Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Almost Moon

I enjoyed this book, in a sinister way. That a woman could be so deranged as to kill her own mother...I couldn't decide whether to admire her or despise her. For one, she honestly believed she was doing her mother and herself a favour by terminating her one remaining parent. However, she seems mentally disturbed.

In the end, I decided that Helen was suffering from the afflictions that her parents suffered. Mental illness had taken over her and she was no longer rational. I didn't feel sorry for her, however. She was responsible for her own actions, regardless of her health.

In an era where mental illness (depression, anxiety, phobias) is rife, why does Sebold have to feed on society's misunderstandings and stigmata of the mentally ill? This novel just adds to the problems surrounding the understanding of mental illness. Not everybody who suffers ill health makes drastic choices, like suicide and murder! Why couldn't Helen be redeemed in the end - for I don't think she is.

What I like about the novel is the building of suspense. However, the anti-climax in the final third of the book is disappointing. I expected greater things to happen, but Helen just proves herself a bad person: a bad daughter and a bad mother.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I read this book without the grain of salt that it needs. Perhaps I misunderstood the ending, for it is ambiguous. But overall, I dislike Helen and I dislike the message that this novel presents about mental health.

I also think that there is too much in this novel. Sebold attempts to tackle different relationships as well as the underlying theme of murder and betrayal. Sebold presents many relationships: husband, daughter 1 and daughter 2 (for both relationships are vastly different), friend, mother and father. I felt that none of these relationships was given enough detail, except, perhaps, that between Helen and her friend Natalie. Helen betrays Natalie, and Natalie flees, which, IMO is slightly overexaggerated.

Anyway, here are some questions about the novel:

  • Does Helen suffer from a mental illness? Or is her behaviour a result of issues that arose as she grew up with her parents and their illnesses?

  • Did Clare deserve to die? Did Helen do her a favour by ending her life the way she did?

  • Can you forgive, or understand Helen's motives for murdering her mother?

  • What are some of the main problems that Helen encountered as she grew up in her parents' home?

  • Is Helen a bad mother? Give examples. Also, what do her daughters think of her?

  • What is the relevance of Helen's relationship with her ex-husband?

  • What is the significance of Helen's career as a nude model? Is her job symbolic of anything (ie stripping and shedding of herself?)

  • If you were Natalie, how would you react to Helen's behaviour? Eg Helen having sex with Hamish; Helen killing her mother.

  • Did you enjoy the novel? What did you think of the ending (eg what happens, is Helen redeemed, justified or punished?)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Almost Moon

I am really enjoying this novel by Alice Sebold. I find it intriguing that life could get so difficult that Helen would want to murder her mother Clair. That she had imagined doing so throughout her childhood is an insane prospect to me.

Sebold is good at gradually building up the information for the reader; rather than exposing all the facts at the outset, she hints and suggests things so the reader can make their own judgements and ideas, before exposing the truths.

One aspect of the novel I am currently finding intriguing is the profession of Helen. She was overweight in her childhood but she is slim now, and she poses nude for art classes. Her utter exposure is described as shedding herself of the hold her mother has on her and being raw and exposed and free.

I am also interested in the relationship Helen has with her father, as I feel that this is the main relationship that has affected her - rather than her relationship with her mother. I find the unravelling of details about this relationship captivating.

Helen seems bereft of emotion. She doesn't seem to care about anything with passion. Perhaps her mother has stripped that from her, as caring for her mother seems like all she ever did. Helen doesn't even appear to care for her daughters the way a mother should; perhaps she learned this from her own mother. She doesn't even seem to care when she murders her mother!

Perhaps this will all be a dream, and when Helen wakes up, she will wake up next to her mother to find her very much alive, and then they will both appreciate eachother more. That would be a lame, but happy, ending

Ladder 49

I really like John Travolta and Jaquin Pheonix. Together, they have great onscreen charisma. They work well together, and I think that it is because of this that I enjoyed this movie.

The ten years of Jack's (Pheonix) development as a firefighter is followed in 'Ladder 49.' Told in a 'backflash' mode, we learn about how Jack began as a firefighter, and at the end we learn how his career ends. I became engrossed in Jack's story, preferring the focus on the relationships he built with people rather than his heroics. I would have enjoyed more development in the relationship between Jack and his boss (Travolta). When we first meet Travolta's character, he seems quite eccentric, but that characterisation doesn't follow through in the film, and I am still wondering why. I enjoyed the development of the relationships with his workmates, as well as Linda, his wife.

Time span is confusing in this film, as backflashes do create a bit of confusion at times. There are no subtitles to tell us how many years have passed, but this is not a negative issue, as it makes the viewer think about what they are watching.

I thought the actors played their roles realistically, as I imagine that firefighters who work so close to eachother have moments of joy and disappointment to share. I thought the moments of grief were played very well; I had tears on several occasions throughout the viewing.

The settings of fire were very realistic. Sound effects were used generously to give the impression of hot fire. Makeup was used effectively to show burned skin.

This film forces us to think about the people who give of themselves so they can save others. Jack's motif of 'saving people' is a reminder that his goal is to save people at the expense of himself. I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that he was also sacrificing his family to save other people.

At the end of the film I found myself wondering why people put themselves in danger to save the lives of others. And it is in thinking that that I have even more respect for the men and women who would put themselves forward in order to save me; I am for ever grateful.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Butterfly Effect

I have seen this one several times, but each time I find it a chilling viewing. From the ghastly letterbox bombing to the harrowing final 'umbilical' scene, I love the idea that the things we do can impact so greatly on others. Sure, it's all a fantasy... or is it?

When did he have the best life? Was he right to 'play God' to try to fix other people's lives? This film makes me contemplate the times in my life that I have considered to be crossroads, and how, by choosing a different path, I could've had a different life. For example, if I had broken up with Monte that day, many many years ago, where would I be now? Maybe not right here! And if I had got my belly button pierced when my friend took me to the 'salon' would I have been alluring enough to get pregnant with Georgia? What if I didn't get pregnant when I did? What child would I have?

Woa! Go on a tangent why don't ya!?

The Butterfly Effect suggests that any choice you make can impact on the lives an futures of other people. In the film, Ashton Kutcher plays a pleasant lad who gets confused regularly. We learn that these 'blackouts' are moments when his self is crossing himself in moments of time; he comes back to his past to try to fix things. Athough he fixes the problem at hand, usually, through his time interference, he actually creates a problem much worse - even waking one day to find he has no arms!

Kutcher is a convincing lead, although not much is really required to be convincing. No problems are really solved, as proved by the ending. Or, at least, he doesn't solve his problems, rather, he excapes from them!

The settings are interesting because, depending on the past that he is altered, the setting will be slightly different. Similarly with characterisation. For example, if the heroine is a dropkick who commits suicide in one 'life,' then when her past has been altered, she becomes a prom queen sophomore. Nonetheless, the same character is also a prostitute among other characters throughout the film. Thus the actors who play supporting roles are required to extend their talents more than Kutcher alone.

The idea of the film is interesting, and I have already waffled on about my interest in the issue. The film is chilling at times, and I would also like to investigate other aspects of the issue, for example, beginning with children who were basically 'good' and 'normal,' for a start.

I recommend this film but it is not everybody's 'cuppa tea.' ***

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Almost Moon

Seriously, I have no time to read! We sometimes don't even have light to read by! But I am reading 'The Almost Moon' by Alice Sebold as part of an external partaking of my parent group reading group. I think they have all read it now, but I shall plod along.

The plot: a woman kills her mother. We know this from the outset. Why she does it, we find out through reading the text. I think there must be something in this for everybody, as we all have the odd flaw in the relationships we have with our own mothers (don't we?). I think this mother was particularly hard on her daughter and might possibly have murdered her husband. I'm not sure, having read only a few chapters so far!

Style: easy to read and LOL hilarious at times (true - maybe I am just a sicko).

Setting: in a house. I think this enclosed setting adds to the haunting nature of the whole thing.

I think I recommend this book. Will let you know when I am finished!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


In desperation to write another review I am resorting to a movie we saw on TV over the weekend.

Alas, I have little time to review novels etc with all the business of packing and preparing to move to Tasmania (in 39 days!).

This film, starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman (great onscreen chemistry) is a futuristic film, delving into the idea of what happens if we could see our future. Ben's character says something along the idea that when we see our future, we make it happen. If we see a war, we fight to avoid it. Thought provoking eh?

Ben's character, whose name presently escapes my foggy mind, works for three years to engineer a machine that sees the future. After this, his memory is erased by some sci-fi invention. The film is unusual in that as viewers we do not see what he makes; we have to work that out.

I love a mystery. Whilst working, Ben's character sends himself a package, so he would receive it in the future. He decided not to accept his paycheque, in return for these items. He eventually works out that he must have sent these items to himself for a good reason. The mystery evolves as he has to decide what each item means, as he has to use it in a certain way so he can find out what he invented, and what he must do to it.

The film ends well and I love the fluent structure of this one. I enjoyed and believed each character's performance. The film tackles themes such as love, jilted friendships, betrayal, money, corruption and lust for power. It also makes us question the values we may hold in the future.

A very enjoyable viewing. ****

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Pact - Jodi Picoult


This book is enchantingly addictive. It is about a gripping yet debilitating suicidal depression, experienced by a wealthy, educated, creative, successful, beautiful and loved teenager. I think this is an important topic, especially in a time where depression, especially in teenagers, is just reaching the surface of things to talk about.

Written ten years ago, this book explores the issues why Emily is depressed - nobody noticed. How could she want to die when her life is blossoming before her? She is a talented painter. She has a wonderful boyfriend and wealthy parents. Maybe that is not the secret to true happiness...

Yet as we read through this chilling tale devoted to the goings-on of a teenager's mind, we discover the reasons why Emily wanted to die.

"The Pact" is about Emily, a suicidal girl, who talks her loving boyfriend, Chris, into being there as she ends her life. Chris is then accused of murdering Emily. A rivetting court case ensues. I sat, clenching my book and my teeth, waiting to read the final verdict - I got so desperate, I skipped to the end of the page!

If you want to read a page-turner that is about love, lust, sex (so much sex is in this book!), suicide, teenagers, depression, legal mumbo-jumbo - this book is for you. I highly recommend it. Better than "Nineteen Minutes."


PS Now that I know Picoult's formula, maybe I should try my hand at some teen-inspired topical thrillers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult

I thought this novel tackled an important issue, but I didn't like the narrative style -the way the point of view shifted so often. I like the twist at the end, but I thought it was predictable. I felt Josie's pain when she mourned Matt, and I sypathised for Peter's mother. I was torn between wanting to support Peter, and wanting to punish him. It depended on whose POV I was privvy to. I guess Picoult is showing us that there are always two sides to each story.

The topic itself is scary. I am a teacher, so this opened my eyes to a few things about schools and individual students, and I appreciate this from the novel.

I always like reading court scenes, and Picoult is great with that, as we know. I think she must be commended on her raw, realistic portrayal of character, and the way she peels the layers of a story and in so doing, she helps us recognise our own shortcomings.

Where do your values lie?


Monday, July 30, 2007

Questions for Babel

Here are some questions for the film 'Babel:'

  1. What is your favourite 'story' and why?

  2. How are the characters' lives/stories related in the plot?

  3. What evidence do we find that Susan has experienced a miscarriage or similar tragedy?

  4. Are children capable of evil, or are they just unaware of consequences? If they behave evil, what has made them that way? (eg would the young lad still be evil if a gun was not placed in his care? [that is, IF he is actually evil])

  5. Several different cultures are explored in this film. How do they differ? How are they similar? Can you find one thing that is similar to all cultures? (hint: children)

  6. How far are the settings integral to the plot (think of the setting as a character)?

  7. How is love represented in different forms in this film?

  8. Is Brad Pitt more or less of a hunk in this film? ;) Seriously though, what makes Richard a good husband?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

In the Woods - Tana French

I finished the novel and actually said, "what the?" as I shut it. I actually looked through the back of the book to see if I was missing the last page! I'm struggling to add to my previous review, and I am struggling to think of discussion questions for this book. But I'll give it a go:

  1. In what ways do you admire Adam/Rob? What are the strengths of his character? (eg I thought him a hunk at first [until I learned more about his personality!]
  2. How far is the setting of the woods integral to the plot? (eg could it have been as effective a story if it were set at the beach?)
  3. What does the rain represent in the novel? We see it a lot - what purpose does it serve? Foreshadowing, tragedy, that something is about to be solved, that Rob is in trouble etc?
  4. Does Rob treat Cassie poorly, or does she take advantage of him?
  5. Do you think that a male and female can ever be 'just good friends?'
  6. What is it that really drives Rob mad? The woods, lack of sleep, unsolved mysteries, memories, lust for Cassie, his past etc?
  7. What is the pendant/charm that is found at the end, and what purpose does its placement/existence serve?
  8. Are you satisfied with the ending? Why? Why not?