Isolation: Day 6

The sun is setting on another beautiful day here in the UK. Ever since Boris Johnson announced a full lockdown there has been nothing but clear blue skies and endless sunshine. Is nature trying to tempt us?

So I have spent the past 48 hours inside, the longest consecutive time that I have spent inside for a very long time. Even at University, I always made time to be outside, whether that was walking to the library or taking time outside for lunch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the virus. It’s strange that something utterly invisible is the biggest threat to the world right now. It’s strange how it is impacting every part of our lives, even if we personally aren’t affected by it. It’s there but it isn’t. It’s in the air that we could possibly breathe and on the surfaces we touch unconsciously.

I’m not finding the isolation too tough but it is only the sixth day. Luckily I am not alone and live with my partner, although we have our tiffs through being together 24/7, if I was on my own I think I would find this a lot harder. I would be completely trapped with my own thoughts, with little in the way of distraction.

I think a lot about the people who are on their own and who don’t have people to talk to. I hope they are okay and not suffering. When this is all over, I think we will have other epidemics to deal with, not a disease, but loneliness, anxiety, depression, OCD and the rest. I worry that this virus will shatter our NHS even more, so that when the time comes when it is all over, we won’t have anything left to treat other problems.

On the other hand – I think this experience will give room to fixing a lot of pre existing failures in our social and welfare system here in the UK. Those in higher powers will hopefully realise that sick pay should be on the agenda for everyone regardless of employment type, that our health service is not fit for purpose and needs massive reinvestment, but that access to healthcare is a universal right that should not be disputed. We should not have to pay for our own suffering.

As we spend more time inside, the environment is exposed to less pollutants. There have been many reports across the UK of clearer skies at night, due to less noise pollution. Nature is having a break from being constantly suffocated. In the coming weeks I think we’ll see even more results. This is something that needs to be taken seriously once this is all over. Do we really need to use our cars for journeys which are perfectly walk-able?

So what have I been doing for the past six days?

Not a lot actually. I have found it hard to get myself to do things due to lack of routine. I am enjoying the lazy mornings and slow starts but have found these are inhibiting my productivity. I don’t often get round to doing anything until after lunch and then I have little motivation. But, I have been reading a lot and writing in my journal. If there is ever a time to keep a diary, surely it’s now? I have been out for a few walks in the sun (my daily exercise allowance) and me and my partner have even managed to do a few home workouts together – my legs are still recovering! Next week I hope to kick myself into gear a bit more and make the most of the free time.

Hoping that everyone around the world is okay and those who have taken the time to read this post are well. Look after yourselves. 🙂

Violet.

My top 3 Classics to get you through isolation

As our lives suddenly become filled with more empty hours it is the perfect time to read! Reading the classics can seem long and arduous compared to a quick page turner, however, now is the time. These are my top three classics I think are well worth reading! Let me know if you end up trying them.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

Jane was never plain! Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre follows the life of a determined young woman who has had all the odds thrust against her. Published in 1847, the book immediately portrayed a new type of heroine. One that rose beyond her ranks and respectability, to try and pursue the man she loved..

Jane grows up in an orphanage and is exposed to endless childhood cruelty. However, she doesn’t let this shatter her pride or spirit. As a young adult she works as a governess at Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester’s residence. Jane spends her time looking after the children there, all the while gradually falling in love with the mysterious Mr Rochester – she knows this is a type of forbidden love, due to her social standing. However, Jane naturally has an air of independent spirit thanks to her upbringing – this soon leads her into uncharted territory.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will…”

Secrets start to haunt Thornfield Hall and all the while Jane is torn between staying there to be close to Mr Rochester, or leaving to pursue her own safety. Will she get to be with the man she loves?

A remarkable novel for its times, and one I loved reading very much. It is on the one hand, your classic, Victorian Gothic novel, but on the other hand, a complete re-working of its traditions. It’s a tale of an ordinary woman’s search for love and companionship and attempt to break down those traditional barriers. Never take for granted Charlotte Bronte’s use of a strong, female protagonist, it was way ahead of its times, and her execution is breathtaking.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939

This may well be the ultimate American novel. Set during the disastrous American dust bowl phenomena, this novel follows the Joad family, in their struggle to make a living and stay afloat in troubled times.

The Dust Bowl refers to a series of storms that severely damaged the ecology of the Great American plains in the 1930s. Happening during the aftermath of The Great Depression (1929), it had long-lasting disastrous economic and social affects. Most importantly, it was not just an environmental disaster, but one that impacted the lives of many Americans who lost their agricultural lands and livelihood. Many Americans had to leave their homes in the search of a better life – and this was a promise that was more often than not, never fulfilled.

Told in blisteringly beautiful prose, Steinbeck outlines the many implications of the Dust Bowl and its influence on your average American family. The Joad family are forced from their homes to travel West in search of jobs and an income to feed themselves. Taking it day by day, the Joad family struggle to find enough to eat and make ends meet. The prose unreservedly describes the obliterated landscape as the family travels West, making it a reading joy, despite the troubled circumstances.

What becomes obvious throughout, is the falsehood of the American Dream and that great promise that if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. Steinbeck critiques this very ideal and thrusts to the forefront the very real struggles experienced by many American families during the 1930s, as they made their journey West in the hope of a promised future.

“…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Beautiful and harrowing, this is a must read and one that will stay with me forever.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

A timeless classic which I’m sure is on many people’s favourite lists. Again, this novel does not shy away from critiquing the false promises of the American dream and that importance of wealth that has been emphasized throughout American history and culture. Wealth has often been heralded as the one marker of success and ultimate happiness, but this novel exposes the human realities of pursuing this dream with a blind capacity. Endless wealth for Jay Gatsby, can never equate to a lifetime of pure happiness.

Told in myriads of beautiful prose containing metaphors, genius symbolism and expert crafting of character, this is the one novel that made me fall in love with literature. Its timeless message is one that makes it so significant and enduring, but it is in the crafting of the novel whereby it is so special.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Jay Gatsby appears to have it all. He lives in the biggest mansion known to man, right next to Nick Carraway, who has arrived to New York in search of his own American Dream. Nick meets Gatsby and is naturally entranced by his persuasive and endearing persona. Through Gatsby, and his cousin Daisy, Nick soon gets involved within the millionaire lifestyle that thrived in the 1920s. Lavish parties, fast cars, and an abundance of alcohol soon appears to be the norm.

But Nick knows this is never sustainable. Known as the unreliable narrator to Gatsby’s pursuits, Carraway uncovers the falsehood of the American Dream to readers, in his subtle critique of this lifestyle and the events he experienced with Gatsby.

In the end, Gatsby realises it too. But too late. It is a tale of impossible dreams, love, and an unsustainable lifestyle that is more corrupting than it is fulfilling. It is a novel I unashamedly go back to again and again, each time finding something new I love and admire.

Self Isolation: Day 1

It’s a beautiful March day, the sun is shining and I have spent most of the time indoors wishing I could go outside and enjoy the sunshine. However, the nature of our current reality prevents me from otherwise. So says the traditional Chinese verse, “May you live in interesting times…” We certainly do.

It was an interesting week at work, in some ways busier than ever before, but in others, such as my commute into work, quieter than I have ever experienced. I sat on the train yesterday and did not encounter a single person all the way to work, only noticing three people get off when I did. The station was empty as well as the platform. One day last week, the center of town was absolutely thriving with people – it almost felt like a pandemic wasn’t on the cards. People were buying everything they could, and fast.

I am now facing my first official day at home which feels very strange. I live next to a school, which has obviously closed its gates. On a normal weekday you can hear children playing in the school grounds and the school bell sound when lessons are due to start. There’s none of that now. The sounds of cars and buses have been muted into the distance and it’s strange to think we do not know when normality will return. Or when it returns, what it will be like.

Like many, I await 5pm when Boris Johnson is due to deliver his daily update. Will it contain useful information this time? Or more of a reiteration of what has been said before? Will it give us more answers or questions?

I believe a full lock-down should be enforced as the measures at the moment are not enough and they are not being followed. People are still travelling for leisure, shopping for non-essentials and loitering in mass groups. Until isolation becomes mandatory, the virus will continue to spread. It is a sacrifice we should all be willing to make to protect as many lives as we can. The virus is still not being taken seriously enough and that worries me.

Although isolation poses its many challenges for me – no real time outdoors (living in a flat with no access to a garden), no going to the gym or to work, it also renders itself to opportunities. I can use this time to read without guilt and write all that I can, as long as isolation doesn’t take too much of a toll. For now, the possibility of having more time is desirable. However, who knows how I will feel in a few weeks, or even days?

Hoping you all are staying healthy and happy in these difficult times. 🙂

Book Review: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro

Title: The Girl Who Reads on the Metro

Author: Christine Feret-Fleury

Publisher: Mantle (2019)

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis

Juliette has an office job in the beautiful city of Paris. She takes the metro everyday and often dwells on how uninspiring her current job is. Her favourite part of the day are the moments she snatches whilst riding the metro, as she imagines what everyone else in the carriage would be reading.

During one of these journey’s, Juliette travels to an unknown part of the city and discovers a bookshop owned by a man called Soliman. It is the most interesting and wonderful bookshop she has ever come across.

After getting to know one another, Soliman suggests she should become a passeur – a kind of bookseller who takes unwanted books out into the city to give them to people who look like they need it. The task is essentially matching a book to a person and sharing the love of literature just for the sake of it, Juliette is soon in her element.

This story is essentially a book about the love of books and how books can unite us all. We are all in some way, destined to cross paths with a book which will resonate with us completely. However, finding those books can take a lifetime of resilience. Which is why passeurs have such a role to play.

Juliette, after some unforeseen circumstances, takes it on herself to move into the bookshop and run the store. Her previous mundane life is soon turned upside down, in favour of spreading a love of books to the rest of Paris. This book is such a joy to read – it is as warming as it is comforting.

Review

I picked this book up in a time of need, when I was stuck in a reading rut and didn’t know what I wanted to read, but all I knew is that I wanted to read something, you know? I didn’t want to read something heavy or important, but something that would make me fall in love with books again, and this book did just that!

The story may be simple, but the message is enduring and comforting. Juliette, the main character, becomes involved in the running of a bookshop in Paris. Part of her role is to be a passeur; she takes the piles of ‘unwanted’ books from the bookshop and distributes them throughout Paris. She has to match the book to unknown individuals who she thinks will appreciate them. It’s a story which suggests everyone is searching for that one book that just fits them and everything they need – but that it can take a life time to achieve on your own, hence the need for a passeur.

Juliette is a staunch lover of books, and her mission in life combined with this new role, seems to be carrying this onto other people. Like most booksellers and lovers of books, she sees the value in books and how they can help us all. Thus, this appears to be the central message of the book. It is not complex or over-complicated but nonetheless an important one.

Although short and sweet, this book made me feel warm and reconnected with books once again. In these uncertain times, the value of books, stories, and escapism rings too true. A book about books is something every reader would love – and this book is certainly one I loved too.

This book won’t change your life, or how you see the world, but it has the ability to rekindle you with a love of literature – if you have temporarily lost it.

Lovely.

Book Review: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Image: Violet Daniels

Title: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Author: George Orwell

Publisher: Penguin, Modern Classics (2000/1936)

Rating: 5/5

I will never shut up about Orwell. Yes, it may seem kind of strange to be banging on about his writing so many years on; but his work will never not be relevant, regardless of the type of society we live in. Thus, I once again returned to reading some Orwell. This time, with a book which was published 84 years ago.

Synopsis

Gordon Comstock is disastrously unhappy. He’s a slave to an advertising industry that he despises. He is wasting his literary talents on an industry that he cannot morally support but is reaping the benefits for the sake of having a good job and monetary stability. However, Gordon soon realises that ploughing on with this goes against anything he stands for.

Gordon quits working at the advertising firm and instead spends his days being a bookseller, whilst trying to write. Every literary person’s dream, huh?

But the realities of living in self enforced deprivation soon take their toll. Living in such a futile, poverty stricken existence, soon sucks the life out of Gordon’s writing ambition. It begins to affect his relationship with wonderful Rosemary who he very much loves, and impacts his friendships.

The thing is, at the route of all success, whether that be family, romance, or friendships, is money. Having money gives you everything in a capitalist driven society. Gordon will have to somehow over come his natural opposition to this, if he is to maintain his relationship and devotion to Rosemary.

Gordon desperately did not want to become part of the capitalist, class stricken world that he found himself in, whilst working as a copywriter for an advertising industry. In trying to follow his heart and stick to his morals, he embarks on living in a world of self-inflicted squalor, poverty and pain. Within this, we see a vision into the world Orwell so despised, and the society in which he himself, did not feel part of.

Review

As soon as I had finished this, I knew instantly that it was my new favourite book, and possibly the best Orwell (so far) that I have read.

Others have dismissed this book as just pages of winging monologue, from a failed and depressed creative wannabe. However, I fully sympathized with the struggles and misfortune of Gordon Comstock and felt that the dialogue acted as an enlightening critique of the society that Orwell and many others were living through. This critique is timeless, as it can so readily be applied to our own society.

Fundamentally, Gordon was opposed to the idea of having money and the whole notion that society gives respect to those who have money and ‘stable’ jobs, above anything else. Even now, upon graduating, students are expected to have all these plans and to have secured graduate schemes before even having a chance to breathe after graduating. All for the sake of being able to tell someone your fancy job title and starting salary. After all, is money all there is? No, and this is precisely what this novel is about. It is a critique of the money driven society and individuals that succumb to its pull.

“Money, money, all is money!… Social failure, artistic failure, sexual failure – they are all the same. And lack of money is at the bottom of them all.”

In this book, is a character who tries to follow his principles and who is brave enough to stand against the societal norms he is enchained by. I sympathized with his struggle. To persevere with your own happiness, rather than reaping the benefits of an easy job, is a brave thing to do. Trying to make it as a writer, Gordon’s one true passion, was to take a massive leap in the dark.

However – this book is also an illustration of poverty, using London as an example. The vast difference between those who are in high paying jobs, and those who are struggling to make ends meet. Between those who are living in shared accommodation where the sheets are never free from bed bugs. To those who are living in bachelor pads on their own, that are big enough for a family of ten. As within all cities, there are the super thriving, and the people who are struggling every single day. It is a tale of how living in a city can be simultaneously the engine for creativity but also the architect of destruction when you are living in poverty.

“The bare floorboards had never been stained but were dark with dirt. In the cracks in the pink wallpaper dwelt multitudes of bugs; however, this was winter and they were torpid unless you over-warmed the room.”

I loved this book through and through. The political message is clear and ongoing, the struggle of poverty is brutally and honestly told, but the importance of being happy, self fulfilled and doing something we love is brought to the surface. Being a slave to capitalism will always have the potential to kill personal ambition – and that’s what is reiterated in this novel. Individuals must rise above its forces, by not becoming its slave.

Gordon resolves himself eventually from the cycle of poverty and goes back to his initial job due to the demands of certain circumstances (which I will not reveal as it will spoil the book!) but makes a definitive reservation to keep on writing, despite everything. He can recognise the wrath of capitalism and the drain it can have on his dreams, but he lets it go, and rises above it. Pure genius, as always.

“To abjure money is to abjure life.”