Category Archives: Europe

Dunno What Nth Discussion: Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On

simon-bazDunno what nth discussion because someone hasn’t written the past discussions yet. *passive aggressive mode on* Just kidding.

It’s back to the good old days, with Raj, Timmy and Aaron, like we were at the start of the book club 5 years ago. The book is a fan-fic of a queer Harry Potter—queer because he likes the person, not the sex—and a gay Edward Cullum.

static1.squarespaceThese are some of the things we talk about:

  1. Shallow and superficial: Simon wishes father is a footballer, mom is a model (8). All along, Agatha is trying to break out of the “blond cheerleader” typecast, yet at the end, she becomes the damsel-in-distress, and doesn’t even fight to save her life. She wishes she has nicer clothes so that she can die pretty (465). WTH.
  2. All characters are queer but with limited character development: Agatha seems to be the most interesting character because she tries to break out of her mold; none of the other protagonists does it. Simon plays his Chosen One role; Penny plays the Hermione role dutifully, and Baz the anti-hero.But Agatha struggles with her emotions, fakes her emotions (9, 74, 75), and claims “we are all monsters” (14), a deep thought coming from a putative “bimbo.” Unfortunately, the damsel-in-distress part is a big gaping plot hole.
  3. Treatment of LBGTQ characters: These characters are not human. Baz is a vampire, Simon becomes a dragon/devil caricature; and Trixie is half pixie. There is something homophobic in that.

    That is not to say this book isn’t a book with good intentions. Baz’s difficulty of admitting he’s a vampire (262) mirrors the difficult coming out. His dad, preferring him to be Undead than to be queer, is heartbreaking (215, 279).

    Futhermore, there are two gay sex scenes between the homos, and gay sex scenes are always good, even if they are encoded. First scene: Baz and Simon’s fight scene with the dragon is written in erotic terms: “I did something I’ve never done before—something I probably wouldn’t try with anyone I was scared of hurting. [anal sex hurts.] I push I just push it into Baz” (239). “His arm straightens like a rodI push a little more magic. I worry that it’s too much… His shoulder is rock hard… it’s jerking itself…I stop pushing… letting Baz draw on my magic” (240).

    The second scene is more subtle (391).

  4. Sexism: No strong male characters, only strong female ones, like Fiona, Baz’s mother, etc.

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  5. Magic as metaphors:
    1. Class: The powerful magicians are always depicted as “rich and powerful,” kept within old families. Magic is also seen as hereditary, which reeks of biological essentialism; we can never transcend our DNA, which means the novel advocates a racist, sexist, homophobic philosophy.

      In a way, The Mage, wanting to liberate magic so that even people with a smidgeon of magic can go to Watsford, and eradicating school fees, can be seen as democratic.

      But Mitali, Penny’s mom, an Indian woman, who calls The Mage sexist for no apparent reason, wants a traditional Watsford, keeping magic for the best students. She also thinks that they are better than Normals (111, 261, 401). In a way, Mitali is supporting the system that oppresses her. Raj thinks that Mitali and Penny are portrayed as a stereotypical Indian family, which makes the novel racist.

      Unfortunately, the death of The Mage, especially at the hands of Baz from an Old Family and Penny, Mitali’s daughter, implies that Mage’s democratic ways are wrong; they revert to the old traditional methods.

      One could argue, as Raj did, that the Mage represents extreme democracy, ie, he is an extremist that he must be destroy. After all, in the end, he wants to be the most powerful magician of all time.

    2. Magic as Commodity: Magic is often viewed as something to be conserved and not to “waste” (38, 78, 186, 187); it is also seen as something to be “eaten” and consumed (47). We didn’t appreciate this cultivation of materialism.
    3. Magic as Objectification: Simon is often objectified because of his magic; he’s “power” (67), a “vessel” (123), “element” (181), “nuclear” (181, 242),  “generator” (258). Simon even objectifies himself, calling himself a “current” (337), and “I am magic” (455). Ebb is also a “generator” (284). Baz is used as a “wand” (254). Penny’s dad is a “book of footnotes” (247). Like the message of magic as a commodity, this sends the wrong message.
    4. Magic as ozone layer: Magic leaves holes, unfortunately, this is not explored further in the book.
    5. Magic as finding the right words (107)
    6. Magic as texture: Different people’s magic feels differently. An interesting concept that isn’t explored in the novel.
    7. Magic as Religion (197): If magic is seen as a religion, it would explain why Agatha finds it so hard to walk away from the magic community; to become a Normal is to be outcast.

      The theme of outcast recurs in the book, not just gay people—a vampire and a demon—are outcasts. Ebb’s brother, who chooses to leave the world of living to become a vampire, is ostracized by the magic community, and by Baz, Simon, and Penny who need his help badly, bearing in mind that Baz himself is a vampire and that Ebb’s brother is very powerful. Even the outcasts can outcast others.

      Ebb’s death can also be read as her rejection of her power. Because she rejects her immense power, because she lacks the training, she dies at the hands of The Mage.

      Superficially, this book seems to be a message of inclusion, but at a deeper level, the prejudice of the book shows. If you don’t want to be in the magic/religious community, you will be outcast and we will never accept you back, regardless of the direst situation. If you don’t practice your magic/religion, you’ll be punished, and in Ebb’s case, her punishment is death.

 

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Food, Love, Queer, Race, Rainbow Rowell, Religion, UK, Young Adult

68th Discussion: Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Colour

9781551525143_BlueIsTheWarmestColorThis discussion note is written by Brian (who blogs at Foreign Influence).

Blue is the Warmest Color drew a nice group of twelve folks together and provoked all of us to make comparisons, even when we tried to avoid them. We compared the book and the film. We compared the book (a graphic novel) to an imaginary “traditional” novel (without images). We compared the English version to the original French. And, we compared images of female nudity with images of male nudity. All-in-all, it seemed a good way to go about discussing Julie Maroh’s book.

 

Opinions were split on this book—as were opinions on the film—and the fact that not all of us completely liked it, let alone were completely satisfied with it, might have been what inspired the three-hour conversation.

 

In some ways, the tone was set early on by Vicki, who summed it up as, “…like a European/Art House version of a Korean drama…. I hate to love Korean Dramas.”

 

Cowen asked what the director (Abdellatif Kechiche) saw in the book to make him want to adapt it, and this led us further into our comparisons.

 

urlWe discussed the title, which, as Ken noted stressed the warmth rather than coolness of blue and Vishakah pointed out might be a reference to the idealization of a lover that runs through the book. We went on to talk about the use of color and b/w throughout the book—with Andrea and Vishakah lending some expertise in the genre, and we all pointed to our favorite images. Brian stressed that the last page was his favorite page of the book.

 

Looking into the characters a bit more, Sara asked if we thought Clementine was lesbian, bisexual, or curious and how that affected our reaction to her. Raj said that Emma definitely is a lesbian. Yi-Sheng and Ken also drew out points about the youth of the writer and the charm of the teenage drama in the book. They both focused on the theme of “innocence” at different points in the discussion. Cowen found parts corny and melodramatic. Sharad compared the book overall to a young adult novel.

 

Several folks questioned the balance of the timeline and the narrative gaps. We wondered if the book had originally been serialized. We also wondered if the unbalance might be a sign of an inexperienced writer.

 

We also wondered about a couple of particular scenes in the book. Why would anyone walk around a clandestine lover’s parents house in the nude? What exactly were those pills Clementine was taking? How did we respond to the portrayal of Emma and Clementine’s “mature” relationship? Raj raised the comparison to queer couples where one is completely out and the other is completely private. Vicki asked about the slut shaming in the book and film. Several people asked if Valentine was a good friend or not? We kept wondering if Blue truly is the warmest color?

 

In the end, some folks liked the pages without images quite a bit. Andrea thought it was a good message for young readers. And even some who did not like the book as much still thought it was worth considering if it is a work of art, if it is compelling, and if alters some ways we might tell stories about gay, lesbian, and queer lives.

 

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Filed under Family, France, Graphic Novel, Julie Maroh, Lesbian, Love

66th Discussion: Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching

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Instead of chalk, plastic and dirt, Raj graciously provided cheese, nuts, and charcuterie. Thanks!

As for flaws, Raj felt that there wasn’t character development for some of the auxiliary figures. Daniel disliked the self-centeredness of Miranda. And Brian couldn’t get into the book until the second half where male characters are eliminated from the narrative. The novel, he noted, could be funnier. Aaron argued that Oyeyemi is trapped in a bind: she wants to write on women oppression but it is almost impossible to write “pure” feminist texts, like Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper,” that claim patriarchy drives women mad since the 21st century isn’t a patriarchal system anymore for UK where the book is set. In the end, Aaron claimed that there is no message in the novel, a beautiful nothing.

6277227-1Although this was a fruitful discussion, we couldn’t phantom (PUN!) several things, such as the metaphorical possibilities of the house, the ghosts, the eating disorder, soucouyant, and goodlady; the use of different narrators; the style of using one word to connect the passages.

But Brian suggested that pica, domesticity of women, and circularity of narratives stem from the inescapability of structural patriarchy. Raj added that perhaps stopping reproduction is to stop the cycle of oppression of women.

Brian alerted us about the title and house as an allegory of British immigration laws, keeping black people out.

Strong woman characters are always a favorite: Raj liked Sade, a strong black independent oracle woman, while Brian, Ore, a well-rounded character with surprises. Daniel observed that the strong female characters are blacks.

We ended with nice words for the book: it makes a good movie (Raj); the kissing scene is well-written (Brian); pica is a fascinating topic (Daniel); and it is poetic (Aaron.)

 

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62nd Discussion: Ellis Avery’s The Teahouse Fire (or Q&A with Raj)

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Poor Raj! He set such a beautiful table, and no one came for the book club. Aaron had emailed Raj a list of questions beforehand to moderate the discussion, but since no one came, Raj decided to answer them.

 

Questions for Teahouse Fire:

  1. On p. 284, there is a Japanese phrase “ichigo ichie” for the tea world. It means “one moment, one meeting,” or in the deepest sense, it means there are no mistakes in life. What does this phrase mean about life in general? Does the novel embody this phrase? Which character, do you think, apply this philosophy?

avery - The_teahouse_fireIchi-go ichi-e is linked with Zen Buddhism and concepts of transience, particularly depicted during the tea ceremony conducted in the style of famed tea master Sen no Rikyu where unique scrolls, tea bowls and flowers are set up in the tea room. In the context of tea ceremony, ichi-go ichi-e reminds participants that each tea meeting is unique. This is also true that there is has been no repetition of the set up for the varios tea ceremonies in the book. In each of the tea ceremony, the host and guest had one unique experience that lead to friendship or disaster

In a deeper sense, it is about Aurelia meeting Yukako in the teahouse that night of the fire – it is that one moment, one meeting that changed the courses of their lives. Towards the end, in the same tearoom, Aurelia kissed Yukako and again changed the course of their lives.

  1. What are the similarities and differences between Western and Japanese cultures in the book?

Similarities:

Mary vs Goddess of Mercy.

The status of fallen women is the same – Aurelia’s mom and Kenji’s girlfriend Aki – outcast.

Differences:

Bath rituals

Role of wife

Social order – Samurai, Traders and the untouchable working class

  1. Is Urako/Aurelia responsible for her uncle’s death? (Also note the molestation scene before the fire.)

She prayed for her life to change and she rather not have the uncle with her – shown by her praying to change her life before the goddess and also her uncle only showed up in nightmares later in her life as Urako. Also, she never bothered to find if her uncle survived the fire at all.

  1. Why does Urako/Aurelia have made up last names?

I believe that she doesn’t know her father’s name and that name “Bernard” was given by her uncle. Hints that her mom could have been raped by a priest was suggested by both Aurelia and her mom when she said, “Aurelia Bernard. Who is this Bernard, tell me? The Church hates truth, and the nuns hate it most of all.”

  1. Why does Urako have sex with Nao?

She wanted someone who desire Yukako to desire her as well. Also she believes Yukako desires Nao instead of her and she wants to punish her.

  1. Objects in the book often have significant meanings: the lightning cup, Yukako making a spoon out of Baishian’s wood for Urako, and Urako’s Catholic medal. What gives these things meaning? And what is the significance of these things? On a side note, does Yukako’s marketing on tea ware cheapen or ennoble the art?

Symbolism and subtle messages are very much a cultured Japanese behaviour – the book is full of hidden messages just like Urako’s closeted sexuality – classic example of her dress handing in the alcove.

Yukako’s marketing of the tea sets made them more of a commercial item rather than “ichigo ichie”- “one moment, one meeting”.

  1. Why does Yukako set Baishian on fire? What is the significance of fire and water in the book?

Yukako’s way of atoning for her mistake – she will never be able to host another tea ceremony in Baishian again – again on the theme of Ichigo Ichie.

You need fire and water to make tea – its sweet irony. Also Aurelia had a fire after a long journey over sea into Japan and after another fire she sails away from Japan.

  1. Yukaka appears to be half sister to Koito. Does it give her a right to teach Koito, a geisha, chado?

Yukako did it for other reasons rather than the fact that she is a half sister. Yukako , according to the book, has been key reason for women to learn tea. She also introduced this to the Geisha world through Koito. But whether she has a right – it all depends on who’s perspective you want to look from.

  1. During one teaching lesson with Koito, Yukako honors Urako’s Western dress. Why?

Yukako’s acceptance of the western influence into their lives. Also Urako is her first student.
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  1. Why does Aurelia’s mother insist on calling her blond when she has black hair?

Maybe her real father had blond hair??

  1. Comment on the throwaway reference to Singapore as a name for a ship. Is it exoticizing Singapore?

Author wants to show the historic importance of Singapore as a port as well of the fact that Japan owned Singapore at one time.

  1. Incest: Comment on the rampant incest that occurs in the novel: Aurelia with her uncle, Yukako with her half brother, Nao; Kenji (Yukako’s son) with Akio (Nao’s daughter).

Its common in those days – people don’t get out of their circle and houses too much

  1. Why does Akio dress Koito in Yukako’s kimino?

Fantasy – Fetish – every man wants a virtuous wife who is a whore in bed!

  1. Discuss the male-female relationships in the book. Are there any positive ones? (Also look at mother-son relationships).

Yukako – Tai – positive

Tai – Tsuko – positive

  1. Discuss the male-male relationship in the book, especially the triangle between Nao, Hiro, and Akio.

There is a lot of brotherly love and jealousy by Nao to Hiro and Akio. Hierarchy in the teahouse is one the reason for this and class status.

  1. Nao’s class struggle.

Didn’t help when he married an untouchable gal !!

  1. Love: Does Urako love Yukako or Inko?

Different sort of love – Yukako is a sort of motherly-sisterly love – whereas Inko was more of her equal. Inko loves Urako more that Urako loves her while Urako love Yukako more than Yukako love her.

  1. Discuss the female characters (Pipe Lady, Yukako, Urako, Chio, Aki, Koito, Inko)

Really? Why??? There is too many female characters in this book!!!!

  1. Discuss the male characters. Are there any strong and positive male characters? Is this another male-bashing lesbian novel? (Mountain, Akio, Jiro, Kenji, Tai.)

There was no real great male characters , but at the same time there is no real male bashing. There are more mean gals depicted in this book than lame men. This book centres on women rather than men.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Colonialism, Ellis Avery, Family, Food, France, Historical, Japan, Lesbian, Love, Race, Religion, USA, War

59th Discussion: Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith

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Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Dominic, Javin, Jiaqi, Raj, Timmy

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Raj and Alexius thought that the book was repetitive; the latter further added that the plot twist was predictable and expected, which Dominic concurred. The story did not interest Jiaqi as well, who felt that it was contrived. Timmy, who went the “alternative route” and watched the miniseries, felt that it was draggy at some parts of the show. Aaron declared it “the lesbian version of Fifty Shades of Gray.”

THEMES

Everyone had differing opinions on who should be deemed as a/the villain. Dominic picked John Vroom, who “doesn’t owe Dainty yet beats her up to assert control.” Uncle Christopher Lilly was also brought up, because he mindfucked – mentally and sexually abused – Maud (Aaron) and was just a perverted, demented being (Raj). Alexius, however, found him interesting and wanted to “shiver together” with him.

Ultimately, the award for “Greatest Villain” was tied between Richard – Aaron viewed him as unscrupulous, though Jiaqi begged to differ – and Mrs Sucksby, who was willing to give Sue up to a madhouse, according to Jiaqi.

We discussed on death and noted how women’s deaths were painted as some form of redemption for their errors, while men’s deaths were treated as punishment for their sins.

…Which led us to the question – why so much man hating in this book? The men were either portrayed negatively (orderlies in the madhouse were described as “manly”) or just nothing, while the women experienced a plethora of emotions, in particular sadness. Aaron also highlighted the very (obvious?) maternal instincts evident throughout the book, in the form of Mrs Sucksby and Mrs Stiles. “At least there is no gay bashing,” Javin quipped.

Speaking of gay bashing, we questioned Gentleman/Richard Rivers’ sexuality – is he a homosexual? Asexual? He had sex with neither Maud nor Sue, and his only noted “sexually charged” moment was when he touched Charles’ cheek. Timmy brought up an interview with the actor who played the Gentleman, who shared similar observations as us.

Dominic noted the lack of proper family unit as a running theme throughout the book, deeming it unconventional. Aaron viewed it – Mrs Sucksby and the gang, in particular – as a “queer kind of family.” Alexius brought up the cold weather as the reason why they randomly convened together.

Maud and Sue were seen as the victims throughout the ordeal (Jiaqi), despite the fact that Maud has been in the know the entirety of the ruse while Sue was the more innocent one of the two. Alexius asked whether Maud really loved Sue, to which Raj replied that her love stemmed from sympathy.

The similarities as well as differences of Maud and Sue were discussed. Dominic brought up the rationality of switching the two at birth when Mrs Sucksby has other babies that could have taken Maud’s place. We also entertained the idea of the two being possibly related, which means whatever they have for each other bordered on incestuous.

With such a title as Fingersmith, hands obviously featured prominently throughout the book, which disgusted Aaron. Dominic looked at it as a form of penis envy, with the finger(s) as a phallic symbol. Because of this, there was a lack of girl-on-girl sex, which bored Raj and Jiaqi.

The ending drew the biggest ire from everyone. Dominic saw it as a being purposely written as a transaction point for the characters. For Timmy, however, it was all just one big fuckery.

FAVOURITES

Raj picked Dainty for the fact that she “has heart”, was portrayed as a strong character and ultimately redeemed herself.

Jiaqi also liked Dainty because she is kind; he also selected John because of his loyalty towards Mrs Sucksby.

Dominic admired Sue for her tenacity.

Alexius chose Christopher Lilly because of his vast collection of porn books, which are “more interesting than (Waters’) Fingersmith.

Aaron didn’t have any favourite characters, though he cited the Rivers/Charles cheek scene as his favourite.

CONCLUSION

In capping the discussion, Raj thought the book was good and really liked the twist at the end of each act. Timmy appreciated the plot twist as well, which made the miniseries move at an exciting pace. Dominic enjoyed it because it was well written and researched. Alexius felt that reading the book allowed him to feel “cooler and refreshed”, thanks to its time period and weather setting. Jiaqi commented that the book was a good read as well as a page turner, comparing it to a magician performing his tricks. Aaron agreed with Jiaqi’s sentiments.

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57th Discussion: Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited

waugh-brideshead-revisitedA great attendance: Suffian, Timmy, Har, Sam, Lydia, Gabriel and Aaron.

Our initial reactions to the book:

Timmy and Sam found it long-winded, beating around the bush, although Suffian and Aaron defended the winding style to mirror the plot of returning to Catholicism.  Strangely, Har felt the opposite of Timmy and Sam, calling the novel the Twilight of its time.

Suffian pointed out the autobiographical nature of the book while Gabriel lamented on the practicality of book sales.

Themes:

1. Catholicism: Lydia questioned if the book is pro-religion since everyone suffers under it, but Aaron cited the positive ending as pro-religion. We talked about the significance of the name Brideshead and linked it to John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” which is often analyzed as the narrator being a bride of God. “God’s Bride” can also be the Church itself. Whichever the case, it is clear that Brideshead is a symbol of Catholicism, and eventually, the occupants return to the house, ie, Catholicism.

Everyone was bored by religious talk–Gabriel said “religion” is a word so often used it loses its meaning–so we moved on.

2. Men Desiring Men: Gabriel cautioned us on ahistoricity and said that the characters cannot be considered “gay” as it is a neologism. The characters should be known as men-desiring-men. And all men who desire men in the novel have to suppress their desires or face dire consequences. Lydia and Tim brought up the child-like nature of Sebastian, whose teddy bear is both a longing for his sexless childhood and a chastity ring for his budding desire for men. Suffian noted that the sexlessness in the novel paralleled Waugh’s own life when he was in the Oxford’s “Hypocrites”.

We also talked about Catholic guilt being sublimated in various ways, such as alcoholism, and post-coital cigarettes: you use one sin to substitute the other.

Besides Sebastian, Lord Marchmain‘s desire causes him to be a pariah among his children and people; Anthony Blanche is portrayed negatively as a “queeny gay” (Timmy’s words); and, Aaron argued, even Charles has to transfer his love for Sebastian onto Julia, settling for a substitute.

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Characters:

1. Timmy’s favorite character is Cara for her insightfulness and willingness to accept Lord Marchmain for who he is. Timmy cited extensively on Cara’s thoughts on homosexual love:

“It is a kind of love that comes to children before they its meaning. In England it comes when you are almost men; I think I like that. It is better to have that kind of love for another boy than for a girl… When people hate with all that energy, it is something in themselves they are hating. Alex is hating all the illusions of boyhood–innocence, God, hope.” (pp. 102-3)

2. We all had a soft spot for Sebastian whose struggles gay people can identify with. Timmy thought Alexius is rather like Sebastian.

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3. Lydia read against the grain, liking Anthony Blanche, who dares to live his life, but Timmy hated the one-dimensional depiction. Lydia both despised and empathized with the Julia-Charles relationship.

4. Lady Marchmain is an enigmatic character, manipulative but, according to Lydia, this is how Lady M is brought up and how she shows her love.

5. Rex isn’t a complete being because, Lydia and Har claimed, that there is some form of xenophobia at work, and because Rex is nouveau riche, his pursuits are with money, not his life.

Both Gabriel and Suffian liked all characters, as Suffian reminded us that even though the characters are flawed, all of them are very realistic.

Sam and Har didn’t change their minds about the novel after the discussion. Aaron said there are some hilarious parts in the books (Charles and his father; and the dinner scene onboard with Julia). Timmy and Aaron felt the book was beautifully written. This is Aaron’s favorite passage when Charles’s cousin chides him for hanging out with “Anglo-Catholics, who are all sodomites” and Charles defends himself:

“I like this bad set and I like getting drunk at luncheon”; that was enough then. Is more needed more?

Looking back, now, after twenty years, there is little I would have left undone or done otherwise… I could tell my cousin that all the wickedness of that time was like the spirit they mix with the pure grape of the Douro, heady stuff full of dark ingredients; it at once enriched and retarded the whole process of adolescence as the spirit checks the fermentation of the wine, renders it undrinkable, so that it must lie in the dark, year in, year out, until it is brought up at last fit for the table. (p. 45)

Aaron interpreted this paragraph as when one endures the years of pain and suffering, the pain and suffering will be useful one day. One day, all that darkness can be used as bursts of sunshine.

Lydia chimed, “So it basically means what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”

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55th Discussion: Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Amit, Har, Jiaqi, Luke, Raj, Timmy

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The general consensus was that we did not like this book. Raj did not manage to finish the book (a first time for everything!) and felt that it was draggy, which Aaron and Alexius agreed. The latter also felt that the drama was outdated, with the scenes being too long and equated it as a “Hong Kong TVB drama.” Jiaqi felt that the book was a tough read, to which Har agreed, saying that it was not an immediate appreciation. Aaron further added that the storyline felt childish and amateurish.

THEMES AND CHARACTERS

Aaron brought up the quote by Aunt Nancy: “All Love Does Ever Rightly Show Humanity Our Tenderness.” Timmy philosophized that despite the war, humans are still capable to love, whereas Jiaqi thought the quote as just another quote. Aaron opined that it tied in with the theme of story – of love, humanity and tenderness. Raj equated Aldershot (taking the first letters) as a gay town.

We talked about Mr Mack, whom Raj thought of as an opportunist, leeching off the aunt. Both Har and Jiaqi shared a love-hate relationship with the character, not liking him because he was a control freak but subsequently liking him when he started showing sympathy and understanding towards Jim.  Alexius viewed him as “a big strategist,” while Aaron thought of Mr Mack as a comical character.

In comparing Jim & Doyler’s relationship and Mr Mack & Doyler’s relationship, Alexius commented that “Jim was not his father” and thus, their relationships were dissimilar. The biggest difference between the two was that Jim and Doyler had sex with each other, while Mr Mack and Doyler’s maintained only friendly decorum. Aaron then asked whether was it better to be in first generation (Mr Mack & D’s father = friends) or the second generation (J & D = fucking), to which Raj answered the second gen, while Har felt the first gen had the better ending.

MacMurrough the schizophrenic was then discussed. Alexius viewed him as a lonely person who created the imaginary friend as his companion. Jiaqi disagreed, as he felt that MacMurrough could differentiate and instead perceived him as a conflicted character who struggled with being gay. Aaron brought up about the voices that disappeared in the second half of the book, which he observed as MacMurrough’s transformation from self-hatred to love, thanks to Jim. Har thought that the voices were akin to his subconscious.

Everyone had differing views of MacMurrough’s relationships with Jim and Doyler. Jiaqi reckoned that MacMurrough loved J and wanted him to be happy, while being physically attracted to D. Aaron viewed M and J’s relationship as one of pure love, while D has a lot of sex with him. At the other end of the spectrum, Har felt that the relationship with J was purely platonic, while it was romantic when he was with D.

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysDoyler’s rape was brought up as well as what happened that made MacMurrough feel that he was not in control. Timmy quipped that it was because D was a power bottom, while Jiaqi opined that M needed D more than vice-versa.

We also discussed at length MacMurrough’s encounters with his 10-year-old self.

Everyone gushed about the washerwoman, and her initial introduction in the book. Unanimously, everyone agreed that she symbolized Ireland – the motherland that nurtures you (Jiaqi) and someone who is associated with patriotism, land and nature (Aaron). Raj saw her as a simple country folk who enjoy the simple things in life.

Aaron then brought specific examples (the 300 Spartans, the Irish Oscar Wilde exchange, Jim’s internalization of the soldier’s speech as his love for Doyler) and suggested that the author was trying to associate Ireland with homosexuality, which drew a negative reaction from Jiaqi, who felt that it was more about identity as opposed to homosexuality, and zero responses from the rest.

The women characters were then brought up. Har saw Eva as a revolutionist; an independent and modern character who embodied the fighting spirit, though ultimately she was forgettable. Aaron felt that she was the weakest character and was written as a fag hag, while Alexius imagined her as a “menopausal butch who transformed into Mother Theresa” towards the end of the book. Jiaqi was favourable towards her, who thought that she was well portrayed and had a few funny moments. Raj thought of her as elite

As for Nancy, Jiaqi felt that she was only a minor character in the book, while Aaron saw her as a motherly figure who was nurturing towards everyone.

And none for Sawney.

When asked whether the book was reductive towards the other gender, Har succinctly described that the book was not a feminist book.

We talked about the ending and questioned whether it was a happy or sad one. Both Har and Alexius viewed it as a happy ending, because “they finally met in the end” (Har) and “(the book) finally ended” (Alexius). Jiaqi, however, thought it was a sad ending as the main characters died. Amit thought it was a predictable end, as “everyone knows there won’t be a happy ending” whereas Aaron felt that the ending was “appropriate.”

FAVOURITES

Characters

Raj liked Sawney, the insightful butch with a beard.

Alex picked Gordie, whom he viewed as not a minor character.

Jiaqi and Aaron had their JLo references, with the former’s favourite character being Doyler as he “felt like a real person” while the latter selected MacMurrough due to his struggles in defining himself.

Scenes

Alexius thought there were no memorable scenes in the book, though he brought up the one of the priest molesting Jim.

Jiaqi, Raj and Aaron were unanimous in picking the realization that MacMurrough’s washerwoman was Doyler’s mother as their favourite scene(s), with Raj describing it as funny and one that is of “self-irony.”

LAST WORDS

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysIn rounding up the discussion, we went around asking for something positive of the book. Raj promised to finish reading it, even though the pdf version gave him headaches. Amit thought it was romantic of the author to continue working on the book to 600+ pages, as opposed to taking the quick way out and cut it short. Jiaqi thought it was a good book and themes were very well done. Har, probably the only fanboy of the book, said that it was touching and “made him cry a lot.” He also commented that the writing technique was “very Irish and filled with proses.”

Alex commented that given the size of the book, one can use it to train the bicep. He further added that the author’s sleeve photo portrayed him accurately (read: a psychopath). Timmy added on to Alex’s quip by joking that the book can also be used as paperweight and/or killer litter.

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