Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews ROOM the novel

Ms. Hen drinks Nitro coffee and enjoys the world

Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown

Ms. Hen saw the film ROOM earlier this year, and she had heard that the book was completely through the little boy, Jack’s, point of view. She usually likes novels written from unique perspectives, so she decided to read this book.

Usually it’s a big no-no to see a film before you read a novel, but this novel is so different from the film that Ms. Hen believes it’s acceptable in this case. There are many similar plot points in both the film and the book, but what makes the book original is the voice.

The voice of Jack, the little boy held hostage for the first five years of his life, is a voice unlike Ms. Hen has ever read. When she saw the film, she was amazed that such a thing could happen, that a woman would be kidnapped, and her child could be born in captivity, and how it could ruin or warp a person forever, but Jack is a child that is willing to learn and capable of change. In the beginning of the novel, Jack and his mother are celebrating his birthday, and his mother wants to figure out how to escape. Jack doesn’t know any other world other than the 11 by 11 shed in which he lives with his mother, Room.

Jack’s mother tries to teach him about the world outside Room, but Jack gets upset. He thinks trees are only on TV, and stores and people aren’t real, but when he tries to understand, he fights it. Whenever he sees a spider or an ant in Room, he gets excited because it’s something that’s tangible, but his mother kills the ants and the pests because she tells him they’re dirty. His mother wants him to learn that the world is real, and she knows they have to plan their escape.

Ms. Hen was astounded at the author’s ability to stay in Jack’s voice for the entire novel. She understands that some people might find it annoying, but Ms. Hen thinks it’s a great feat for a writer. It’s similar to watching gymnasts in the Olympics, the audience wonders how the competitors can do amazing jumps and leaps and twists. It was that way for Ms. Hen reading this novel. It takes enormous talent and experience to write a novel from the point of view of a five-year-old who has never been outside a small room.

This novel is about motherhood, but it’s also about childhood. It made Ms. Hen try to remember what it was like to be five years old. Five is about the time when a child starts to realize things and remember things, and Ms. Hen thinks that Jack is realistic in the way he is depicted.

There are many ways in which Jack is a little too sophisticated for his age and experience. He remembers everything his mother told him, and it’s possible that since he was in such close contact with his mother, and she was the only person he knew, that he would be more advanced than other children his age. He knows words and stories that other children would not know.

ROOM is a sad novel, but it’s also full of hope. It could make the reader appreciate the things that person has in life, especially freedom. Ms. Hen thinks it’s worth reading this novel to experience what it’s like to have your eyes opened and to finally discover the world.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Juan Tomas Avila Laurel
Translated by Jethro Soutar
And Other Stories
2008, translation 2014

Ms. Hen happened to read this book because she had read an article about novels with a great sense of place, and this was one of them. And this novel indeed has a wonderful sense of place. Ms. Hen was brought into a world that is completely foreign to her own, an island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, which is based on Annabon, but the name is never mentioned in the novel.

This is an island where a young boy lives in a house with his grandmother and grandfather, several mothers, no fathers and many children. The grandfather is sick, or the boy thinks he might be mad, but it is never explained to the children. On the island, men fish to feed their families. Since there are no men in the house of the narrator capable of fishing, the children go hungry at times. They crave fish because when they eat it, they love it, and they drip the water from the fish on their cassava bread.

Ms. Hen was brought to a world that she knew nothing about, to a timeless place. The novel could have taken place in the 1960s, or it could have been the nineteenth century. There is no technology, and there are no cars, and many of the houses do not have toilets.

There is a lot of discussion of the characters relieving themselves in this novel, more so than in most of the novels Ms. Hen reads. She’s not sure why this is. The people go to the beach at night to move their bowels, and the boys in the house share a bed they wet every night. Ms. Hen thinks this is a strange thing to discuss in a novel, but she realized that the people who live on this island might not have anything else to talk about, and everyone does this, so why not discuss it with each other.

The characters talk a lot with each other about everyone’s business. Every time a ship comes from another nation, men and women go to see if they can give them kerosene, alcohol, needles and things they don’t have. Some women get pregnant by the men on the ships and give birth to white children. They are not ostracized; they carry on with their lives.

Two women who become outcasts burn down the island by mistake and their mother is punished. The narrator doesn’t understand why the woman is tortured, and he has never seen anything so horrible. Life is difficult on the island, but there’s nothing the narrator can do. His main focus is finding food, but he has nobody to teach him to fish, since he does not have a father and his grandfather in incapable.

This novel makes Ms. Hen think of an allegory, but she knows that some of it is probably true. Magic exists on the island; the people believe in she-devils and superstitions that could seem silly to people in the west, but rule the lives of people in Africa. Ms. Hen thinks it’s a patriarchal view that some women could be witches, and not men. Where Ms. Hen lives, no women are accused of witchcraft, because that would be ridiculous. Ms. Hen is not a witch, and she doesn’t know any, and she doesn’t think she will meet any soon.

Even though Ms. Hen is not a witch, she is a hen, and she likes to find hens and chicken in novels. There were a handful of hens in BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS, and Ms. Hen was happy about this. The character complains about the lack of fish he gets to eat and wonders, “And don’t ask me why we didn’t raise hens, goats, or pigs on our island of unknown geographical coordinates.” Ms. Hen wondered this, too. Why should the gathering of food be left to the men? And what if there weren’t men around? Ms. Hen realizes that some things in this world don’t make any sense, but they are that way because that's the way they’ve always been.  

Ms. Hen enjoyed this novel, even though it made her sad. BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS is a bittersweet legend about an island trapped in time. Ms. Hen wishes that all the people on the island would have enough fish, and also that they would not be cruel to each other. But that’s the way the whole world should be.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews THE IDIOT

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Vintage Classics
1868-9, translation 2001
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Ms. Hen likes to read heavy Russian novels in the middle of the summer. She does this because most of the time, she has more of an attention span to read something long when the sun shines all day. While most people are reading fluffy bestselling books on the beach, Ms. Hen reads about the torment of life in Russia in the nineteenth century.

Ms. Hen has read both THE BROTHERS KARAMASOV and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT during different summers. She liked CRIME AND PUNISHMENT the best, out of the three, because she thought it makes the most sense as a story, and the characters weren’t all completely unpleasant.

Ms. Hen read that THE IDIOT is the most autobiographical of all Dostoevsky’s novels. She also read that he wanted to write a novel that was the complete opposite of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, one that surrounds a character that is completely innocent. But all the characters that are around the prince, or the idiot, are despicable.

The novel is about a young prince, Lev Nikoleavich Myshkin, who is traveling on a train to Petersburg from Switzerland where he had spent time recovering from an illness. He meets Roggozhin on the train and they talk about their lives. The prince tries to make his way in Petersburg, but quickly he becomes embroiled into Nastaya Filipovna’s life, which is a disaster. She is known as a disgraced woman, and everyone he meets tells him that.

The prince also meets the Epanchin family and becomes involved with them, especially Aglaya. All the people around him seem to take advantage of the prince’s naivete. He spent so much time in an asylum when he was young, that he doesn’t know the ways of society, and how things work amongst people. He doesn’t know that it isn’t deemed proper to associate with fallen women like Nastaya Filipovna, and it also isn’t right to say you will marry one woman, then take up with another.

Ms. Hen found reading this novel difficult because most of it consists of people standing around at a party, screaming and being horrible to each other. Even though the prince is an simple character, everyone in his circle is out to get everyone else, and are only interested in themselves. This made it difficult for Ms. Hen to pay attention to what was happening in the novel.

Some hens appeared in THE IDIOT, which made Ms. Hen happy. There was talk about dreams that are childish, “Once Alexandra Ivanovna saw nine hens in a dream, and this caused a formal quarrel between her and her mother – why – it is difficult to explain.” Dreaming of hens might be childish, but Ms. Hen doesn’t know why she should tell her mother and have a formal quarrel about it. Ms. Hen realizes that this novel took place in a different culture, and a different time. A lot of aspects of this novel made Ms. Hen cringe, for the way women were treated, and the ridiculousness of fighting duels, but she knows that she can’t do anything about the way the world used to be.

Ms. Hen thought this novel was difficult, and slow. It took her a very long time to finish. When she was reading, there seemed to be a lot of suffering on every page. Ms. Hen likes to read about people’s troubles that are not her own. There’s a special degree of torment that goes along with the Russian soul. Ms. Hen thinks she might have a piece of Russian soul inside her, even though she is not Russian, she feels as if she connects with Russia through a type of astral cord that she can’t control.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews three films from Iceland

Directed by Grimur Hakonarson

Directed by Baltasar Komarkur

Directed by Dagur Kari

It’s been a hot summer where Ms. Hen lives. She doesn’t have decent air conditioning, and on hot days she sits inside with her fan, and sprays herself with a water bottle. She decided that it would be a good idea to watch films from Iceland in the middle of summer, since she thought watching people covered in snow might cool her off.

Films from Iceland are strange. Ms. Hen thinks it’s because Iceland must be an odd place, but she’s never been there. She’s heard people from Iceland are the happiest people because they don’t expect too much from life, all they need is a bottle of vodka and some fish, and they’re content.

In the film RAMS, two brothers, Gummi and Kiddi are neighbors, but they don’t speak. A plague hits Gummi’s sheep and all the sheep in town must be killed. The Icelandic farmers have a difficult life, so when Ms. Hen watched this, she didn’t feel too badly about her own. Gummi and Kiddi fight to save their own herd. Ms. Hen thinks that the scenery in this film is exquisite: a raw landscape similar to the moon. The snow in this film cooled Ms. Hen off.

REYKJAVIK 101 is a different type of film. Hlynur is thirty and lives with his mother, goes out drinking, and doesn’t have any goals. His mother’s friend, a Flamenco dancer from Spain, comes to stay with them and the situation becomes complicated. Another woman likes Hlynur, but he doesn’t want her, even though they’re sleeping together. Hlynur is interested in the Spanish woman, but is shocked when he finds out the truth about why she is staying with his family. There are lots of scenes of parties and bars, people drinking and dancing, and Ms. Hen thought these scenes appeared hectic. Ms. Hen thought Hlynur proclaimed a great line which sums up Iceland, “There are no insects and no trees. The only reason people live here is because they were born here.”

NOI THE ALBINO is about a young man with a troubled life. Noi doesn’t like to go to school, he lives with his father and grandmother, and there is nothing to do in the small village where he lives. He steals money from slot machines, and becomes interested in the young woman who works at the gas station. This is a film about someone who has bad luck, but in the end, his life could turn around. It’s about finding chances. Noi isn’t very smart, but he has ambition. Ms. Hen watched this on one of the hottest days of the year while sitting in front of her fan. The snow in this film appears to be so cold, that Ms. Hen could almost feel it.

Ms. Hen enjoyed watching these films from Iceland. Some other films that depict cold weather are FARGO, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS and any of the Harry Potter films. Ms. Hen is fascinated by Iceland and would like to go someday. Some people could think she lives in Reykjavik, because it might say that online, but that’s a joke. She doesn’t think she could live there, because she believes too much cold is not pleasant. What is pleasant is cooling off in the summer watching films full of snow.