Thursday, 22 December 2016

The English Review Vol. 1 | Ideas of the Real

My first English course, Ideas of the Real, was certainly a learning curve. I was behind on reading for some time as I’m a slow reader by nature, but I managed to teach myself how to read faster and got on track by the end.
The course was focused on how reality was thought of and constructed in literature throughout the last 150-odd years. It was really fascinating and confirmed that studying English is good fun and not what I feared (I’ll talk more about the difference between the expectation and reality of studying English, as well as how I taught myself to read faster, in the future).

Selected short stories by Peter Carey & Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 

The Peter Carey stories we read were American Dreams, The Chance, Crabs and Peeling. They were all quite weird, as surrealism is wont to be. I enjoyed American Dreams, which was a melancholy story about a small town and the replica of it that reveals secrets, but the others weren’t really my cup of tea. They were interesting in how they started in a realistic setting or narrative voice before sinking into surreal.

Great Expectations was the longest read of the course. I’m a fan of Victorian literature, so overall I liked it but it did take a while to get going. The first two thirds feel like set up for the last third of the novel. Perhaps this is due to how it was originally intended to be read, in serial form.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde & Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 

I read The Importance of Being Earnest in basically a day, it’s light, smart, witty and hilarious. A satire of the idle late-1800’s upper-class, Wilde’s play is wonderfully written. I enjoy reading plays and this was a delight.

I wasn’t sure about Mrs Dalloway when I began, I was dubious about modernism and the idea of a book with basically no plot. But as I got past the first 50 or so pages, I started to appreciate Woolf’s language and enjoyed how she jumped around in people‘s heads, giving a sense of how her characters actually thought. I now want to read all of Woolf’s work.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon & Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy 

The last two books of the course were a contrast in both style and length they took me to read. Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is a postmodern tale and one that is hard to grasp, the protagonist doesn’t even know whether she’s uncovering a conspiracy or going crazy. There are little clues that add more confusion than clarity. I guess the truth isn’t really the point. It was the shortest novel I had to read but I found it the hardest slog.

Rapture was quite different. A short book of poems, using straight forward contemporary language to tell the story of a yearlong love affair. It’s beautifully told, with some really lovely use of language. It’s poetry that feels assessable in its language but no less beautiful for that accessibility.


And that was my first English course. I really learnt a lot from it and one of the greatest parts was that it taught me that I can love books that are way outside my normal realm of YA fantasy.

 Oh! And Merry Christmas to those celebrating on the weekend and Happy Weekend to those who aren’t! :)

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