Looking for Alaska

A quick disclaimer before I get started; the promised Catch-22 review is coming, but I’m ill, stressed and incredibly tired at the moment and I want to be in tip-top condition to give the novel the well-thought out and in-depth review that it deserves.

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Anyway. Looking for Alaska. John Green.

I decided to get on what one might call the ‘John Green hype’ after seeing a few friends of mine with similar tastes in literature raving about him on Twitter. I got the impression that he tends to write tragic teenage love stories and, hoping he’d live up to everything I’d read, I ordered Looking for Alaska.

In many ways, Looking for Alaska wasn’t quite what I had expected- it’s not a story about a boy and girl who fall in love, but rather a boy who falls in love with a girl with a boyfriend- and obtains a girlfriend while he’s at it. They do share a kiss but they never become a couple, so thankfully we are safe from Miles and Alaska becoming the Edward and Bella of 2013. Unlike I had imagined, the book isn’t at all soppy and the protagonist doesn’t spend hours antagonising over the tiniest little detail which is, however sexist this may sound, one of the advantages of having a male narrator. The novel deals more with what actually happens than Miles’ trivial worries, and we’re not subjected to a day-by-day report of his mooning over Alaska. 

Maybe I should back up a bit and explain the plot- Miles, a high school ‘nobody’ leaves his Florida high school for his dad’s old boarding school, Culver Creek, in Alabama. There he befriends Chip ‘the Colonel’ Martin and Alaska Young, to whom he is instantly attracted. Miles falls for Alaska despite her having a boyfriend, but does not try to woo her and is frequently frustrated by her volatile nature and mysterious allusions to her ‘screwing up’. Miles, Alaska and the Colonel spend the year playing pranks and smoking in secret until (spoiler alert!) Alaska dies, and Miles and the Colonel (who, by the way, does not harbour romantic feelings for Alaska) have to learn to deal with losing their friend as well as coming to terms with their own guilt.

Personally, I preferred the novel before Alaska’s death. She was a fascinating character and I was always itching to know more about her- why was she so unhappy, why did she claim she had no home, how did she really feel about Miles- and she made things happen. The novel was simply more interesting with her in it, because you never knew what she was going to do next. Having said this, I was also intrigued by the stages of grief that Miles and the Colonel went through, especially the former who had to face up to the reality that, despite the two of them kissing shortly before her death, Alaska never had any real feelings for him- she may have been attracted to him, but she loved her boyfriend and she wasn’t about to dump him and start dating Miles instead. Miles has to let go of his tragic, romantic fantasy and face reality- and his girlfriend.

Often the novel feels as though it’s trying too hard to be philosophical; Miles’ preoccupation with last words, for example, seems like an attempt on Green’s part to make the novel seem profound. Works of others are also often referenced, such as The General in His Labyrinth and Francois Rabelais’ ‘The Great Perhaps’, both of which are important motifs within the novel, which to me seems as though Green is just stringing together a bunch of other people’s ideas to make himself and his work seem deep and cultured- it just feels a bit pretentious. Surely it would have been more original for Green to come up with his own idea instead of borrowing so heavily from someone else’s?

Another criticism is that, at first at least, the narrator adopts too much of that self-conscious, overly descriptive, trying-to-be-witty, high school tone that I so despise; for example one of the first sentences reads “Although I was more or less forced to invite all my “school friends”, i.e. the ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks I sat with by social necessity in the cavernous cafeteria of my public school, I knew they wouldn’t come“. It’s just too false-  “social necessity” just screams “look at me, I’m an oh-so-relatable high school nobody!” and the use of “cavernous” to describe the cafeteria is just an unnecessary adjective. 

Despite these annoying snags, overall Looking for Alaska is an absorbing and easy-to-read tale of first loves and first losses. The characters are varied and interesting and certain elements of the novel were actually, I felt, very realistic; for example, Miles and Lara dating each other simply because they’re vaguely attracted to each other and everyone else expects them to, despite a lack of any real chemistry. I also enjoyed the fact that Miles and Alaska didn’t have this dramatic, starry-eyed romance, rather, Miles simply loved her and even though barely anything happened between them, that’s enough to constitute a love story. What annoys me about most teen romances is that the two characters quickly become infatuated with each other, whereas Looking For Alaska is remarkably un-soppy. I enjoyed the fact that near the end of the novel Takumi, a friend of Miles, Alaska, the Colonel and Lara, revealed that he had also had feelings for Alaska- it meant that what Miles felt wasn’t unique, making the novel even less of a conventional love story. I felt it was more realistic in a way, and easier to relate to- the idea that high school is a time for Hollywood romances is an incredibly boring one.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend Looking for Alaska to most teenage girls and hopeless romantics. It’s definitely aimed at females, I’d say, since it includes the more sentimental themes of love, loss and friendship, although I wouldn’t say that it would alienate a male audience in the same way that some teenage romances do. Is Looking for Alaska the most groundbreaking, intellectual book I’ve ever read? No. Is it enjoyable? Oh, yes.

Have YOU read Looking for Alaska? What did you think? Please let me know!

“At some point we all look up and realise we are lost in a maze.”- Dr Hyde

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Going after Green

So as a book blogger I feel that I should try and keep up with the latest hypes so that I can weigh in on the latest phenomena. At present this means finding out what all the John Green fuss is about, since it’s impossible for me to log onto twitter without someone tweeting enthusiastically about one of Green’s novels, or to go a day without seeing someone reading one of his works on the train or at college. Everyone I’ve spoken to raves about his novels, so I thought, “why not?” and ordered one earlier this evening. However, I fear the hype might tarnish the experience- it’s been a long time since I’ve read any young adult fiction (not that I read that much of it anyway) that impressed me, and I have an inkling that I’m going to be disappointed because the novels have been built up so much. Nevertheless, I shall try and go into it with an open-mind, and obvious report my findings…

Have YOU read any of John Green’s novels? What did you think? Let me know (but no spoilers please)!

Rereading

If you’ve read by blog recently, you might remember that I received about six ‘high brow’ books for Christmas. Due to exams and a nasty case of tonsillitis, I haven’t even completed one of them,- which is shocking, I know- meaning that I have a pile of books on my shelf just waiting to be devoured. The problem? At the age of 18, with plans to start an English course at a top university in September, I have decided that I would like to reread the ‘Princess Diaries’ series. The film was on television a few days ago and since then I can’t stop thinking about it. I began to flick through one of the novels and was once again hooked by Meg Cabot’s chatty writing style and the host of awkward situations the protagonist, Mia, finds herself in. I firmly told myself “no”, put the book down and resumed reading Catch 22. But it got me thinking- what is so wrong with rereading?

It’s like slipping into a hot bath on a cold day. You’ve chosen to reread this book because you know you’ll enjoy it. There are no nasty surprises, no worrying that your favourite character is going to be unexpectedly killed off and you’re prepared for the ending- good or bad. I find when you reread, you focus more on the little details that you missed the first time round in your quest to get to the end; tiny clues about later revelations or sneaky allusions to whodunnit if your novel of choice is a murder mystery. In fact, I often enjoy the book more the second time round. Rereading is comfortable, absorbing and a slightly guilty pleasure.

My issue is that with so many books out there that I’m just dying to read, do I really have time to revisit old favourites? But I’ve decided that yes, I do. Don’t get me wrong, I know that if you spend your whole life rereading old favourites you’ll never have the pleasure of discovering something new, but there’s nothing wrong with making time for a book that you really enjoyed; it’s like collapsing into a comfy old arm chair at the end of a long hard day.

What are YOUR thoughts on rereading?

On the Road

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On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I was incredibly excited to read this novel; described as a tale of sex, drugs and rock and roll and a defining work of the Beat generation, I expected a hedonistic thrill ride centred around some illuminating philosophies on life and love, but the book fell somewhat short of my expectations. I’m apprehensive about criticising a work that has been so greatly esteemed, but I really wasn’t particularly impressed by this book. Bob Dylan is quoted on the cover as having said “it changed my life, like it changed everyone else’s” and I know at its time of publication the book probably made more of an impact but quite frankly I failed to see what was so “life-changing” about it. That’s not to say it isn’t well written with interesting characters- it is. But it didn’t really speak to me on a personal level, perhaps because I can’t imagine anything worse than hitchhiking and having no place to call home. 

For those of you who don’t know ‘On the Road’, it’s the story of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they hitchhike around America. Sal is a recently divorced writer and Dean is an eccentric- one might even say crazy- man who is the catalyst for Sal’s travels. Sal confesses that he has always been attracted to the ‘crazy ones’; he loves to follow and observe them and yearns to be wherever they are. This was actually one of the few parts of the novel that I could relate to, that need to be where the interesting people are and to be part of their world. Inspired by Dean, Sal begins to hitchhike across America and gets dragged into Dean’s crazy world, but eventually removes himself after realising how selfish Dean is, and recognising the one-sided nature of their relationship. 

One of the main problems I had with ‘On the Road’ was Dean Moriarty himself. Sal practically hero-worships him and he is very much presented as a great philosopher with genius ideas, but I couldn’t see the sense in his philosophies or relate to them. Rather than seeing Dean’s brilliance, I had the impression that he was making up nonsense! On top of this, I didn’t enjoy Sal’s drug-fuelled ‘epiphany’ about life either- it was hard to work out what he was saying and quite frankly I just didn’t agree with most of his ideas. That’s just me personally, but rather than finding ‘On the Road’ life changing and inspiring, I found it to be pretentious. 

I also had an issue with Kerouac’s erratic writing style- it made the book very difficult to follow and put me on edge; I almost felt someone was speaking very quickly to me. However, the style fits the story perfectly and contributes significantly to the book’s whole “character”- it just wasn’t a character I particularly liked.

Perhaps I’m being too uptight about this. I go to parties, I enjoy travelling and I love free-spirited people like Sal and Dean, but Dean and his garbled philosophies completely ruined the book for me. I think in order to enjoy ‘On the Road’, one has to like the character of Dean Moriarty but I found him despicable. Before reading the book I was expecting Dean to be superficially charming and selfish but I found that all of the hype surrounding him was empty. Consequently, I felt the same about the esteem given to the novel as a whole- it really just wasn’t for me.

Have YOU read ‘On the Road’? What did you think? Let me know!