Ahad, 13 April 2014

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Sense & Sensibility

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 04:00 PM PDT

JOANNA Trollope's modern take on Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility is the first instalment of the Austen Project. With the tagline "Jane Austen Reimagined", the project by publishers HarperCollins has six contemporary authors re-imagining six of Austen's works: Sense & SensibilityNorthanger AbbeyPride & PrejudiceEmmaPersuasion and Mansfield Park (theaustenproject.com).

Honestly, as a teenager I struggled to understand all the hype over Austen's books and, quite frankly, had never been able to comprehend the Janeites' (a term used for Austen fans) fascination and devotion for the books.

Until Trollope's re-imagining of Sense & Sensibility.

She ingeniously skips the original's long and winding narration of the details of inheritance, which always irked me, and plunged right into the conflict that has the Dashwood ladies (mum Belle and daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret) expelled from their home of 20 years, Norland Park. The start of Trollope's version already earned a leg up in my book.

However, this expulsion is tricky to manoeuvre with the changing of times in mind. In the original, the Dashwood ladies could not inherit the estate after the passing of their father because they were not men. In this book, Trollope cleverly has Mr Dashwood leaving his first wife but never marrying the Dashwood girls' mother, Belle – thus making Norland Park's new inheritor the girls' half-brother, John Dashwood. Neat!

Although the book gives such modern spins to many events, Trollope stays true to Austen's characters and plot, so much so that many times I wondered where I was at. The re-imagining concept of this book does play against Trollope, though, as certain aspects like inheritance and mansions just do not gel in this era, in my opinion.

I can only imagine the tough battle Trollope had on hands in trying to merge a plot and characters that were valid some 200 years ago with the Internet-loving, gadget-addicted, informal people of today's world. Well, Trollope should be applauded for her ability to connect the two disparate worlds quite seamlessly in this book.

In Trollope's reimagining, the elder, responsible sister, Elinor, remains a strong character, though she is now an architecture student and the family's main breadwinner; high strung Marianne falls for John Willoughby (aka Will), a cad by nature who is also a very good guitarist; and little Margaret, well, she is indifferent and very attached to her gadgets.

Other modern aspects woven into the book are interesting to spot – horses are now Aston Martins, Marianne's love notes are sent via e-mail and her rejection by Will is uploaded on YouTube for public ridicule. However, not all of Trollope's attempts to modernise seem necessary, like the cringe-worthy "totes amazeballs" that Margaret uses.

A smart omission by Trollope is Colonel Brandon's age. I hadn't noticed it at first, but after some thought, it struck me that the colonel, who falls for Marianne, is much older than her – in fact, if I'm not mistaken, he's retired and she's a teenager in Austen's original! This would have been acceptable when the original was written, back in the 19th century, but times have changed, and that sort of an age gap is no longer acceptable. So leaving out the age was a good idea.

All in all, Trollope's update of a classic might not be perfect but it is an interesting read. She is an extraordinary writer who, I am quite certain, will introduce Austen's world to a new and younger audience.

Perhaps it was my tender age that left me unappreciative of Austen originally; while I shunned the thought of revisiting the novel, I was still eager to understand why these stories are so well-loved. So for a reader such as myself, the Austen Project promises to open a gateway to an Austen binge.

The Days Of Anna Madrigal

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 04:00 PM PDT

Armistead Maupin writes a love letter to his beloved San Francisco.

AFTER an absence of 18 years, author Armistead Maupin revived his six-volume, San Francisco-set Tales Of The City series in 2007 with Michael Tolliver Lives. Maupin followed this novel up with Mary-Ann In Autumn in 2010.

The third instalment in the revived Tales series focuses on another well-loved and central character, the former landlady of No. 28 Barbary Lane, Anna Madrigal.

Despite being one of the central characters in the series – as landlady to a group of 20somethings trying to find love, their place in the world and their understanding of the meaning of life – it is only now that Anna Madrigal has been granted a novel of her own.

The last time Anna made a significant appearance was in 1989's Sure Of You. In the last two novels, she is given a Godot-like presence: her name is mentioned, her whereabouts talked about and her health discussed (she suffered a mild stroke in Michael Tolliver Lives), but the grand dame never made an actual appearance.

As The Days Of Anna Madrigal opens, readers new and old alike are introduced to the benevolent, quirky and mysterious Anna.

As is typical with a Maupin story, the novel starts off slowly, with the author describing in almost minute detail the change of weather from late summer to early autumn, and the chills that Anna can feel in her bones. However, by the third chapter, the pace starts to pick up, and the novel becomes extremely engaging.

Despite the advancement of her age, Anna's mind remains as sharp and alert as ever, though her body is becoming frail and working against her. To ensure that nothing drastic happens to her, Anna lives with a housemate, Jake.

Perhaps it is the passing of the baton from a worldly individual to a young explorer just starting the journey, but the pairing of Anna and Jake can be seen as Maupin's take on the transgender issue, and transgenders' position in sexual and social hierarchy.

For those who don't know, Anna was born a male (and has the distinction of being one of literature and popular culture's first transgendered characters), while Jake, almost six decades younger than Anna, was born a female. Both went through the (literal) change at different points in time, but the outcome remains the same: just how accepted are transgendered people not only in society in general, but within gay circles themselves?

While it is admittedly a tad confusing to casual observers, Maupin does handle this issue with grace, without being overly preachy about accepting transgendered people.

Anna is now 92, and even at this advanced age, the former landlady has one last secret, which serves as the novel's plot.

Some 30 years ago, it was revealed that the name Anna Madrigal was an anagram for "a man and a girl". However, Maupin now makes it clear early on that there is more to Anna's name than she had originally let on.

To illustrate this, Maupin sheds more light onto Anna's past, going as far back as the days before Anna was born and to the time when Anna was actually Andy. This is as much information that Maupin has actually given on any of his characters.

Although it is her name in the title, The Days Of Anna Madrigal is not entirely devoted to Anna. The novel also explores the lives of other characters: the womaniser and former husband of Mary-Ann Singleton, Brian Hawkins's nuptials to Wren Douglas (she made a cameo appearance in 1986's Babycakes); Michael Tolliver's eight-year marriage to his much younger husband, Ben; and Brian and Mary-Ann's adopted daughter, Shawna's desire to have a baby.

While Brian and Wren's involvement in making Anna's final request come true, and Michael and Ben facing old age together (and the possible demise of Michael; he was declared HIV positive when Maupin rebooted the series in 2007) are handled with care, Shawna's desire to have a baby seems a tad crudely expressed. The way in which Shawna decides just who should impregnate her, and her final decision, seem a bit too fast and unrealistic, which brings the novel down.

Although The Days Of Anna Madrigal may lack a substantial plot of any kind, the fact that, like its predecessors, the novel is a social commentary on life in America in the new millennium makes it more than interesting enough.

Making peace with one's past, old age, death, open marriages, single parenting by choice, sexual hierarchies, and the power of friendship are, in Maupin's typical deadpan and in-your-face manner, explored via dialogue and through the characters' thoughts. The dialogue between characters is pure Maupin: sharp, clear and utterly witty, instantly drawing the reader into the novel.

As a standalone novel, The Days Of Anna Madrigal has all the ingredients for a good, laid-back read: it does not pretend to be deep or pretentious, it does not offer any earth-shattering solutions to the world's ills, and it does not force readers to instantly like or root for the titular character, who remains as ethereal and mysterious as when her creator first introduced her in the first Tales novel.

It is merely a novel about a woman (who was born a male) trying to make peace with one aspect of her past before time literally runs out for her.

However, for those who have read the Tales series, The Days Of Anna Madrigal is more than about just the protagonist: it is about watching a city and its population changing with the onset of every new decade that brings with it new fears, ideologies and attitudes.

Most of all, The Days Of Anna Madrigal is about celebrating life, with all the ups and downs that comes with living. Maupin has not only written a love letter to his beloved adopted hometown of San Francisco, he has also written an open letter to the world about celebrating life.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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