Steppenwolf: The Multiplicity of Critique | Review

I’m not sure what I expected from this book. A sort of philosophising trip? It certainly played that part well. The writing was exquisite and perfectly encapsulated Harry’s internal conundrum. I was certainly enraptured by the magic theatre and musicality of this novel.

However, his conflict with his misplacement in civil society pertains to a specific gaze, that of the middle class white male. To some degree, Hesse was aware of this gaze (he was acutely aware of his class, but ignorant of race and sex). His descriptions of Jazz, Negroes (“primitive” and “vacant eyes”), Jews and depictions of women were products of the novel’s unenlightened breadth. The women in this story, specifically Hermine and Maria, were mere objects in this story. There is hardly any other way to describe them. I am aware that my own privileges in life enable me to be able to contextualise the ignorances and to be aware of the problems in the novel, without it deterring me from finding joy in both the novel itself and the pursuant analysis. It is exclusively through my own privileges that I can distinguish between the ignorances and what engaged me. I state this because I don’t want to feign ignorance of the harms of these evils.

I was still able to enjoy the majority of this book despite careful consideration of the fundamental biases that infiltrated the philosophy of this novel. Hesse has a way with words and there were some incredibly insightful and profound moments. I think I would like to read some critiques of this novel to further engage with what Hesse attempted to achieve.

It is precisely books like this that I love to find myself ensnared by. To be able to flex my analytical literary muscles to assess and dissect the good and the nasty. I can acknowledge the prejudice and hope to contextualise it or seek to distinguish it as noise, mere excess from the crux of the novel. But at the same time, I aim to engage with the philosophy. The philosophy that grapples with tenets of existentialism and nihilism. I can play with the ideas this novel churns out and try to piece together whether the novel is self-aware of its own flaws, or if the absence of awareness is what exemplifies the philosophy. Any conclusion, any derivation is the nature of literary criticism, the nature of the individualist experience of literature. It is an experience that I am innately enamoured by and I am glad and grateful that this book has ignited my passion.

To me, this book felt like an indictment of Harry, the eponymous Steppenwolf. The novel attempts to poke fun at the lens which Harry tries to unravel his internal war. His disconnect from society, from the experiences of pleasure or pain, was subtle parody on the intellectual asceticism, which denounces popular culture, for a culture more pure, more eternal and supposedly transcendent of space and time. Harry is his own paradox who perpetuates the things that disgust and separate him from society. The philosophical basis of this book anchored me with interest and I couldn’t help but enjoy this experience. Definitely one that I would love to return to in the future.

Quotes

This Steppenwolf of ours has always been aware of at least the Faustian two-fold nature within him. He has discovered that the one-fold of the body is not inhabited by a one-fold of the soul, and that at best he is only at the beginning of a long pilgrimage towards this ideal harmony. He would either like to overcome the wolf and become wholly man or to renounce mankind and at last to live wholly a wolf’s life. It may be presumed that he has never carefully watched a real wolf. Had he done so he would have seen, perhaps, that even animals are not undivided in spirit. With them, too, the well-knit beauty of the body hides a being of manifold states and striving. The wolf, too has his abysses. The wolf, too, suffers. No, back to nature is a false track that leads nowhere but to suffering and despair. Harry can never turn back again and become wholly wolf, and could he do so he would find that even the wolf id not of primeval simplicity, but already a creature of manifold complexity. Even the wolf has two, and more than two, souls in his wolf’s breast, and he who desires to be a wolf falls into the same forgetfulness as the man who sings: “If I could be a child once more!” He who sentimentally sings of blessed childhood is thinking of the return to nature and innocence and the origin of things, and has quite forgotten that these blessed children are beset with conflict and complexities and capable of all suffering.

There is, in fact, no way back either to the wolf or to the child. From the very start there is no innocence and no singleness. Every created thing, even the simplest, is already is already guilty, already multiple. It has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source.

Before all else I learned that these playthings were not mere idle trifles invented by manufacturers and dealers for the purposes of gain. They were, on the contrary, a little or, rather, a big world, authoritative and beautiful, many sided, containing a multiplicity of things all of which had the one and only aim of serving love, refining the senses, giving life to the dead world around us, endowing it in a magical way with new instruments of love, from powder and scent to the dancing show, from ring to cigarette case, from waist-buckle to handbag. This bag was no bag, this purse no purse, flowers no flowers, the fan no fan. All were the plastic material of love, of magic and delight. Each was a messenger, a smuggler, a weapon, a battle cry.

For the first time I understood Goethe’s laughter, the laughter of the immortals. It was a laughter without an object. It was simply light and lucidity. It was that which is left over when a true man has passing through all sufferings, vices, mistakes, passion and misunderstanding of men and got through to eternity and the world of space. And eternity was nothing else than the redemption of time, its return to innocence, so to speak, and its transformation again into space.

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Reading Reflection & Favourites

As the final days approach of the year that needed to end, I feel the familiar tug to reflect on my reading adventures through the last twelve months.

Year in Reflection

The most surprising thing about my reading this year was that I read A LOT. I didn’t plan this and I’m honestly astonished by it because I have no idea how to replicate it in the coming years. My original plan was to actually cut back on reading, yet I will finish the year slightly over (if I finish a few things in the next day or two) 270 completed books. INSANITY.

Due to this result, I’ve needed more than ever some dedicated reflection on my reading habits. The main things I changed this year was that I made sure I was reading multiple books at a time and to have an audiobook handy. I didn’t always have 6 books on the go or an audiobook on loan, but I did these things more often than other years. Having choices when time appeared for reading melded well with my inconsistent moods, because if I was feeling too stressed to read a literary book, I could switch to a mystery or a chill memoir. This meant that instead of deciding not read at a given time because I wasn’t in the mood for the book I was reading, I could still read. My increased audiobook usage has also helped with reading when my health flares up and I have trouble holding a book or focusing on the page. Combining the impacts of these two trends in my reading has led to me reading more than ever before, and being able to still read when in the past I would’ve found my mood or health a hurdle to sitting down with a book.

Now I have read a lot of books, but not all of them were quality. According to my Goodreads stats, the majority of books I read this year were 4 stars or lower, which is not too bad. The drop in my award of 5 star ratings may be due to the quantity of books read, since the more I read, the more tools I have to decide whether a book is good or not. Or the drop in ratings may be as simple as a reflection on my shifting moods this year. Either way I still believe that the more I read, the more critical I am towards what I like to read, and this will ultimately result in less 5 star ratings.

Favourite Reads of 2017

There have been some standout books in the midst of all the books I read this year. I’ve decided to keep this list as small as possible to highlight the best of the best. There are definitely more books I would recommend from this year of reading, but they are so numerous that my fingers would fall off before I could finish the post.

Without further ado, here are my top seven books of the year, in no particular order.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
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I am aware I was slow to this bandwagon and I’m now just another on the Rebecca fan-train. This book was amazing. It is few and far between that a book is able to fully transport you into their world like Maurier does. The atmosphere that tempts to suffocate you is the winning feature of this book. Narrated by the unnamed new lady of the house, the household and the protagonist attempt to fill the shoes of the seemingly flawless predecessor, Rebecca. This novel is built on secrets and the sense of impending doom that seeps into every nook and cranny. It was thrilling and delectable. Reading Rebecca is a treat and I was so glad to have finally gotten to delve into this treasure of a novel. If you haven’t read this, pick it up sooner rather than later. You won’t regret it.

 

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

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My first Jeanette Winterson. I was utterly blown away by her prose and I knew immediately that this book would become an all-time favourite. The weaving of the themes of love and the body, even when it fails, was so masterful that I couldn’t have considered putting it down. This book presented me with a subjective story that felt universal in its understanding of the human condition. Whilst this book is short in page count, it packs a punch with its delicate prose that permeates an understanding of life that feels divine. This is definitely one I am glad I own so that I am able to return again and again to this nugget of brilliance.

 

Girls Will be Girls by Emer O’Toole

23699151This was another book that became an instant favourite. Never have I read such an approachable understanding on the performative nature of gender and how this understanding can be used to break free from practices we are conformed to perform from birth. It made me feel more comfortable in my comprehension of gender roles with its accessible style of writing. Reading this felt like having a deep conversation with a well-informed friend. I’m enamoured with the fact this book was able to be academic without alienating readers. I hope to own this book so that I can go back and find the passages that really spoke to me. The experience of reading this book was one of great delight and I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

 

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

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My love for this book was one of the biggest surprises of the year. I picked this up without expectations and I was blown out of the water. Not only was Springsteen’s prose insanely good, but he delivers his autobiography with an honest heart that is impossible not to fall for. I didn’t enter this tome with a love for Springsteen, but I left with it. His life story was relatable, not through experience, but by his attitude and insight into humanity. The sections where he delves into his struggles with mental health were some of the rawest and most beautiful passages of the whole book. I absolutely fell in love with this book and the love has stuck with me all year. I recommend this to fans and non-fans alike.

Compass by Mathias Enard

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I didn’t pick this book up because I’d heard of it and it’s nomination for the Man Booker International Prize. I picked it up on a whim because the cover is shiny and the first page had me hooked. Whilst the cover is impressive and probably my favourite this year, the contents far surpassed with pure genius. At times, this book was a labour of love. It was the type of book that deserves to be read slow and taken in with care. The intermingling of European and Oriental culture and the reflection of this by a supposedly dying man resulted in an magnificent commentary on the intersection of culture in the midst of the homogeneity of globalisation. This book to me is a cave of wonders. Every page gave me more to love. The best surprise to come out of my reading this year.

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

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The Passage, the first book in this trilogy, has been my favourite book since I first read it back in 2010. I’ve since read it three more times and it fills me with love every time. I was a little hesitant picking this up since it is the concluding book in my favourite trilogy, but not only was that hesitation unjustified, this book was the best in the trilogy (however The Passage wins on nostaglia). It is by far the best concluding book to a series I’ve ever read. It ties everything together and tells a story that is transcendent of time. I loved the backstory set in present time as much as I loved returning to beloved characters. This book was so inventive and thrilling in ways I didn’t expect. I love this book immensely and it has cemented this series as one of the loves of my life.

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

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I was not prepared for how this book would blow me away. The recurrent theme of this book is what it means to be a person and how this shapes our lives and the lives of those around us. Set in a world that is weird and terrifying, Borne is a creature that defies definition. He subtly invades and revolutionises the life of Rachel. Delivered with masterful prose and presented in an environment that is inconsistent with normalcy, this book was a new take on the investigation on the meaning of life and why that even matters. Borne is both child and monster who is the vessel of meaning and consistent inconsistency that makes this book insanely unique and a fresh addition to the genre.

 


And there we have it. This year has been tumultuous but being surrounded by books has remained a necessary constant that has provided joy and escape. I am so grateful to have these books in my life. I hope that the new year brings more bookish greatness.

Happy New Year everyone.

Love Shouldn’t be Creepy | A Book Review

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Title: I’m Still Here

Author: Clélie Avit

Pages: 240

Catchwords: Coma, French, Non-consensual romance


I’m going to admit right off the bat, I borrowed this purely because of its pretty cover. I guess after reading the blurb, I was intrigued to see if this story could be pulled off in a non-creepy way. Yeah, I don’t think that was ever gonna happen.

At first I thought it might be due to the translation. Then I realised it’s just overall poor writing. I get that it’s drawn it’s inspiration from Sleeping Beauty, but it was nigh impossible to get over the creep factor. Since the plot is predictable, the focus was largely on the characters, yet they both felt inconsistent and very underdeveloped. It was filled with irritating cliches with little to no explanation of how it fit in with their identity.

Essentially Thibault is on the fifth floor with his Mum who is visiting his brother who he doesn’t want to see. He wanders around and accidentally goes into Elsa’s room where she is in a coma. He then proceeds to talk to her and falls asleep in the chair next to her bed. She hears him despite her coma and isn’t creeped out by this stranger who thinks he is entitled to be her friend and even KISS her. He is confronted with her ACTUAL friends, and isn’t even slightly embarrassed by his total lack of etiquette. And neither are the friends! They indulge his budding infatuation even though it is very creepy to be “drawn” to this unconscious girl.

He continues to visit her and fall in love, despite having nothing to go off about her except that she’s in a COMA. Apparently she is also inspired by him and sees him as her rainbow willpower to finally wakeup. People have been visiting her pretty consistently during the past 5 months and yet the novel sort of focuses on how he is an unwitting hero, which is kind of ridiculous. His automatic infatuation with this unconscious girl that he doesn’t even know is due to his longing for the perfect family. There is a reoccurring metaphor where he visualises his life as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book called ‘The Book in Which I am The Hero.’ Blurgh. The complete lack of consent and the total creepiness of his “love” is super unnerving. It’s also inconsistent at times which would make sense because she is really only an object to which he can project his ideals of a perfect family. There is literally one part in the book where he forgets about her for a whole week even though he is totally in love with her right?!

This book was absolutely cringe worthy with a major creep factor. Had to skim read to the end cause it was just that bad. There were other problems, such as the poor writing (it was quite bad, and this may or may not be the fault of the translation) and the unbelievable relationships between Thibault and everyone in his life. It almost felt like the author only understood communication through the lens of daily television soaps. Thibault’s habitual pineapple juice and Elsa’s glacial mountaineering characteristics felt so overtly forced into the story that they just felt like paper dolls of characters instead of people that I actually could believe in.

Suffice it to say, I did not like this book.

1 out of 5 stars