A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Recently, I have taken part in a “Shakespeare Appreciation Performance.” My school and two others performed different plays from or based on Shakepeare’s work. My school did a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I played the role of one of Titania’s loyal fairies, Mustardseed, I enjoyed playing this character because I could sing, dance and play the ukulele. This Play was fun to take part in because it was funny and we got to get a richer understanding of Shakespearian literature!

If you are not aware of the story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ here is a short summary. The play is one of Shakespeare’s comedies and is about four lovers and a fairy kingdom. Theseus and Hippolyta are to be married so six men, “The Mechanicals,” rehearse a play to be shown at their wedding. Meanwhile, in the wood, Titania and Oberon are arguing about the changeling boy and who will raise him. Oberon commands his sly helper, Puck, to get the juice of a flower and make Titania fall in love with one of the mechanicals called Bottom (who they have also cursed with the head of a donkey) and on the way, they encounter the lovers who are facing a conflict of their own. Helena is in love with Demetrius however, Demetrius and Lysander both love Hermia but Hermia loves Lysander. Hermia’s cruel father has said she must marry Demetrius and if not, he will have her executed! In the end Puck also makes Demetrius fall in love with Helena and Titania’s “lover,” was freed from his curse and finally everybody was happy.

I was pleased that I had the opportunity to take part in this interesting production and look forward to acting in different productions in the future.

[Ed – Note – I was very impressed with Grace and her friends in the production as Shakespeare is a difficult body of work to act out especially when so young but they all did brilliantly! It is a good idea to introduce Shakespeare at this young age as this means that they will be more familiar with the language and stories of Shakespeare for their GCSEs].

 

The Humanity of Wolves – Hybrid Book Review

Finally I get a chance to write up this long awaited review! As it concerns werewolves I thought that it would be a suitable one for Halloween. Hybrid is the first in the trilogy of books by author Nick Stead. The book begins with the character (also called Nick) which is a “meta-meta” concept that I love when I come across (see The New York Trilogy et al). This is no ordinary coming of age story as during the course of the novel, Nick faces troubles at both home and school whilst dealing with becoming a werewolf. I met author Nick Stead earlier on this year as we are now both members of the same writing group. He specialises in writing horror books but is not scary at all in real life as he’s a genuinely nice guy! Sorry to bust the myth Nick! Of course this is a slight disclaimer but I really want to emphasise that I would never give a good review to something that I felt did not merit it.

As soon as I started Hybrid I found it to be one of those books that you get lost in and time passes by whilst you need to turn the pages. It is very compelling! It only took me a long time to read because I seem to have a constant ten books or so on the go, but every time I picked up Hybrid I got lost in the writing. I think this is because of the way that it is written and that there is such a pull of empathy that you feel for the main character when he gets stuck in increasingly difficult situations. What’s even more impressive though is that Stead began writing Hybrid when he was just fifteen years old! Jealous much?!

I don’t want to give away too much but will say that Hybrid deals with the conflict between the humanity of Nick the teenager and the instincts of Nick the werewolf. This is cleverly delineated by changing the format of the text from italics when he’s a wolf to standard form when he’s human. I have to admit I’m a bit of a wuss really and quite squeamish and there are some moments of gore in the book but I’ve read worse and you can kind of skip over the gory descriptions without losing any of the story if you’re really squeamish.

Stead is very adept at drawing not only a convincing main character but also the main villains of the piece, his English teacher Aughtie and his father who both come across as truly awful characters whom you root for the author to escape. I also really liked the characterisation of the friends who help Nick along his journey. Nick’s band of friends  seem to both help and hinder him on his journey as he realises that he risks exposing them to danger the more that they learn about how he has changed. That means inevitably that he has to make new friends which he does in the form of vampire Lady Sarah, a stately character who has her own dark secrets.

The character of Nick does make mistakes sometimes fatal ones, this is a world where the shades are firmly black and white, evil and good and humanity seems to generally be the sense of human conscience that Nick uses to make more informed judgements which he learns to do as the book develops.

The final two books in the trilogy are Hunted (Hybrid) and the soon to be released Vengeance: Hybrid Book 3 Nick is currently out and about at various Horror Conventions throughout the UK. If you’re nearby why not pop along and meet him and get a signed copy of Hybrid, Hunted and be one of the first to get your hands on Vengeance! See Nick’s website for details here.

If I could sum up this entire trilogy though, I would say that there’s an awful lot of humanity in these werewolf books.

 

 

Scrummy Italian Food

By Dira0101 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49035695

Continuing our ‘Italy’ theme, I have decided to focus on something that Italy is well known for, its delicious cuisine! The food that we know as Italian uses ingredients that actually originated from other parts of the globe. Tomatoes and peppers being the obvious ones that were discovered in the New World. Italian cuisine is now one of the most popular and copied and adapted in many parts of the world. Italy has give us delicious dishes such as pizza and pasta but also risottos, pesto, parmesan, ciabatta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and antipastos such as olives and sundried tomatoes.

In all, Italian cuisine is fairly simple using sometimes only two to four good quality fresh ingredients but producing some outstanding tastes. Italian cuisine could be said to include many healthy ingredients that form the ‘Mediterranean diet.’ A diet that is said to prolong human life as it contains many healthy nutrients from ingredients such as olive oil and vegetables.

There are distinct regional variations in Italian cuisine from the north of Italy where you get Pesto Genovese, risottos, potato dishes to the South where you get more seafood based dishes such as in Sicily. In the UK Italian migrants introduced their cuisine post WWII which began with Spaghetti then pizza and was made more popular due to the increasing ease and expanse of air travel. We now get to enjoy a vast range of Italian food and ingredients that we can eat and enjoy on a regular basis. This can be seen in the long standing popularity of Italian restaurants especially the chain Pizza Express which serves some of my favourite pizza!

 

Montalbano’s World

It’s been a very busy Summer so far for us all at CLC HQ! For our next theme on ‘Countries and Continents’ we are looking at the continent of Europe and the beautiful country of Italy which has such a rich variety of culture. For the first blog post I will be looking at the stories of Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri and the common themes that are found throughout this body of work. The series of books has been adapted into an excellent series of television episodes (which I’ve no doubt mentioned before!). Camilleri apparently wrote the last novel before he finished some of the other final stories and I’m really excited to find out what the overall grand finale will be!

The Montalbano stories can be largely split into ‘micro narratives’ (those that involve personal stories relating to a family or small community) and the ‘macro narratives’ (the stories that are much larger and involve wider criminal activities such as the Mafia, drugs, other countries and people trafficking etc). Across both kinds of narrative we can see common themes that can be used to bind the overarching story together.

The Sea

The Inspector Montalbano books are set in the beautiful island of Sicily where my friend Yvonne has been lucky enough to spend the Summer! The sea is of course ever present in the Montalbano stories; he lives in the seaside town of Marinella and had a gorgeous flat that looks right out onto a beach where he regularly dines al fresco. The sea itself is a dual signifier of peacefulness and respite but also represents threat. Montalbano regularly swims in the sea to exercise, ease his frustrations and think about his cases but the sea is also threatening not so much in the case of storms but from criminal activity and access. Criminals in the stories frequently use the sea in the stories to access the land whether in the form of smuggling drugs (or people) or to hide murdered  bodies. The ever lurking threat of the sea is particularly featured in some of the more bigger complex cases involving the Mafia. The sea is used to transport refugees from north Africa as seen in the pivotal tale The Snack Thief (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) The Age of Doubt (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) and Rounding the Mark (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries) are also good examples of stories that heavily feature the sea.

The Mafia

What’s great about the Montalbano stories is that Camilleri has stated that he believes that the Mafia should not be glamorised like they are in the American gangster films but that they should be represented more accurately. Camilleri wanted to provide a more realistic representation of the mafia in Sicily which is the fact that they are ever present behind the scenes in everyday life. The mafia have infiltrated many of the bureaucratic processes in Sicily and are as present in paperwork as they are in more exciting criminal activities. In Montalbano’s world the two local Mafia families are the Sinagras and the Cuffaros. There is a contrast between the more ruthless younger members of these clans and the elder ones who stick to a more traditional code of honour. When Montalbano deals with the elder ones or their representatives the conversation often takes the form of an allegorical tale which needs to be deciphered. An example of some of the stories in which the Mafia feature are The Dance Of The Seagull (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) The Potter’s Field (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries) and Excursion to Tindari (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)

Food

Food is a huge part of the stories and features in every one! Italy has a rich history of fine cuisine and in the region of Sicily as it is an island the speciality foods are mainly seafood based which Montalbano adores. Sicily is also known for special regional delicacies such as cakes and sweets. Montalbano relies on his housekeeper Adelina to cook him delicious food which he savours. A common signifier (especially on the television programmes) is for Montalbano to begin to it down to eat his delicious dinner and then the phone always rings! When you see him sit down to eat food at his house you know that he will soon be interrupted! Montalbano is also very particular about what he sees as the scared ritual of eating so when dines in company he always states that he likes to eat without talking but instead talk afterwards. Calogero’s restaurant was his favourite lunch spot at the start of the series but when Calogero retires he discovers Enzo’s a seafood trattoria with a beautiful seafront view!

Comedy

Camilleri was a theatre director before he began the Montalbano stories and this influence can mainly be seen in the Commedia Dell’arte theatre tradition that has been updated and transferred into the Montalbano stories, mostly to add moments of comedy. The Commedia Dell’arte was a traditional early form Italian theatre that combined comedy, pantomime and stock characters in a variety of different stories. In the Montalbano stories we have the figure of Catarella who is representative of the commedia clown, the ‘lazzi’ foolish figure who uses physical theatre to provide comic moments to the narrative. This can be seen throughout the various stories when Catarella slips on Montalbano’s door and frequently mispronounces names of callers to the police station (which is a problem when he is the main one manning the switchboard!). Montalbano at first is quite angry with Catarella but as he ages he finds himself growing fond of him. Catarella also at times helps Montalbano solve actual cases! Another figure perhaps lifted from the Commedia Dell’Arte is Mimi Augello, Montalbano’s deputy who is a total lothario and often ends up in scrapes due to his bed-hopping nature! The Commedia Dell’arte also contains the stock figures of the lovers or the ‘innamorati’ who are characters in love who face obstacles from actually getting together permanently. This can be seen in the figures of Montalbano and his partner Livia (who lives far away in the northern Italian region of Genoa. Montalbano is also himself a figure of comedy at times mostly due to his paranoia about ageing and his ongoing mid-life crisis. An escalation of this crisis and issues with Livia can be seen in August Heat (Inspector Montalbano mysteries) and The Track of Sand (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)

The Media

The regional media feature a number of times throughout the series of Montalbano stories. When the stories were first written, Silvio Berlusconi was the Centre Right Prime Minister of Italy and a powerful media tycoon. Camilleri is left leaning politically and during Berlusconi’s leadership you get the impression that this was a difficult time for those of a left leaning disposition. Berlusconi through his company Mediaset owned a number of national television channels which were often populist. The stories of Montalbano reference this despair that he feels through the antagonistic and popular TV channel Televigata which features an aggressive, opinionated presenter who personally dislikes Montalbano and frequently disparages him on television. The only ally that Montalbano has in the media is Zito a respected journalist on The Free Channel who helps him from time to time with appeals for his cases. Camilleri also uses real-life stories that he reads in newspapers to inspire some of his books. A series of unusual real-life robberies inspired the story of Angelica’s Smile (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)

These are just a few of the common themes that appear throughout the Montalbano stories, but there are also many others! I highly recommend if you haven’t read or watched the Montalbano stories that you do so, then you may become as much of a fan as I am!

 

Contemporary US Fiction for Teens

For this blog post I wanted to share two novels and a film adaptation that I have recently enjoyed that are recent representations of US culture for teens and young adults.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park is a book about a girl: Eleanor, who lives in a house hold with four other siblings, her mother and abusive dad. She doesn’t own necessities such as a toothbrush or proper clothes so she is often bullied for this. It’s also about a boy: Park, a boy who comes from a loving family but thinks of himself as a disappointment. He stands up for Eleanor and wants to become her boyfriend but as Eleanor’s abusive father won’t let her have a boyfriend they are seeing each other secretly. I am reading this book at the moment and would definitely recommend it!

About the Author: Rainbow Rowell (born February 24, 1973) is an American author of young adult and adult contemporary novels. Her young adult novels Eleanor & Park (2013) Fangirl (2013) and Carry On (2015) have been highly recommended!

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by popular young adult author John Green, is about a sixteen year-old girl called Hazel Grace Lancaster who lives in the USA. She has cancer that has spread to her lungs and believes that her whole life will consist solely of hospital appointments and therapy from then on. One day her mother signs her up for a cancer patient support group, Hazel is mortified and thinks this is the new, worst thing in her life.

At the group she meets a seventeen year-old boy, Augustus Waters (who lost one of his legs to cancer). Augustus is there to support his friend Isaac (whose remaining eye is to be removed due to cancer). Hazel and Augustus immediately bond and decide to swap novels, Hazel recommends to Augustus a book about a girl with cancer whose life is similar to hers written by a Dutch author called Van Houten who disappeared after the novel’s publication. Augustus is horrified to realise that the book that Hazel recommended ended abruptly and decides to try and track down the author’s personal assistant and starts up an on-going conversation via E-mail.

A year later he surprises Hazel with tickets to Amsterdam where he confesses his love for Hazel. Hazel and Augustus meet Van Houten but are disappointed with his selfish behaviour. Augustus also confesses a secret to Hazel which propels the novel to it’s tearful ending! I enjoyed both the book and the film adaptation of the story and would recommend (though not if you need cheering up!).