Should You Travel to VILLETTE?

Villette is the third published novel by Charlotte Bronte (and also the last novel she wrote). The novel bears more than a passing resemblance to her more well-known novel Jane Eyre—mostly because it, too, draws from much of Charlotte’s real life—but it has grown more critically acclaimed than its predecessor. But only a critic could find something important in such an aggravating novel. (I should know, since I, too, am a critic.)
The story follows the tragic, tumultuous, and frustrating life of Lucy Snowe. Written in the first person by an older Lucy, the novel serves more as a psychological study of a woman (in the 1850s) than as a plot-driven story. For plot is the one thing almost completely absent from Villette (hence why it’s such an aggravating novel).
9780141199887It begins when Lucy is a mere 14 years old, and seems to focus more on the petite doll-like Polly and her budding friendship with young Graham than on what orphaned Lucy is doing in her godmother’s home. But soon Lucy moves on from home to job to the French-speaking town of Villette, facing discouragement and tribulation along the way. The entirety of volume one feels disjointed as Lucy makes her disheartening journey to this foreign town (a not unfamiliar journey for readers of Jane Eyre).
Volume two, however, opens with a plot twist! An important character that has been popping up in Lucy’s Villette life turns out to be a character from her past. While it’s a nice surprise (if, indeed, you are surprised by it—it seemed like an obvious twist), the revelation is frustrating. Lucy is quick to point out that she knew from almost the first moment she met the character who he really was. She merely chose not to reveal to us (or him) this little revelation. This immediately makes her not only an untrustworthy narrator but also a very manipulative one. An interesting dynamic that makes you want to both pay more attention to what she is telling you and disregard everything she says.
It also sets up high expectations that more plot twists may be provided in the future of the novel. But it’s hard to insert plot twists when there is almost no plot. In fact, just as you begin to accept the novel as psychological examination of a very passive, depressive woman, you get a glimmer of hope that more will happen volumes two and three! And, while some stuff does happen, there’s a lot more to slog through to get to it.
Villette-Page_n8But how rewarding is Villette? Every third chapter my eyes would glaze over at the sheer monotony of Lucy’s unhappy life and her apparent inability to do anything to make it even a smidge happier. Or yet my eyes would lose focus at the random bouts of French inserted into conversation but lazily not translated—either by Lucy Snowe (who knows you don’t read French, since she barely knows it upon arriving at Villette) or by the Bantam publishers who released this copy (I would have happily flipped to the back of the book Infinite Jest-style to read translations of these conversations*). But loose story arcs with other characters liven up even her dullest recounting of a trip to the opera. It’s a tough sell to any reader, much less one who actually enjoys reading Victorian Era novels. (Especially when at every turn you just want to drop Villette and revisit Jane Eyre*.)
Villette forces the reader to exert patience and luxuriate in the text (a hard thing to do when you’re reading 7 novels at a time, but not an awful thing in and of itself). Yet I felt wholly satisfied with the novel’s ending. Over halfway through the novel, I began to realize that I greatly resembled Lucy Snowe (I most certainly would end up with her in the “Which Bronte Heroine Are You?” Quiz). Her dilettante ways are unappealing but her lack of amusement with so much of life mirrors my steely attitude. If she were a character written today, I know she would be just as snarky as I am (her asides to the reader throughout the novel show promise of that). There’s an essence of Lucy Snowe inside me, and so I felt compelled to finish the novel to see how much of it will mirror my own life (the somewhat ambiguous ending seems a fitting enough life for me to look forward to).
Charlotte definitely packs in plenty of her defining plot points. Instead of a mysterious woman in the attic, there is the haunting figure of a ghost nun lurking about the school that Lucy works at. Lucy gets her own love triangle of sorts, including one who seems to think of her more as a sibling than a “lover” (sound familiar?). Yet whatever good fortune we assume Jane deserves, it would feel unjust to expect similar happiness for Lucy. A woman who constantly denies herself happiness should not be rewarded with “eternal joy,” right? But then maybe you should read the novel and decide that for yourself.

*If anyone finds a copy of Villette with translations, please notify me ASAP!
*If, for some reason, you haven’t read Jane Eyre, please do so ASAP!

EXPLORE Outer Space in Smythe’s Intense Thriller

In this day and age, it seems that a book about space exploration would be dull when there are plenty of incredible space films that you’d rather be seeing (Gravity, Sunshine, Alien, Prometheus—yes, I liked Prometheus). But James Smythe’s incredible Anomaly Quartet proves that space literature isn’t dead.
The first installment, The Explorer, follows journalist Cormac on the first space expedition in decades, treating the entire endeavor like a reality TV stunt. The crew will be traveling to the farthest point man has ever traveled in space, hoping to reinvigorate the world’s desire for space travel after a disastrous expedition all but killed the global space craze. But this hopeful quest turns out to be a disaster as well. For, as we learn in the opening 50 pages, that Cormac is all alone on the ship, his fellow crew members having all died off (each in their own dramatic way, which he quickly recaps).
But there was also a secondary reason for this expedition. Scientist Guy has devoted his life to researching an anomaly he’s found in distant space, and this expedition will give him the opportunity to see it firsthand and potentially send some answers back to Earth. While things for Guy don’t turn out so well, Cormac inadvertently learns a few things about the mysterious anomaly.
Smythe packs his novel with mind-bending twists and the eerie kind of paranoia that can only be found in deep space. But he also works in an emotional through-line for Cormac that packs it’s own little punch. The Explorer’s revelations make you want to relieve the book a second time upon completing. And when you’ve gotten as much as you can out of The Explorer, check out the recently released second installment The Echo (which is an incredible novel in its own right).

That Awkward Moment When I (Sorta) Defend THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

hr_That_Awkward_Moment_4That awkward moment when you really like a bad movie. There are many reasons you do: you like the actors, you like the setting, you like the fresh(ish) take on a tired genre, you like the theme which somehow resonates with you on that day in that moment. There are plenty of reasons to like a bad movie. But if you really enjoyed the film (dare I say, connected with the film), how bad can it actually be?
That awkward moment when the film feels horribly miscast. The biggest flaw of the film is the lead actors’ ages. Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan are playing characters in their vague mid-20s (certainly 2-3 years out of college); yet the last we saw of them, Teller was graduating from high school (The Spectacular Now); Jordan was a tragic 22-year-old (Fruitvale Station); and in the trailers before the film we saw Efron portraying a frat boy (Neighbors). Their youthful looks make them appear far too young to be in their mid-20s with some form of a career. But are they? (Maybe they’re just trying to break out of the mold they’ve been cast in.)
That-Awkward-Moment-Motion-Poster-Zac-EfronThat awkward moment when you realize all three leads are actually 26-years-old—more or less the accurate age to be playing these characters. Efron, whom we’ve seen mature over the years, is the most instantaneously believable in his role as Jason (a decade-younger Barney Stinson). While verbally sparring with Efron, Teller has enough buddy chemistry to make us buy him as being Jason’s best friend Daniel. But it’s overly-serious Mikey who, despite Jordan’s adult-seeming facial hair, feels like the odd man out. He’s a married guy facing divorce while sporting the youthful looks of a college student. His story is the least believable, and pushes him onto the fringes throughout the film.
That awkward moment when Mikey looks down on his best friends and their frivolous lifestyle. They enjoy going out each night, bedding different chicks, building up a “roster” of booty calls, yet dreading the moment when a girl gets too attached and says, “So.” So, where is this going? So, what are we? It’s a hum-drum dilemma, but they are in their mid-twenties; and it’s not their fault that Mikey got married when he was, what? 21? And how bad of a husband was he if he got Jessica Lucas to cheat on him? I don’t believe Lucas has ever played a character with a single mean bone in her body (maybe this was her attempt at breaking out of the mold).
That awkward moment when writer/director Tom Gormican seems to recognize that Mikey doesn’t quite fit in, and pulls the focus on the other two boys. Unfortunately, he has them bond over a trivial pact that haunts nearly every romantic comedy. The three amigos decide to celebrate Mikey’s impending divorce by not getting girlfriends. That’s something that Jason and Daniel have been consciously doing for years, but now that they they’ve clinked their coffee cups to it, it’s an official bro pact. And so the characters fall into the classic dilemmas we expect from a rom-com: they fall in love—Jason with the bewitching Imogen Poots (whose Ellie is far more endearing than her Allie in Greetings from Tim Buckley—but then again, Efron is a far more endearing romantic counterpart than Penn Badgley was) and Daniel with the guys’ good friend (and Robin-like wingman, I would like to add) Chelsea, played by Mackenzie Davis (whose helpful role involves telling a hot chick that she likes her shoes and then doing her version of “Have you met _____?”). Mikey is still dealing with his marital issues and doesn’t have time for the frivolous sexual relationships his buddies engage in.
maxresdefaultThat awkward moment when you like a film despite its flaws. The story may not be groundbreaking, yet it still feels fresh. I’ve been clamoring for a rom-com from the male point-of-view. And I’m not referring to bro-coms where it’s about two dudes bonding (although this film has that). This is a film about immature guys maturing in their romantic endeavors, not an easy task for “the selfish generation” as Jason aptly refers to us. It’s like getting the reverse point-of-view that we’ve seen from every other romantic comedy (about time, I tell ya!). Sure, it still falls into the formulaic pratfalls of its forebears; but what exactly did you expect when you sat down to watch it?
That awkward moment when you see yourself in the characters. These guys may be jerks who only want to hook up, but we all have those phases (unless you’re a Mikey and only accustomed or comfortable with the committed lifestyle). And maybe it’s because I’m currently in such a phase that I felt connected to Jason and Daniel’s dilemmas. It can (and does) seem so simple in the context of the film, but in real life, the lines are far blurrier, and it feels like Gormican is grasping at that. He makes these characters balance the fine line between smarmy and charming, and that’s where the casting comes in handy. For Efron and Teller are just the kind of buddies that you want to see succeed but understand when they fail. (Sure, Jordan does a good job; but I really didn’t care for him and his crumbling marriage—mostly because Gormican throws us into the divorce without establishing a resemblance of a relationship between them.)
That awkward moment when you think the movie’s theme may be a condemnation towards couples. Amidst learning to embrace being in a relationship, Jason must deal with the relationship he already has with his best friends. His (and Daniel’s) fear is that being in a relationship will make his friendship suffer. And, to some extent, that’s a correct expectation. Most people vanish into their newly founded relationships. But it is possible to balance the two (and the film hints at that). When everything inevitably goes to the toilet, Jason realizes that it’s because he devalued his relationship with his best friends. It’s the opposite effect of what happens when people do go into relationships, and it’s an interesting perspective to present (that is sadly buried in a mediocre film).
That Awkward Moment is not a good film (it was released in January). But That Awkward Moment was a very enjoyable film to watch. It addressed stories that I look for in a film, and I never once fell asleep (CONFESSION: I took 10-minute naps during American Hustle and Twelve Years a Slave). Plus, it exploits Efron’s body in a way that you hope and expect it to. If this film could be the start of something new (or at least different) in the romantic comedy genre, then it is wholly worth the price of admission (at least at matinee pricing).

Side note: As a New Yorker (can I say that yet?), I’ve been fully submersed in the Grammercy Park myth that so many of us strive for; and I fully enjoyed how the film approached it.