‘The Killers’ by Ernest Hemingway


So I’ve been getting back into short stories lately, having gotten a few collections out of the library. One of these collections was Ernest Hemingway’s The First Forty-Nine Stories. I haven’t been reading the stories in any particular order, mainly just picking out ones whose names I like from the contents page. Last night I read a pretty terrific one – though most of Hemingway’s are – ‘The Killers’. Here’s an online version.

It’s hard to describe why it’s so great… there’s just something so effortlessly good about Hemingway’s writing. Despite it being titled ‘The Killers’, nobody is actually murdered; the story also avoids explaining to us what the boxer did to get these men after him and whether he will survive. It instead tells us about two men – George and Nick – who get caught up in someone else’s story and how it effects them. When Nick says he’s going to leave town, Hemingway leaves it ambiguous whether he actually does or not. Many of us have made pledges before, whether it’s to leave a crappy job or follow a dream, but we never do. Whether Nick does or not is for the reader to decide.

A few other fantastic Hemingway stories: ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’, ‘Cat in the Rain’, ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’.


Book Review: Villette (1853) by Charlotte Brontë


Everybody knows that old bit of advice about writing fiction: ‘write what you know’. Perhaps this is why Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley is a pretty messy novel and Villette is, maybe, her strongest. The former is a social novel that she heavily researched, immersing herself in newspapers and records, while the latter is based around feelings very familiar to her.

Charlotte Brontë wrote what she knew in Villette, but not only in the sense of having learned French abroad much like her protagonist Lucy Snowe. It is the way she expresses the feelings of loss, disappointment and isolation that make the novel powerful. Despite the majority of the first half of the novel building up the romance between Lucy and Dr John – someone she admits to having deep feelings for – they don’t end up together, seeming like little more than strangers by the end of the novel. She decides that John belongs to somebody else and buries her feelings for him – quite literally, burying her letters from him beneath a tree – much like Charlotte was forced, ultimately, to bury her feelings for her French tutor Constantin Héger.

Though this romance is succeeded by another one later in the novel – the irritating at first Paul Emanuel – it ends similarly. He leaves her to go on a three-year voyage and, the novel suggests, dies during it. Her situation at the end of the novel very much mirrors Charlotte’s own life during the time it was written. Lucy has gained success – opening her own school – but she is isolated from her friends, choosing not to intrude on Dr John’s life after he falls for Polly. Charlotte by this stage had gained great success as an author through Jane Eyre’s acclaim, meeting several people she greatly admired such as William Thackeray in London society, but was still ultimately alone after her sisters’ deaths. Notably, Villette was the first and only novel that Charlotte wrote after Emily and Anne passed away.

Due to its strong dependence on its protagonist’s emotions, Villette tells a simple but true story. There was a sense with Shirley that Charlotte had spread herself too thin emotionally, offering a large cast of characters – think Game of Thrones set in early 19th century Yorkshire – but little insight into them. It has many narrative twists (attempted assassinations! mad dogs! fires!) but ultimately feels pretty hollow. On the surface, staggeringly little actually occurs in Villette, but it feels more honest, and true to who Charlotte Brontë was.

When people say ‘write what you know’, they don’t mean that your protagonists’ lives should mirror your own, but that the feelings they experience must come from somewhere inside you. Happiness, sorrow, anger, they’re things we’re all familiar with, and it’s forming our stories around these universal feelings that makes them powerful ones. Villette is based around Charlotte Brontë’s own feelings relating to loss, and that’s what makes it such a great novel.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood


Dystopian novels have become a bit of a trend these days – you can tell by the amount of YA ones that are being adapted by film studios each year. Although many of them are dark, they’re also pretty hopeful too, often about the protagonist trying – and succeeding to – overthrow the big bad leaders of their world. As a result, I found it pretty refreshing to read a dystopian novel as unrelentingly bleak as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Preceding the YA dystopian boom – by about thirty years – the novel has more in common with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four than The Hunger Games. In fact, the best way to sum the book up is as a very feminist Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Atwood’s dystopia is one ruled by men, where women have little to no power. They exist simply for stereotypically feminine tasks such as cooking and reproduction. The novel focuses on a character who is made to perform the latter of these tasks. As a handmaid, it is Offred’s job to bear her new master – a high ranking commander – a child in an age where infertility has become common through radiation exposure. Also living in the commander’s house are his female servants as well as his wife.

In most dystopian novels the protagonist has something that keeps them going, a small glimmer of hope. The women of The Handmaid’s Tale possess the smallest of small glimmers. Offred has nothing to call her own, gaining excitement from coveting anything for herself, whether it be a match or a small piece of butter. Stripped of everything she once had, she is no longer a person but instead a possession. She doesn’t know if her imprisonment will ever end, or if, at any moment, she might die.

The one thing she still possesses is her memories, something that the novel dwells on quite heavily. In a world where she cannot freely converse with others or go where she wants, she can still escape into her past. Offred’s dire situation is not one with much narrative momentum – she is not allowed to be an active protagonist – so Atwood turns to the character’s past to give her agency. Her past is full of ambiguity, she does not know for sure what happened to her family or her friends. She does not know who is alive and who is dead; it is these ambiguities that keep her alive, hoping that she might find them if she’s ever freed.

The bleakness of Atwood’s world is reinforced by the more active characters that surround Offred. In all the books on storytelling I’ve read, one message that recurs is that you have to have an active protagonist… But somehow in this novel a passive one works. Offred is passive, but she survives. These active characters that she encounters, the ones that try to break free from their situations, more often than not meet an undesirable fate. Moira is a character that feels like she should be The Handmaid’s Tale’s protagonist, always fighting against the powers above her – but it doesn’t work out for her in the end. Offred recognises that she isn’t special, she isn’t a heroine – all she wants to do is survive so that one day she might see her loved ones again.

But this passiveness does end up being a double-edged sword for the novel for obvious reasons: it isn’t that interesting watching a protagonist do nothing. It’s not until the last third of the novel that her circumstances change and she is forced to become more active – but when this portion comes along, it is treated in an incredibly rushed manner. I would not have minded if Margaret Atwood had decided to spend less time talking about Offred’s walks and more on the last moments of the story.

Overall though, The Handmaid’s Tale is a powerful and original novel. I was pretty shocked to discover it’s thirty years old as it really has a timeless quality to it. As strong as dystopian novels come.


Book Review: Tigers in Red Weather (2012) by Liza Klaussmann


Despite the fact that I have an incredibly long backlog of books I need to get through, it’s sometimes nice just to pick up one at random from a shop with no idea what it’s about. Tigers in Red Weather is one of those books – I was drawn in by the stylish, retro cover and the intriguing but vague blurb on the back. I can now say that I’m glad I picked it up.

Being told from the points of view of several characters, the plot revolves around what happens during a summer holiday in 1959, the events leading up to it and the consequences of it. As children, cousins Nick and Helena would visit Tiger House every summer, and now they continue the tradition with their own families. On the surface these two women seem to have everything they want – married to successful men – but, behind closed doors, everything isn’t as perfect as it seems. Through the summer of 1959, truths begin to bubble to the surface.

This is a pretty cynical novel, focusing on how we present ourselves publicly and how we act in private. It starts off a little bit cheesy – I was worried I’d been caught up in some by-the-numbers romance – but the novel soon dispelled that fear. It is less a romance novel than an anti-romance one, showing how love erodes over time and how we can never truly be satisfied with our lives. In Tigers in Red Weather, we frequently see characters achieve what they want… only to begin desiring something else. What this desire is varies from character to character, whether it’s having an affair, gaining money, or cutting up a dead mouse. The events of the novel aren’t high-stakes or exciting, at times bordering on mundane, but it makes it easier for the reader to connect to. With there being five point of view characters, it is likely that you’ll be able to relate to at least one of them. Though Klaussmann uses the setting of the slick and stylish fifties/sixties, as she digs below the surface of her characters she reveals they are flawed very much like us.

One of the novel’s greatest assets – as well as worst – is its use of multiple points of view. When a key moment occurs in the novel, we are allowed to see multiple characters react to it – often in varying ways. An action that may seem irredeemable through one character’s eyes may be completely justifiable in another’s. But the POV structure is also a hindrance: after a while it gets slightly tiring having to go over the same events over and over again – some we experience three or four times – and Klaussmann does not always justify these retreads. The novel also suffers slightly from its final POV, which feels like it’s from a completely different book. Its differing subject-matter to me seemed like a cheap way to bring the story to an exciting finish. It effectively raises the stakes, introducing matters of life and death, but all this comes about in the last quarter of the novel – much too late to feel like it belongs.

Tigers in Red Weather is a strong novel and a clever one. Though not much particularly happens – except from the final POV – Klaussmann’s way of framing events shines a unique angle on what could easily be a dull and generic narrative.


Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne Brontë


I’m sorry for misjudging you, Anne Brontë. When I reviewed Agnes Grey earlier this year, I found it to be incredibly underwhelming – especially when compared to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Apart from a few brief flashes of greatness, it was your standard ‘virtuous Victorian woman finds love’ story. Thankfully The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is much better – a true Victorian classic.

When the mysterious Helen Graham moves into the long abandoned Wildfell Hall, it sparks conversation among the people of a nearby community. Accompanied by a small child and no husband, they try to discover what her history is. Among these people, it is only the farmer Gilbert Markham that shows a genuine interest in the woman herself, quickly forming a strong friendship with her. And, after gaining her trust, she tells him of her dark history – and of the abusive man she and her son have escaped from.

Though the novel shares a large amount of similarities with Wuthering Heights – the same initials of the central location, the flashback narrative, the abusive relationship – it approaches similar subject matters in a very different way. If Wuthering Heights is about the love between Cathy and Heathcliff, then Wildfell Hall is about the mistaken love between Helen and Arthur and how it slowly morphs into hate. It is about a naïve woman who thinks she can fix her alcoholic husband but is, in the end, forced to abandon him. It’s more overtly feminist than any of the other Brontë novels – which is both a bad and good thing. Bad because Helen ends up being a bit too much of a goody-goody protagonist – much like Agnes – and good because of how incredibly groundbreaking the novel was for its time. Helen being forced to pack in her Christian attitude towards her husband and leave him for the good of their son is just a fantastic moment in literature.

But, as I have discussed, she is far from the most interesting of the Brontës’ female protagonists. Anne being the most religious of the three sisters really shows here, and it can get a bit grating at times. Although she isn’t quite as painfully flawless as Agnes Grey, it would be nice to see a few more chinks in her armor. Arthur is mostly a one-note character, along with his little hunting gang, but Anne does a good job of adding some intrigue to him. Though he is largely a straight up villain, there is an underlying sadness to his character. The man is never able to kick his addictions, but there is a sense that he wants to, and he wants to be the man Helen thought he was. The author also does a great job of gradually revealing what he’s truly like. At the beginning we see him through the eyes of a young Helen, allowed to understand how parts of his character can be seen as charming, as well as how they could hint at there being a more sinister side to him.

Gilbert, the narrator of Wildfell Hall, is perhaps the most curious character in the whole novel. Though he’s primarily a love interest for Helen, how Anne chose to portray him is noteworthy. He is not a straight up good guy like the woman he falls for, and is shown to have some violent tendencies. For example, when he thinks that Helen is in love with someone else – Lawrence, who later turns out to be her brother – he knocks him off his horse by whipping him in the face. He’s also shown to be threatening to members of his family. Therefore, concluding the novel with a marriage between him and Helen seems like a cynical move on Anne’s part – she suggests that history might simply repeat itself and Helen will end up in a situation similar to her last one.

The writing style in the novel is fine, but somewhat bland compared to the works of her sisters. Anne favors realism over melodrama – Gilbert doesn’t pull anything quite like Rochester’s fortune-teller stunt – and it works quite well. After the slog that was Shirley, it was nice to read something a bit more straightforward. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells a simple, straight-forward story and it tells it well.


Top Ten ‘Hannibal’ Episodes


*Quite a lot of spoilers below*

So here we are, Hannibal is finished. Though it’s sad to see such a great show go – heck, it was my favourite show of last year – this felt like the right time for it to end. As much as I would’ve liked to have seen Will and Hannibal’s murder-husband adventures and perhaps a ‘Silence of the Lambs’ adaption I doubt the two plots would’ve been enough to sustain a season between them. Hannibal over its three years produced some truly terrific episodes of television, and here are the ones I believe to be the very best… Let’s get to it.

Hannibal - Season 1
10. Coquilles (Season One, Episode Five)

I had a hard time choosing between this one and ‘Trou Normand’ (the one with the human totem pole) for the number ten spot. Both are pretty much neck-and-neck for the best case-of-the-week episode of the first season, but I ultimately settled on this one for being the episode in which the show jumps from good to great. The ‘angels’ to me are the first disgustingly beautiful serial killer case the show presented us with. In addition to the killer main plot, the subplot with Jack and Bella is also very strong and gave the character some much needed depth. ‘Coquilles’ is the episode where Hannibal began to find its groove and that alone earns it a place on this list.

Hannibal - Season 3
09. Aperitivo (Season Three, Episode Four)

Perhaps the very opposite of a case-of-the-week episode, ‘Aperitivo’ takes advantage of the first half of Season Three’s non-linear structure better than any other episode. This stretch of episodes is probably the weakest in the show’s run – somehow feeling dragged out and rushed at the same time – but this episode’s unique structure helps it stand out as a highlight. Barely featuring the show’s title character at all, ‘Aperitivo’ examines his many victims instead, and boy are there a lot of them. Everyone is out for revenge, from Mason Verger to Alana Bloom and there’s just something delightfully dark about seeing these characters share their scars. Also, Chilton gets a lot of screen-time, which is always a good thing.

Hannibal - Season 2
08. Tome-wan (Season Two, Episode Twelve)

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Verger as a villain – especially given how much of the show he took up – but Hannibal does do an incredible job of wrapping up his storyline at the end of Season Two. ‘Tome-wan’ acts as a great climax of sorts, both for Verger and for Will and Hannibal’s mind-games. Both are trying to push the other one to kill Verger – but his fate in the end is much more horrifying. Mason cutting off chunks of his own face and feeding them to Will’s dogs is one of the most disturbing sequences the show has ever done and represents the show at its most messed-up state. It’s also worth noting that the Season Three episode ‘Digestivo’ is in some ways a redux of this episode, and is also a classic. While that one is probably a better episode overall it is also a retread – so ‘Tome-wan’ makes the list instead.

Hannibal - Season 3
07. The Great Red Dragon (Season Three, Episode Eight)

Despite some great moments the first half of Season Three was a disappointment – so I was incredibly happy when the ‘Red Dragon’ storyline kicked off. I’ve been anticipating the show’s adaption of the novel since the first episode and it ended up being the best possible way to send Hannibal off. Almost every episode from this arc could have made this list (‘And the Woman Clothed in Sun’ and ‘The Number of the Beast is 666…’ are particular highlights) but I decided to settle on the one that starts the storyline off. After a holiday in Venice it was so delightful to see Will Graham back to examining crime scenes and to have Price and Zeller back to examining bodies. It was great to see Hannibal behind bars – being incredibly bitchy – and to get a glimpse of Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde. There’s just so much to love here.

Hannibal - Season 1
06. Entrée (Season One, Episode Six)

‘Coquilles’ was great, but the episode that follows it is even greater. Honestly, it could’ve made the list just for introducing two of the show’s best characters: Frederick Chilton and Abel Gideon. This is the episode where the show begins to slowly move beyond being a procedural, making Hannibal into the killer of focus. Eddie Izzard doesn’t get a lot to do here, but his scenes act as a great homage to the books/films, as does Anna Chlumsky’s Miriam Lass. It’s an episode that provides a balance between homage and originality, putting an old spin on plot elements we’ve seen in other Hannibal stories. And as a result of it, I consider it a classic.

Hannibal - Season 2
05. Su-zakana (Season Two, Episode Eight)

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a particularly important episode. There aren’t any big twists or significant character introductions – it’s just a fun and messed-up case, my favourite of the many standalone episodes the show did. Besides, did the show produce any line better than ‘Is your social worker in that horse?’ As the line suggests, the episode revolves around a dead man who is discovered sewn inside a horse… with there also being a live bird sewn inside him. The episode takes great advantage of the new dynamic between Will and Hannibal, with the former now knowing that the latter is a murderer. I’m disappointed the show didn’t make more use of this set-up, but as it is ‘Su-zakana’ is a brilliant episode.

Hannibal - Season 3
04. The Wrath of the Lamb (Season Three, Episode Thirteen)

Overall, this was a pretty fantastic conclusion for the show – as good as it could’ve hoped for (though if the show was receiving a fourth season I might like it a bit less…) The episode does a great job of wrapping up the Red Dragon arc as well as the show as a whole, with Will finally giving in to Hannibal’s allure. All the characters get some great send-off moments here – okay, everyone except Jack – such as Price and Zeller explaining Dolarhyde’s plan and Chilton and Bloom’s final conversation. Francis gets a little bit shafted, but I can let that slide for the fantastic final moments between Will and Hannibal. The show was about them at the beginning and it comes down to them at the end. This episode also has some pretty fantastic lines as well, such as Hannibal commenting on Will’s ‘mike drop’.

Hannibal - Season 2
03. Yakimono (Season Two, Episode Seven)
Okay, so Hannibal was never a show that was grounded in realism, but I think most fans will agree that after the first half of its second season – half-way through its run – it took quite a sharp nosedive into dream logic. And that’s fine, it produced some of its best episodes during that period, but it’s worth noting that the show had some pretty cleverly plotted stories before that shift. Exhibit A: ‘Yakimono’ – in which Hannibal frames Chilton for his crimes. The episode is built up of great scene after great scene, with my particular favourite bit being Chilton after he wakes up in his home surrounded by dead officers. Oh dear. The episode does an incredibly effective job of wrapping up all of Season 2A’s plotlines while moving the show into its next phase.

Hannibal - Season 1
02. Savoureux (Season One, Episode Thirteen)

This one should probably share its number two spot with the episode preceding it, ‘Relevés’, as they’re pretty much two parts of the same story. Together they do a really great job of tying all of the season’s threads together – Will’s illness, Hannibal’s crimes, Abigail – and is just about as good as you could hope for a finale to be. A stupider show would’ve dragged out the Season One phase of the story longer, keeping Will oblivious of what Hannibal really is, but doing it here allows Hannibal to flip their dynamic completely for the next season. It also does a terrific job of twisting our knowledge of Hannibal’s universe by having Will incarcerated instead of everybody’s favourite cannibal.

Hannibal - Season 2
01. Mizumono (Season Two, Episode Thirteen)

I think a lot of people will agree with me on this one. ‘Mizumono’ is the show at its absolute best, giving viewers the moment they’d been waiting for since the beginning: everyone realising what Hannibal is. Even though Jack and Hannibal’s fight is teased at the very beginning of the season, I don’t think anybody expected this episode to be as brutal as it is. Pretty much every major character besides the one in the title is left for dead by the time the credits roll: Will stabbed in the stomach, Jack in the throat… and Alana? Well, she gets pushed out of a window. Oh yeah, and Abigail is brought back to life just so she can die all over again. This is Hannibal’s mike drop – running off to Italy with Belidia while he leaves the rest of the cast bleeding to death in his house. It’s no wonder that people refer to this episode as the Red Dinner Party.

A Post About Music


On this blog I’ve talked about television shows, films, books (this one a lot) but never really music. Rather than it being because I never listen to music – I very rarely write/read without it – it’s more because I’m not sure how to write about it. It’s much easier to criticise one of those other things because they normally have a plot and characters. But I’m going to give it a shot and fill you guys in on what music I’m really into at the moment. It’s a rare occasion when I find a new band that I really love, but when I fall in love with a band I really do. So here are four of those bands.

Stealing Sheep
My current obsession. When I first started listening to them it was simply research for an article (which I think I linked on here a few days ago), but the more I heard the more I grew to love their sound. Now a month later I have all their songs and am listening to them on loop while I write this. It’s hard to describe what makes them so good in my eyes. I love music that has a folksy vibe and I love electro-pop, and Stealing Sheep somehow manages to bring these two things together. The amount of instruments each of the band-members play is also impressive. When I saw them live they swapped between instruments mid-way through songs. In short I just think that they’re utterly, utterly fantastic.

(Also their music videos are very… odd.)

Passion Pit
Probably the first band I got into when I actively started listening to music. They fit very snugly into that electro-pop category I mentioned earlier, with their songs being full of great synth music. The high-energy background music in all their songs also forms a strong contrast to the frequently bleak lyrics. It’s something that probably shouldn’t work, but does remarkably well. Passion Pit are incredibly unique in what they do and that’s why I listen to them.

Of Monsters and Men
Like I said earlier, I love music with a folksy vibe. Unlike the previous two bands, there are no synths to be found here – just drums and guitars. It’s nice in its own way, providing a much more raw sound. But the best part of Of Monsters and Men’s songs are the lyrics which carry a certain level of fairy-tale whimsy (though they can get kinda dark). It’s all about animals and monsters, and, in a way, is the sort of music you’d expect to hear around a campfire.

Public Service Broadcast
How do I describe this band? Well, uh, basically instead of singing they use sound-clips from public service broadcasts. It makes for something incredibly odd and also very enjoyable. With all the posh BBC accents that fill up their music, you’d think they’d run the risk of their songs all sounding a bit silly, but somehow the band manage to use these old recordings to convey a wide range of emotions. There’s a distinct melancholy sense to their work overall that I really love. It’s not the sort of music you’re likely to sing along to in the car, but they’re still really great.


A few other bands I’m fond of: Bombay Bicycle Club, Imagine Dragons, Death Cab of Cutie, La Roux


If anyone has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them in the comments!