Category Archives: Books

Pride and Prejudice Character Review: Georgiana Darcy

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

If we are lucky during our childhood, we have parents and other relations who love us and want to shield us from the dark and sometimes murky reality of the outside world. But we all have to grow up eventually and face that dark and murky reality.

In Pride and Prejudice, the harsh facts of the adult world and how heartbreaking it can be are represented in Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana is Mr. Darcy’s younger sister by little more than decade. In the care of her brother and her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, since her father’s passing, Georgiana is growing up sheltered from the world. Over-protected not only because she is 15, but also because of the large inheritance that will be hers one day,  Georgiana knows little of the real world.

Then George Wickham comes back into her life. Her brother’s childhood friend (the snake that he is), pretends to have fallen in love with her and almost convinces her to elope. But they are discovered before the wedding vows are spoken and Mr. Wickham’s true motives are revealed. In the words of a certain rapper who will not be named because I have a particular disregard for him “he ain’t nothing but a gold digger”.

Georgiana’s broken heart must be soothed by her brother. While she is still young yet and has (hopefully) plenty of time to find a husband who will love and respect her, this first heartbreak has left a mark on her psyche that will always be a part of her.

To sum it up: growing up is hard. There are grey areas in life and people who are not what they seem to be. The character of Georgiana represents an innocence and a stage in life when we are beginning to grow beyond the comfortable confines of childhood. Georgiana’s story is one that in our way, we can relate to. A good writer creates not only recognizable characters, but recognizable narratives.  If the writer is able to create that recognizable narrative, it is one more hook that sinks itself into the audience’s conscious and keeps hold until the story is done. Like a recognizable character, a story without a recognizable narrative, the audience or reader is likely to not care and move on. If the audience or reader does not care, then the writer has not done their job.

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Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living Book Review

Harper Lee starting her writing career in a fashion that most writers can only dream of. Knowing that she wanted to write for a living, friends of hers gave her the Christmas gifts of all Christmas gifts: they paid her salary for one year, freeing her up from the juggling act of maintaining a full-time job and attempting to write. The result of that year is To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most beloved and respected novels of the 20th century.

Harper Lee was one of the lucky ones. The rest of us have to find the balance between our full-time jobs, our families, whatever else we have to deal with and (hopefully being paid for) writing. This challenge (which seems to be universal among all writers) is addressed in the non fiction collection of essays, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living Book Review. Edited by Manjula Martin (editor of the now defunct Scratch Magazine), the collection contains interviews and essays by well-known writers such as Roxane Gay, Jennifer Weiner and Nicky Hornby.

I really, really appreciated this book. What made me appreciate it is the universal struggle of all writers. Especially in the beginning, when we are starting our careers and hoping that our dreams come to fruition.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Pride And Prejudice Character Review: Caroline Bingley

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

For most of human history, women have been told, both consciously and unconsciously that being single is unacceptable. A woman needs a husband. This has created in some women, especially those seeking a wealthy husband, a less than likable reputation.

In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley is one of these women. The older sister of Charles Bingley, Caroline knows that she must marry, like all women of the era. She has her sights set on one man: her brother’s best friend, Mr. Darcy.  But while Elizabeth Bennet, Caroline’s unknowing rival for Mr. Darcy is charming, intelligent, likable and witty, Caroline is the opposite. She is a two-faced snob who pretends that her family wealth does not come from trade. She is constantly flirting and throwing herself at Mr. Darcy, despite the obvious signs that he is not interested in her whatsoever. She also pretends to be friends with Jane Bennet, but then convinces her brother (with the help of Mr. Darcy) to walk away from Jane.

If Pride and Prejudice were set in a modern day high school, Caroline would be the perfect mean girl.

To sum it up:  Caroline is the character we love to hate. We cheer when Darcy and Elizabeth marry, knowing that Caroline has not won, she will not be Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley. Ironically, sometimes the favorite or the most memorable character is not the hero or heroine that we love, but the villain or the pseudo villain that we love to hate. It’s fun to watch them try to win, knowing that in the end, they won’t. A writer’s job is to create compelling and memorable characters. If being compelling and memorable means that the we love to hate to the character, then so be it.

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The Kommandant’s Girl Book Review

When faced with decisions of life and death, we make choices that in retrospect seem questionable, but in the moment, feel like it is only thing we can do.

In Pam Jenoff’s 2007 novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, 19-year-old Emma Bau is reveling in the glow of being a newlywed. Not even a month after she marries her husband, Jacob, Germany invades Poland. Jacob has no choice but to disappear and Emma joins her parents in the quickly overcrowding Jewish ghetto. Smuggled out of the ghetto and into the home of her husband’s Catholic aunt, Emma is now Anna Lipowski, a Polish orphan.

Adding to the danger, Anna/Emma is hired as an assistant of Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official. While she is working for the Kommandant, Anna/Emma uses her status to help the resistance. But while she is doing this, she is potentially compromising her life, the lives of her loved ones and her marriage vows.

This book left me with wanting more. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. My favorite thing about the book was the character of the Kommandant. On one hand, he was responsible for the death of an untold number of innocents. But on the other hand, his affection for Anna/Emma was humanized him and if only temporarily removed the mask of the monster.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice Book Review

At the beginning of their career, every young writer has a long list of questions. The problem is that the list of answers, depending on whom is asked, is often longer than the questions.

Earlier this year, respected writer Colum McCann, published Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice. Though the book is small and the essays contained within the book are short, they are reassuring, inspiring and powerful. He speaks of the writing process from the start of the initial draft (shaping character and narrative) to editing (the dreaded kill your darlings) to hopeful publication and the many rejections that will come before one is hopefully published.

As a writer who hopes to be published one day, I found this book to be a worthy read. The one thing that strikes me about the book is that he takes the reader/young writer on a journey from initial draft to publication. Is that path easy or smooth? Not by a long shot. But if one goes on the journey and is willing to deal with the pot holes along the way, they may have the success they have working and yearning for.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Pride And Prejudice Character Review: Lady Catherine de Bourgh

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

On either end of the 1% spectrum, there are two kinds of people. On one end is the Bill Gates type, the person who uses his or her name and fortune to help those less fortunate. On the other end is the person who expects the rest of us to kiss their behind and fawn all over them just because they are famous, powerful and wealthy.

Jane Austen’s most notable member of the 1% community is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, from Pride and Prejudice. The elder sister of Mr. Darcy’s late mother, Lady Catherine is everything that the 99% expect of not just the upper classes, but the aristocratic set.  Lady Catherine is a first class snob who talks over everyone, thinks she is always right and has kept her only child, Anne, on a very short leash.  Under the assumption that her nephew and her daughter have been betrothed since childhood (despite any lack of evidence), Lady Catherine is far from pleased that Mr. Darcy may have an interest in Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman from a middle class family whose dowry is small and whose family home is entailed away to Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is not just Elizabeth’s cousin (and her father’s heir), but also  Lady’s Catherine’s rector.

Every good story needs a villain, an antagonist to the main character. While Lady Catherine is not a villain in the traditional sense, her opposition to Elizabeth makes her the villain in Pride and Prejudice.

To sum it up: Sometimes stereotypes are good, but only in small doses. While Lady Catherine is very much a stereotype, she is also the perfect antagonist to Elizabeth, the lead female character. If Austen was using Elizabeth as an example of how to act and how to grow from your mistakes, Lady Catherine is very much the opposite. She remains staunch in her beliefs, refusing to change or believe that her nephew would be happy married to Elizabeth. In creating Lady Catherine, the polar opposite to Elizabeth, Austen created a villain who is unforgettable. Characters must stand out to engage a reader or an audience member. If I take one lesson away from reading Pride and Prejudice, that is the lesson. Without memorable characters, the story falls flat and the reader/audience will walk away.

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Difficult Women Book Review

For an untold number of centuries, women have been portrayed as one note 2-D characters. We were either the virgin or the slut. The power/money hungry woman or the innocent. There was little to no in-between.

In Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, through the character of Anne Elliot, Jane speaks of this one-sided view of women.

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Thankfully, things have started to change for the better in recent years. Respected writer Roxanne Gay’s new book, Difficult Women, is about difficult women and how complicated we truly are. In this anthology of short stories, she writes about everyday women deal with in their own complex way. Love, sex, relationships, jobs, etc. Not one of her female characters is a 2D cardboard cutout of a character. Each has her own unique sets of traits that makes her difficult, complex and thoroughly human.

I very much appreciated this book. Even in 2017, it is still hard to find female characters that are not confined to either a stereotype or forced into a character trope that has been seen one too many times. I appreciated this book not just because of the vast array of stories and characters, but because I enjoyed reading it.

I recommend it.

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Pride and Prejudice Character Review: Mr. Collins

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

There is a fine line between confident and being full of it. While some of us recognize where that line is and try not to cross it, others are completely blind and cross that barrier without knowing it.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins is full of it. He is awkward, obnoxious, a kiss ass and basically makes most readers toes curl in disgust. But he is also Mr. Bennet’s heir and set to inherit Longbourn one day.

From a practical perspective, a woman could do worse, especially in an era when her only option is marriage. He has a steady income from the church, is set to inherit a reasonably sized estate and has the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He may not be the smoothest or most charming of men, but who cares when you have a roof over your head, steady income and a husband who is loyal?

Yet Jane Austen knew better.

When one of her nieces, Fanny Knight was of an age to marry, her very wise aunt provided sane advice.

Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.

Mr. Collins knows that the most natural choice of a wife would be one of his cousins. He first sets his eyes on Jane, but is advised that she is soon to be engaged. Then he proposes to Elizabeth. The results are both comical and skin crawling.

When Elizabeth turns him down, Mr. Collins goes to the next best choice: Charlotte Lucas. With fewer choices available to her than Elizabeth, Charlotte says yes.  Mr. Collins finally has a respectable wife he can introduce to his patroness.  Content in his choices and lifestyle, Mr. Collins spends the rest of the book as he was when the reader met him: obnoxious, a kiss ass and full of it.

To sum it up: Not all characters grow or see the errors they have made over the course of the narrative. Some characters remain the same and are blind to how the other characters see them. Mr. Collins is one of those characters. While he is one of Austen’s most comical characters, he is a statement piece on how not to act.  A writer’s job is to find the balance between comedy and drama,  growth and stagnation and characters that audience loves and characters that the audience hates. That balance is one of the keys to success and keeping the reader hooked until they have turned to the last page.

 

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The Awkward Age: A Novel Book

Life, as we know it to be, is never simple. Whether we are a teenager, middle-aged or in the twilight of our lives, life will always be complicated.

In The Awkward Age: A Novel The Awkward Age: A Novel by Francesca Segal, Julia and James have found love again in the UK and are happily co-habituating in Julia’s house. Julia is a widow with a teenager daughter, Gwen. James is a divorced American ex-pat with two children. His daughter, Saskia lives in America with her mother while his son, Nathan lives with his father. Neither Gwen or Nathan are happy with the new family arrangement. When the relationship between Gwen and Nathan takes a dramatic turn that no one saw coming, the repercussions of this unforeseen shift may just be the thing that set all of them on a path that changes their lives.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I enjoyed it because the characters felt real. A good book has to make the reader believe that the character are real human beings, not fictional creations. While some writers are not able to make the characters feel real, Ms. Segal does an excellent job of humanizing the characters. I could feel the new love of James and Julia, the teenage antagonizing of their children and the change in their relationships as a pseudo family when the twist in the narrative occurs.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Pride And Prejudice Character Review: Charlotte Lucas

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

Sometimes, life deals us a hand of cards that we would not choose for ourselves, if we had that choice. In cases like this, we have two choices, play the hand we are dealt or fight it bitterly and be miserable.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend is Charlotte Lucas. While Charlotte’s family is rising in status, she does not have the luck of her family. She has neither beauty, a witty personality or a large fortune to use as bait for potential husbands. She is also unmarried at the age of 27, which means according to the era she lived in, she was set for life to be the maiden aunt who took care of everyone else because she had neither a husband or a child of her own to care for.

After Elizabeth turns down Mr. Collins’s proposal, he goes straight to Charlotte, who accepts him.  Elizabeth is horrified, but Charlotte knows that Mr. Collins is the best man she could get as a husband.

Through a modern lens Charlotte’s choice seems hasty and foolish. But we cannot look at her choices through 2017 lens, we must look at her choices through the lens of the Georgian era.

In Emma, Austen makes light of the hardship that single women endure.

It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman with a very narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. (p. 93)

Unlike Emma Woodhouse, Charlotte’s options are far more limited. She can either marry Mr. Collins for income and a comfortable home or forever be the old maid in her family. Given the options that are before her, marrying Mr. Collins, as ridiculous as he seems, makes a lot of sense.  Charlotte plays the hand that life has dealt her.  Prince Charming, Mr. Collins is not (and certainly never will be). But he is a respectable man with a solid income and home to offer Charlotte, which is certainly better than living with her parents for the rest of her days.

To sum it up: Sometimes in life, and on the page, we are dealt a certain hand of cards. How we deal with that hand defines us. In creating the character of Charlotte Lucas, Austen not only makes the most obvious feminist statement, but she also comments on the choices we make based upon our circumstances and why we make those choices. As writers,  we have to explain to the audience why our characters are making the choices they are making. If the character’s motives are fuzzy to the writer, they will also be fuzzy to the reader. Charlotte’s motives for her choices are clear and by making that clear, that is the only way to hook the reader so they will come back for more.

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