Category Archives: Opinion

Book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Book: Normal People
Author: Sally Rooney
Genre: Fiction, psychological fiction
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 2018

Sally Rooney has a way with her straight-to-the-point style of words captivated by steadiness, but it still does not fail to draw you in. The book Normal People concentrates on the lives of two ordinary individuals (Connell and Marianne) who are discovering love, lust, loneliness, depression, trauma and overall, their path in transitioning into adulthood. Something we all can relate to. 

The story follows Connell and Marianne from their school days where they begin a secret affair. At school they pretend to not know of each other. Connell is popular at school, well liked, and an athlete who plays for the soccer team but as for Marianne she’s quiet, private, lonely, vulnerable and proud. Connell’s mother works as a cleaner at Marianne’s house. The two’s connection starts when Connell comes to pick his mother up. Their social and socio-economic backgrounds could not be further apart, but that does not stop the sparks happening between them. Events of betrayal happen and the two drift apart only to be brought back together at Trinity College in Dublin, where they both attend.

This is a story about two characters who are desperately in love and find their way back to each other, each time they drift apart. This is a story that goes well beyond lust and sexual awakening, two normal people who have a sense of innocence to them. Something we rarely see nowadays, where there are no drugs involved nor are, they criminals, which makes this book ever more interesting.

Sally Rooney, a young Irish author born in 1991. Her previous work consists of Conversation with Friendswhich was published in 2017, only a year before her book Normal People, which also gave a name for her. The book, Normal People, has won the 2018 Costa Novel Award, the Novel of the Year Award at the Irish Book Awards, and was Waterstones Fiction Book of the Year 2018. The book has also been adapted into a series on Hulu. 

Rooney’s writing style is simple but sharp like a knife, which leaves words bleeding inside of your head for days. While reading this novel myself I felt that I reached a level of epiphany in my young adult life, things became clearer almost. How miscommunication and misunderstandings can lead to failure in relationships and how subtle these miscommunications can be at times.

The book makes you not only think but also feel the realities of ordinary people. Rooney’s coming of age tale tackles why and how people interact in a unique way. Connell wonders, “Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?” Connell grows and slowly adjusts to the world around him, whereas Marianne relapses, often finding herself in abusive relationships, yet they still seem to be rooted to each other even though they drift apart. It’s almost frustrating that Rooney keeps these two characters apart. 

Rooney is a young and original writer, and she is only just getting started.

The reality that we don’t know anyone at all

Has it occurred to you that, you may not exactly know the people you hold the dearest to yourself as well as you thought you did? I remember my ex-boyfriend telling me during our third date, “You will never know anyone, not fully.” At the time I got defensive, and took complete offensive to his statement. It made me think, surely if you’ve known someone for all your life or even a long period of time, you must know them inside out? It will be embarrassing not to? Right? Well, wrong. It took me a long time to realise, and I cannot argue this enough, fully realise we do not know anyone at all, not even our dearest ones. The most heart-breaking part of it is that we never really will. 

The Japanese have a proverb which will tell you that people have three masks they wear within their life, sometimes the mask is translated to faces. We have three masks or faces we put on throughout our lives. The first one is the one we show the world, and everyone around us, almost a face in our most perfect form. The second is the face we show to the people closest to us, our loved ones, family, friends. Finally, the third face we dare not show anyone. A face where no one is worthy of seeing and knowing. It is us in our rawest form.

Following this line of thought, these faces or masks are all us, different versions, but still us. The first as I mentioned before is the most perfect, likeable face we portray to the world. We can almost argue that it is also the fakest version. When you think about it, if everyone in the world was to portray only their first face to the world, does that not mean no one has had the courage to show their real face to the world? We can sometimes be conditioned to impress, be likeable, and be forced to be somebody they are simply not. 

With the second face, we believe and trust, thus show a small glimpse of us to our close ones. We like to think they care about us and therefore allow them to stick by us when we have fallen. 

However, these faces the Japanese talk about, for the third mask, is in fact the voice in our head. It is that voice which no one will ever have the privilege to hear, only us. It is us, authentic and Real. This alone, tell us that we never really know what that voice in someone else’s head is saying. They could be plotting a murder for all we know. Unless you possess the power to read minds, you, as much as you wish otherwise, do not know the people around, not fully. 

We are all guilty of putting on a mask every day. Pretending to be that perfect person the world expects us to be. Sometimes, living with the consequences of being authentic can be heavy. Contrary to popular opinion I believe it is an emotional labour to be yourself, showing who you really are to the world. It’s tiring more so than pretending to be someone you’re not. The fear of not being liked once you open yourself, feeling exposed and vulnerable. That is why the first and fakest mask we put on every morning when we stare into our bathroom mirrors with a smile is not an option, but rather a must. We trip, fall, rise, get stuck in limbo every single day. We pass obstacles, we fail them. We are human, yes, but we are also a warrior, a soldier, a fighter. Just like a warrior puts on their armour to face a battle, we put on our masks to face the world.

Book review: The queen’s gambit by Walter Tevis

Book: The Queen's Gambit
Author: Walter Tevis
Genre: Fiction, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 1983

From the moment I picked up Walter Tevis’ amazing novel The Queen’s Gambit, I struggled to put it back down, and ended up finishing the book in just two days, 243 pages of it. The Queen’s Gambit is a novel first published in 1983 following the life of a chess prodigy. As boring as that may sound, the words that tell the story between the front and back cover begs to differ. The novel takes place in 1950 where women are still considered to be intellectually inferior to men. Elizabeth Harmon, is both young and also female, challenging the traditional norms of society. We are first introduced to Beth at the age of eight as an orphan with the first sentence, “Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.”

But for a moment, let’s put chess aside, and look at the story through Beth’s eyes, an eight-year-old orphan girl from Kentucky. The chaotic battlefield here, in this story is her mind. Ending up in an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth finds two ways to escape her reality; first chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking the little green pills given to her and also the other orphans, which helps keep the children tranquilized. It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Beth is smart, maybe even too smart for her own good. In a society where women are considered inferior, she doesn’t see gender, and is often frustrated about articles written about her, focusing more on her being a young woman rather than her successful chess wins. But all that aside something is missing in her life, which leaves her mind in a state of loneliness. Leading her to swallow more green pills and drink more alcohol.

There are many quotes in this book I enjoyed and choosing a favourite is difficult, however, if I was forced to choose it would be the quote where Beth said, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”

To those who are thinking, “do I need to be a chess fan to read this book?” The answer is no. Although, the plot takes place with a girl rising up the ranks playing chess, it is also much more than that. It is also about loss, death, rejection, addiction, and even sexism. Ergo, if you believe you can relate to even one of those emotions listed, this book is for you. That’s not to say that chess is boring. It may be for some, however Tevis brings out the excitement and dramatics of chess into this book.

The book is engaging and easy to follow with the author’s straight to the point writing, “it was six days until Thursday.” It’s a book I read once and will happily go back and read again. I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit to the point where I turned a blind eye to Beth’s gloomy future at the end of the novel. The little orphan grew up to outgrow the one thing that made her name. We may not be a prodigy but we can still understand and relate to Beth Harmon in more ways than one, which is the core of what makes this book engaging. 

You can buy your own copy on Amazon.

The odd things you remember when you’re watching someone die.

Photo credit: manyfires 

‘It’s odd, the things you remember when you’re watching someone die.’ I thought to myself, as I looked at his grey face in sorrow. His expression was confused, and his face was thin. There was no trace left from his once red cheeks. It almost felt like I was staring at a zombie with the eyes of a dead fish. Cancer is a dreadful disease. It robs you of your beauty, energy, youth, time, and your life.

I was so lost in my chain of thoughts, that his rough husky voice had to bring me back to reality. I apologised. “I remembered the time you taught me how to make a swing for my toys as a kid.” I said as an explanation to where my mind had drifted off to.

We sat together side by side in peaceful silence, both reminiscing my childhood mainly. The room was bright and white, just like any other ordinary hospital room. It was a bitter sweet moment. As we knew the sense of defeat was knocking on his door. There’s no cure for death, so we should in reality just accept it and welcome it.

Death is a part of life. Often, we are taught that it’s the opposite of life, but they could not be further from the truth. I always wondered why we are never taught to get ready for something which every soul will taste at one point. Then, it occurred to me that humans have a tendency to avoid what they do not understand and what they fear. As if avoiding something and merely pretending the lack of its existence will lead it to go away. It’s a hard reality to get used to, that the world does not wait for anyone. That it will simply continue to turn with or without you and no pain nor yearn will stop it. 

We fear death for its unknown future, it’s such a complex topic to be able to comprehend. Thinking about it can even alter your reality. Ergo, its understandable why we choose to avoid the subject instead. However, acceptance of a matter or event which you do not possess the power to change, can and will reduce suffering. As it allows you to look fear itself in the eyes without flinching.

I believe once you are face to face with death, all your worries, ego and petty dramas are dropped into the depths of the ocean. It humbles you almost, and stops you to end up with piles of regrets of things that needed to be said and people to be loved, things to be done. 

We all know who alexander the great is, what you may not know is after conquering many kingdoms, he was finally returning home. On his journey he became unwell and this illness dragged him to his death bed. With death staring him in the face, he realised how his conquests, his great army, his sword and all his wealth were of no consequence. He now longed to reach home to see his mother’s face and bid her his last adieu. But he had to accept the fact that his sinking health would not permit him to reach his homeland. So, the mighty conqueror lay prostrate and pale, helplessly waiting to breathe his last. 

He called his generals and said, “I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them without fail.” With tears flowing down their cheeks, the generals agreed to abide by their king’s last wishes. 

“my first desire is that, my physicians alone must carry my coffin. Secondly, I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave the path leading to the graveyard be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones which I have collected in my treasury.” After a moment of pause due to exhaustion he continued. “My third and last wish is that both my hand be kept dangling out of my coffin.”

The people who had gathered there wondered at the king’s strong wishes. But no one dared bring the question to their lips.  Alexander’s favourite general kissed his hand and pressed it to his heart. “Oh king, we assure you that all your wishes will be fulfilled. But tell us why do you make such strange wishes?”

At this alexander took a deep breath and said, “I would like the world to know the three lessons I have just learnt. I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realise no doctor on this earth can cure death. They are powerless when it comes to saving someone from the clutches of death. The second wish of strewing riches on the path to the graveyard is to tell people that no amount of wealth will save me nor come with mw. I spent my life with the greed of power earning fortune but I cannot take it with me. Let people realise it is a waste of time to chase wealth. About my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I wish people to know that I came to this world empty handed and empty handed I shall go.” With these words the king closed his eyes, soon he let death conquer him and breathed his last.

With this story I want to add that there is birth which is the beginning and there is death, the end but we often forget there is also everything that happens in between, and that is life. Time is precious and death is inevitable. Yet, death is easy and, in some cases, pretty rapid, the main challenge is to live. To live life without fear and accepting death as a part of life.  

As a society we need to stop sweeping the topic of death under a rug. No one wants to think about it now. Why? I would even go as far as to argue it’s one of the most important things to think about.

The talk of religion has been a debate for centuries and probably will be for centuries to come. However, there is no real evidence of an afterlife realistically. There is however, only faith. I sure am one of them who believes in an afterlife. The idea of imaging yourself to never exist and simply rotting six feet underground is scary. But, rather the idea of never existing is difficult for me to fully comprehend. 

One day, you too will close your eyes to this world. All your belongings, possessions and even your last pennies in your bank will no longer matter. It will not exist. It may pass down to your next of kin, you will no longer own them nor will you really be needing them.

Yet, the scariest aspect of death for me is all your memories and knowledge fading. The thought of this truly breaks my heart. It makes you ask the oldest question known to humanity, “what is the meaning of life.”

From the beginning of time, every event that happened, every moment that occurred from the speed of the wind to the rain falling from the sky, happened and it brought you into existence. The butterfly effect. Did it all happen by chance or on purpose? Will you ever be able to find the answer to these questions? Probably not, but the journey to finding these answers will be a hell of an adventure.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain.

Greek Mythology; Hades

It has surely been a fascinating mystery to me as to why so many oppose and bear a disliking towards Hades, or simply portray him as the villain in nearly every book, film and story. Is his job not to just secure balance between the two worlds, and only merciless if humans — as cunning as they are — were to cheat him to escape from death, from the underworld? He is not evil, I assure and know of it. He surely is disliked but not many really knows as to the reason behind it. I can assure that no one really came to the realisation to ask why? No one ever really took a moment to think about him, he the oldest of all siblings, the one who boiled in stomach acid the longest, and again no one took a moment to think when he was ostracised by his own flesh and blood, his own family.

He is not evil, I assure and know of it.

Hades does not take souls, therefore he is not death but the ruler of the dead. He rules what is sent to him. He is known for his firmness yes, but he is also fair. Western production try hard to turn Hades into a powerful dark character, however, when glimpsing into reality he is the sweet, awkward one who probably writes poetry in his own time. Being dark and gloomy by nature must not make one bad or evil. How can one not trust who owns a dog?

When provided by a choice to either become the ruler and God of the skies, of the sea or everything underneath, he simply watched as his brother turned against each other for the first two, hatred captivating their hearts, thus saw the last option as a means of escape. He was smart, he thought outside the box and was well aware of the potential of the extent of what could come under his rule; all of the jewels and metal, and was he to ever to embrace the darkness, every human would become his eventually, thus leaving him with and army, making him the strongest.

No one ever really took a moment to think about him, he the oldest of all siblings, the one who boiled in stomach acid the longest, and again no one took a moment to think when he was ostracised by his own flesh and blood, his own family.

His realm would be the most vast, subjects the most numerous, without a doubt out numbering his two brother, and wealth beyond any measure. Well aware of the fact that when the time was to come ahead he could effortlessly take the other two realms for himself.

 

The poppy camouflaged in innocent blood.

Many of our fellow Englishmen are still unaware of the meaning of the poppy. They were taught that it’s a symbol representing English values, thus if one know himself as a proud Englishmen, an honourable man of the flag, he then must accept the poppy, regardless of his knowledge of it.

The poppy is a symbol of our soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the safeguarding of our freedom, our future. But I must insist as to when I say they sacrificed their lives, as though I believe some us do not really grasp the importance of this, because I don’t necessarily mean they lost their lives on the battle field with a fatal  bullet wound that touched upon their skin, I mean they sacrificed their whole existence, their chance of ever being with their families or maybe even ever having a family, watching their children grow up, go to school and graduate. Families were broken and destroyed with the death of these soldiers. Soldiers ages as young as twenty and probably even less, boys who haven’t event reached their manhood yet, brutally robbed from the chance to just simply live an ideal life with the only purpose ahead of them to be happy.

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. – Douglas MacArthur

The poppy. The symbol of freedom, appreciation, love and respect, a symbol of remembrance of the heroes, the people behind reason of our freedom, our heroes. To remember the stains of their blood on the land we walk on. This symbol, however, is still the basic representation of glorifying war, destruction and death. And war is something I personally will never support. Naive young boys, convinced and brainwashed by their government to carry on a tradition of killing and slaughtering their peers, being praised for it, because it is recognised to be an honour to do so. Gladly and happily giving up their lives because, war is not questioned, merely just accepted and is the norm of even today’s society. Maybe war only portrays what is already there, buried in the deepest darkest corners of our hearts and souls, the parts we do not reveal to the word, not even to our own selves; hatred, hunger for power. Or we just fear the idea of being ostracised, alienated and pushed to the margins of society, lose that sense of belonging, that security. We, as a nation and also as individuals, should appreciate every single day as it comes, every single day we live as a free person, and in a war free zone, and must consider ourselves one of the lucky ones. Even though I despise of the word “luck” as every accomplishment is treated to be luck nowadays, yet it is the singular approach for the description of merely being born into a high standard or G seven country. Whereas, if any person in their right mind was given a chance to choose the life and world they were to be brought into, do I even have to spell out what their decision would be?

But, and there is definitely is big “but” in the situation, these are crucial times we exist in. Terrorism is a leading cause to result in a war any time. Yet, terrorism has no race, religion or any type of justification, despite what the media might choose to try to feed us, as terrorism can strike anybody, anywhere. It solely has no mercy. George Orwell said it so well, the brutal truth; War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. However, unfortunately avoiding it does not make it go away, as much as we would want it to, this is the reality of our day and it has been for a very long time. Children are playing not in playgrounds or schools but on battlefields, brave but still frightened to the core, numbed from the pain of death surrounding and haunting them, bodies dropping on every corner, where rain is, in the literal sense, blood, dodging bombs by just a fraction and fearing the queue of death, when will that bomb hit them, when will death pray upon them. The same children who carry the scars, burden and wounds inflicted by war, yet are unarmed and unaware. It is a time where these children, even though are the casualties caused by war, will never be victors or remembered as heroes, not like soldiers, or politicians who bring the foundation of war into the lives of the innocent. What is the symbol to symbolise their tragedy, to remember their trauma? As we must remember and remind ourselves, how we as the human race failed them. Now I know what you’re thinking, but, doing nothing and staying silence, in the face of this evil, is an unforgivable sin of its own.

George Orwell said it so well, the brutal truth; War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

We need to question things, at least start somewhere. With war, the poor get pushed to the edge of poverty while ironically somehow the rich get richer. Do we know how much our government spends on war and weapons? What percentage of terrorism leads to casualties in the West compared to the East? What is the leading cause of death? How much does the government spend to prevent this? How is the media portraying these? Unless, we as individuals get a break from our busy and constantly occupied lives and do our own research the information that we simply must and should know, is not openly given to us. Quite the contrary, the hierarchy do everything in their power to distract us from asking the right questions. And therefore, popular culture was invented. Karl Marx said popular culture gave people passive satisfaction so they had no interest in overthrowing the capitalist system. In other words, it is a weapon of distraction and, it may not be fatal to one today, however, it holds a dangerous future for our children and their children and on.

“Love, don’t hate. Make peace, not war.” Simple solution, right? However, will it ever work, debatable. Because with war comes power and a longing for power is simply part of nature. Even the animal kingdom, consist of control over territory, food, sex, thus power. Survival of the strongest, if you’d like to name it. The me and I evident in everyone as children grow with the growth of the person – except for that if there is a desire for change. And we must enhance that desire, allowing it for flourish in us, and only then will that “I” overturn into a we and us. Only then will hate and hunger for power will become love and peace.

 

Nationalism which divided us as a true race.

Nationalism, a word once signifying a sense of love for one’s nation and people, now a badge of hatred that is proudly carried on nearly every collar. Are our identities really only skin deep? With the help of closet racist politicians over the years the word “nationalism” has overturned its original meaning for being proud of ones culture, identity, love for their people and the sense of being one as a nation, into a perfect symbol of hatred and justification of racist agendas. Simply for the people in power to boost their unnecessary ego into the sky, and feel powerful, to be even more powerful, and to create a monopoly in the hierarchy. Power. The eternal and never-ending human hunger for power, which rinse oneself out of their humanity and morality towards any other being.

“Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.” – George Orwell

In a way, for certain people it’s their human nature to have an undeniable desire for power. I repeat, for certain people. Similar having a desire to be loved or accepted or to even feel wanted, needed. It is a natural human instinct, and we all have different desires that make us who we are and complete our identity. But just like all desires, with it follow two sides to it, negative and positive impact.

Nationalism is the perfect tool for power-hungry closet racists to use it to control the passive, feeding their brains with whatever they please to fuel it with. We have a president of the leading so-called free country, who declared himself a nationalist. He is the perfect icon for white nationalists, who have never seen a single glimpse of the world other than their own small town, and who sit in front of their flat screen televisions all day. His minions doing his dirty work, inciting violence and hating the brown, the black, locking children up behind metal bars and chaining their freedom. Because that is what nationalism is, it is the seed and root of division. Yet, the powerful is but amused of this outcome.

“Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.” – Toni Morrison

Racism is with us today, with the support of nationalism, it is planting its seeds in young, vulnerable and easily influenced minds. Slavery may be over, yes, though racism is still very much alive living among us, each and every one of us. The earth is stained, with innocent blood, black people’s blood and before them Indian blood. Blood of young naive soldiers who was simply brainwashed by the powerful into being pawns for the benefit of themselves. The foundation of wars, destruction and division. Where bombs split atoms, kill children, destroy families, but the powerful become more powerful and the rich become even richer. Poverty strikes the lives of the victims and innocent. Although, it is fine and it is ok, as long as we are proud nationalists, right? Everything should be fine. Well, no! Nationalism has become a political symbol of racism and a tool for the powerful, the illusion of feeling important for the passive and unintelligent.

All I can think is that, once power falls in the hands of the wrong people, the hunger for power can shift into a deadly disease, as for one can create a monster out of oneself. It is a dangerous and ugly game. A game which only echoes hatred.

“What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.” – Isabel Allende

Nationalism does not care about culture, nor identity, it doesn’t protect a nation, the people, nor its honour. Nationalism is destruction, and destroys basic humane values. What it cares about is power and supremacy over the non privileged. We were taught ignorant ideologies by ignorant people who were also taught ignorant ideologies. We were taught there were many races, no there is only one race, a single race and that is the human race. The cultural, social difference within the human race is a different topic.