Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
I first heard about 1984 in 2009 — I was about 14 or 15 at the time. I didn’t like reading and literature much then but kept hearing about it because Muse used it as the basis for their album that was about to come out, The Resistance. I also used to go on forums where everybody mentioned the book. After a while, I decided to get the book and was completely blown away at the end!
I’m sure you all know the story: it takes plan in a dystopian world in which Big Brother controls everything and everybody, people are monitored, words that are considered “dangerous” are erased from dictionaries, words are invented in order to simplify and reduce thought process etc. However, the protagonist Winston, who works for the Ministry of Truth (responsible for propaganda) falls in love with Julia…
Unfortunately, I didn’t get everything the first time I read it, and even the second time, I was probably still too young to grasp the whole political context.
I won’t say anything else, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to read this fantastic novel! I remember finishing it and feeling amazed about the story, and also about what literature could do. This books means a lot to me because it really opened my eyes about reading in general.
The movie they made is pretty good but it won’t replace the book!
“I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”
Like with 1984, I discovered Salinger thanks to music! A French band I like (Indochine) wrote a song called “Des Fleurs Pour Salinger” (flowers for Salinger) in the 1990s and I always wonder: who is he? Later, I heard about The Catcher in the Rye on times on TV around the time of Salinger’s death, in 2010. I thought that the French title, L’Attrape-coeurs (the hearts-catcher), was incredibly poetic and dramatic and never forgot about it.
I read the Wikipedia summary and thought “Hum, the life of a teenager wandering in New York after being expelled from his prep school? Sounds cool!”. I was also blown away at the end of the book — and it was also my first encounter with an entire novel written in free indirect speech. It reinforced the feelings I had after reading 1984: literature is awesome. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel so close to a character…
It may sound silly but to me, The Catcher in the Rye was a total revelation: I used to be the kid who couldn’t stand books and look at me now, I study English Lit 😛 . I read it in French at first but it was also the first “real” novel I read (and understood) in English!
Like with 1984, I didn’t get the point of the novel the first time and thought Holden was awesome. A few months later, after reading all of Salinger’s (incredible) short story and novella collection (yes I’m a big Salinger fan!), I read it again and understood the themes in more depth!
PS: More people should read his Nine Stories ! They’re easy to read, you get attached to the characters very quickly, and it opens up Salinger’s recurring themes: war, trauma, quest for the meaning of life. The other ones, Raise High the Roof Beam High, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction and Franny and Zooey too obscure and hard to read.
“We are being punished, that’s all. For presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we would be.”
This one isn’t really a classic, I don’t think the author is very famous, but I had to study it in my English Literature module in my final year of college. We spent several month studying it and different extracts. David and Harriet’s life is like a fairytale: they are both very conservative, shy and seem to be made for each other. They both dream of marriage and having a large family in a changing world (the swinging sixties) when most young people just want to have fun. They quickly get married and, although they were not quite ready for it, Harriet keeps getting pregnant. However, they lead a happy life with their four children, until she gets pregnant with Ben.
The novel explores the theme of motherhood but also witnesses the destruction of a couple and of the entire family. Although Ben is described as an devilish and inhuman presence in the house, we never know what truly happens because of the internal focalisation on the Harriet. Is Ben a monstrous child, or does his mother hate him?
If I chose to study English in France and then Literature at UEA, it is partly thanks to this book and to the amazing teacher who taught this module! She’ll never find my blog, but I’d like to thank her.
I even started translating The Fifth Child from English to French two or three summers ago but stopped halfway through the novel… I sometimes feel like I should continue, I don’t think it’s been translated in French!
Which are the novels that mean a lot to you? Is there any book you always recommend to you friends? 🙂