Netochka Nezvanova – Fyodor Dostoevsky (Book Review)

 

Netochka Nezanova was the first attempt of Dostoevsky’s to write a novel. It is also, unfortunately, unfinished.

Netochka is a young girl who grows up in extreme poverty, living with a cold and severe mother, and a step-father who is a failed musician, trying to gain a position he feels he deserves, though falling into alcoholism and debt by failure to do so.

She is adopted later by a wealthy family, though struggles to find her place in the new environment.Becoming friends with their daughter, they are eventually separated.

I really enjoyed the book, and was saddened when finishing it, incomplete as it is. Though it initially took some persistence, once the main characters were introduced, they were developed uniquely and in-depth very quickly. Dostoevsky seems to have an ability to create amazing characters, and force you to feel a certain way about them.

 

The fact that this is his first novel, to find such talent as available in the incomplete book is something to be mentioned, and envied.

Unfinished books are somewhat sad thing, which leaves the mind wondering what could have been should the author have completed it if they weren’t interrupted by circumstance or death…

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Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (A Book Review and Mini-rant)

 

‘Lolita’ is the most controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov, and because of this, his most famous.

The premise is fairly simple from the outset, though upon hearing it, many immediately write off any likelihood of reading the book, so hold on to the end:

H. Humbert is a professor of English in the US. He also has a habit of sitting in the park to watch children – many of whom he fantasizes about. He is also the narrator of this story.

Upon going on holiday, he stays in a house owned by a landlady with a young daughter, revealed in the story by the nickname ‘Lolita’. Humbert slowly begins living at the house with the aim of getting closer to Lolita, and even goes as far as marrying her mother in the hopes of this encouraging more affection from her.

After opportunity arises to runaway with Lolita, Humbert travels across America in this illicit relationship with the young girl.

So bluntly, the story is about a paedophile, written from his perspective. He is completely and obviously unrepentant of this too, and so many come under the impression that the book therefore is written sympathetically towards paedophilia, and that Nabokov himself must have felt this way.

This, in my opinion, is the complete opposite of what the book was intended for, but unfortunately due to many being unwilling to finish (or start) the book without jumping to conclusions, they won’t reach this point:

The book is written from Humbert’s perspective, so in his eyes, this relationship was great: running away with a compliant young girl. The problem is that if the reader reaches the end and can read between the lines, they will see how unbelievably damaging this has been on Lolita: once a likely heiress to a moderate estate, she ends up with nothing due to the actions of this man’s sick and uninhibited desires. She also ends up in essentially abusive relationships, with little consideration of herself. She doesn’t even hold a grudge against Humbert, only taking more of his money due to poverty.

Humbert himself is only driven by jealousy at Lolita’s outcome, and his selfish actions against another only show that he is now and only ever was thinking about himself. Even his love he describes towards the child scream out the actual truth of ‘I’m getting what I want, and therefore I want to keep her’, and is not at all for the betterment of Lolita: and so the ‘love’ is no love at all.

Nabokov himself joked that, upon seeing the poster for the Lolita movie (by Stanley Kubrick) showing a young girl licking an ice lolly, that the director had clearly missed the point.

But we have to appreciate the cleverness of this novel: the completely unlikable narrator who can still keep you reading, to the fact that with Humbert being an English professor he can describe nothing explicitly but only poetically, which lends a necessary level of censorship to the book.

Though not necessarily my favourite book by Nabokov, it certainly had an impact on my view on the value of human life: the suffering of children being a coincidental theme in other books I read at the time certainly spurred me to consider how I viewed those trapped in situations with seemingly no escape, and only as the result of others.

This book is holistic in it’s message and many can’t stomach it, but with perseverance, its certainly worth it for the message it gives between the lines.

The Bees – Laline Paull (Book Review)

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“It’s a book set in a hive, where all the characters are bees, except maybe the odd wasp or spider, but all the main ones are bees. And the book is about them doing bee stuff”… and it’s actually quite brilliant.

Flora 717 is born a sanitation worker, the lowest level worker bee in a hive. Her job is to clean up after the other bees, and her life, like all other sanitation bees, is very expendable.

Like all other bees, she loves and is devoted to the Queen; “Accept, Obey, Serve” being somewhat of a mantra to all bees.

But Flora 717 is different, being able to fill more roles than a simple sanitation worker. Despite the resistance of the bees higher up in society, Flora tries to work her way into society, and earn respect for her kin.

The book in many senses is about totalitarian societies: at the top you have the singular leader, whose power is enforced by politicians and police, all working under the guise as ‘the benefit of the whole’, but never having to actually sacrifice their luxuries themselves.

As the sanitation workers gain a voice, it echoes of a not so distant past with the rise of labour unions and socialism, giving a voice to the lower echelons of society, and allowing them to raise their displeasure regarding their anonymity and condescension. Questioning those who assume power, and recognising their is no basis for why they should be obeyed other than they have simply assumed the role and told others so.

The book is brilliantly written, with me genuinely caring about the fate of a lone worker bee and the hive. I was reading it one night and couldn’t put it down, but once I finally did, I reflected that I had just stayed up late to read about a bee being in some dispute with another insect… seemingly insignificant.

It sounds strange but it’s worth a shot. One of the better books I have read so far this year!

A Brief Reflection

I am soon to work my last shift in my current job, and move into another. I thought this would be a good time for reflection on the past 9 months I have been working full-time night shifts at a care home:

Night shifts have been challenging, and have changed the way I socialise. I often had to withdraw my participation in social events in order to ensure I wasn’t tired, and a lot off my days of were spent sleeping. Some groups I attend; I had to stop altogether.

This was my first ‘real’ full-time job, and through it I have become adapted to the workplace which, as it turns out, isn’t as scary or impersonal as I had thought.

There are a lot of real problems with current state of the health care system though, and this is much to the distress of those working in it who want to provide genuine care to patients. To start with, there is little incentive to work in care: the pay is often minimum wage, and employee benefits are non-existent… you don’t even get paid sick days. This alongside long shifts, short staffing, and cost-cutting, care is not an easy job to work in. Having worked in the private health care sector now for some time, it only redoubles my position against the privatisation of the NHS: when working for profit, those in charge find any way to cut down on costs: lowering the workforce numbers, providing cheaper meals for patients, and supplying care staff with cheap, easily-broken equipment to use for their job. When seeking to make a profit, corners are cut, and in health care, this shouldn’t happen.

That being said, I worked alongside some very caring and compassionate people, who disliked the state of health care as much as I. They would go out of their way for the benefits of the patients, and on a 12-hour shift, maintaining a high level of motivated compassion can sometimes be trying. Some openly admitted they didn’t expect to become rich by working in care, but that didn’t seem to bother them. The level of human interaction, the visible benefit of your work; these were often rewarding enough.

I also met some people there who I have learned a lot from: people who, because of unfortunate circumstances, had their lives changed by disabilities, and face ongoing health challenges with that. Yet who, after a fortnight in hospital, can still come back and greet you with a joke…

I’m not sure what the next job will hold: it seems it will be less physically demanding, and during the day. I’m excited to begin, however!

 

 

Laughter in the Dark – Vladimir Nabokov (Book Review)

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If Nabokov wrote about paint drying, I would still read it. I’ve read a lot of his books, and after stumbling across this one in a shop, added this to the collection:

Albinus, a wealthy artist is a married man with a young child. Arriving in town for a meeting one morning, he notices he is early, and so goes into a cinema to kill some time. Whilst in there, he notices a young, pretty usherette, and becomes obsessed with visiting the cinema to see her.

Eventually, a semi-abusive relationship develops, with Margot, the young usherette, abusing Albunis’ feelings towards her for financial gain, and the possibility of using his influence for her to become an actress.

When tragedy ensues, Albinus is pressed between moral and emotional pressures.

 

The title becomes so much darker once the book is finished, and you notice what the ‘laughter in the dark’ is laughter at. Albinus was the only semi-nice character in the book, and considering he cheated on his wife for the sake of the thrill, that is saying something.

The characters are all well written, and each unique in so many aspects. Much like Nabokov’s other novels, fairly common human characteristics become all too focused on for anyone to feel comfortable when carrying them out (or, has a hypocritical cynic like myself saying ‘yeh, exactly! People are stupid’).

The shortness of the book and typical style of prose make it well worth the read, though perhaps not as an introduction to Nabokov. The characters are well written and very stylized, and usually mundane situations become poetry when Nabokov describes them.

 

Ranting on an Inconsistency

I read recently an article about a group of late-teens who, after leaving a pair of ordinary glasses on the floor in an art gallery, took pictures of unsuspecting art-lovers looking at the “piece” from a short distance, and in other ways appreciating what they thought may be an exhibit.

This article was shared for the purpose of ridicule across social media, which is where I saw it repeatedly. Comments such as ‘I like to think of the piece representing the dumbing down of society’ was common, however I thought it perhaps necessary to challenge this statement:

We live in a society upheld, knowingly or unknowingly, by the current popular philosophy called postmodernism. Postmodernism asserts that such things as ‘truth’ are relative, and based upon a subjective reality rather than an objective one. For example, to claim that one religious belief system is right and another wrong is now considered taboo as “who are we to say what is right?” and “that’s your truth, they have theirs”. This offsets modernism which sought perfection, now seeking personal experience of perfection, undefined by others.

Art follows philosophical trends in much the same way. Postmodern art movements are subjective rather than objective, relying on the interpretation of the viewer rather than the conveying of meaning from the artists. In other art movements, in one way or another, the artists seeks to convey an image or message; in this one, they have no right to say how you see their creation. “What does it mean to you?”, a previously (frankly) irrelevant question is now the only question you must ask.

So, then it comes to the article. People who often deride postmodern art movements like to comment on the fact that such drawings are ‘just a bunch of lines that a 5-year-old can do’, and I find this to be a majority opinion, yet truth remains relative in discussions of philosophy with the same people. This leads me to believe an inconsistency exists within such people. They believe in subjectivity in regards to philosophy, but then go on to believe in objective truth in regards to art: “that God stuff is your truth and nobody can know, but that painting there: stop being stupid, definitely just a square of red”.

I believe a belief in relative truth should include an absence of derision at modern-art appreciators which recognise the same philosophy in the paintings. I’m not saying that those who hold to moral relativity must appreciate it themselves, but should at least consistently believe that those who do, have the right to do so, absent of mocking.

I myself am not a post-modernist, and also don’t see much in most postmodern art (with some exceptions for specific reasons which I may bring up later), which I feel is consistent. I also have friends who do openly recognise the post-modern beliefs, and love postmodern art, which is also consistent. This rant is just aimed at those who default to popular, inconsistent opinions; sectioning off areas of life and not recognising the holistic conflict between them.

End of rant.

 

How to Survive a Night Shift

When I began working where I do, the prospect of 12-hour, waking night shifts seemed a little daunting; beginning at 8pm, and finishing at 8am. How was I supposed to stay awake that long? Especially with sleeping in the day being something that doesn’t come easy to a lot of people. As such, here are some methods which I have found have helped me in this:

  1. Eat well: I find that my energy levels drop almost immediately after ordering pizza in my breaks. I also found that eating something like this before work meant I was tired before midnight. Pasta, vegetables… boring things like that; they help maintain energy.
  2. Don’t rely on energy drinks: they really make you crash. The half-hour of increased energy isn’t worth the heavy eye-lids that follow. Caffeine can help, and I do have a constant flow of tea throughout the night, but energy drinks are a killer.
  3. Keep busy: Sitting down for too long, even in the quieter hours of the morning, can make it so much harder to stand up and get going again. Find things to do throughout the night, or alternatively, only sit once everything that needs to be done is sorted, even if you ‘have 4-hours to do it anyway’.
  4. Keep talking: I have found for myself that if I am on with a colleague who shares similar interests to me, the best way to make time fly and to stay awake, is to have a conversation with them. This can be about anything from movies, books etc. and I find during the night, conversations about deeper things such as philosophy in art, political movements, and religion, come so much easier.
  5. Keep healthy at all costs: I actively avoid illness. When working nights, your immune system begins to mess up a bit due to lack of sleep (6-hours is considered a lot in-between consecutive shifts). Vitamins, healthy drinks, exercise: everything you can do to not catch that ‘bug’ going around. Working whilst ill sucks, and makes staying awake so much harder.
  6. Prepare: the night before my first night-shift after a break, I stay up late watching movies. I naturally wake up quite early on my days off (sometimes as early as 4am!) so by staying up late, I manage to sleep into at-least midday. This means when I begin work, I will have been awake for less than if I had got up at say 8am. For some, they prefer to nap in the afternoon before work instead, but for myself this is risky: I can’t guarantee I’ll nap.
  7. Take something to do: Some nights, nobody will feel like talking (most the times, this is me), and so you need to take something to keep yourself occupied during breaks. I read, though some find this hard to do and stay awake. Some colleagues bring their Kindle with TV Shows downloaded onto it. One nurse brings a medical textbook to read – I guess learning is one method too that shouldn’t be ignored.

There are probably more, but that’s what I’ve got for now… will post an update if more come to mind!