fashion: sunshine in my sky

After a huge snowstorm here in New York, we’ve finally got some sunshine! Monday-One

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Monday-two

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I love the bow detail on the back of this blazer, and I’m obsessed with these shoes! I got them half off from a seller on Poshmark. It was really bright out today, so my apologies for the bright images!

pants Charade shoes Jeffrey Campbell Park Avenue heels 

top Forever 21 necklace Urban Outfitters

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"The Gargoyle" and redemption

The Gargoyle is a story about redemption. It’s disgusting and awful at times, explicit in others, and yet this book contains some of the most beautiful stories of love and fate that I’ve ever read. The story begins with the narrator remembering his brutal, gruesome car accident that left him with third- and fourth-degree (yep) burns all over his body. During a drug-fueled car ride, our narrator hallucinates a volley of burning arrows plummeting to earth toward his car. He swerves, nearly hitting a truck, swerves again into a ravine, and the car catches fire, slowly cooking our narrator alive before help comes to save his ravaged life.

The Gargoyle ReviewIn the hospital, the unnamed narrator toggles between recounting the sexual and drug-filled escapades of his pre-accident life and his excruciating medical procedures in the hospital. With his father a deadbeat and his mother dead in childbirth, he was raised by his indifferent grandmother. When she dies as well, he ends up living with a trio of meth addicts, before they die in a meth lab explosion. Sensing a pattern? Our narrator eventually becomes a very active porn star, before founding his own porn company. Clearly, he hasn’t been winning at life.

The graphic descriptions of his medical procedures are fairly revolting.

The doctors removed my wasteland exterior by débriding me, scraping away the charred flesh. They brought in tanks of liquid nitrogen containing skin recently harvested from corpses. The sheets were thawed in pans of water, then neatly arranged on my back and stapled into place…There I lay, wearing dead people as armor against death.

Awful, right? And that’s pretty tame compared to all the gruesome details the narrator chooses to include in this backward, near-perverted bildungsroman. He even had a penectomy, aka surgery to remove his charred penis. His malformed body has turned him into a living gargoyle, a grotesque lump of flesh instead of a man.

The combination of the narrator’s previous life and his revolting medical procedures in a hospital make for feverish reading. It’s like a car crash, you know? I just couldn’t look away, even though I found myself hating the narrator. But still, there was a humanity within him that was sensible in the text. Completely morally bankrupt, planning a careful, gruesome suicide, the narrator still evoked in me some nuggets of compassion. I wanted him to be able to start over.

Enter Marianne Engel. A few months into his stay at the hospital, a young patient from the psych ward floats into the narrator’s room with a bevy of astonishing tales. She has known him for 700 years. He’s been burned twice before. The last time they knew each other, he was an injured mercenary and she, a denizen of a German monastery called Engelthal, nursed him back to health. The face of the narrator’s salvation is a beautiful young girl, slightly off her rocker, a sculptor of grotesques, a believer in fate and reincarnation, in love and redemption. The narrator must allow himself to believe not only in her stories, but in her, and in himself. It’s engrossing, and it just keeps getting better.

As disgusting as the first section of the novel is, that’s how much beauty is present in the rest of it. Marianne Engel continues to visit the narrator, regaling him with stories of their past lives and all the ways they’ve been separated from each other throughout the centuries, in different locations and different eras. Borne along the waves of Marianne’s lush narration, we visit medieval Germany, Japan, Italy, and a Vikings-era Iceland. Marianne Engel is a positively magnetic personality, a character full of faith, quirks, enchantment, and full of profound truths–a character that I easily fell in love with. I even came to admire the narrator, as he puts his trust in Marianne and begins to heal not only his body, but his distorted soul. His transformation is spellbinding.

As are the stories themselves. This genre-bending novel is part romance, part historical fiction, part fantasy, and each story (within the story) is executed with precision and grace, researched to the point of exhaustion, and built so beautifully my senses came alive at each reading, and re-reading, of a sentence. The settings themselves become characters, and my heart ached with longing to visit each. It’s a novel of immense, overwhelming beauty, enough beauty to match its ugliness and smother the disgust I felt while learning about skin grafting with the remains of corpses.

You are mine, I am yours; you may be sure of this. You’ve been locked inside my heart, the key has been thrown away; within it, you must always stay.

I’ve heard many people complain that this book was over-hyped, that Andrew Davidson can’t write, that it’s overwrought, that they can’t believe a $2 million advance was paid for the manuscript, etc., but when I read this book, all that criticism falls away. No, it’s not perfect. It’s annoying at times and at others the love story seems ridiculous, but in some ways you have to suspend your disbelief–somewhat like the narrator did when he met Marianne Engel–and fall in love. It’s a novel about fate, love, and the always-present possibility of redemption. The way this book is written and the message it conveys about love and faith is one of the reasons I fell in love with reading and with stories in the first place. It’s both frightening and comforting at the same time.

Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.

Amazon, Goodreads, IndieBound, B&N

References

Davidson, A. The Gargoyle. (2008). New York, NY: Doubleday.

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By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

Paulo Coelho’s heart wrenching little book is one of the best books I’ve read this year, or maybe ever. I’m on the verge of gushing here. After I read this book I went on a Goodreads adding spree and discovered I want to read every single thing Coelho ever wrote. I’d dig through his house for his credit card slips, if need be. New favorite author. Poetic, spiritual, this book hugs your heart and soul. There is so much love in a deceivingly skinny package. It’s not just an immense and powerful love story, but an immense and powerful life story. It’s breathtaking in scope and spirit. It’s also highly quotable, almost to the point where I wanted to copy and paste every [other] page.

But ultimately there is no good reason for our suffering, for in every love lies the seed of our growth. The more we love, the closer we come to a spiritual experience. Those who are truly enlightened, those whose souls are illuminated by love, have been able to overcome all the inhibitions and preconceptions of their era. They have been joyful — because those who love conquer the world and have no fear of loss. True love is an act of total surrender.

By The River Piedra ReviewAnd that’s just in the introduction. Read More »

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Outfit of the [Snow] Day

It’s snowing up a storm here in New York, and it’s beautiful. I hope it keeps up until Christmas–there’s nothing I love more than a white Christmas.

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On Tuesday I enjoyed a snow day from work and spent the evening decorating the Christmas tree with my family, which is one of my favorite traditions and one of the best days in my Christmas season. Here’s what I wore out in the falling snow:

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I really love this weird reindeer top I got from Camden Market in London. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s just a regular deer (sticking out his tongue no less), but I thought it matched well with the skirt and my Christmassy mood!

top Camden Market; skirt H&M; boots Forever 21; scarf gift

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In other news, this week I’m reading Madame Bovary for the first time, and it’s awesome so far–Emma kind of reminds me of a non-ironic portrayal of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. Can’t wait to read it all and share my thoughts!

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to all those celebrating! Hope you’re celebrating the Christmas season with lots of books and creamy hot chocolate by the fire, or maybe a spiked spiced apple cider!

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"Norwegian Wood," my first Murakami

After hearing wonderful things about Haruki Murakami, I picked up a copy of Norwegian Wood last year to introduce myself to this popular author. I chose the book because of the hype from the film and because of the Beatles-inspired title, but I wish I hadn’t chose this book as my first Murakami. I really wanted to love this book, but it fell short of my high expectations and disappointed me. I was looking for a passionate story about love and death and post-adolescent growing pains, and what I got was a dirge-like, slow-moving narrative with boring characters I couldn’t really care about.

norwegian-wood-reviewNorwegian Wood tells the story of young Toru, a reserved college student still healing from the suicide of his best friend. He reconnects with Naoko, his best friend’s girlfriend, also clinically depressed and dealing with her boyfriend’s suicide. The grief of the pair manifests itself through a casual sexual encounter and an incongruously deep emotional connection that feels superficial. Besides the death of their friend, there is nothing else joining these two in their professed love, and the depression they both exhibit take away from the poignance of their relationship. Still, this is not a novel about recovering from tragedy: this is a novel about the pain of depression. And it definitely hurts to read about, but not in a cathartic, enjoyable way. Read More »

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"Soul," by Tobsha Learner: the Misuse of Science

Soul is a thoroughly captivating novel by Tobsha Learner. Since I read it a few years ago, I continue to think about it because of the way it explores questions about humanity and the way our genetics influence our identity. It also calls attention to the ways science is misused by powerful people to manipulate our world and ourselves in order to suit their needs. One thinks of Monsanto, altering the genes of plantlife worldwide to increase profit, but what would happen if human genes were altered? What if human genes were manufactured the same way, and human beings bred to serve a specific purpose?

Soul Tobsha Learner

For the first fifty pages or so, I misjudged this book. I blame the cover somewhat (yes, I judge books by their covers) because it’s juvenile and cartoonish. But it’s also due to the genre-bending of the book. Parts of it are romance-novel-esque, full of gratuitous sex and ridiculous words that made me cringe. But as the story progresses, it becomes sophisticated, as we learn about genetic profiling and Victorian pseudo-sciences like phrenology and the concept of hysteria. I gave the book a chance, and it didn’t let me down.

The narrative begins in 1849: young Lavinia Huntington, an Irish girl caught in the midst of the Potato Famine, is sexually attacked by an older boy. Before he can rape her, she takes his own knife from his belt and stabs him. Calm and collected, she tells him that he “fell on his own knife.” The narrative then switches to Afghanistan in 2002. Julia Huntington, a scientist, is attacked while traveling in a Humvee through the country. She fights off her attacker, first stabbing him deeply with his own knife, then shooting him at point-blank range with an AK-47. Afterward, she feels nothing but relief–no regret, “no fear, no repulsion at her own actions.” (17)

Thus begin the parallel stories of Lavinia Huntington and her granddaughter, Julia. Julia is a forty-something scientist, married and pregnant. She is conducting genetic research funded by the US government in order to isolate the gene for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are some people, Julia discovers, that are unable to contract PTSD after traumatic events, more specifically, wartime events. This research takes on new meaning in the context of these two women, both of whom are seemingly free of the burden of PTSD. Readers hear their stories in tandem, woven together like a braid.

When Julia returns from Afghanistan, she enjoys a brief reunion with her husband before her life crashes around her ears: her husband of ten years leaves her to start a relationship with Julia’s best friend. In her grief and shock, Julia miscarries her child. Meanwhile, in the back of her mind is her great-grandmother Lavinia Huntington, who was hanged for the murder of her husband in 1861. As she goes through the upheaval of her life, Julia reads Lavinia’s final memoir, and thus, so do we become acquainted with the pair of women and their relation to each other.

In 1861, twenty-year-old Lavinia Huntington has just married a wealthy Londoner and moved from her impoverished homeland of Ireland. In love with her husband, full of wit and desire, she quickly gives birth to a cherished son, but her life loses its romance when her husband withdraws from her both romantically and sexually. Frustrated, she discovers a secret about her husband that she does not understand. In her anger and her grief, she poisons her husband.

The principle of genetic profiling and the nature-versus-nurture argument become profound as we come to understand the events that led Lavinia Huntington to murder her previously beloved husband, and as we watch Julia come to terms with her husband’s affair with her best friend. Julia’s research, she realizes, has an immense dark undertone, as she learns the government intends to use her research to genetically profile potential frontline combat troops, to create a more efficient army. Julia and Lavinia, predisposed by nature toward calm violence, represent the nature-versus-nature argument. Is it our nature that defines us or the way we relate to our environment? Julia discovers her own nature when her anger toward her ex-husband is tested in the same way Lavinia’s was.

Both women have the genetic capacity to kill and the capacity to feel no remorse, but what about free will? At the end of the novel Julia muses, “Surely it was possible that whatever one’s genetic inheritance, one could still evolve consciously beyond the genetic propensities of one’s ancestors? The willingness to take moral responsibility was an immeasurable factor.” (423-24) Soul, this strange little book that’s half historical fiction and half seedy romance novel, surprised me. It surprised me by making me think about pseudo-science, the complexities that make us all human, and the very real danger of those in power misusing science for their own ends. It’s a bit pre-apocalyptic, in a way. It leaves you shuddering, wishing for answers.

Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble

References

Learner, T. (2006) Soul. Australia: HarperCollins.

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A Very Literary Christmas: A Gift Guide

Christmas is definitely my favorite time of year! I get giddy this time of year and think of all the wonderful things I do with my family–the simple things, like making really decadent hot chocolate and watching Home Alone with my sisters, or decorating the Christmas tree for hours with my family while we all sing along to Christmas music and throw tinsel at each other. I start to look forward to the Christmas season around August, and I’m not ashamed. Likely you’ll see a lot of Christmas-themed Instagram photos on this page as I revel in the season’s joy and absurdity with the people I love.

But everyone knows the most stressful part of Christmas: buying gifts. Thankfully, my family and I keep it small and even though I have a big family, we do a Secret Santa so we don’t get out of hand. These are just some things I’ve stumbled upon on the Internet that I would love to have, and maybe you’ll get a few ideas for the lit lover in your own life!

On my own wish list:

the aptly-named (in my case, anyway), Writer’s Block Party Coat, from Modcloth

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I love this jacket for the details: the bows, the collar, and the cinched-in waist. I also love that the model is wearing floral heels. Clearly, this jacket was made for me. And I can wear this jacket with these shoes!

Umbra Conceal Floating Book Shelf

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If you’re like me, you constantly run out of places to put all your books. I have six bookcases (some are piled on top of my wardrobe or stacked sloppily on top of my dresser/nightstand) and I’m looking into a seventh set of bookshelves but I’d love to incorporate a couple of these floating shelves–they just look so cool!

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Anna Karenina-printed scarf

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I’m usually not a fan of overtly-bookish things as they tend to be cheesy to me, but I really love this because it’s subtle and looks elegant without it screaming, I READ BOOKS, which I hate. This Etsy shop does all colors and all books, but I happen to love the Anna Karenina one.

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Bathtub Book Caddy

This. So much this. I love to read in the bath but I’m terrified of dropping my book in the water and ruining it, and this would make my life a lot easier, considering the rim of the bath tends to get drenched too. As an added bonus, it has a section for your overflowing wine glass–a must.

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But of course, the best things you can buy for a book lover are books. Next time you’re at a loss, just look up your friend’s Amazon wish list! I know I keep mine stocked with options 🙂

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I rock a lot of polka dots: "New Girl" Shoes

Welcome to my third DIY shoe adventure. Back in April, I came across another pair of black heels in DSW that were too plain to be borne, but they had these gorgeous cut-outs and a ribbon tie. They were the cousins of the floral shoes I upcycled last year and I got so excited at the prospect of creating another beautiful pair of shoes! I knew that this time I should do something other than a floral pattern, even though it was hard to keep myself from reaching for another piece of floral fabric. I ended up choosing a black fabric with white polka dots, fabric that was actually a romper from Forever 21!

This project happened to coincide with my discovery of New Girl. I had never watched it faithfully before and I took the time to marathon-watch it, and it became one of my favorite shows! Now, whenever I wear those shoes I think of New Girl: they even remind me of Jess’s polka-dot heavy wardrobe and her whimsical wit.

Here’s the before and after:

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As you can see, I couldn’t stop myself from adding little panels of floral fabric! I cut out a couple pieces of floral lace from an old skirt (again) and glued them to the inside panels of both shoes, so they’re almost hidden. I like how it turns these normal (ish) polka-dot patterned shoes into something a little more unique. I also used the buttons from the romper as accents on the sides of each shoe.

IMG_1629Picture: my two loves–books and style. I was reading The Lord of the Rings at the time!

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"The Fire Gospel," The New Modern Prometheus

Michel Faber’s slim novella The Fire Gospel is part of a collection of novellas called The Canongate Myth Series, featuring modern retellings of ancient myths. The Fire Gospel is inspired by the Greek Titan Prometheus, who introduced humankind to fire and lived to regret it. The subtitle of this work reminded me instantly of Frankenstein, and I was wary of Faber trying to outdo that text or become overly influenced by it, but this concern was unfounded because these stories have no relation to each other. Frankenstein is a tragedy through and through while Faber’s The Fire Gospel is a romp; this story turns everything into a parody, from the publishing industry and the media, to similar stories and even the Prometheus myth itself.

The Fire Gospel

Meet middle-aged Theo Griepenkerl, the world’s foremost Aramaic scholar. He has just been dumped by his girlfriend and quickly jumps a plane into the heart of war-torn Iraq to negotiate exhibition rights with the curator of the Mosul museum. While he’s there, predictably, a bomb goes off, ravaging the museum and destroying some major artifacts. After the initial shock of the blast, Theo notices the pregnant belly of an ancient statue has been broken open, and inside lay perfectly-preserved scrolls written in Aramaic, scrolls written by a man who witnessed the life and death of Jesus.

I describe the plot as contrived contrivance because everything happens so perfectly, as Faber meant it to. The premise of the novel satirizes the overnight sensation of The Da Vinci Code, and parodies the plot of the dashing professor whose discoveries rewrite history and incense millions of Christians. If you can’t guess already, that’s exactly what happens to Theo Griepenkerl.

Upon translating the scrolls, written by a man named Malchus, Theo finds that the Bible’s version of New Testament events do not tally with Malchus’s eyewitness account. Malchus, with the aid of Theo, unknowingly debunks several miracles included in the Bible. For example, Malchus is identified as the man whose ear was cut off by a Roman soldier, but in his account, it never grew back–it just got infected and then healed like a normal wound. More shocking discoveries include Jesus’s “real” last words: not the Biblical “It is finished” that reflects courage and godliness, but a human plea for death, “Please, somebody, please finish me.” And the most shocking discovery is that Jesus was never buried at all, and his so-called Resurrection was the result of the twelve disciples experiencing collective hallucinations while on drugs.

Needless to say, the book becomes an instant bestseller. It outrages millions of Christians who find it impossible to tally their beliefs with what is allegedly historical truth. In this manner, Faber criticizes organized religion, but not belief in God. Those who are able to accept Jesus’s humanity and still believe he was God incarnate are applauded, while those who burn Theo in effigy or lose their faith altogether as a result of the text are roundly criticized. Faber suggests that faith in human courage is more important than faith in a perfect God, whether or not you choose to believe in God.

But back to the Prometheus myth. As you probably know, Prometheus gave humanity the gift of fire against the express command of Zeus. As punishment, Prometheus is chained to a rock for all eternity while every day buzzards feast on his liver, and every night it grows back–forever. Theo gets his divine comeuppance, though in a rather more ridiculous way. At a book signing, two thugs kidnap Theo and hold him hostage, forcing him to record a video announcing that he made the entire thing up. The video is aired as Theo is released by one of his captors after sustaining a serious gunshot wound. The narrative ends as Theo nears death, and passersby are responsible for getting him to a hospital before he dies.

Thus Theo becomes a modern Prometheus, responsible for bringing mankind “fire” in the form of religious truth. However, his gift is not as enlightening as Prometheus’s was. He finds in mankind an unwillingness for the truth and a stubborn preference for the familiarity and comfort of religion. Theo is also not the magnanimous Prometheus helping humanity; he’s a self-serving, arrogant, grumpy atheist who cares more about his own well-being than that of humanity. These details turn the Prometheus myth on its head and definitely makes for funny reading.

It’s a weird little book. I read this slim novel in four hours, racing through the text and leaving myself little time to ruminate on the story. I found it ridiculous (albeit endearing) when I was reading and it was only on reflection that I realized its many layers. I don’t know if I’ll read it again, but it definitely made me think about religion versus faith, and human nature. This was the first book I read by Michel Faber after The Crimson Petal and the White enchanted me a few years ago.

The verdict? 3.5 out of 5 stars

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My Favorite Books: "The Crimson Petal and the White"

I wish I could live inside this book. Like literally open the spine and dip down in between like I’m tucking myself into bed and watch the entire book play in front of my eyes like a really lifelike movie set where everything is real and no one sees you. Wait—like Harry in Chamber of Secrets­, yeah just like that. My Favorite Books: The Crimson Petal and the White.

Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. (3)

The best books I’ve ever read are the ones that don’t come from recommendation or from hype or heavy advertising. No, the best books I’ve ever read are the ones that come to me inexplicably. They’re the ones I stumble upon when I’m looking for another book. They’re the ones I buy because I like the front cover, or the way the pages feel, or because it reminds me of something else.

I picked up The Crimson Petal and the White because it was mentioned by Emily Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, no joke. She reads it and recommends it (drunkenly) to Lorelai, and so when I found it in Barnes & Noble, I had to have it. Little did I know it would easily become one of my top ten favorite books of all time. Faber draws the reader in from the first page by introducing himself as your guide to late-Victorian London. He addresses the reader directly, as in the quote above, using second person, which he uses sporadically throughout the novel. The direct address adds a new level of reality to a world you think you know. To quote The Real World, you have no idea.

Faber’s Victorian London is part Dickens and part a parody of Dickens, and a parody of what most people are used to reading about the Victorian era. Yet, his work is astoundingly well researched and it throbs with life. Nothing looks or feels like Faber’s Victorian London. Each “level” of society is described in such minute detail, exhaustive but addictive, that never dips into encyclopedic and easily transcends the divide of the last hundred-odd years. And I have never read a character I’ve liked better than (though perhaps I’ve liked some just as much as) Sugar, the prostitute and protagonist.

Sugar is the most talented prostitute in London by virtue of reputation–she’ll do anything, and everything the other girls won’t, and she’ll do it with a smile. Working in a “house of ill repute,” Sugar has racked up an impressive list of clients and boasts a varied repertoire of sexual favors.

What I love most about Sugar are her fierce independence, her intellect, her cleverness, and her sense of self-preservation. She’s also not conventionally beautiful: skinny, flat-chested, freckled, and afflicted with a form of psoriasis called ichthyosis, she’s nevertheless charismatic and irresistible. Sugar is aware of her power over weak men. She’s smarter than they are and confident in her abilities. She’s also insecure and emotional, maternal and protective. Sugar begins the novel convinced that she knows the world and that she hates everyone in it. She’s a hard cynic in the beginning but by the end, she is forced to question her worldview and her blind hatred for others and finds a way to steal happiness.

Then we have William Rackham, the sniveling, cowardly, attentive, proud little man who contracts Sugar as his personal mistress. A perfume magnate and an objectively powerful man, Rackham feels inferior to Sugar and grows obsessed with her. Curiously, Rackham likes her not only for her perceived sexual appetite or for her body, but also for her ready mind and quick wit. Rackham treats her almost like an equal, like a modern-day wife, seeking her advice about difficult business dilemmas and reveling in her intellect. Despite his pride and arrogance, he likes having a verbal sparring partner as a bedmate, and fancies himself in love with her. Through her relationship with Rackham, Sugar moves up in society and finds within herself a capacity for kindness, maternal love, and selfless courage.

Rackham is enough of a complicated character but joining this stellar ensemble cast are his brother, the virginal, self-flagellating, intellectual Henry Rackham; William Rackham’s wife, the mentally ill and cripplingly sheltered Agnes Rackham; the progressive, masculine, and religious Emmeline Fox; the naive and bed-wetting little Sophie Rackham; and a smattering of vivid others that flesh out the narrative with questions about spirituality, religion, feminism, sin, pseudo-science, social structures, and so, so much more. This thing is a masterpiece, I tell you.

It’s a hefty one, about 900 pages, but it feels like a 200-page beach read. It’s that addictive. Read it, read it, read it. 🙂

This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether.

When your first picked me up, you didn’t fully appreciate the size of me, nor did you expect I would grip you so tightly, so fast. Sleet stings your cheeks, sharp little spits of it so cold they feel hot, like fiery cinders in the wind. Your ears begin to hurt. But you’ve allowed yourself to be led astray, and it’s too late to turn back now. (3)

There, now: aren’t you hooked?

Recently, a BBC mini-series was released and when I saw the commercials on television featuring my favorite actress, Romola Garai, as Sugar, I yelled in excitement. The adaptation isn’t perfect but it’s nice: I think Rackham and Sugar are cast perfectly but the others are a miss, and the movie fails to capture most of the nuances that make this book so unique. Still, it was worth watching just to see Garai as Sugar. I read that she fought for the role, which makes me admire her even more.

Here are a couple stills from the movie:

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and a promo of Romola Garai as Sugar:

romola-garaiPhotos from this website and this awesome Tumblr.

Stay tuned for more of Michel Faber’s books that I thrifted a while back…I’m reading my way through his oeuvre and I’m surprised by what I’m finding!

References

Faber, M. (2002) The Crimson Petal and the White. Edinburgh, UK: Canongate Books.

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