Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

Today I am with some medical students. We live in lodgings in a backstreet close to Fleet Street in London. Two of them seem to be dabbling in medical matters verging on the occult. I have a feeling the outcome of these experiments will haunt them for a long time to come. 

- Printer's Devil Court by Susan Hill

Paranoia... Or Is It?

Life is a rum old thing isn’t it? On the whole I do believe that things work out for the best in the end, but I do wonder sometimes why people behave so oddly. I am starting to see that for some a total lack of confidence leads to a type of paranoia which destroys not only themselves, but maliciously takes down those around them, who are just trying to do their best. 

Many very good pieces of literature are constructed around a flawed character and their paranoia.  When a character starts to suffer paranoia, it can be very difficult for the reader to determine what is real within the setting of the narrative, in other words, the character is right to be suspicious, and what is a messy construct within in the protagonist’s own mind. 

George Orwell’s 1984 is an obvious example of a paranoia-inducing read, as is much of Franz Kafka’s work. Having done a little research, there are some other great novels that delve into this murky mental state.

Ghost stories and horror also traditionally instill paranoia, and The Horla by Guy De Maupassant is a great example. Haunted by some unknown being, trying to suck the life from him, the narrator eventually cracks with devastating consequences.

Phillip K Dick suffered from hallucinations, which he used as a basis for his writing. A Scanner Darkly follows an undercover narcotics cop as he develops his own drug addiction whilst living with a group of addicts, and reporting back on their activities. He eventually starts to investigate himself.

I have been really hooked by Patricia Highsmith of late. Known for her Talented Mr Ripley books, she has written others which also carry her theme of, frankly, murderous heroes. Murder in itself doesn’t seem to worry her characters, but the deep dread of being found out drives them to ever more extreme behavior and paranoia. It is incredibly self destructive.

 It seems to me that paranoid characters fit broadly into two categories. Those who live in a world where paranoia is a probably a prerequisite to survival, and those who create paranoia in themselves by generating situations which lead them to have to hide the truth, and not face up to their own actions. There are both types in this world, and the second group is by far the most dangerous as there is neither rhyme nor reason for their actions, at least not to anybody other than themselves.

What other good examples are there in literature of paranoid states?

Walking Along...

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I do like a good walk. I'm not alone either, according to this piece from Mark's Daily Apple. I find walking rather meditative, and I often find solutions to all manner of things whilst out on a meander. Now whilst I don't claim to be in the same league as Aristotle, Dickens and Wordsworth as a thinker, I definitely agree an amble around the local woods helps clarify things in my mind. 

I have been wandering far and wide of late, and started to wonder how far I was going. I plotted it on MapMyWalk, and discovered I was averaging 3 - 4 miles per day, albeit, not necessarily in one go.  I am lucky that very close to Fennell Towers we have some nice woods, a canal and what is called a pond, but is actually about 70 acres of water with some lovely wooded areas around it. Lots of good ambling locations to explore. 

Life has been quite gentle of late, and to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, my mind is wandering so far it is bringing back souvenirs, so I thought something to focus my attention would be fun. Walking is extremely good for MS, it helps keep everything moving, is good for balance and excelllent for wellbeing. Anything which keeps the MS MonSter in it's box is good in my book, especially if I enjoy it.  

I do have a pedometer, the accuracy of which I think is rather suspect, but it will be good enough for this. I thought I would take an imaginary walk to my favourite bookshop, Mr B's. It is about 100 miles from Fennell Towers, but I'm not walking back carrying all the imaginary books I will have bought. I'll take the imaginary literary train (4:50 from Paddington? Hogwarts Express?). 

If you fancy a longer and frankly more frightening literary walk, the folks over at Nerd Fitness have a "Walk to Mordor" Challenge. Not for the feint hearted for all sorts of reasons! Watch out for Orcs and giant spiders. 

So, I'll blog as I clock up the miles, and see if I can crowbar in as many literary references as possible. If anyone fancies coming along with me, you would me more than welcome. Bring a flask and some stout walking shoes. 

 

Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years by Sue Townsend

Published by Penguin

So here we are with a fourth instalment of Adrian's diaries. 

Now in his twenties, Adrian is working for the Department of the Environment, writing reports on the newt population of Newport Pagnell. He has moved away from home and is living in Pandora's box room in Oxford whilst Pandora runs around with her new lover. 

Adrian really hasn't changed. He is writing a novel, extracts of which he shares in his diary. It is truly awful stuff, but he believes wholeheartedly in it. 

A chance at happiness comes his way when he meets a girl who really is attracted to him, but of course, it all goes awry.

This is wonderful Adrian Mole stuff. The problem is I really can't help but like him. I suspect in real life I wouldn't feel the same way, but he is a lost soul, destined to annoy people wherever he goes, but oblivious to why. His arrogance is astounding, but I so want it to work out OK for him, knowing that it probably won't, in the long run. 

Of the four I have read so far, I liked this one the best. Adrian has some independence now, and a wider view on life. This diary covers 1991 and some of 1992, during the time of the Gulf War. Some of his comments on the political situation of the time, seem worryingly relevant to today's concerns. The Adrian Mole books are clearly  a comic creation, but by including the current affairs of the time, Townsend cleverly anchors them and also reminds of us of what has been before and how it impacts today.

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

ISBN: 978-1471403989

This Young Adult novel is really rather good. Cadence Sinclair is a 15 year old girl, living a privileged lifestyle, spending the summers on a private island with her extended family. 

Regardless of how much money a family has, there are always secrets, and slowly but surely over the duration of one summer a secret is revealed to Cadence, a secret everyone around her already knows and is trying to keep from her. So far, so young adult. However the secret, when realisation strikes both the reader and Cadence is brutal, and not one I saw coming at all. It is really all rather clever, and disturbing.   What you see if the normal coming of age troubles coupled with a powerful, monied American family with the tough teflon veneer which keeps them going.  

 

Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

Today I am with Damien. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of saints, and has found a large amount of money. He and his brother are trying to spend it all, and have found that economics has some unintended consequences. Someone also wants their money back....

- Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Published by Atlantic Books

Mr Penumbra runs a bookstore in San Francisco. A bookstore which is open 24 hours per day. Clay, an out of work web designer is taken on to mind the shop during the night shift. The store is full of bookshelves several stories high which house extremely old books, all written in code. 

During his shift he sees few customers, but those who do come in only borrow the strange books, never buy, and are always very clear about what they want next. Intrigued, Clay starts to try and work out what is going on, and in doing so causes the disappearance of Mr Penumbra. 

With his Silicon Valley friends in tow, including a Google employee, a special effects artist and a man who made his millions working out how to create software to best simulate boobs in computer games, he sets off to find Penumbra. What they discover is... well, I don't want to say as I think it would ruin the reveal which made me laugh out loud, startling the Delightful Mr F. 

It is a marvellous romp of an adventure with clues and ciphers, but it is more than that. The book questions where knowledge is best kept, in between the dusty pages of books, or scanned and set free on the internet for everyone to access. 

Whether you are pro or anti e-books, it doesn't matter, the clash of the traditional against the technology of Google is brilliant in this wonderful story, as both sides come out well.