Candace Chidiac

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey: How does the film measure up to the book?

I love reading books about Australia that focus on the intimate and detailed – the scorching heat in summer and how it keeps you awake until the early hours of the morning, the boredom one feels during the school holidays where you repeat the same tired hobbies, and how the friendships you make when you’re in early adolescence are the most profound.

Craig Silvey achieves this beautiful feat in Jasper Jones. We open in Corrigan in the 1960’s, a small Australian town where everybody knows everybody, and unfortunately, being of a different race makes you stand out like the moon in a pitch black sky. Much like classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, the moral teachings in these books have more relevance today than I’m sure most of us would like to admit.

Charlie, our protagonist, is a white Australian and despite being bullied relentlessly, he is safe from racial prejudice. The same can’t be said for Jasper Jones. A young man of mixed race, with part Aboriginal heritage, he is an outcast, and is blamed for every possible thing that goes wrong in Corrigan. Someone’s kid is caught stealing? Jasper Jones forced them to do it. His race, mixed in with absent parents and no money, make Jasper the target for ridiculous rumours and vicious lies that plague his existence.

But Jasper Jones is not the only character who endures systematic racism that we’re exposed to in this novel. Charlie’s best friend, Jeffrey Lu, a Vietnamese boy who lives down the street from Charlie with his parents, is hurled horrible racist slurs, and is constantly rejected by the cricket team, despite having more talent in his pinkie finger than the entire team has in their bodies combined.

So there you have it: Corrigan. Not exactly a welcoming place if you’re even remotely different from being a white Australian. And then we have Charlie. A nerd, a booklover, his only real friend being the officious Jeffrey Lu, constantly clashing with his overbearing mother, until one day his routine is shattered and replaced by grief, unimaginable anxiety, his innocence well and truly destroyed.

If you think that sounds dramatic, then just read the book and you’ll understand what I’m referring to. Charlie is minding his own business when none other than the infamous Jasper Jones himself comes to Charlie’s window late at night. Charlie only knows Jasper from afar, and from his less-than-virtuous reputation. Jasper begs Charlie to sneak out of his house and go with him because he has something to show him, something that will change all of their lives forever.

Jasper Jones is a highly acclaimed Australian novel and it’s not hard to understand why. When I heard it was being made into a film, I jumped with joy; I couldn’t wait for the scenes I had imagined in my mind to be played out on screen. I was not disappointed. Getting premiere tickets as a Christmas present, I was front and centre at the premiere at the Orpheum Theatre in Cremorne on the 20th of February.

We open with Charlie and Jeffrey having their iconic conversation: Who is the best superhero? Superman or Batman? They argue whilst spitting watermelon seeds on Charlie’s mother’s hung up washing. Hilarious and innocent, and mirroring the book so effortlessly, I buried down in my seat and enjoyed all the highs and lows of this hilarious and heart breaking coming-of-age story.

I yearned for more of the back stories in certain instances; the two big reveals came and went a little too swiftly for my liking, but as they are seriously heavy topics, I can understand why the filmmakers wanted to breeze past the nitty-gritty. Aside from this, it was perfection. The casting was so on point I wanted to kiss the casting director, the setting was exactly how I’d pictured it in the book, and the relationships between the characters were almost an exact replica of the relationships that Silvey had written.

I would highly recommend not only reading Jasper Jones, but watching it when it officially comes out in cinemas on the 27th of February. You won’t be disappointed.

P.S. Batman is the greatest superhero.

'Through a Camel's Eye' - Book Review

Dorothy Johnston’s new novel Through a Camel’s Eye is no simple crime mystery. There’s an absence of gore and horror, but something else is present. An eerie sense that waves crashing along the shore in the distance masks the sounds of misconduct; that the abundance of trees keeps the wrongdoings out of sight. Set in the small town of Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Johnston masterfully demonstrates how small towns can have a peaceful, serene appearance that disguise an ugly, confronting reality. The story centres on Anthea Merritt, who has just graduated from her training as a police officer and is forced into a small town as her first job. She quickly discovers the only work she will be assigned are menial tasks, with the long-term residents of the town scoffing at her newcomer status.

Her professional relationship with her boss, Constable Chris Blackie, is awkward. It is painfully obvious he prefers to work alone, and the presence of a young female cramps his style. So when a camel disappears from its paddock, Chris assigns the tedious task to Anthea. As she investigates, the residents of the town look at Anthea as if she is crazy; she is met with ridicule, and she settles into a melancholy about the direction her life has taken.

It is only when the coat of Margaret Benton, a woman who has gone missing, is discovered in a sand dune near the missing camel’s paddock that the situation brewing in Queenscliff takes an interesting but very dark turn. The two officers are forced to put aside their reservations to solve these confounding mysteries.

As Anthea and Chris begin to investigate both incidents simultaneously, the race towards the discovery of the camel and the circumstances around the missing woman are proving harder than anticipated. As they attempt detective work, the lack of authority that comes with a police department comprising of two individuals is a huge hindrance – their influence and resources are limited.

Through their questioning of those who live in this small sea side town, they encounter eclectic, strange, and intriguing characters. From the mute recluse Camilla Renfrew, to the rebellious teenagers bored of their repetitive surroundings, to the deceptively average personalities of the everyday citizen – the potential list of suspects is endless, presenting a confusing array of possibilities.

Johnston, however, takes this to a deeper level. Rather than just assembling clowns for entertainment, she focuses on the idiosyncrasies of these individuals and explores the sickness that can grow in the mind, both in the frantic blur of the city and the isolation and campiness of small towns, where not a lot changes and privacy is a foreign concept. She treats each character as their own person; complicated, flawed and relatable. She captures how anxiety and trauma are like an invasive hand in the mind, kneading its way in and twisting the psyche into various states of panic and delusion, opening doors one wishes would remain closed.

Due to the nature of the town and its inhabitants, particular details of this case, however small and irrelevant, are picked up by keen-eyed observers. A new person becomes a subject for discussion and a strange facial expression is a curious matter; all details that would most likely be missed in the frenzy of city streets.

Despite all the quirky characters and the backstories, I found I related most to Anthea, who embodies all the reactions, irritations, joys and questions that I would have if I were her in her shoes. On the surface, she may appear ordinary, but, along with Chris Blackie, they are revealed as multidimensional through Johnston’s masterful inner dialogue and well developed characterisation.

A mark of a great crime mystery is the tension it creates in the reader. Solving the confounding mystery of the camel and the missing woman catapulted me all the way to the end, posing the questions: Who stole the camel? Who murdered Margaret Benton? Are the incidents connected?

The best part of this novel were how, on the surface, Anthea and Chris seem ordinary and their jobs seem less significant than those who work in areas with higher crime rates. But the way they are written provides an alternate story. Characters that reflect real people make you feel as if you are standing right there in the story, experiencing what they are seeing and feeling. Johnston achieves this, as well as exploring hard-hitting issues like post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety in an authentic way.

The Quiet American- Review

Unfortunately, when reading books at university, often the texts chosen for you are either written in the eighteenth century (and are basically as intelligible as hieroglyphics), or are so long and tedious that you resort to summaries online just to be able to know what you’re talking about in class. However, this is not always the case. More often than not, a set text will surprise you, draw you in, and have you asking questions you never imagined you would ask yourself. That is the beauty of reading in my opinion – it expands your mind.

I found this exact experience with Graham Greene’s anti-war novel The Quiet American. The story follows protagonist Thomas Fowler, a pessimistic English journalist stationed in Vietnam during the French war in Vietnam during 1951-1954. He clashes with Alden Pyle, an opportunistic and naïve American, and throughout the story they fight for the woman they both love – a young, beautiful Vietnamese woman named Phuong.

As you may guess, the main conflict arises as they become competitors for Phuong’s affections; however, this is no story of a strong-minded heroine who chooses her mate based on compatibility. Prepare yourself for some cringeworthily feminine docility. Her thoughts are neither included nor needed. It is the men and her older sister who dictate her life. Her only purpose revolves around those who can offer her financial security and the protection afforded her through marriage.

Due to this, the story was at times frustrating. I yearned to reach through the pages and shake the girl awake. Yet, this isn’t a modern novel – it is written in the 50’s in Indochina where the violence and instability of war meant that life for everyone, especially women, was a constant battle for survival. During this heated era of social and political unrest, the roles of women differ vastly than they do from today, and marriage was the surest way to gain security in an uncertain existence.

Amongst the devastating realities of war-torn Indochina, Phuong becomes the romantic thread that ties the three characters together. She is twisted, snapped and rewoven around the two men until she weaves herself permanently around one. But no spoilers – you will have to read to know who she ends up with and more importantly, why.

But by far the most fascinating element of this novel is that it becomes increasingly obvious that Fowler, the narrator, is unreliable at recounting events and the people around him truthfully. You can’t help but question his motives. Are his actions based on his anti-war sentiments, or his desire to possess Phuong? You will find yourself thrown back-and-forth between liking Fowler, disliking Pyle and vice versa, a conundrum that perfectly highlights how prominent hypocrisy is in times of war and in instances of love.

When The Quiet American was first published, it received mixed reviews, and was criticised for being anti-American. Personally, I think it is anti-innocence. Not the charming, child-like innocence we admire, but the destructive, ignorant type; especially during the dangerous times of war where lives are constantly threatened by the decisions of those in power.

This novel is unquestionably one you will be dying to discuss (and/or vigorously debate) with someone once you’ve finished it. Therefore, I suggest you grab a friend and have them read The Quiet American with you, and thus prepare yourself for hours of calculation over who the good guy is, if there is a good guy at all, or if everyone is actually just terrible.

P.S. Graham Greene was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature, just in case you were still wondering if it is a worthwhile read. You can find it here.

Self-help for the help-reluctant

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘self-help’? Probably what I think – I don’t have time, it’s all the same gibberish, it’s too convoluted and complex to practically apply it to my everyday routine. I hear you. I understand the reluctance to read spiritual guidance – life is busy enough as it is, and I can barely follow common sense practices that I learned when I was twelve, let alone complicated spiritual teachings. But this is what makes Jennifer McDonald’s little book Vegetarian Vampires and What We Can Learn From Them a miracle for impatiently dubious people like me.

It is drawn from Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, a collection of seven laws that are renowned for their simple yet effective laws of nature that when followed and applied to your everyday thinking, can transform your life. He teaches all the fundamentals of spirituality, from daily meditation to practicing non judgement to the laws of karma – reaping what you sow, and so forth. But he also instructs to accept things as they are, to release yourself of expectations and to give and receive everything in life from possessions to love, as if everything can be thought of in terms of currency.

Many have interpreted his laws, but sometimes, for the busy student or the frantic parent, without a voice that one can relate to and examples that mirror those of your own life, spiritual guidance can be tough waters to wade through.

Divided into seven small chapters, Vegetarian Vampires takes Chopra’s laws and explains them with aplomb from McDonald’s personal experience. She is a small business owner and mother, and has taken these verbose and at times confounding laws and brought them down to earth for us mere mortals.

But what makes McDonald's interpretation of Chopra's laws different from every other commentary on achieving success in your life is her ability to take his laws, and through her honest, unique perspective, explains her failures and identifies where Chopra’s advice would have or did guide her to success. From everyday joys and issues, to deaths in the family, to dire work situations, to health issues - she explains how the laws got her out of it, or would have if she had been following them to begin with, helping you understand how to maneuver yourself easily from issue to issue. I have to say, I’ve already noticed subtle changes in my own life - stressing less, focusing more and reflecting on my experiences with a fresh perspective.

So, throughout this blog post you may have been dying to know: what in God’s name is a Vegetarian Vampire? And what do pale monsters on a diet have to do with applying spiritual practices to your life? Sorry folks, there will be no spoilers here. However, suffice to say, a few pages into the book where McDonald’s intent was divulged and her assortment of approaches to life unfolded, I was entranced. Her distinctive perspective on the tribulations we will all face at some point or have already bore is written with a relatable, humble, wise, humorous and supportive voice, and will make your head throw back with laughter and your eyes prick uncomfortably.

This little pocket-sized, self-help book includes something for those of all ages. It will live and breathe in your bag and your bedside table, until you start to notice changes in your life; a trigger in the mind to change its patterns, and once the mind has been changed, the reality changes with it.

 

 

You can buy your copy of Vegetarian Vampires and What We Can Learn From Them here!

Brave New World

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly - they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932. Whenever you read something that makes you question everything, it usually stays with you long after you’ve finished the book; irritating you, challenging you, and unnerving you to the point of insanity. Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World had exactly this effect on me, after I was forced to read it by a friend who told me it was an actual literary necessity.

Within this frighteningly distorted, futuristic society, the people within have been artificially created in test tubes; altered, so that when they are born, they are easily segregated into social class by their varying degrees of intellectual capacity and physical ability. There is a recreational drug frequently used called ‘Soma’, which provides a hallucinogenic holiday from reality, or in other words, a smart way to nullify and control the people. Sexual promiscuity is not only encouraged for men and women, it is embedded in their social conditioning from childhood; so much so that any stigma still present in our lives on the subject is completely removed in theirs.

Can you imagine it? Huxley’s writing forces you to, through his talented ability to paint a picture that raises the hair on your neck; as twisted as this version of the future is, you can almost see it as a possibility.

The story follows Bernard Marx (yes, the last name is a play on the famous social economist Karl Marx, co-author of the 1848 Communist Manifesto, drawing attention to the criticisms Marx makes of society’s class system) and his struggles in his society; his physical deformities set him aside from the perfect biological constructions of his peers. When he visits a reservation, a primitive section of society where traditional values of religion, monogamy and community still exists, he and those around him are confronted with fear-provoking truths of their falsified existence.

This novel’s beauty lies in the disturbing wake up call. It poses such questions as: is absolutely everything we believe, even the commonalities of our nature which we have been dictated to understand as biological truths, a huge pile of lies? No one likes to think they are being manipulated or trained to be a certain way, but Huxley makes you realise that not everything is as it seems.

Huxley’s words have pierced my brain, allowing uncertainty to tumble through in its wake; but I’m okay with it. To read Brave New World is to commit an act of bravery in itself, but one you will be genuinely glad you did.

I promise you, after reading this novel, you will never look at your world the same.