Friday, February 26, 2016

The Bell Jar Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I've read Sylvia Plath's Ariel for my poetry class one semester in college and considering myself far from an exponent of poetry, I do believe it's one of the best ways to purge the streams of emotion that you can't properly communicate simply in conversation with another person. Out of the four authors we read for her class, she was neck and neck with another as my favorite study in the class. So when my sister and I decided to make our on little book club, I thought what could go wrong with a classic? Let's get started! The synopsis, as always, provided by Goodreads.

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under -- maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

Pardon the redundancy. I first heard of the author from my poetry class.

(safe for those who haven't read this yet)
      If I must start I will start with praises, because I'll be honest, this book didn't click much with me. First area of praise. I could tell by the rhythm of the story that she took care to include each word. If that doesn't scream poet then I don't know what does. One of my favorite quotes is "Easy reading is damn hard writing;" and I know Plath struggled just as much to accurately portray the descent down a path that she herself would have been suffering down, particularly since during the 1960s depression and suicidal thoughts were deemed more bizarre and rare among the public. It was a step closer to recognizing mental disorders with mass audiences--- not only the results of them but how people can fall into them. She showed you don't have to be a case of depression all your life to have it, that it can come suddenly and without good cause. There were many times I found her words to sink deep into my mind, to find a corner to snuggle in and to completely resonate with me. 
      I have learned something from this book though, which is when deciding what to read next I should never rely on the generalization of an experience to deem a book as interesting. For me. Of course just for me. For the most part, I found The Bell Jar too episodic for my taste. Another thing I've learned about myself, I'm quite superficial in what books interest me. Give me interesting characters. Give me complex plots. Give me colorful magical stories. However if a book only offers me mostly only glimpses in a person's life which are ideally included to fall under the umbrella of a theme, then I'm expecting that book to be autobiographical. I have read that this book is semi-autobiographical which makes me feel like I'm not criticizing the fictional character but the author. While characters can feel real at times, they are merely ideas and characterizations put together on paper. However who am I to talk about a story about a woman who shared emotions and thoughts and feelings to a stranger and can only say that I didn't like what she had to say because for me it was unrelatable. For me, Esther seemed to be only a shallow privileged woman who was consistently unhappy. On more than one occasion when I was reading I just thought she was an adult throwing a temper tantrum. Not outwardly. Not immaturely. But she had people who cared for her and looked out for her and yet she could only look within. She only could spot what was wrong with how they lived and how they went about her. It's easy to spot what's wrong. For most of her faults, at least that's something any reader can communicate with.
      Now this is a very sensitive subject, particularly now, so I'm afraid anyone reading this will think me insensitive. I can't stress this enough. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, then I sympathize with them. I don't argue the illness, only the relatability of the character. It's hard to discern one from the other in cases like these and it's hard for me to describe! It's unfortunate that a tragic life isn't properly applicable to its reader. 
    In a way I find the synopsis a little misleading since she doesn't go down the insanity rabbit hole, but one of depression.
   Also for a book this small, and it pains me to say this since I'm an avid fan of a large cast of characters, but this book was too overrun with characters. Most I can't remember without a memory or mnemonic as a reminder from when she met them. Granted, I read this book over a course of days and not in a single one.
     The Bell Jar is like Mrs. Dalloway. A novel before it's time and significant in its time because it branched from the structure and standards of its time because it delved into the minds and made the reader think. I didn't intend to mention authors, both of who committed suicide due to their mental disorders, but because the latter was the first that came to mind that holds such high critical acclaim and for which, unfortunately, I fail to recognize why that is. I give this novel a low review because while it departs from generic literature in its subject matter, it fails to resonate with me. While it makes me think, it isn't a good think. It's a think process understanding why other people talk about this novel and not why I want to talk about it.

I give this book 2/5 stars

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; 

I lift my eyes and all is born again.” 
―Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Next To Read:
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
    The book really only got interesting in the last 60 pages, since when the narrative a straight-forward approach with less steps backwards as the first 75% of the novel took. It just told the story from when her descent really plummeted and kept itself on that path without any divergence. 
    One of the few scenes I began to dislike Esther was unfortunately in the beginning. Discouraging thought since it is... the beginning. It was the scene after the party and Esther is grumbling about Doreen hooking up with Lenny, when she's just returned to her apartment and is whining because her friend was able to hook up with someone when she couldn't. Doreen followed Esther out of the cab and tried to include her at the bar and when he they went to the guy's apartment, trying to include her and not completely turn her back on her. However, when Doreen returned drunk, Esther just left her out in the hall. I mean, some friend! There's depression, and then there's indecency. Esther wasn't that drunk so she doesn't have that excuse. And it isn't like Doreen stole someone who was in Esther's life for a prolonged time. It was literally some random guy. Sorry that your ego was dampened down a little bit but it isn't enough to treat your friend like dirt.
    And what about how she broods on Buddy? Repeatedly she calls Buddy hypocritical but as a writer, she should be well aware of all kinds of men. Sure he wasn't as "pure" as she would have liked, but at least he was honest. He didn't try to hide the fact he was a little more loose than her and at least he didn't criticize her for being her age and a virgin the way she criticized him for being coquettish. If anything, he was the only one outside of her family who tried to keep in touch with her. I connected more with him at the end (in one of the handful of scenes he has) when he visits Esther and asks her if the problem is him. Because all we have is Esther saying he's a hypocrite this and hypocrite that and to see this character come out and have feelings that people would normally feel when people they were close with attempting suicide. Out of all the characters, I feel he's the character that readers will connect with most. He's human. He's minor, but he's important to the story. The story isn't just about who's suffering, but about the people who have to survive after they've gone. 
    Another moment Esther absolutely got on my nerves was at the end just before Joan's funeral, Esther was told that she was one of Joan's best friends. Sure Esther didn't care for the girl, but it just shows how incapable and cold she was to others. All she ever did was complain that the right kind of men weren't interested in her or that the type of women she was surrounded by were shallow and only were interested in fancy parties and their place in society. At least they were honest about who they were. She viewed the world through a lens and remained at a distance. She only viewed how people lived and criticized them about how wrong they were. A moment that she shows the shallowness of her character is when she's comparing how students in a community college held higher credentials in their studies than she did at this private university she attended "on scholarship," because they knew subjects that she didn't. Amazing! That other institutions will have differing curriculum than her more reputable prestigious university. Sure it's a community college, and during the 60s they might not be as heuristic and diverse as her education should have been in her university, but this was just another element where I could only roll my eyes at her.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My Top 10 Kdramas

Wait a minute... not about books? Did I read that right? Why am I still here?

I'm sure you've thought at least one of those statements and to be fair, I'm cheating you of a review on a book on a blog dedicated to books. The only excuse I can offer is that I wanted to share my top Korean dramas somewhere without having to make a new blog. While this is a departure from the purpose of the blog, I hope you can forgive me and I'll work on getting a new post up that you might find more relevant. As for now, let's get started.

I can't necessarily say these are in order from least to most favorite, but these are the ones that come up first to mind.

1. Boys Over Flowers (2009)
This drama is my first K-drama love. Why? Mainly because I've rewatched it more than any other drama and is currently the only one in my TV collection. While I don't really fancy high school dramas, this one and maybe two others are the only ones I can tolerate. A classic, it's one of three (Japanese Hana Yori Dango and Taiwanese Meteor Shower) to be adapted into a TV show from the Japanese manga. I checked it out since I always heard how great and popular it was (and still is), and since it was one of the few Korean dramas available on Netflix. One of the few long dramas that actually don't feel like it drags after the half way point (that happens more often than I like). I love this drama since it intertwines friendship and romance almost equally throughout the series.

It follows the story of a headstrong female student from the working class survive an elite high school run by four prominently prestigious "flowers" (handsome men). It follows her life from high school to college.

The drama has 25 episodes and can be found on: Dramafever, Viki, and Netflix.

2. Coffee Prince (2007)
Apparently the classics are coming to mind first. I heard about this drama for a while before I gave it a chance. Initially the premise didn't interest me, however the acting won me over, turning me from an outcast to a full on fan. I choose this drama because like Boys Over Flowers there is a strong element of friendship and romance throughout the series that is naturally depicted through the delivery of performances by the actors. I'd have to argue that the female and male leads have the most authentic and natural relationship I've seen in a K-drama and are the reason why people have continued to love this show so long after it's aired.

The story follows a tomboyish woman work at a coffee shop revered for by many for the "flower" boys that work there. We follow how she struggles to support her family and how she tries to manage her feelings for her boss (who thinks she's a man), while trying to achieve her dream of becoming a barista. 

The drama has 17 episodes and can be found on: Dramafever and Viki.

3. Healer (2014)
Alright perhaps you're looking for something more recent, and maybe a little more action. Well then look no further because this drama's a gem. There is romance in this story (pretty much unavoidable in every drama sorry) but it doesn't outweigh the other elements of the story, such as the action, focus on family, comedy, and mystery. The main characters were really fun to watch and they each had their own charms that helped each episode progress and not feel like it was dragging on to reach the final episode. Also the relationship between the female and male lead wasn't oscillated for dramatic effect, very refreshing compared to most.

The story follows a well-known reporter try to discover the truth to a mystery stretching back two decades, employing the use of a cheerful though steadfast journalist and a night courier known as Healer.

The drama has 20 episodes and can be found on: Dramafever and Viki.

4. The Master's Sun (2013)
While I don't particularly chase anything horror, once an avid fan of the TV show Supernatural (2005), I have to admit an interest in the darker fantasy shows involving ghosts, monsters, mythical and religious creatures--- and especially those that intertwine comedy with it. There aren't many Korean dramas that involve the supernatural, so when I kept hearing about how great this great was, ultimately I had to check it out and give it a chance. 

The story follows a buoyant woman with an unfortunate gift of seeing ghosts that finds a ghost deterrent when she's in contact with a haughty, money-obsessed CEO of a mall. However over time, the cold CEO begins to thaw to the sweet woman who in turn helps him to overcome a traumatic scar from his youth.

The drama has 17 episodes and is available on: Dramafever and Viki.

5. Shut Up Flower Boy Band (2012)
Friendships are really important to me and since 80% of the time in Korean dramas the relationships are usually put on the back burner to focus on the main lead character's relationship, I really admire ones that take the time to focus on the instability of friendships when things begin to change. Over time we meet new people and fall in love and friendships weaken, sometimes they strengthen, and this drama explores it in the lives of these high schoolers as they begin their journey to becoming a famous rock band. Remember what I said about high school? Yup this is the second one I love. Ironically enough, every drama that centered on the lives of high school students I dropped and gave another chance later--- ultimately loving. Well, at least the ones on my list. What I really admired about the series is that there are twists early on in the series not commonly seen in Korean dramas, as well as the focus on friendship is equal with the focus on their ambitions and the focus on the romance.

The story follows the lives of five "flower" boys with a bad guy image and a passion in their music compete against their new school's rival band in a chance to becoming famous and successful. 

The drama has 16 episodes and is available on: Dramafever and Viki.

6. King 2 Hearts (2012)
I'm really glad this list isn't ranked from least favorite to most because as I'm reaching the end I'm struggling to find the dramas that make the cut. One of the things I loved was the relationship between King and Prince, both brothers regretful for having the responsibilities of being royalty though they accept their responsibilities differently. Out of all the dramas I'm listing I might say this one drags at parts for being an action drama, it's definitely a watch and I think is highly underrated.

The story is set in an alternate reality where there is still a royal family ruling in South Korea, where the spoiled carefree prince is tricked into joining a World Officer Championship with a select few North Koreans in an effort of goodwill between the two nations. One of the North Koreans is a tough though innocent special forces officer who is forced to enter into an arranged marriage with the South Korean prince.

The drama has 20 episodes and can be found on: Dramafever and Viki.

7. Triangle (2014)
It's amazing that I just give a chance to a drama in my queue that I honestly forgot I'd added who knows how long ago to find that this drama is excellent and I only wished I'd seen it sooner. As is the case here. Another drama I feel is underrated, there's action, suspense, mystery, and focus on family. 

The story follows the lives of three brothers separated for twenty years, reunited as strangers as a detective, a gangster, and a cold heir to a prominent company. When two of the brothers fall for the same girl, they must overcome being each other's enemies before accepting the truth about why they were separated in the first place. 

The drama has 26 episodes and is only available on: Dramafever.

8. Secret (2013)
I don't care for melodramas since 9/10 times each episode drags from the beginning until the end where the cliffhanger makes you anxious to find out what happens in the next episode. I think what makes me able to bear this one is the fact that both female and male leads realistically learn to move on from unfair and heart-breaking events in their pasts and the mystery slowly coming to reveal itself is so cleverly done I feel I can't not add this to my list. I feel most melodramas can be a little superficial and a little unfounded in the excuses people make to one another to make the episodes drag on, however this drama actually has substance to the sadness the characters need to learn to overcome.

The story follows as a woman takes the fall for her fiance after he accidentally kills a woman in a hit-and-run and serves time in prison in his place. Years later, the man who was in love with the woman who was killed seeks revenge by making the recently released prisoner's life difficult and as unbearable as he's felt for years. Over time, the male lead finds a companion in the woman he sought to peeve and hassle and discovers she can help him learn to move on from his grief and learn the truth to his resentment. 

The drama has 16 episodes and is only available on: Viki.

9. Liar Game (2014)
So maybe none of these interest you because even the action-focused dramas involve romance. Well look no further! This thriller is full of suspense and mystery and while there are subtle romantic moments, it's never explored and focuses entirely on how their complex relationship can manage the stresses and risks of the televised reality game show.

The story follows a kind, naive woman as she's selected to participate in a reality game show in a chance of winning ₩10 billion won (roughly $10 million). She progresses through the challenges with the help of a former college professor and genius liar who reveals his own reasons for helping her.

The drama has 12 episodes and is only available on: Viki.

10. Emergency Couple (2014)
This last spot was tough to fill because I really have a lot of other dramas I wanted to be in this list but unfortunately they just didn't have enough pros. The reason I'm choosing this is because it explores the life after infatuation, love, and marriage. That's right it centers on how a divorced couple. This was my first post-marriage drama and also my first medical drama and while there may be other excellent series that follow the same themes, I found this to be a hearty show to watch as a break from the million other melodramas between single independent people which are a dime a dozen.

The story follows how a divorced couple must learn to cope with working together for three months as interns under the stressful and life-staking atmosphere in a hospital emergency department.

The drama has 21 episodes and is available on: Dramafever and Viki.

The End?

Alright now, I've come to the end. I'm sad. There are so many others I want to recommend and you know what, what else have I got to lose? I won't go into depth but I just can't resist talking about these dramas.

You're All Surrounded (2014)                                           
20 episodes - Dramafever, Viki, Netflix 

The Moon That Embraces the Sun
20 episodes - Dramafever, Viki

Goong (Princess Hours) (2006)
24 episodes - Dramafever, Viki

Bride of the Century (2014)
16 episodes - Dramafever

Answer Me 1997 (Reply 1997) (2012)
16 episodes - Dramafever, Viki

Que Sera, Sera (2007)
17 episodes - Dramafever, Viki

Secretly Greatly (2013) 
Dramafever (requires membership)

Splash Splash Love (2015)
Viki (2 episodes but basically the length of a movie)

If you've stuck through it and read up to here I applaud you. I hope if you're bored you'll check out one of these because Korean dramas really have a way of being beautifully constructed and everlasting. And the wonderful thing is that you can watch dozens upon dozens of addicting dramas like I have at no cost since Dramafever and Viki are free (though of course you will have to sit through ads). See you in Dramaland! 

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

*None of the images are mine and are borrowed from Google images.