Book Review: ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley

April 16, 2015 in Best Of, Book Reviews, On Writing, Reviews by pacejmiller

frankenstein

I admit I’ve been somewhat slack on my goal to read more books this year, but I’ve finally made an effort and finished a classic I had been meaning to get to over the last few years: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

As it was first published in 1818, I was wary that the classic could be a letdown, given the way novelists wrote and the way characters spoke back in those days. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, though it does require more focus — especially in the beginning — and readers used to more modern styles could struggle getting into a flow. Madam Bovary, for example, is supposed to be one of the best books ever written from a technical perspective, and yet the experience bored me to death.

And so I am glad to report that Frankenstein was an awesome read. It’s a magnificent idea, well thought out, intricately planned and with captivating characters. While it was quite different to what I had expected, the novel’s classic status is well deserved.

Everyone knows that the story is about a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who develops and up session with creating life as a stepping stone towards cheating death. He successively brings The Creature to life but upon seeing the abomination he has a sudden change of mind and wants nothing to do with it. Thus begins two intertwining journeys of self-destruction, filled with pain, regret, discrimination, desire, jealousy, and above all, revenge.

The brilliance of the book lies in Shelley’s depiction of The Creature. She could have made him a zombie-like monster and typical murderous villain, but instead she infused him with a brilliant mind and a complicated heart. The agony he feels is comes across as so real that you can’t help but empathise with his unnatural existence and doomed predicament. In many ways, he is much more sympathetic than his creator, and that’s what makes it such a fascinating read.

The style of the novel also impressed me. Yes, the prose and speech do take a little bit of time to get use to because they are so exaggerated by modern standards and the vocabulary is much more precise, though once you get used to it the narrative starts flowing  downstream.

One thing I didn’t expect was the intentional lack of detail in some of the key aspects of the plot. The scene where Frankenstein brings The Creature to life, for instance, is extremely vague and bereft of specifics. You know he did something amazing, but you don’t quite know how he did it. In fact, there is almost nothing concrete about how The Creature was put together at all, and there’s also no description of his exact appearance other than that he is massive (eight feet tall), has dark hair, and is unimaginably grotesque. It leaves a lot to the imagination, something many modern writers fail to do. It also helps explain why so many movie adaptations have failed because they were forced to show things audiences would complain about no matter what.

I also had no idea that the story is told through so many layers — it’s actually a series of letters to his sister from a sailor who meets Frankenstein in the Arctic. The sailor then records Frankenstein’s story, which then recounts The Creature’s narrative as told to Frankenstein. It’s a clever device that offers three first-person perspectives in one — The Creator, The Creature, and the third party bystander.

My enjoyment of the book was helped by the fact that I didn’t really know what was going to happen. The version of the story I vaguely had in my head was the 1994 movie adaptation by Kenneth Branagh and starring Robert De Niro as The Creature. That one took some liberties with the plot, so it was a surprise to me when the novel began to take a different turn to what I was expecting. I know a lot of people hated the movie but I didn’t mind the alternative storyline.

In all, a fantastic reading experience and a good lesson for aspiring writers. Next up, Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

I’m back, and the lesson is to be prepared for anything

January 21, 2015 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller

buried-boxes

Every time there is an extended hiatus on this blog I feel the urge to explain.

This time, the excuse is simple and honest. Shortly after my last post I had to head back to Australia again — less than a month following my previous visit — to prepare the family home for lease. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing with very little time to prepare and a lot of things to do, and yet it did not deter me from fantasizing about all the “free time” I was going to have over the one-week stay without having to worry about work or looking after the kids.

In my mind, the list of things to do in Sydney was long:

– catch up with the many friends I didn’t get to see last time;

– catch up on some much-needed sleep;

– kick start my exercise regime with jogs and workouts day and night;

– do copious amounts of reading on my barely-used Kindle every night;

– watch some movies blocking up my backlog;

– rekindle my relationship with my Playstation Portable following a 3-year break;

– eat lots of Aussie food I miss and have plenty of great Aussie coffee; and

– maybe do a little bit of packing and some ancillary stuff required before you lease out a property.

Instead, what I did that whole week, from about 6 or 7am to midnight or later each day, was:

– pack.

That was about it. It was probably the most brutally exhausting stretch of my life — and certainly the most physically demanding — since the worst of my lawyer days.

The lesson to be taken out of the experience is to never expect anything and to be prepared for everything. For instance, I had been ready to write up a storm upon my return last week, but of course my decimated immune system offered feeble protection against a crazy-ass virus. The illness kept me in a zombie-like state for the first couple of days during the incubation period and a couple of nights ago went full Walking Dead on me. Debilitating shit it was indeed.

I’m no close to 100% yet but at least I’m finally back to a semi-functional state. There’s a lot to be done, so I suppose I should get moving. Unexpected stuff happens all the time, so we should treat every day like it’s our last. OK, maybe not literally, but constantly striving for a goal ought to be a goal in itself.

PS: The one good thing about everything that has happened is that I got to watch four movies on the two plane rides.

Hello, 2015

January 1, 2015 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller

new-year-eve-2015-sydney-australia-photos

Well here we are. Another New Year. 2015. They just go by so quickly, don’t they?

For some reason, the most apt thing I can think of to say in this post comes from, like most apt things, Seinfeld. Instead of what Jerry said about birthdays, however, I’d like to tweak it to make it apply to New Years.

Well, New Years are merely symbolic of how another year’s gone by and how little we’ve grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each New Year’s fireworks display we know it’s not to be. That for the rest of our sad, wretched, pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end – inevitably, irrevocably. Happy New Year? No such thing.

Don’t get me wrong. 2014 was a great year. A fulfilling year in terms of getting fit, getting healthy, spending time with family, watching loads of movies (around 160 by my count!!!) and TV series, and reading about 3/4 of the number of books I intended to get through (15/20).

In terms of what I really wanted to get done, and have been saying so for more than a couple of years — ie, writing — well…it was a disappointment once again. I did a little more than previous years but still nowhere near as much as I wanted.

Some of the issues can’t be helped, but much of the problem is the usual laziness and lack of motivation, fear of starting something, fear of finishing something, fear of it being no good, fear of having to do too much to fix things up, etc etc.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past year it’s that waiting till you’re fully ready and in the mood to do something never works. Because there’s always an excuse — unexpected, made up or otherwise — to hold you back. Like exercise, which I have pretty much gotten the hang of now, writing needs to be a habit. You need to do it even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.

So that’s my only real goal of the year. To make writing (non-work or blog related, that is) a habit. If not daily then at least 3-5 times a week. I think I can manage that. I made a pact with a friend to get something done by the end of 2015 and the clock’s already ticking. A little more discipline at work will help, but I think I’m ready for the challenge.

PS: I still want to read at least 15 books this year, watch 100+ movies and continue improving my all aspects of my health, from taking my vitamins to exercising regularly and cleaning up my gruesome diet.

Getting back on track, ever so slowly

December 23, 2014 in Blogging, On Writing by pacejmiller

rail-track

It’s been a long time since my last post. I knew it wouldn’t be a while, but as usual, I did not expect it to be this long. There was the planned overseas trip that was expectedly hectic, and my mind has not been in the right place after the tragic events at Martin Place last week, which unfolded as we were preparing for our flight back. You hear of terrible tragedies almost every day, but sometimes it takes a personal connection to really make it seem real. In this case, Martin Place siege hit too close to home, and it really shook me up.

The subsequent atrocities in Pakistan and then Cairns really had me in an emotional rut, but it was the physical exhaustion — from the trip, the flight, and the sick, restless toddler upon our return — more than anything that prevented me from feeling the urge to write again. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The urge was there, but the energy was not.

And so for the first few days I was half in battle mode, trying to simply get through the day — be it work or home duties — with tremendous inefficiency, and half in zoning-out mode, staring at whatever mundane stupidity the computer screen had to offer.

Slowly but surely, however, I’m getting my mojo back. I restarted on my Pacers blogging yesterday and blogged again today. I got back into my exercise routine as well and will start watching my diet again after I stuff my face at a couple of celebratory meals I can’t avoid. None of this seemingly has anything to do with my writing, but I tell you: it’s all connected. I need to be in optimal condition — mentally and physically — for writing to commence.

As for my unofficial, two-month, split NaNoWriMo project…well, there’s always next year. I do plan to start again shortly, but any plan of completing something substantial before the end of the year is unlikely. I’ve reached a stage where I am beginning to realise that maybe I should just stop writing about intending to write, and just bloody write.

PS: One thing I have done reasonably well this year is keep up with my movie reviews. I have a couple of reviews coming up, and hopefully not that many movies left to watch before I can do my best of and worst of list for 2014.

NaNoWriMo Update 2: Derailed!

November 14, 2014 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

goku

It’s been about a week since my last update.

I’m not going to lie. As you can probably already tell from the headline, my plans have been derailed — somewhat.

It has not happened due to a lack of effort, that’s for sure. I tried getting back into it at the start of the week, but work was such a bitch (I sometimes have those days, and they just happened to be in succession) that I could barely get anything done. That and the fact that I was stuck on trying to figure out how to resolve a plot point had me on stall for the first couple of days.

Then something else happened. I was trawling through the hard drive of my old laptop and found my other project, Without Prejudice: Almost Entirely True Stories of Life, Death and Scandal in a Top-tier Law Firm. This was my master’s project, one I had done about 4 or 5 very polished chapters for and completed rough drafts of another 4 or 5 chapters. The remaining 4 or 5 chapters of the book were already planned out.

I started reading through it. I don’t like to brag, but since you brought it up, Without Prejudice is an awesome read. It’s probably the best unpublished thing I’ve ever written because most of it comes straight from my bleeding, twisted heart. My supervisor at the time — this was 3 or 4 years ago — gave me the top grade and advised that I complete it for publication.

Then life happened and I forgot all about it. I don’t regret having put the project on hold for stuff like moving overseas, having kids, doing freelance gigs to survive and then starting a new job. That shit happens. But man, I do regret not having picked it back up sooner because I had such great momentum back then and all the horrible memories were still so fresh. And with so much already completed, I was pretty damn close to completing it.

Anyway, I’ve decided to park my fantasy novel for the time being and focus on completing Without Prejudice. It took me a couple of days to sort through all the stuff I’ve done so far and rearrange and cut and paste the files until I had a master document with all my drafts and ideas — old and new — in them. It’s about 85 pages in Microsoft Word.

To my surprise a lot of the anecdotes are still etched firmly into my brain, though some others have already faded or are fading fast. I’m hoping planned visits with old friends and colleagues in a few weeks will help bring back those memories. Maybe some of the dysfunction in my new workplace can also help create some new ones.

In the meantime, I’m dedicating my NaNoWriMo to finishing this project. I only managed to do about half an hour before my working week finished for this week, but it was a great rush and I’m itching to get back into it soon. It’s a fantastic feeling to have that fire burning again.

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