What I’ve been reading: August

How do you write an introduction to a monthly blog when you can’t even remember where the time went? That’s how I’m feeling right now. Ever get that feeling that the month’s gone on for a year but it’s also flown by in a matter of minutes? With that in mind, remembering all the details of what I’ve read this month, but I’ll have a go at sharing my thoughts anyhow…

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde 

If there’s one thing I love about Victorian literature, it’s Oscar Wilde. A wise professor at uni once told my seminar group “Oscar Wilde was the first real celebrity. He was the Kim K of his day”. Questionable though this may seem, from fashion through to infamy, I kind of get his point. And it was with this thought that I opened The Picture of Dorian Gray. I was not disappointed.

Straight off the bat, the reader is transported into the vibrant world of the upper-class Victorian dandy. As a student, I was always fascinated with Victorian writers’ innate ability to create such real worlds using just their words and I think Oscar Wilde ranks right up there as one of the best. Exploring everything from high society’s blind eye to corruption to the devastating damage the wrong influence can do, there’s some serious morals mixed into Wilde’s signature satire. Obviously, there’s far, far more to unpick in this work of classic literature than I have time to do justice to in one blog, so I’ll just let you discover all there is to discover for yourself.

Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada

I don’t even remember how this made it on to my reading list, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with WH Smith’s “Buy One, Get One Half Price” offer. I went into this completely blind, knowing nothing about the plot other than it was something to do with wartime Germany.

Weirdly enough, or maybe not weirdly at all, reading this reminded me a lot of 1984. Based on a true story, the novel depicts an omnipresent regime in which people are frightened to even think for fear of the Gestapo (or Orwell’s Thought Police).The similarities between Orwell’s work of dystopian fiction and Fallada’s novel based on thinly-veiled reality are shockingly, if less-than-surprisingly, poignant. Needless to say, despite having picked this up at random, I actually really enjoyed this.

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Anyone who’s read this will know that The Driver’s Seat is an incredibly ironic title. Whether you like this novella or not, no one can say Muriel Spark wasn’t a pretty clever lady.

If we’re taking the titular “driver’s seat” as a metaphor for control over one’s life (which I think we’re meant to) then there is a definite double entendre going on here. On the one hand, Lise, the story’s protagonist is taking the proverbial wheel on her own life, and, spoiler alert, her own death too. Heading on “holiday” to find her “type”, Lise is essentially looking for adventure, first in the form of dangerous, near-rape situations and then in the form of her own murderer for whom she has already formed the perfect game plan.

This is where the double entendre of the title becomes crystal clear. Yes, Lise is seeking a way out of her boring job and lacklustre social life. But she’s also seeking escape in the most self-destructive way possible, all at the hands of men. I think it’s this that is the most disturbing theme. Lise is a successful, independent women with the means and motivation to live life independently, but her status as a single woman is pretty much the reason for her death. In other words, despite planning her own murder, Lise is 100% definitely not in any driving seat.

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