Books: The Bloody Chamber & The Fault in Our Stars

One of the amazing things about being an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) is that according to my contract I’m supposed to work a maximum of 26 hours a week. Because I’m not as busy as I might otherwise be, I’ve decided to try and use my year in Norway to develop good habits that will (hopefully) carry over next year when I start working full time.

As of right now, project gym has had a rough time getting started, but I’ve had a lot more success when it comes to reading for fun. Right now my goal is to either read for an hour every day or to read a chapter a day. I’ve always had a long book list, and it’s great to finally have time to dedicate to it.

Getting the books themselves has also been pretty easy. Thanks to technology, I can easily borrow and read books on my Kindle. The Overdrive system also allows me to borrow e-books from my home library in the US. If I want a physical book, the Norwegian library system is easy to use and has a very good selection of books in English. Trondheim’s central library is an easy thirty minute walk away and if I want something more convenient, there is a public library right inside the entrance of Byåsen. If neither of these libraries has the book I’m looking for, they can request the book from any of Norway’s other public libraries.

As of right now, I’ve finished Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

The first I’d heard of Angela Carter was when I took an undergraduate class on children’s literature. One of the questions that the class had been asked to explore was whether or not fairy tales could be rewritten. We’d read through several iterations of some of the more classic fairy tales, “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Sleeping Beauty,” etc., and seen how they had changed over time. Although these fairy tales had plainly been adapted, it had always seemed to me that many of these changes were more superficial. Morals were added or taken away, stories had slightly different details, different themes were emphasized, but at the end of the day the crux of the story remained the same. In other words, I believed that these class tales were not really being rewritten.

Towards the middle of the course, we were assigned chapters from the Bloody Chamber in order to see a more modern take on the fairy tale. Although I’d only been assigned “The Tiger’s Bride” and “The Lady of the House of Love,” these two chapters were enough to make me believe that fairy tales could be rewritten and to make me a Carter fan. While I didn’t have enough time to read the rest of The Bloody Chamber at school, I made sure to keep it towards the top of my book list. So, when I discovered that Byåsen actually had a copy of The Bloody Chamber I rushed to check it out.

Each of the book’s chapters is a separate short story, so The Bloody Chamber a very quick and easy read. Carter retells: “Bluebeard,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots,” as well as a few other classic tales. While I was nervous that the other chapters in the book might not live up to “The Tiger’s Bride” or “The Lady of the House of Love,” I enjoyed almost every chapter. Overall I would wholeheartedly recommend the book. Carter has absolutely gorgeous prose that is well worth reading, even if fairy tales aren’t your typical cup of tea.

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was badgered into reading The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s not too far off the mark. Before I actually read the novel, all I knew was pretty much everything you can gather from the movie trailer. I knew that it was some sort of love story centered around two teens that have cancer. That and watching the movie or reading the book was apparently supposed to make me dissolve into a puddle of tears.

So, having been enthusiastically encouraged to read this book for months, I finally bit the bullet and checked it out of the library. Yes, I went into the book skeptical. This was not helped by the fact that it’s told from a teenager’s perspective, something that John Green conveys by excessively using the words “like” and “whatever.” Things were looking grim and I did not think that I would be able to make it past the first few chapters. But the book picks up, as does the writing. While the two teens, Hazel and Augustus, bond over a variety of things, the one thing that they bond over most is the book An Imperial Affliction. I have to hand it to Green, he does have some really nice writing when his characters quote from An Imperial Affliction and analyze it. The characters eventually come across as witty and sincere, especially when they attempt to grapple with some of life’s harder questions, such as “What happens when you die?” “Is it worth loving someone when you know that you have an incredibly limited life span?” “Why does cancer affect the people it does in the ways that it does?” At the end of the day, it was a quick read and a good one. Green strikes a good balance between trying to talk about a serious subject while also giving both the characters and the reader funny and uplifting moments.

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