Review: Aniara by Harry Martinson

PAPERBACK; 188 P.
ALBERT BONNIERS FÖRLAG, 2004/1956
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The great Swedish writer Harry Martinson published his masterpiece, Aniara, during the height of the Cold War – right after the Soviet Union announced that it had exploded the hydrogen bomb. Aniara is the story of a luxurious space ship, loaded with 8,000 evacuees, fleeing an Earth made uninhabitable by Man’s technological arrogance. A malfunction knocks the craft off course, taking these would-be Mars colonists on an irreversible journey into deep space. Aniara is a book of prophecy, a panoramic view of humanity’s possible fate. It has been translated into seven languages and adapted into a popular avant-garde opera.

Once upon a time, in a far far corner of a nice Irish pub I asked my reader friend to recommend me a good science fiction book (he’s an expert, you see). The response was immediate – Aniara by Harry Martinson –, so much so that at first I thought he making a joke. However, the name stuck in my mind and about a month later I checked the book out from the library. The only copy available in my local library was in Swedish, but I decided that it would have to do. I mean, how hard can it be to read about space travel in Swedish? (Answer: Hard, but so bloody worth it.)

Aniara begins with the launch of one of the gigantic ships that are transporting people from the no longer inhabitable Earth to Mars to begin a new life there. Unfortunately the evacuation flight gets pushed off track by a collision with an asteroid, and due to a technical error it can’t return back to its original course: the ship is lost in space, floating around with no hope of ever reaching its target. However, the technology of the ship allows its 8,000 passengers to continue to live luxuriously for several decades within the spacecraft. With no immediate danger, the people try to return to their normal lives by building their own society within the spaceship. Aniara is an exploration of the psychological side of life in a closed community: the ship’s inhabitants form their own microcosm of class divisions, religion and morality.

The epic of Aniara consist of 103 songs describing mostly the life and thoughts of an engineer running a machine called Mima that relieves the homesickness of the passengers by showing old images of the Earth. As Earth is the only main connection between the huge mass of people in the spacecraft, the machine is thought have mystic powers and its rooms in the ship come to serve as a church of some sort. Aniara show the human need to control fate as well as the horrors born from conflicts between different groups. As the flight of the ship progresses, the reader learns more about the reasons behind the destruction of Earth as well as the horrifying secrets behind the evacuation plan. Aniara is a tragedy and the heartbreakingly beautiful songs give the story a true feeling of a tale passed on from generation to generation.

I fell in love with Aniara from page one. Although the language made me jump through some hoops with the dictionary, the end result was fantastic and mind-blowing. The book’s themes of humanity, societies and international politics tick all the boxes for me and combined with the stunning poetry, it was clear that the book would become one of my favourite reads. Martinson won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974 “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos” – although there were some controversy surrounding the process – and in my opinion he has definitely earned it. Unfortunately copies of the English translation are currently almost nonexistent (so I’m told). Some e-copies can, however, be found online, and then there’s always the library. I highly recommend this if you enjoy beautiful and tragic writing about societal issues and human psyche.

5/5

Protesting we were innocent, we sought
to reason without learned reference
and in the language most of them were taught
propound the barest modicum of sense.

But this same language, meant to clear up all,
grew murky for us too, a rigmarole
of words avoiding words and playing blind
amid the clarity of cosmic soul.

(trans. Stephen Klass & Leif Sjöberg)

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Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

PAPERBACK; 368 P.
PENGUIN BOOKS, 2013/1949
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

George Orwell became one of my favourite authors of last year as I read and absolutely loved Animal Farm. Sharing my love of Orwell, I quickly received several recommendations to read 1984 – the book that notoriously launched the concept of Big Brother. Despite my interest in reading more Orwell, it took me some time get around reading 1984. I bought my copy – the cleverly designed Penguin paperback – in January, read the first 50 pages in March before putting the book down, and eventually picked it up five months later. The book is not a particularly chunky or dull one, but in order to fully enjoy it’s complexity, it definitely requires time and concentration – neither of which I had back in March.

The story of 1984 centers around a young-ish man, Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth revising the history records to match the current ideology. The political system in power is called English Socialism – IngSoc in Newspeak– and it’s run by the omnious, never-seen-but-always-present Big Brother. The society at large controls every action of the lives of its members from exercising to family planning, focusing on eliminating all actions that go against the current regime. Even expressing wrong kinds of thoughts is considered a crime. Winston just is a plain cog in the system, but he nevertheless feels nerved by the constant controlling. His nightmares consist of distant memories, but he doesn’t understand how things came to be as they are.

1984 is utterly brilliant, cynical, astonishing and truly mind-boggling. If you have the energy to let your imagination run wild with the concepts that Orwell presents in this book, the end results are both rewarding and frightening. Orwell’s dystopia is poignant even today, which is quite a feat considering how much the world has changed since 1940s. I am in awe of George Orwell for creating such a meticulous but yet completely comprehensible system of government, and the way with which he constructed this novel. It is a classic for a reason. Although the novel’s central themes are censorship and restricting individuality, my favourite part of the novel were the passages from “The Book” – but maybe that’s just the Political Studies student in me. As a language student, the linguistic aspect of the story was also fascinating; how controlling the language that we use can also shift how we think and act. Also, to which point can you simplify language?

The story of 1984 is not among the most action-packed ones, but the slow build-up truly packs a punch in the end. It’s a thought-provoking noveI like no other. I think I can now confidently say that Orwell is one of my favourite authors of all time. However, I must admit that I still prefer Animal Farm over 1984. I highly recommended 1984 to all citizens of the planet Earth, especially those who enjoy dystopian literature.

5/5

War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.

Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

PAPERBACK; 367 P.
PENGUIN CLASSICS, 1994/1859
SOURCE: PURCHASED

From Goodreads:

It was the time of the French Revolution — a time of great change and great danger. It was a time when injustice was met by a lust for vengeance, and rarely was a distinction made between the innocent and the guilty. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens’ great story of unsurpassed adventure and courage unfolds.
Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it though, the pair are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman — Charles Darnay — falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom, the dissolute lawyer’s clerk Sydney Carton. It is a coincidence that plays a vital role as the story unfolds. Brilliantly plotted, A Tale of Two Cities is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.

Aside from Jane Austen’s Pride and PrejudiceA Tale of Two Cities has one of the most quoted first sentences:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

And if you’ve read the book, you know that the ending is no less memorable. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Charles Dickens is one of my favourite authors and before starting this book blog, I had read Little Dorrit, Nicholas Nickelby and Bleak House. I try to read at least one of his novel a year and last year it was A Christmas Carol. A Tale of Two Cities might not be considered as Dickens’ most renowned novel, but it’s definitely one of the most popular ones. The combination of history, excitement, and beautiful prose also make it very readable.

A Tale of Two Cities begins with an journey from London to Paris where an old man, Dr. Manette, is reunited with his daughter Lucie. This reunion is arranged by Mr. Lorry, a gentleman of the Bank, but during their return to London the group becomes unknowingly involved in the fate of a young Frenchman, Charles Darnay. As the father and daughter are set to testify against the treason accusation against Mr. Darnay, the connection is once again refreshed and gradually develops into friendship. However, a deeper, hidden connection lies between the old man’s unjust imprisonment and the young man. In the meanwhile, the air of Paris is simmering with discontent as the poor are grow hungry. The spark of a revolution is relatively easy to ignite, but like fire, it cannot always be contained.

First of all, I have to gush about the way Dickens manipulates language in A Tale of Two Cities. It is amazing, wonderful, sublime, enticing, comforting, harrowing and riotous. I’ve usually considered Dickens to be more of a plot- and character-based writer whose forte is characterisation. However, this time I was almost instantly enthralled by the language of the novel. I don’t know if it’s a specific aspect of A Tale of Two Cities or if I’ve just grown more attune to beautiful writing, but the way the sentences flow and the imagery is presented just stunned me. The story itself is also fascinating as it gave me new insight to the French Revolution, and I think Dickens’ intention was partly to remind people that despite the beautiful ideals behind the Revolution – Liberté, égalité, fraternité –, the revolution itself involved lots of violence and cruelty from both sides. A Tale of Two Cities is said to be one of Dickens’ more depressing novels, and its portrayal of cruelty is oddly juxtaposed by the stunning use of language; similar juxtaposing is present in the first sentence of the novel. This balance – or should I say imbalance – only occurred to me only after I had finished the book, but it’s made me view the novel in a new light.

I believe A Tale of Two Cities is/has been mandatory reading for many, but if you haven’t read it, I’d highly suggest you do so. It’s also one of Dickens’ most accessible novels, making it a great place to start with him (another one being A Christmas Carol). Also recommended to people who want to know more about the French Revolution. A Tale of Two Cities has beautiful language, historical interest, and a mixture of mystery, romance, and comedy à la Charles Dickens. It’s now one of my favourites.

5/5 

Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone.

Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

HARDCOVER; 384 P.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BECKY CLOONAN
HARPER DESIGN, 2012/1897
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

From Goodreads:

A true masterwork of storytelling, Dracula has transcended generation, language, and culture to become one of the most popular novels ever written. It is a quintessential tale of suspense and horror, boasting one of the most terrifying characters ever born in literature: Count Dracula, a tragic, night-dwelling specter who feeds upon the blood of the living, and whose diabolical passions prey upon the innocent, the helpless, and the beautiful. But Dracula also stands as a bleak allegorical saga of an eternally cursed being whose nocturnal atrocities reflect the dark underside of the supremely moralistic age in which it was originally written – and the corrupt desires that continue to plague the modern human condition.

Dracula is a Gothic horror novel that keeps readers on their toes. Bram Stoker’s creation has inspired several adaptions to both stage and screen as well as a ton of so called “vampire literature”. Although not an immediate bestseller after its publication, this classic tale of hunting down Count Dracula is probably known to everyone by now. However, surprisingly many have never actually read the book that gave birth to the character of Count Dracula.

The story of Dracula begins when a young attorney, Jonathan Harker, travels from England to Transylvania to assist a client named Count Dracula in his plans to purchase an estate in London. However, when he reaches the Count’s castle and settles down for what he thought to be only a few days, he begins to notice strange things about his host. The tendency to stay awake during the nights, the solitude of the castle, the absence of mirrors, the particular interest to English customs, never eating during dinners, etc. As his stay progresses, Mr Harker begins to fear for his life – and for his sanity. A few months later a shipment carrying the cargo of Count Dracula hits the shores of Dover – without any crew. Strange things are afoot and mystery brings together a group of strangers. Dracula is an epistolary novel story told through a series of journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings, slowly building the storyline.

Dracula is an exciting story that combines adventure, terror, love – and of course the supernatural. The writing flows easily, making this novel a real page-turner (not something that can be said about many 19th century novels!). Aside from writing, Bram Stoker was a business manager in a theater and you can definitely sense the theatrical influences in his text. The descriptions of scenery, the tension building and the dialogue bring the story to life and make it easily adaptable. The illustrated edition naturally supported the visuality of the narration, but although I liked the art style, I had few issues with the layout of the illustrations. Unlike with many classics, the story itself and some of its characters – mainly Count Dracula and Dr Van Helsing – were already familiar to me through popular culture. However, as a sensational novel Dracula has a lot of tension building, which in this edition often fell flat due to illustrations of scenes in the story that were laid out about a spread before the they happen in the text. As for the structure, I really enjoyed the epistolary form with which Dracula was constructed and the way it emphasised the emotions of the characters as well as the importance of how a story is told. The theme of science vs supersticion was also an interesting one, although for me it was overshadowed by the plot itself.

Dracula is definitely one of the most accessible classics of the Gothic period and a must read to all who enjoy a bit of supernatural in their reading. I’d highly recommend it also to younger readers and those who are trying to get into reading classics!

4/5

Do not fear ever to think. A half-thought has been buzzing often in my brain, but I fear to where that half-thought come from, and I find that he be no half-though at all; that be a whole thought, though so young that he is not yet strong to use his little wings. Nay, like the ‘Ugly Duck’ of my friend Hans Andersen, he be no duck-thought at all, but a big swan-thought that sail nobly on big wings, when the time come for him to try them.

Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

PAPERBACK; 234 P.
FABER AND FABER, 2013/1964
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dreams to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther’s life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society that refuses to take women’s aspirations seriously.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, was originally published in 1964 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is partially based on Plath’s own life and has become a modern classic. The Bell Jar has been celebrated for its darkly funny and razor sharp portrait of 1950s society and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

The Bell Jar is a modern classic that is often found on those “30 books to read before you’re 30” lists, and it’s also often referenced in popular culture. The author Sylvia Plath is generally more known for her poetry, but I think that the novel – although originally published under a pseudonym – has through its autobiographical aspects partly contributed to the air of mystery that surrounds Plath. Going into the book I had an idea of what I might find in it, but it turns out that what I really took away was something quite unexpected.

The story of The Bell Jar follows Esther Greenwood, a young and highly talented student, who gets a summer internship on a popular magazine and is whisked away to a glamorous New York life with a group of other female students. Although Esther is at first enthralled by the glitz and glamour surrounding her, she also feels disconnected from it. Life outside of the controlled school settings presents new challenges and Esther begins to question her place and role in the world. And when she’s confronted with the question of what she wants to do with her life after graduation, Esther draws blank. This realisation sets Esther on a journey to find her purpose, but also herself. Played against the backdrop of 1950s society, the young woman’s story of anxiety and mental illness is poignant look at the side effects of a society that at the same time is both free and constricted.

What I really enjoyed about The Bell Jar was how it reflected indecision and living with uncertainty. Like Esther, I too have felt like I have too many dreams and have stood awake in the middle of the night haunted by fear of not being able to make up my mind. Plath captures something very live and vivid in the modern society, because even today many of the readers find themselves in the pages of this book. I honestly can’t remember when was the last time I related to the main character so much as I did to Esther for the first half of the book. However, as her world starts to crumble, there is a distance that grows between not only Esther and the rest of the world, but also between Esther and the reader. The first person narration of the slow descent to depression is fascinating, and it describes the feeling of being trapped in your mind very vividly, but I still felt at times like I was only watching from the sidelines instead of experiencing things first-hand.

Plath’s simple but poetic style of writing makes The Bell Jar a compelling read, but the thing I really found myself thinking about was the binary of self and society presented in the novel. Although Esther’s struggle is internal, it is very much also reflected in the society and vice versa. The private becomes public and the problems of the public are reflected in the private. Esther struggles in trying to decode the mixed messages of her surroundings, and feels anxious about the choices she has to make and the expectations she has to meet. The Bell Jar is a very though-provoking read in both its take on mental illness as well as the personal-public binary. I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who feels like they are standing at the crossroads of their life. It offers both perspective and support and lets you know that you’re not the only one going through the pains. I’d also recommend it to the fans of The Catcher in the Rye.

4/5

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.

Review: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

PAPERBACK; 94 P.
FABER AND FABER, 1965/1952
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

‘Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it is terrible‘ was Jean Anouilh’s judgement on the first production of Waiting for Godot. But, he went on to conclude, that evening at the Babylone in 1953 was the most important première put on in Paris for forty years. Nobody to whom the names of Pozzo, Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon are familiar would now question this prescient recognition of a classic of twentieth-century European literature.

Picture an empty country road in the evening. A single tree stands by that road, a tree that will witness a complex and abstract meeting of two fellows, Vladimir and Estragon. The men, of whom we know nothing, wait for the mysterious man Godot, contemplate whether he’ll arrive this time, and whilst waiting meet two other men: the powerful Pozzo driven by another man ironically named Lucky. This is the simplified basis for the play that in itself is so abstract that even an attempt of explaining it seems limiting. Samuel Beckett is a Nobel-winning playwright and Waiting for Godot is one of his most known plays in which “nothing happens, twice”.

My previous experiences of play-reading narrow down to Shakespeare and Beckett’s fellow countryman, Oscar Wilde. While I hold Shakespeare in a class of his own, I was surprised how much Beckett’s style of writing stage directions differed from Wilde’s. What struck me the most was the detail with which Beckett described movement on stage. Because of the simplicity of the setting and the fact that “nothing happens”, the atmosphere and the themes of the play are mainly built through dialogue. However, unlike Wilde who leaves more room for the director’s imagination, Beckett has a clear vision of how the characters move on the stage and he presents that also in his stage directions. This is, indeed, very helpful for the reader, because it gave me an idea of the visual presentation, and I think that the motions also build intensity. The tension of the play rises and falls constantly making it very addicting – almost like a page-turner. However, Beckett’s use of language and metaphors also invites the reader to study the text closer.

An interesting fact about Waiting for Godot is that although it has been voted as one of the most important English-language plays, it was originally written in French and translated into English by the author. There are multiple ways of reading the play and an also ways to interpret the notably missing character Godot. The most common interpretation is that it stands for God, as there are many references to biblical texts in the play, but there are also those who believe Godot presents something completely different. The bare-boned presentation of the play invites the reader and the audience to reflect their own ideas as to what the plays is really about, which brilliantly brings out a myriad of responses.

Waiting for Godot is now one of my must-see plays and I cannot wait to read more of Beckett’s works in the near future. I have “The Trilogy” (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) listed on my TBR274, and after Waiting for Godot I expect nothing but greatness. If you’re into plays, Waiting for Godot is a must-read, and if you’re not, I suggest that you still give it a try. Don’t be frightened by the abstract. Embrace the absurdity, the feeling of not knowing everything, and just enjoy the ride. Better yet, go and watch it on stage.

5/5

Pozzo: (suddenly furious) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?

(Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

PAPERBACK; 309 P.
ARROW BOOKS, 2010/1960
SOURCE: PURCHASED

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those big classics of American literature that almost everyone has read. Many studied it in school but still consider it as one of their favourite books, which is no small feat. A story of race, 1930’s Great Depression, and double standards, the book explores the lives of a small town through the eyes of a young Scout. The historically pressing time reveals some ugly truths even from the nicest of people and although a lot has changed, the story still remains current. And even more current the novel is now that the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, will be published 55 years after the classic.

The story of To Kill a Mockingbird centers around the Finch family living in Maycombe, Alabama. Scout, real name Jean Louise, is a young and active girl who enjoys playing games with her older brother Jem and other boys, and presents questions about illogical adult behaviour to her father Atticus. Atticus Finch earns his living as a lawyer, and especially in questions of right and wrong, the discussions between the two often have multiple layers. Next door to the Finches lives the Radley family that intrigues the children because unlike all the others in their neighbourhood, the Radleys keep to themselves and wild rumours fly about their grown-up son Boo. Despite orders from Atticus to stop harassing the family the children go to all lengths to lure Boo Radley out of his house. In the mean time, the town is in an uproar because an African American man is charged with the rape of a white girl and Atticus is set on defending him. And in a town as small as Maycombe, the case comes to influence all areas of life.

The depth and scope of To Kill a Mockingbird truly makes it a classic. Harper Lee’s novel not only tackles the train of thoughts and the underlying racism of the Southern society, but also goes to show it from the perspective of a child trying to learn the rules of the society. The book is a coming-of-age novel in which it isn’t the narrator who grows up and looses the idealism and innocence, but her brother and how that affects the family dynamic. In fact, the innocence of the child narrator somehow manages to underline just how terrible the injustices are, but also how illogical and strange the adults can be. Aside from the Finch family, the book is filled with characters and storylines that would all require a paragraph of their own, especially the mysterious Boo Radley. This being the first time that I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was surprised by the direction that the story took despite having a hunch of the court decision. And like many before me, I too fell in love with Atticus Finch. He is a curious mix of detachment and deep-rooted morals. Through Scout’s perceptive eyes, she also reveals the follies of grown-ups with their ridiculous games and politics. Although I didn’t personally connect with Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m very intrigued to meet her as a grown-up woman in Go Set a Watchman. I can definitely see why To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic and it is definitely one of the books that I hope to re-read in a few years. So if you haven’t yet picked up this Southern classic, I cannot but highly recommend it. And if you have, maybe revisit it in preparation for GSaW?

4.5/5

People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

EBOOK, 126 P.
1600
SOURCE: PUBLIC DOMAIN

From Goodreads:

Shakespeare’s intertwined love polygons begin to get complicated from the start–Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander. Bad news is, Hermia’s father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. On the outside is Helena, whose unreturned love burns hot for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). In the forest, unbeknownst to the mortals, Oberon and Titania (King and Queen of the faeries) are having a spat over a servant boy. The plot twists up when Oberon’s head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. Throw in a group of labourers preparing a play for the Duke’s wedding (one of whom is given a donkey’s head and Titania for a lover by Puck) and the complications become fantastically funny.

I think I first saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream on stage at the age of ten and ever since then it has been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Over the years I’ve seen a few productions, but before this month, I’d never actually read the original play itself. After I finished reading the latest book in the Shakespeare’s Star Wars series earlier this month, I craved for more wit and wisdom from the Bard and thus decided to pick up this classic.

The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in Athens where a young couple, Hermia and Lysander, decides to run away because they are expected to marry other people. Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius instead of Lysander, and her friend Helena is madly in love with Lysander. Thus, when Helena finds out that the young lovers plan on fleeing, she allerts Demetrius and together they follow the couple into the mystical forest outside of the city. However, in the forest Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of fairies, are feuding. Oberon plans to win the argument with the help of a potion that will make the person fall madly in love with the first thing that they lay their eyes on. Puck, however, ends up mistaking two people together and love changes course as she who was once loved is now scorned and vice versa. At the same time a group of workers is rehearsing for a play to be performed in the Duke’s wedding, with little no knowledge of acting.

Reading Shakespeare can at the same time be very rewarding and very frustrating. At least for me, I almost never get the full gist of the play until after I’ve read it or upon re-reading. However, that also makes every reading experience fun, because there are always new things to discover and to focus your attention to. Although I remembered the plot of the play very clearly and knew some of the quotes by heart, the experience of reading the play still felt new and fresh to me. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s fantastical comedies, but more than just being a funny love polygon, it also deals with identity and the balance of rationality and irrationality. There are some laugh out loud moments but also moments that make you ponder on the modernity of the play in some ways.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d only seen the play performed before and thus reading the play revealed some things that I either hadn’t noticed or had been cut in the production. I also noticed that the final scene depicting the worker’s play, which was horrible and absolutely hilarious at the same time, was often either cut or shortened in productions that I’ve seen. In terms of a dramatic structure it is perhaps not what you want to end with, but in terms of hilarity, it is superb – a play within a play. I cannot review A Midsummer Night’s Dream objectively in any case, but if you haven’t yet read this Shakespearean comedy, I’d highly recommend that you do so immediately.

5/5

Through the forest have I gone.
But Athenian found I none,
On whose eyes I might approve
This flower’s force in stirring love.
Night and silence.