Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Hidden Life of Humans: An In-Depth Look Into Nothing

A Review By: Amelia
I judge books by their cover. I try not to do it all the time, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Sometimes it’s a great experience, sometimes it leaves me just feeling shallow for having been so stupid as to fall for a pretty cover in the first place! The Hidden Life of Humans is a book whose cover I judged and decided to read because of it. With a close angle shot of a big dog (who is, frankly, adorable) I figured it would at least be an experience. Unfortunately, it was a rather boring one.

Single and on the downhill side of forty, Dana Jaeger isn’t exactly where she thought she would be with her life. Her ex-husband is slowly dying, an unlikely romance with a P.I. is testing any limits she believes herself to have, and a dog she’s agreed to dog-sit–a mutt capable of consuming lawn movers–she begins to look a little deeper and see that maybe this is not entirely where she should be. She looks past who is she to try and find the promise that lie between who she is, who she claims to be, and who she might yet become.

Erika Ritter, the author of the piece is a Canadian playwright and humorist. She writes from experiences that she’s had but she also studied drama at McGill and the University of Toronto so she knows how to embellish and tell a good story. She’s written and hosted programming for CBC Radio, two of her plays have been produced at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and she has several published novels.

The two main characters of the piece are Dana, a forty year old, unmarried woman who’s a hack writer for a corny television show and the only relationships she has are weekend affairs with married men (a group she’s dubbed The Marrieds), and Murphy, an untrained dog that’s big enough to use a lawnmower as a chew toy but also has a mired of deep, undog-like thoughts that he needs to contemplate. They’re an interesting pair in premise, but together in the novel they always felt a little disjointed from each other. I guess that’s what the author was going for as Dana contemplates her life from her point of view and Murphy contemplates his from his. They also contemplate each other’s lives which could have been hilarious. Personally, I just felt it all a little hackneyed, like Ritter had thought about the jokes a little too much and gone with her sixth choice instead of her first.  

The whole novel takes place in Montreal, Canada in Dana’s rented, slovenly town house. There are a few parts where there’s a dream sequence in a strange place, or a car ride with one of Dana’s few friends or many ex-lovers but those are few and far apart. It’s actually kind of disappointing to have such a beautiful and lively city as Montreal be so misused by an author. Dana’s place is fine–it fits her character well–but to have so little else in the story, well, it just seemed like a waste to me. It, like the humour, felt hackneyed. Here’s a character that doesn’t know what they’re doing with their life so let’s make sure they live in a dirty apartment and don’t venture out much. It’s a character archetype that’s hard to do anything new with, if you know what I’m saying.

The novel’s main selling point was a supposed to be a poignant look at the “human condition” through Dana’s eyes and that of straight-forward, no-nonsense Murphy the dog. Through these two characters we do get a glimpse of human nature that maybe we hadn’t thought about before, but beyond Dana and Murphy, the path gets a little muddled. There’s Carl, a lying lover, Mark, the gay and dying ex-husband, Karen, a loud-mouthed, multiple personality stand up comic that doesn’t get comedy – it all just felt really extreme. Dana’s character was very low-key and these other characters (especially the insufferable Karen) get in the way and never really add anything of their own. They’re kind of just mindless space filler to make the book appear more alive than it really is because, although this is a book that appears fleshed out (for lack of a clearer or more concise way to put it) it really isn’t.

The Hidden Life of Humans is a strange book. I didn’t like it all that much, but I didn’t hate it either. My main problem was that it didn’t really offer anything profound to how I look at the world around me and that was the book’s whole selling point! It kind of tricks you into thinking it is with a human protagonist that’s–quote, unquote–not doing so well so she appears a lot more insightful than she really is, and a dog protagonist which is just ridiculous enough a concept to keep you from realizing that what he’s saying, isn’t exactly philosophical.

My final thoughts on The Hidden Life of Humans is that it’s bland. Readable, but bland. You’ve got characters that have “real-life problems”, but those real-life problems are just so plain. Dana is a forty something who sleeps with married men, yeah, well, so what? None of her actions ever come back to bite her in the ass so all those unsavoury affairs are just useless details implanted to make her feel more fleshed out than perhaps she really is. The book is kind of just a big in-depth look into nothing. But, I suppose since it’s a book about life for a mostly average person, an in-depth look into nothing rings pretty true to form.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Gotham After Midnight: A Feast For The Eyes, But Not For The Soul

A Review By: Amelia
Batman is my favourite superhero–anyone who has read any of my previous reviews knows that–and I’m always looking for new and interesting Batman comics to jump into. Gotham After Midnight is a comic that’s been on my shelf, unread, for years that I finally decided to sit down and read. Although not as enthralling as some other Batman pieces it still had its charms.

Gotham After Midnight is about a new psycho is terrorizing the streets of Gotham. He goes by the name of Midnight and he’s killing in the name of his own warped sense of justice all the while recruiting other villains and pushing Batman to the brink of his being.

The author of Gotham After Midnight is Steve Niles who has co-created 30 Days of Night, its sequel, and the Criminal Macabre series. His artistic partner in this piece was Kelley Jones’ who has lent his talent to pieces such as Aliens, Deadman, Conan, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

Now, like all good Batman comics, Niles and Jones wrote and drew Gotham After Midnight with a wide array of many of Batman’s greatest enemies–Joker, Scarecrow, and Killer Croc just to name a few. In addition to the regular cast a new character named Midnight makes his debut and he’s a pretty creepy character. His face is hidden under a veil, his glowing red eyes the only things that are visible, and his trademark is ripping out or staking through people’s hearts. Unfortunately the many characters, both old and new, are not put to good use. They come in quickly, perform some trivial act of destruction and/or mayhem, and then leave just as quickly. It’s disappointing and pretty anticlimactic for a Batman comic.

A technicolor dream of a comic!
The art style in Gotham After Midnight is very unique. It’s minimalistic and has the feel of first-draft sketch about it with very little detail in the faces of people. The angles and lines are very irregular and haphazard in their appearance too. However, at the same time as being minimalistic, it also has an insane amount of detail. The creases in people’s clothing, how Midnight’s face appears in everything from spilled liquid to the scarred face of the moon. But what stands out most in Gotham After Midnight’s art is its colouring. It is absolutely fantastic! All in all, the art may be a little off putting at first but, on the whole, it really lends itself to the erratic and chaotic story line.

The detail is staggering
Gotham After Midnight is a good Batman comic. The story is a little weak in comparison to say Batman Hush, or Superman Red Son, it it’s still original. Likewise, the art style may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s unique, the colouring gorgeous and it fits the story’s plot well–much better than a hyper realistic style of art would have. The only thing that’s truly awful about this piece is the dialogue. It’s clunky and unresponsive and just plain awkward in some spots.

My final thoughts on Gotham After Midnight are that it’s pretty good–a six out of ten stars. The art style, which had initially put me off, was what made this piece so good in the end. The plot is shaky and rushed near the end, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. At the very least it’s beautiful and comic books are 70% art after all!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

River Monsters True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away: A Book That Proves That Jeremy Wade is Boss At Everything!

A Review By: Amelia

Before accidentally stumbling upon the nature/fishing documentary show River Monsters on the channel Animal Planet I had no idea that I should be so scared to go into fresh water lakes, nor that there was as perfect a human as the show’s host Jeremy Wade! Each episode of the show is brilliantly edited and really comes alive as part horror/part mystery/part thrilling drama! After becoming hooked on the show I looked for everything else I could find concerning Wade and found his book River Monsters True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away and, compared to the show, it does not disappointment as Wade goes even further beneath the surface and discloses the full details of how he tracks and catches some of the deadliest creatures on Earth.

The author of River Monsters, as mentioned above, is also the host of the television show by the same name: the undeniably amazing Jeremy Wade. Wade has a degree in zoology and spends his life travelling the world fishing, which is his one true passion. Wade’s journeys around the world have not been restricted to fishing though. Throughout his world travels he’s been detained as a suspected spy, caught malaria, been threatened at gunpoint, and survived a plane crash. He’s also fluent in Portuguese, as he spends so much time fishing in Brazil, and in French. He has true passion for what he does and is a talented television personality and writer.

River Monsters is in an essay type style with each fish Wade has chosen to talk about getting its own story. Each chapter unfolds an enthralling detective story, where fishermen’s tales of underwater man-eaters and aquatic killers are subjected to scientific scrutiny. Within each story he talks about, not only fishing, but experiences from his past, preparations for the journey, and really anything else that Wade wanted to include–his eloquent writing style blends everything together beautifully and in the end, it hardly matters what he’s talking about because it’s all just amazing! His life has been full and extraordinary and he has more than enough stories to fill this book and many more (which as a Jeremy Wade fan I really hope he does)!

My final thoughts on River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away are that it’s amazing! It’s written very thematically and Jeremy Wade is truly a gifted writer as his prose always comes off very cleverly, consciously, and–more often than not–just plain poetically! Wade’s writings are much more than just stories, River Monsters explores the real mysteries that still exist in the world and captures Wade’s obsession and his relentless pursuit of the truth within beautifully written prose.