A review of Anna Karenina

First of all, thank you to everyone who made it to January’s book club meeting even with the last minute changes in venue! You’ll all be glad to know that this month we are returning to Cafe Creme at 7.30pm on Tuesday 18th February to discuss Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. We hope to see you all there! All the details you need are on the Book Club page.

Anna KareninaAlthough we had two months to read Anna Karenina, January’s book, I think it’s fair to say we all found it quite a challenge! With over 800 pages of pretty dense writing only a couple of us managed to finish it (but that didn’t stop a good turnout of people who’d just made it part way through!). There were mixed feelings about the book – some keen to continue the slog to finish and others less so!

The book primarily consists of two parallel storylines of the unhappily married Anna and her tragic affair with Vronsky, and the newly married Levin and Kitty. We found Anna an intriguing character – a big deal is made about how likeable she is, but the book never really says why!

We found the portrayal of women in the book certainly reflected the time in which it was written. In particular we noted the double standard applied to men and women – Stiva (Anna’s brother) also has an affair but suffers none of the rejections from society that Anna faces!

I personally found it to be a great book (although I didn’t quite finish it!).  The characters seemed vivid and the emotional journey of the characters really pulled me in, even if it was punctuated by chapters which went on and on about agricultural practices!!

As a group we gave Anna Karenina scores out of 10 on the following categories:

Plot – 6
Portrayal of women – 8
Writing style – 5
Enjoyment – 5
Discussion – 6

Looking forward to seeing you all at the next meeting!

Kate (Sotonettes Committee)

What the Sotonettes thought of Frankenstein…

For November’s meeting, the Sotonettes book club read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. We found Frankenstein was not a horror story as we might have expected, but more or a morality tale, which brought together key issues of the time. The book has some very interesting and topical themes which generated lots of discussion! Below is a summary of the key themes of our discussion:

Warning, spoilers follow if you haven’t yet read the book…

The pursuit of knowledge and power
The scientist Victor Frankenstein is driven and obsessed with his experiments to create the spark of life, to create a living being. His tunnel vision pursuit of science reveals a lack of compassion and causes the destruction of the people around him. The creatures are formed from body parts collected by grave robbers, which at the time this book was written, was a controversial issue – experiments were carried out on stolen corpses to advance medical science. Frankenstein immediately rejects the Creature, his creation, based on his appearance, because he isn’t perfect. The Creature requests a female partner. When the Creature negotiates for a female companion, Frankenstein agrees and becomes obsessed with the physical perfection of his new creation. Frankenstein, with no regard to the value of life and fuelled by his feeling of power, destroys the female creature which instigates the spiralling acts of revenge in the book. The North Pole (another scientific theme is the public consciousness at the time of writing) sets the stage for Frankenstein’s final days where he recounts the story to his companion Walton. The character of Walton has a specific purpose in the book- can society learn from its mistakes? After hearing Frankenstein’s story, Walton has the choice to continue his pursuit of the North Pole, or turn back.

Who was the real monster? Victor vs. the Creature
The character of Victor is selfish with no care and compassion and rejects his creation based on appearance. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, for his creation, he rejects it and pushes it away. In contrast the Creature is at first innocent and abandoned, attempting to survive in a hostile world. The creature learns of cruelty through these experiences. We found the Creature to be more of an emotional and complex character and the behaviours of these characters raised the issue of nature vs. nurture – are we born with certain behavioural tendencies, or are they learned? We also saw moments where Frankenstein may have said opportunity to make different choices to attempt to recover the situations, but these weren’t taken.

Role of women
The female characters of the book are presented as passive victims. Overall, men are presented as bad and women as good or innocent. At the time the book was written the majority of women had limited power and control over their own lives- they suffered with the consequences of the actions of men. With this context, the presentation of women in this book is a clever tool to highlight this social issue. The female characters of this book can be seen to represent the defenceless.

The author – Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley, the well-educated daughter of a feminist, write the first interation of Frankenstein at just 19 years old in 1816 whilst on a trip with fellow writers to the Swiss Alps. The concept was drawn up as part of a competition among the writers to come up with the best ‘ghost story’. We were all impressed that the story was written by Shelley at such a young age! The story, a moral tale, reflects Shelley’s observations of the world and society and the concerns of the time.

Film/play adaptations
The film versions of Frankenstein have become visually iconic and influenced our expectations of the book. The appearance of the Creature described in the book – the Creature isn’t green with bolts through his neck! The National Theatre adaptation again presents a different interpretation – very intense and more graphic/extreme than the book.

Overall, we had mixed feelings about the book- some thought it was good and others found it had some interesting themes, but didn’t find it as an enjoyable read. We all agreed that it excellently raised issues relating to science and progress which are relevant to today’s society. An interesting read!

What the Sotonettes thought of Rebecca…

The Sotonettes’ Book Club read Rebecca for October’s meeting – below is a rundown of what everyone thought.  If this makes you want to take part in our book club, the next meeting is on Tuesday 19th November at 7.30pm in Cafe Creme (the book up for discussion is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).  More info on our Book Club page.

And now for a little bit about Rebecca… warning… !SPOILER ALERT!

Atmospheric and a real page turner, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a real classic of gothic literature. The story follows a young woman who is plucked from her life as a companion to an older gossipy and wealthy American woman by the enigmatic and much older Maxim de Winter to his beautiful home at Manderley.

Narrated by the young woman, we follow her experiences as she contends with the overwhelming, and ever present memory of Maxim’s late first wife, Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter and the increasingly obsessive and disturbing house keeper Mrs Danvers.

We talked nonstop for almost two hours, so here is a little flavour (without giving too much away!):

  • Manderley: a fabulous setting for the story, hugely atmospheric and almost a character in itself.
  • Daphne du Maurier never gives the second Mrs de Winter a name of her own in sharp contrast to the power of Rebecca’s name. We felt this was integral to the story, names and identify defined each character, and this set the two women as polar opposites right from the start.
  • Relationships between men and women at the time (duties and expectations): Rebecca was published in 1938 and we felt some of the behaviours of the characters in the book reflected the time. Rebecca was, on the surface, considered to be the ‘perfect wife’; sociable, organised, beautiful. The second Mrs de Winter was expected to fit in and pick everything up. Maxim seemed oblivious and/or insensitive to the difficulties between Mrs de Winter and the house staff.
  • We felt that if all the characters simply sat down and talked to each other much of the confusion and distress could have been avoided! A classic example of keeping up appearances until breaking point! The second Mrs de Winter has both low self-esteem and is self absorbed. We often saw her over thinking things, going off on tangents but taking no action. We found this frustrating to read – we found our inner feminists really kicking in! Was this due to her age, or perhaps to the isolation of Manderley?
  • How would Rebecca’s behaviours be viewed today? Rebecca’s actions in the novel are said to be ‘evil’. Rebecca’s ‘wild’ behaviour and infidelities would perhaps not be viewed to such an extreme today.
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test? We don’t think it does, and in addition, at the very least, the female characters are defined by their relationship with Maxim de Winter (Beatrice as Maxim’s sister, Rebecca as the first Mrs de Winter and the female lead as the second Mrs de Winter etc…).
  • Comparisons with other literature: Jane Eyre and Twilight – gothic novels and similar themes.
  • Who won? Did Rebecca ultimately win (through the power of her name and memory?), or Mrs de Winter now she finds herself in control? Or Mrs Danvers through the fire? For each we felt it was a hollow victory.
  • What happened to Mrs Danvers?! This prompted a lot of discussion and different theories!

On the whole, we felt this was more of a jealousy story than a love story. After all the twists and turns of the plot we were not sure where our sympathies lay- and this sparked plenty of discussion! All in all, a brilliant read!

Ever wondered what our book club is like?

Hi everyone!

Our next book club meeting is in less than a week (for those who’ve missed the earlier announcements, it’s Frankenstein on Tuesday the 19th of November at Cafe Creme – more info here).  I thought a few people might we wondering what goes on at the book club meetings, so I asked our committee member Kate to give us a round up of last month’s meeting (they read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier).

Enjoy!

Book Club – What to expect and a little about last month’s book: Rebecca

Our first ever book, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, got the book club off to a fantastic start! We had some brilliant discussions and debates, along with lots of giggles!

The format is relaxed and informal; we all gather round some tables pulled together and throw our ideas into the mix. Held at the fabulous Cafe Creme, hot chocolate and wedges of cake are the perfect accompaniment!

Our book for this month is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. We will be returning to Cafe Creme on the November 19th at 19:30. At this meeting we plan on choosing our next 2 books, so please come along with your ideas.

We have had some brilliant suggestions for future books! Please keep them coming in… bring some ideas on the night or drop us a message via email, Facebook or Twitter!

Suggestions (so far!):
The Handmaidens Tale; The Awakening – Kate Chopin; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith; A town like Alice; I’ve got your number – Sophie Kinsella; Agatha Christie; Virginia Wolf;  One Day – David Nicholls; Margarett Atwood; Sons and Lovers – D.H Lawrence; Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn; A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini; The Help – Kathryn Stockett; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson; The Cousins War series – Philippa Gregory; Kate Mosse; Almost English – Charlotte Medelson; the new J.K Rowling book; Game of Thrones series; The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton; On the Road – Jack Kerouac; The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern; Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte; The Last Kings of Sark – Rosa Rankin-Gee; Little Women – Louisa May Alcott; Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed…

I hope this has given you an idea of what we get up to!  If you’d like to know more, you can find out how to contact us here. Keep an eye on the blog as tomorrow we’ll be posting a bit more about Rebecca for anyone that couldn’t make it or just curious about what everyone chatted about!

 

Would you like to see Frankenstein?

If any of you were getting dressed up for Halloween, I hope you had fun and are still in the mood for some scary stories!  After an incredibly inspiring and interesting talk from Tracey at the Nuffield this week, we’ve got ourselves in the theatre mood and are heading out for a few evenings of theatre-related fun – would you like to join us?

First up is a trip to see Frankenstein at the Harbour Lights Picturehouse (for more about Frankenstein, scroll down to our earlier blog post or click here if you’re lazy!).

We’re going to the showing on Thursday November 14th at 7pm – join in on our Facebook event here for all the information.  If you’re not on Facebook and can’t get all the info, drop us an email at sotonettes@gmail.com and we’ll pass on everything you need to know.

After that, we’ll be visiting in the Nuffield on Thursday December 5th – keep an eye on Facebook and this site for more information about getting tickets (this trip will be open to all members and their partners/children/friends!).

Frankenstein

The Sotonettes are very proud to say that the first book club meeting was a great success – thanks to all those that came along and discussed Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

November brings a new book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  While looking for a suitable cover to feature on our Book Club page, I was astounded by the number of different versions (and beautiful covers) that exist, so I’m sure no-one will have too much trouble getting their hands on a copy.  There are a few copies still available in Southampton’s Libraries, and also a spoken word CD (thanks to BBC Radio 4) available to borrow if you don’t fancy reading!  I’m confident that Southampton’s charity shops will do us proud too – if you’re struggling to find a copy, post on our Facebook page or the Book Club Facebook event and hopefully a fellow Sotonette will be able to help you out.

I am a massive fan and big supporter of the National Theatre and it’s productions… some of you may remember the critical acclaim that the NT attracted when Danny Boyle cast and directed Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch in a new production of Frankenstein back in 2011.  What made this production particularly special was that the two lead actors would alternate playing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and Creature each night.  It was also one of the National’s first performances to be broadcast live to hundreds of UK cinemas as part of the NT Live season.

Frankenstein_NTsmall

I was lucky enough to see Cumberbatch play Creature – an absolutely enthralling performance throughout – but never got to see Miller’s interpretation of the character (and vice versa for Cumberbatch’s version of Frankenstein).  For anyone that missed either/both productions, the National Theatre are showing both recorded versions in cinemas up and down the country in October and November as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations – perfect timing for our book club too!

The Harbour Lights Picturehouse will be showing the play on Halloween, Thursday 31st October (Benedict Cumberbatch as Creature) and two weeks later, on Thursday 14th November (Jonny Lee Miller as Creature).  For more information on the cinema showings of this tremendous production, have a look at the NT website. I can’t urge you all enough to go and see one or both of these – not often do we see big names like Miller and Cumberbatch on stage with such an imaginative director, and we don’t even have to go to London! If you want to see a trailer, the Harbour Lights have one on their website.

With all this talk of theatre, I should also remind you about our main monthly meeting – Southampton’s very own Nuffield Theatre will be coming to tell us everything we need to know about getting a production from script to stage, and answer any questions we might have too.

Hope to see you all soon!

Jen x