating that these politicians stirred up these racial tentions and now wash their hands of it, having got what they wanted.

Now Brexit has won, David Cameron has stepped down and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – who supported Leave – reveal they have no plan. Of course there was no plan, they just liked the idea of it. Like Farage waving his Union Jack and drinking bitter in the pub, a traditionalist with no substance. They love the idea of being identified with a country and now we have it back. Have our country back? Back from where? We never lost it. I’m not a traditionalist nor a patriot, but I do know that our country’s identity is right here where it’s always been. Nothing has changed except now there is more tension and less money. But that’s okay, we have our country back. Don’t we?

Whatever happens, the media needs to become more impartial to give the correct information and stop scaremongering. Even on social media, people are writing things about doom and gloom before and after the referendum. People are frightened. No one knows what’s happening or what to do. A third of voters don’t think Brexit will even happen. But if it does, there should not be more austerity cuts. Mark Carney, Govenor of the Bank of England, apparently put aside billions of pounds as a precaution in case of a financial crisis. We can try and see how Switzerland and the EEA get by, because it’s possible we won’t fall apart when we do finally accept it. We need to stop scaring each other in an already divided nation.

The Breakfast Club – Comedy, Drama, Psychology

One of the best comedy-drama films ever made is The Breakfast Club. I must have first watched it at university back in 2007 maybe, but it stayed as one of my favourite films.The_Breakfast_Club We all know the charming story of five high school students on Saturday detention – each of them their own stereotype and completely different from the other. The charm comes from how harsh the realities of adolescence are and their awareness of this brings them together. It works so well as a piece of drama, utilising the serious subject matter of depression, suicide, and peer and parental pressures but it couldn’t possibly work as well without the humour. The characters of The Breakfast Club are all stereotypes and this is emphasised in the trailer and movie poster. They are the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal.

They say that, in high school, you’re one of the five Breakfast Club characters (or you can mix them together). I used to say I was a mixture of the brain and the basket case because I was the lame nerd in high school and also the weird one who pretty much didn’t like anyone else. However I think the criminal, played by Judd Nelson, is the best character, and later in my life I began to relate more to him than the others. Not that I was a criminal per se, but that his own problems seemed the most realistic to me, I felt that he had more to give and he was the most real character by far.

There’s an incredible scene where Bender (Nelson) begins acting out a scene about what it’s like at his home. This comes about from his own doing. He’s already been bullying the others, trying to be a tough guy with the other tough guy, Andy (Estevez), picking on Brian for being a nerd, and alluding to the lack of sexual experience of Claire (Ringwald), the popular girl who is normally known for being sexually experienced. It’s as though Bender is building up to the point were Andy asks him, ‘What about you?’ If so, we can see the irony here from one of the two characters who don’t want to talk about themselves (the other being the basket case, Ally) subsequently bringing the subject matter over to himself. An obvious skill of someone who doesn’t want to talk about their personal life.

“‘Stupid, worthless, no good, God damn, freeloading, sonofabitch. Retarded, big mouth knowitall, asshole, jerk.’

‘You forgot ugly, lazy and disrespectful – ’

‘Shut up, bitch! Go fix me a turkey pot pie.’

‘What about you, Dad?’

‘Fuck you?’

‘No, Dad, what about you?’

‘Fuck you!’

‘No, Dad, what about you!’

‘Fuck you!’”

Bender is victim to the fundamental attribution error. Coined by Lee Ross in 1967, it is the theory that we explain someone’s behaviour by crediting either the situation or the person’s disposition. Because he comes across as an aggressive bully, everyone supposed that was his disposition, not taking into account his life at home. This is something incredibly secret to him – his pride is at stake and the only way to live past the abuse he experiences at home is to act out aggressively just so no one suspects what he’s going through. For someone like Bender, it would be a sign of weakness to reveal his torment, and so he hides it away, thus becoming that which he despises.

Andy is the other dominant male of the group. The athlete who is seen as unintelligent yet attractive and cares only about sports. He has high social status and is the envy of many of his peers. However, like Bender, he too has father issues. Everything he has done and achieved has been through his assertive father, experiencing a mental abuse rather than physical. I found it interesting in the scene where they’re talking about what they did to get detention and Andy had ‘taped Larry Leicester’s buns together.’ They laugh because it’s funny to imagine, but there’s a different tone to Brian’s reaction, ‘That was you?’ and then Andy reveals that when they tore the tape off his bum cheeks, it tore some skin off too. It’s not funny anymore. Andy sounds like a bully but he says he only did it because of his father. ‘I did it for my old man. I tortured this poor kid because I wanted him to think that I was cool.’ Technically, Andy isn’t the bully, his father is.

I know a number of people who have father issues and I, myself, have experienced how a father can easily turn into a bad role model. My father died in 2008 but I understand the oppressive nature the dominant male can have on another male. Or even a female. We strive to do right, we strive to please, but somehow it’s never good enough. What I dislike about Andy is his weakness in doing what he’s told. What I love about Bender is how he argues back, and even though it changes him negatively, I think it still motivates him positively. I like this strength in him, that he can keep going even through all this mental torture. Freud’s technique of psychoanalysing involves us asking Why is it we hate that certain thing? It is normally because we hate that about ourselves and therefore hate it in other people.

Claire is similar to Andy in a way, due to their social status. Claire is a product of reciprocal determinism, as coined by psychologist, Albert Bandura in 1986. It states that a person’s behaviour is influenced by personal factors and social environment. Since Claire’s parents are divorced and use her as a weapon between each other, her sense of self-worth drops and leads her to seek approval from her peers. Her own thoughts are affected and she steps up on the social ladder as someone who is beautiful, sexually experienced, rich, powerful and popular. The only reason she’s in detention is because she skipped class to go shopping, now sucked into this whirlpool of social status which, to her, is completely normal.

Ally is juxtaposed to Claire, being the other female and yet being so unpopular she doesn’t even speak to anyone. She is is so illusive we hardly know she’s there as the other characters interact. She makes mumbling noises now and again and interacts only through actions, such as making a crisp sandwich. Her first line doesn’t even come until 33 minutes into the film. ‘Vodka,’ she says, when Andy asks what she drinks. Like Bender, she’s one of the most interesting as she doesn’t talk about herself like the others do. At home she is ignored by her parents and in school she has no friends. From this we then understand why, then, when they confess what they did to get detention, Ally states she did nothing. That she had nothing better to do. MaslowsHierarchyOfNeeds.svgIf we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualisation – she’s met the first two and is now looking for love and belonging. She came to make friends. Or simply, to belong. Ally holds a power over them all in this case, knowing they did something wrong while she didn’t. She’s playing them like a game, which is why she acts as a compulsive liar. It’s fun for her.

Brian was the one I originally associated with myself before I thought more of Bender. Brian, too, has harsh pressures from his parents which are down to doing well in school. This forced ambition of academia means the only thing important to him is studying and getting good grades. Brian is intelligent but socially and physically awkward. He has sacrificed social status for good grades and is now at the bottom of the social ladder. Seen as shy and unattractive as well, he faces pressures from his peers who rank higher in status. However, he is actually similar to Ally. Where they are both low in social status, she cares less about this and he lacks understanding. A lot of the comedy comes from Brian’s naivety, which is more laughing at everyone else for succumbing to the pressures of high school, while Brian is free from it completely. But Brian had brought a gun to school, intending to commit suicide. The look on the other character’s faces says it all as Brian is the least likely to have a gun. You can see their realisation that not everything is how it seems. This heavy-hitting drama is at the core of his character, he wanted to die. He wanted to kill himself over an F in Shop class. It just shows how little this means to the others, it means everything to him. When it’s revealed it was a flare gun that went off in his locker, they laugh. They laugh at the ridiculousness of not knowing what a handgun looks like. The tone lightens. He wanted to kill himself, changed his mind and it still went wrong. They can only laugh.breakfast-club

What’s important to understand is that as each of them come closer together and their differences are emphasised, they all realise how similar they are to each other. What means the world to one means nothing to the other, but they all face some kind of peer pressure. I think the confession scene is the most important in the film. The tone is serious and they are calm and paying attention to each other. They’re sat in a circle so they’re all facing each other. Finally, someone is listening and paying attention to them.

When Andy says this about his father, it seems the strongest indication to how they all feel:

“It’s all because of me and my old man. God I fucking hate him. It’s like this mindless machine that I can’t even relate to anymore. ‘Andrew! You’ve got to be number one! I won’t tolerate any losers in this family! You’re intensity is for shit! Win! Win! Win!’ You son of a bitch.”

Again, the tone is lightened when Bender says, “I think your old man and my old man should get together and go bowling.”

The Breakfast Club is a highlight of social pressures and individual stereotypes. It’s a revealing film of how difficult life can be for anyone for whatever reason. It produces both comedy and drama to portray teenagers coming to terms with who they are as people and to emotionally absolve themselves from the guilt and torment handed to them from their parents and peers. The moral is simple. To not judge others because they’ll be going through something as tough as you are, everyone’s parents are assholes, and to stay physically and mentally strong to reach a self-actualised state so you can be happy in who you are.

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