Sven-jolly

Another classic, another disaster. I will include a spoiler alert because if you are like me and haven’t heard about this book other than the words – Trilby and Svengali – well you are in for a rude awakening. You may think you know the plot but trust me that is not even the half of it. So, if you want to read the book first, bookmark this page and come back to it after you have finished it.

If you are short on time, I can summarize the theme of the book in two words – Anti-Semitic and Misogynist. That’s all you really need to know but because this is a review, I will elaborate.

Let us start with the titular characters – Trilby and Svengali. Shocker: they are not the protagonists!! They are barely in the story at all! They make up maybe 30%, if I am being generous. The book is actually about a pathetic dumbass painter called Little Billy and his two friends. The story is set in 1800s Paris – or famously known as Belle Epoque Paris and revolves around three European painters. These painters are worse than Werther in some ways – they also possess the holier than thou, straight white male, chastity-worshipping, stalker qualities that were oh so prevalent in that century. All three of them encounter Trilby – described in the second most misogynistic way in the book – while they are spending their days in good old Paris’ Latin Quarter painting, drinking, being pretentious, looking down upon women that ‘sit for the figure’. A big deal is made about how Tribly is the worst singer they have encountered with a gorgeous sound and how much she hates Svengali.

Speaking of Svengali, I stopped reading the book several times because I could simply not get past the Anti-Semitism. The misogyny is horrible, don’t get me wrong but maybe I have just come to expect such nonsense from male authors (even today!) and so it wasn’t as shocking as the racism. It was just as depressing though. It is quite impressive (sarcasm, duh) how George du Maurier was able to fit in an exorbitant amount of racism for a character that barely appears in the book. But since I had started it, I had to finish it.

The majority of the book is about how innocent and pure Little Billy is and how the three men spend their time in Paris. In a twist that everybody saw coming, all three men fall in love with Trilby but Little Billy is the only one that expresses his love and wears her down into saying yes. But immediately after, Little Billy’s mother lands in Paris because she won’t have a ‘figure-sitting loose woman’ for a daughter-in-law. In a turn of events, Trilby abandons Little Billy because he is too good for her. The rest of the book talks about Little Billy’s ‘depression’ brought on by Trilby’s rejection. Unlike Werther, Little Billy is unable to stalk Trilby because he has no idea where she is but it doesn’t make him any less insufferable than Werther. The moaning, the whining, the fetishizing of the ‘virgin’ is all just too much.

The last thirty-something pages of the book get to the actual plot. The entire world is talking about a new singing diva – The Lady Svengali and it is none other than our Trilby. Little Billy is immediately cured of his ‘depression’ – he starts to feel love again but is unable to believe that Trilby is with a man like Svengali. They also notice a huge change in Trilby. She almost seems like an entirely different person. Our three heroes have no idea what to make of it all.

A lot of anti- Semitism later.

Svengali dies during a concert and Trilby has no idea where she is. Her health starts to deteriorate rapidly. Everybody thinks that the grief of losing her husband has made her lose her mind and though it is peculiar that she only remembers parts of her life and none of the diva memories are retained, they are too occupied by her health to worry about these lapses. Eventually, Trilby is at death’s door and a few minutes before her life calls it quit, she encounters a portrait of Svengali. As though in a trance, Trilby belts out one last heavenly rendition of Chopin’s Impromptu in A flat and dies. Little Billy dies shortly afterwards overcome by grief.

The book was extremely tiring to read. It may have been that the translation I read wasn’t the best one but I don’t think so. I generally don’t enjoy reading racist misogynistic characters and I don’t enjoy reading descriptions of music. There are also an incredible number of adverbs used to describe things and it gets old pretty soon. Despite all that the final description of what transpired between Svengali and Trilby as divulged to Taffy by Gecko was one of the most haunting things I have ever read. All I can say is, at least, the ending lived up to the hype. But was it worth it? Tell me what you think in the comments.

The OG Emo

SPOILER ALERT: Spoiler Alert in place for The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Do classics need spoiler alerts?

I am a sucker for star crossed lovers and romantic era stories. I thoroughly enjoy the classics. Wuthering Heights is my all time favorite novel very closely followed by Little Women. Frankenstein was chilling and Dracula genuinely scared me. Three of the four books I just mentioned were written by women and maybe I am biased. Werther is not going to make my list of top ten and least of its problems is the misogyny. It may be obvious to point out that a novel written in the late 1770s is misogynistic but I feel a need to mention it to maintain a holistic review.

I really enjoyed Goethe’s writing style, I am definitely open to reading other books by him. I wasn’t too upset by the plot either. Considering it was the first of its kind, the plot has been very well paced and comes along quiet well. What I didn’t enjoy is the character of Werther himself. The first half Werther is at least tolerable but the second half Werther is insufferable. He is nothing but a creepy, whiny stalker. His infatuation with Lotte is sudden and obsessive. Though Lotte’s personality and beauty are described in great detail, she comes across as nothing but ditzy. Albert is there.

I liked the descriptions of nature – the linden trees, the mountains, the suicidal ideation but was put off by all the Christianity. I was impressed by the observations of class behaviors especially because it was written in a time before class was even a thing. Werther’s isolation makes you sympathetic until he starts ranting about how all the people around him are foolish. He seemed extremely pretentious for someone with a low self-esteem. His suicidal ideation is very characteristic of the Romantic era and I think the Werther mania that followed the publication of the book emerged from this ideation.

To summarize – Albert is no Edgar, Lotte is no Cathy and Werther is no Heathcliff.

Fat is not a bad word

Spoiler Alert: This is a review for Roxane Gay’s Hunger. There may be spoilers.

A lot has been said about Roxane Gay’s memoir, a lot of praise and a lot of acclaim. All of it is more than justified. I have been a huge fan of her writing since I read Bad Feminist. Hunger is on an entirely different level. Her writing is raw, you feel her pain and her journey. It makes you uncomfortable, sad, empathetic, empowered and also vulnerable all at the same time.

One of the most important things I think the book deals with is the result of trauma over several years. We always hear about these ‘success’ stories – how so and so went through this horrible event and are now healthy, how they survived and put the past behind them. We hear about the immediate effects of trauma. We rarely hear about how trauma breaks you, the very different destructive ways that it effects you. We rarely talk about trauma being carried into adulthood, being triggered several years later, about the phantom pain that is both constant and absent.

I know she wrote this book to tell her story. Learning her story has helped me so much in dealing with my own truths. To know that there is someone out there who may have experienced some of what you are experiencing provides an unknown type of support. It gives you a new perspective when you read someone put your thoughts to words – reading her thoughts about her self esteem, her self image shook me out of my spiral. She put to words the thoughts my brain and my soul spout everyday, and to hear them from somebody else’s mouth made me realize how badly I was treating myself.

I fall under the category of someone that is “forty, fifty pounds overweight”. Yes, I have not had her experiences first hand, but I was able to relate to: her relationship with food; her struggles of sharing space in this world; her wanting to be invisible, but also wanting to occupy space; and her being a feminist, yet not entirely being able to shed the pressures of societal expectations. I understand how my weight is a ‘family problem’, how the concern from loved ones only turns into more baggage you carry.

We as women have hard enough of a time being comfortable in our bodies – add to that the constant expectations from society, family, self can be debilitating. I am thankful for Roxane Gay, I am thankful she told her story, I am thankful I am able to read it and I am thankful for her thoughts that influence so many girls and women out there – me included.

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