Category Archives: Canada

Lesbian Book Discussion: Emma Donoghue’s ROOM

We were a lively, loquacious bunch: Pierre, Mona, Liz, Sharad, Raj, Brian, Alex, Javin, Veronica, and Aaron.

We started the discussion with whether it’s better to watch the film first, or read the book first. S and B had different opinions. B found the space in the film important, especially the personal space the Grandma needs away from Jack. 

P was insistent that Ma should have committed suicide before the birth of the child. Why wait till the hospital? B argued that Ma doesn’t commit suicide because of Jack; she has no existence before Jack. “Is this sexist to depict that a woman’s existence lies in her motherhood?” Almost everyone in the group replied negative, but Aa and P weren’t so sure it isn’t sexist.

When asked what we didn’t like about the novel: R, V, Aa, P, M all thought it was densely packed, full of many noun-things. Aa called the novel unimaginative and predictable, which V disagreed. B said that the brother is superfluous. V thought the breastfeeding should have been developed later in the novel. L commented the story is isolated in its world, divorced from other current events. Al thought it is the bestest book ever.

roomWe talked a lot on fatherhood. B noted that fatherhood in Room is more complex than motherhood, because there are different types of fathers whereas mothers seem giving. V said that the Father’s rejection of Jack adds to Ma’s guilt. We also questioned why Ma doesn’t allow Jack to interact with his father, but S and B bored us and we didn’t pay attention. Something about attachment/abuse theory, Jack as a form of pure extension of Ma which she must keep sacred, but it seems going into the sexist rhetoric that a woman is unpure after rape.

Another theme we talked about was media. Hey, wanna netflix and chill? Donoghue claims Room is part “a satire of modern mores and media.” We should have discussed more on it.

We also discussed a scene where a gay couple appear. S, P, and Aa thought it is a manipulative scene, bludgeoning our heads with the message that children know no sexuality and can love a boy or a girl. The other members protested, and called the trio cynical.

On favorite characters, everyone seemed to love the Grandma and the step granddad, except for Al. Al thought the grandma represents the normalizing, heteronormative force of society; she teaches Jack how to be normal. Gross, right? L and J liked the kid and mother. Aa liked the reporter but he was booed by everyone—we are a pretty “democratic” book club. Al liked Raja the dog and the Room as a character.

R claimed Ma uses Jack as a pawn to get Sunday treats. The rapist giving Sunday treats and not depicted as a complete villain: L said, “The worst kind of evil has some good in it.” She was on a roll and had several good epigrams that night.

V pointed that the rape is not dealt with directly and B said that circumventing the topic is a sophisticated way of dealing with the topic: it’s a traumatic experience, one of the worst things that can happen to a woman, but yet it’s not the be-all, and end-all of a person’s life.

On narrative structure, Aa asked if it is strange to have the climax of the story in the middle of the book, and V said it is more thrilling after the climax. V also liked the child narrator, arguing that it’s a convincing voice.

How about the ending? Is it a good ending? Ma and Jack treat the room differently; Ma hates it but it is Jack’s world. L wondered if it is an allegory for wanting to return to the mother’s womb.

S views the moral of the story differently. He sees J as a carte blanche using concepts to understand the world: he uses different concepts to deal with situations in the room and in the world. The message of the story is not to have a message.

V ended the discussion by aptly summing up: it’s a feel bad, feel good book, a book that makes you see how awful the world is so that you feel that you’re lucky.

These are some of the topics that Aa had on hand, but there was no chance to bring them up:
-Queerness of Jack
-Sexuality of mother
-why is Old Nick deliberately kept out of the picture?
-psychiatrist and nurse
-Universality of the experience?
-Donoghue says that Room is “a battle between Mary and Devil for young Jesus.” How so?
-Room is inspired by Austrian case of Josef Fritzl, who locked up his own daughter whose son escaped at age of 5. James Wood, New Yorker critic, said this adaptation is “exploitative and a little cheap.” “The real victim’s imaginings and anxieties,” Wood argues, “must have been abysmal, in the original sense (unimaginable, bottomless), and the novel’s sure-footed appropriation of this unknowability seems offensive precisely in its sure-footness.” Jack’s cheerfulness and charm “lend the book an inappropriate lightness.” Do you agree with him?

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Filed under Canada, Emma Donoghue, Family, Lesbian

69th Discussion: Lydia Kwa’s Pulse

Moderator: Brian
Attendees: Alexius, Kenneth, Raj, Timmy

The idea of bondage in a predominantly Singaporean setting intrigued us to read the book, though not enough to sustain our interest in it – all of us disliked it, with Kenneth finding the novel “myopic” and not relatable, and Brian claiming “struggling” to finish the book, “paragraph by paragraph”.

THEMES
The usage of kabuki was questioned – why the Japanese term instead of bondage? Kenneth explained the difference between Japanese bondage (not a sexual fetish, more instinctive, cultured and all about aesthetics) and Western bondage. He further added that the ideology was only touched on a superficial level. Brian had hoped that there were more bondage scenes.

With reference to the above and sex, Raj opined that Natalie only did bondage and controlled sex because she has difficulty letting go and being free. Overall, we are in the belief that the book painted Singapore and Singaporeans as a repressive society.

Raj found the portrayal of mother figures in the novel stereotypical and delusional – far worse than the portrayal of gay men. Kenneth thought how the grandmother was written was a representation of her generation, while Alexius saw her as offering Natalie nothing much apart from “gambling her life away”. There also seemed to be a generational divide, with the old folks seeming guarded and the younger generation adopting a devil-may-care attitude.

Kenneth interpreted the use of fortune telling as an “informed way of looking at life”, though Alexius found it stereotypical in relation to race, preferring that tarot cards be used instead.

On the issues of race and racism, Raj described the book as “rojak gone wrong”, noted that Indian people were only featured in the book as an afterthought. Brian highlighted the anti-white sentiments. Alexius observed that the Peranakans were aggressive and quipped that “if Adam was an ang moh, he should have gone with a Malay boyfriend.”

There was also semi-political tones adopted throughout the book which, according to Alexius, alluded to the government’s relations with the Malay community. Brian, however, begged to differ, stating that the book tries to avoid being political.

CHARACTERS

None of us liked any of the characters, with Alexius deeming all of them as fakers.

Brian outright hated Natalie, while Raj found her to be full of herself.

Alexius felt that Selim sacrificing himself to be a stretch though Kenneth empathised with the character.

There were still a couple of things that we liked about the book: the romantic innocence and first loves (Raj) and an oddly “feel good book” as “other people have duller lives in comparison (Alexius). Brian liked a particularly paragraph in Chapter 5 which he thought went against the rest of the book. Raj was touched by the ending.

By the end of the discussion, we still stood firm in disliking the book. Brian deemed the book empty, while Raj thought it tried to cram in too many ideas and didn’t challenge anything. “Like a city bus,” he purred.

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Filed under Canada, Family, Lydia Kwa, Queer, S/M, Singapore

54th Discussion: Kathleen Winter’s Annabel

ANNABELSpecial thanks to Raj for organizing a Christmas party for this discussion.

It seemed that everyone, except Aaron and Amit, disliked the book: it’s depressing (Alexius), too slow in the latter half (Timmy), grating style (Raj), and forgettable one-dimensional characters (Amit). Har didn’t read it because he disliked the cover. Javin, Luke, Ben and Gil lent their moral support.

THEMES

1. Parenting:

(a) mother: Raj claimed Jacinta wants to raise Wayne as a girl, not a boy. Timmy agreed, saying that’s why Jacinta encouraged Wayne’s interest in synchronized swimming. Aaron, on the other, believed that Jacinta would raise Wayne as s/he is, as an intersex.

(b) father: Raj and Timmy thought that Treadway has no love for Wayne, but Aaron argued that Treadway shows his love in actions.

(c) Thomasina: Both Raj and Timmy thought that Thomasina loves and understands Wayne. But Alexius pointed that that she is using Wayne as a substitution for her dead daugther. Aaron saw her as the villain of the novel because she makes use of Wayne to cope with her grief selfishly, and makes very bad decisions.

2. Marriages: Amit observed the only happy married couple is Thomasina and Graham, and that’s because, Timmy said, Graham is blind. Aaron opined that since blindness is a classic Freudian symbol of castration, then it seems that a happy marriage is between a woman and emasculated man.

3. Sexuality: Although the portrayal of Mr Henry seems homophobic, the ambiguity of Wayne’s sexuality gives the book an inconclusive stance on homosexuality. However, Amit averred that the author seems to skew Wayne to his female self, and to like women.

Metaphors:

1. Peeling: Alexius read the peeling of skin as a sign of his puberty but Timmy saw it as a metaphoric rebirth.

2. Bridges: Alexius said it was the bridging of Wayne’s genitals to cause his pregnancy; Raj saw it as a bridging of both feminine and masculine traits.

Favorite Characters

Timmy’s and Raj’s favorite is Thomasina because she is a strong, independent woman who keeps it real. Alexius liked Steve. Following in Alexius’s footsteps, Amit liked a minor character, the kind make-up artist, and Wayne who reminded him of himself. Aaron stood up for the misunderstood father, Treadway, who prefers animals to humans.

As a conclusion, Alexius relished the synopsis on the back cover; Timmy, the unpredictability and complex characters and the name “Annabel”; Raj had not seen such a writing style; Amit generally liked it, especially the tender portrayal of Wayne as a human being. Aaron gave three reasons why this might be the best book we read this year: (1) the zen-like placid style mirrors the peace of forest and nature; (2) the author is compassionate and this compassion shows in the treatment of characters, even villains, and Aaron thought the world needs this compassion (although, Alexius chimed, the author isn’t compassionate to dogs); (3) the moral of the story: even if we are born a certain way, with our own defects, or encounter obstacles, like Wally, we can still overcome what we are given and make the best out of the situation. Despite adversities, there are little victories in life, and perhaps that is all that matters.

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Filed under Canada, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Intersex, Kathleen Winter, Love, Queer

16th Discussion: Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (20 Jan 2011)

In general, we all like this book but sometimes we pretended to hate it. It is a very Asian book, which all of us can identify with.

1. Sexuality/family/ riots – Raj argues that because of the riots, Arjie’s sexuality is ignored and given space to grow. Aaron disagrees because the family doesn’t really know about Arjie’s queerness, and Arjie chooses to keep his sexuality a secret: “I now inhabited a world,” Arjie narrates, “my family don’t understand into which they couldn’t follow me.” Raj suggests that the family’s acknowledgment is tacit.

2. Role Models – Raj thinks that Arjie learns from the women while Timmy reminds us not to forget Jegan, a virile young man, whom Isaac adores. Besides Jegan’s hotness, Isaac likes Jegan because he is the only one who sticks to his principles in the novel.

3. Lesbianism – Raj implies that, through the female tomboyish cousin, people are kinder to lesbian. However Aaron points out that that’s because the cousin hasn’t exhibited any outward signs–unlike Arjie who dons on dresses and puts on makeup–and girls can be sporty too.

4. Family – Aaron thinks that the Appa is the villain, breaking up the love-relationship between his wife and Daryl and ignoring the family’s welfare, although both Timmy and Raj point out that it is an Asian family where the man works and the wife takes care of family affairs.

5. Gender – Timmy admires Radha Aunty because she has all the positive traits of a woman, strong and independent like Destiny’s Child. Yes, Aaron agrees, but for all those traits, she doesn’t change things and acquiesces to an arranged marriage, instead of marrying the man she loves. This non-change is important to Aaron and Isaac because it implies that nothing changes… which will have repercussions on Arjie’s sexuality.

6. Love/Marriage: (1) Aaron thinks it is strange to fall in love with someone without even talking much to him (Rahda-Anil) while Raj says that it is a step-up from arranged marriages. (2) Aaron notes there are no happy marriages in this novel (3) One character in the book reminds Radha that marrying the man she loves would be estrangement from her family, and between family and love, Radha chooses family, depicting love doesn’t conquer all. To Aaron, this would mean that Arjie could not use love to justify his sexuality; family is more important and that means having children.

8. Determinism/ Powerless: Isaac brings up an A+ point, that is, the book is very deterministic, that nothing changes in the end, people are powerless against society and culture and norms, everyone lets Arjie down.

7. “Best School of All”: is Raj’s favorite story because it shows the empowerment of Arjie but Timmy thinks that Arjie abuses this power and is highly irresponsible for this is an issue that concerns many people, but Arjie is just selfishly thinking for himself and his beau. There is a great postcolonial possibility in this story that we forgot to discuss.

8. Style: Aaron thinks that the novel is a good cultural document and not a good literary novel while Isaac argues it is both. Aaron supports his statement by invoking the Chekhov’s gun rule, saying it is a series of short stories (and shouldn’t be marketed as a novel), with no development of many of its characters; while Isaac argues that it is just a postmodern style. Isaac thinks that the making sense of the world and the themes make it a novel, while Aaron says it’s more autobiographical as it doesn’t depict well-rounded characters.

It was a good discussion.

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Filed under Canada, Class, Coming of Age, Family, Gay, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, Religion, Short Stories, Shyam Selvadurai, Sri Lanka, War