Updates, Apologies and Rhoda With No Face

You’re tired of hearing apologies and I’m tired of giving them. That being said – sorry for the absence. Assuming most of you are my friends, or twitter followers, or tutors, even, you’ll know that it’s been that time of year. Assessment season. Plus Christmas and New Year and all of that but really it’s been all about the assessments. An unfortunate side effect of said period is the absolute disinclination towards doing a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g other than work, and an unfortunate result of such is that this blog has fallen into a bit of disrepair. Or neglect. Or a combination of both. To be honest my brain has been well and truly fried, poached and boiled.

But here we are: new year, new me. It’s the final semester for me here at Nottingham, and whilst that is terrifying, it’s also exciting. In classic me fashion, however, I’m trying to jump the change by making other changes to lessen what will in fact be the real change of leaving the university bubble and stepping into the real world. By that I mean I’ve dyed my hair ginger and bought a suede coat and gloves and now drink coffee on the go. Although, turns out if you say to everyone ‘Hey, look at my new lady coat!’ it kind of ruins the facade of being a capable lady. You win some you lose some.

Source: Wikimedia

Anyway, enough of that. What I want to start this new year with is a quick ode to the best discovery of last year, my new favourite writer, and favourite woman in general, Virginia Woolf. Roll your eyes, I know. What female English student doesn’t like a bit of Virginia? Well, me from two years ago for one. We studied her briefly in the aptly named ‘Studying Literature’ module of first year and safe to say, me and V did NOT get along. I experienced To The Lighthouse via live audiobook, one of my friends reading it aloud as I cleaned the flat after a house party. Probably not the best environment to read Woolf in but it was first year when work and socialising were a joint endeavour. Neither me or the audiobook friend liked it all that much, and me being less literary than a lot of my peers, I dismissed Woolf as something not right for me. Fast forward to September 2017. Whilst picking out modules for third year, a good portion of my friends opted to do a single author study module. None of the modules we’d taken thus far had focused on one author, and that was a really attractive prospect. They all chose to do James Joyce though and I was not about to throw myself into that snake pit. The other option was Virginia Woolf, and my thought process was something like ‘Heck it, why not’.

Four months later, here I am, shoehorning Woolf into every literary conversation and essay I can. I love the woman. But I’m not here to sell you on Woolf. It’s been a while since I did some good ole psychoanalysis on here, and boy are Woolf’s works rich for it.

Source: Wikimedia

Now one of my top (possibly number 1??) books ever, The Waves was pitched to us in class as one of Woolf’s harder novels. However, I didn’t really find this to be the case. Perhaps due to the fact I took a trip to the hometown without any chargers which resulted in no phone or laptop for the long train home, I blasted through it in a few sittings. I’d argue it’s best read in this way, though, as the reported speech style Woolf uses to narrate the characters’ internal thoughts requires a bit of a switch in your reading process. Generally described as soliloquys, the passages of the novel are written completely through the internal workings of the six characters’ minds – there’s no external description whatsoever. The result of this is an incredibly intimate experience, as the only judgements you can make as reader are literally through the eyes of another. No objectivity here, thank you. Woolf was an extensive essayist, diarist and letter-ist, meaning a lot of her working processes are documented. The Waves is one of the lesser explained of her works, however, Woolf’s most allusive comments being that of ‘writing to a rhythm not a plot’. An initial subheading to the book, Woolf aimed to write ‘The Life of Anybody’ in this book, to write an experience both intimately subjective yet untied to external reality. And she really succeeds, in my opinion.

I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.’

Six characters narrate The Waves: Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda. Woolf once wrote in a letter that she perhaps intended the six to be facets of one person, and the possibility of such permeates the book – ‘I am not one and simple, but complex and many’, says Bernard. Paired with Woolf’s aim to represent all parts of humanity, this means that the characters in The Waves often come to represent the different people within us all. Bernard needs people, Rhoda despises company. Susan is steeped in nature, Jinny lavishes in the superficial. Neville is a poet, Louis desires order. There is something to connect with in all these characters, good and bad. However, what I found genuinely heart-wrenching was the way Woolf describes the dark parts of life through Rhoda.

Rhoda exists psychologically in what is a severely psychological book. Where most of the characters find some grounding in their external world – Bernard in his phrase-making, Susan in her farm, Jinny in her sexuality – Rhoda has no such connection. She struggles with her place in the world, saying she has ‘no face’, ‘no identity’ like those around her. Nonetheless, she longs for anonymity – ‘I like the passing of face and face and face, deformed, indifferent. I am sick of prettiness; I am sick of privacy. I ride rough waters and shall sink with no one to save me’. This is the tragedy of Rhoda – she cannot exist in the world of her friends as she has no sense of self, yet she will not let go of the anonymity that has comforted her all her life. She despises human beings for trying to chain her down in one spot, snatching from her the ‘white spaces that lie between hour and hour’ but without them she will drown in the nothingness. Despite being not dissimilar to Bernard’s fear of solitude, Rhoda’s struggle often goes unnoticed by the others. Bernard sees her and Louis as ‘spies, conspirators’, as more because of their introverted experience. He says ‘Rhoda was wild – Rhoda one never could catch. She was both frightened and clumsy.’ From the outside, perhaps, that is how Rhoda appears, introverted but content with it. After all, she attends the social events, she has a sexual relationship with Louis, so Bernard sees her isolation as a choice and an admirable one at that.

‘Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness.’

‘I will fling myself fearlessly into trams, into omnibuses […] I am flung upon this woman, upon this man, I am not injured, I am not outraged by the collision’. Rhoda speaks these words in the wake of Percival’s murder. It is in a passage of settlement, Rhoda creating a ‘dwelling-place’ amongst the anonymous faces of Regent Street, making peace: ‘Wander no more, I say; this is the end’. However, in the final passage, Bernard tells us ‘Rhoda, always so furtive, always with fear in her eyes, always seeking some pillar in the desert, to find which she had gone; she had killed herself’. Too late, he reaches out to her in a vision, a memory, and tells her to please wait for the omnibuses to pass. Rhoda does not think it will harm her, she sees her collision with the omnibuses as the only way to collide with other human beings, and assumes this will protect her. Rhoda was detached from her physical existence, and so she flings herself against the physical world in a desperate attempt to connect to it. The others, multitudinous as they are, never quite made the connection to Rhoda that could have saved her life.

Virginia Woolf Quotes. QuotesGram
Source: Lifehack Quotes

Woolf writes internal existence so well to the point of fear. Reading this book scared me in more ways than one – it made me confront all aspects of myself, including the dark parts that Rhoda represents. Yet Rhoda’s suicide was not the part that hit me hardest about this novel. It was Bernard’s, and the rest of the characters’, failure to see Rhoda’s experience for what it was – fatal. Bernard admired her solitude – he admired her suffering. He thought she was more whole because of it. It is this aspect that I wanted to write about in this post. Like Septimus Smith in Mrs Dalloway, Woolf touches on the grandeur that suffering is attributed in art and the power that exists within pain. Bernard only wishes he could harness this artistic potential, he envies Rhoda to the point where he can no longer see what is really happening. For both Septimus and Rhoda, whatever beauty exists in their suffering, whatever artistry, it means nothing in the end. They choose to fling themselves hopelessly outwards rather than be trapped inward a moment longer. Bernard sees Rhoda’s suffering as admirable, as poetic, as an artistic goldmine right up until the moment she kills herself. No one would call suicide an artistic expression, so why should we revere pain as we do when we are alive?

‘To let oneself be carried on passively is unthinkable.’

Of course I am being hypocritical. Woolf herself followed in the footsteps of Rhoda and Septimus, throwing herself into the River Ouse with her pockets full of stones. Without her sadness, we may not have got these outstanding works of art. Yet Woolf’s message in these characters is not that we should admire their pain, but rather we should see it for what it really is, and more importantly, do something about it before it is too late. Pain is not beautiful, suffering is not to be envied. The Waves is an incredible piece of art, devastating and deeply affecting. It is masterful, wonderful and full of light. It has some of the most uplifting phrases I have ever read. Yet it is also a warning. The long suffering artist – is there any image so dangerous?

The Waves by Virginia Woolf was published by The Hogarth Press in 1931. My copy is the 2015 edition published by Oxford World Classics and edited by David Bradshaw, available in bookstores and online. All of Woolf’s works are available for free on Amazon Kindle and in various places online. If you are looking to start reading some Woolf, I recommend beginning with Mrs Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own and her essay, The Narrow Bridge of Art.

Featured image courtesy of theintelligentlifemagazine.com


My Holiday Read Recs

So this post is entirely self-indulgent. I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks with my best friend and despite neglecting to buy a bikini I have, of course, selected my reading material. It’s kind of the most important part of my hype process. Shush. This post contains some of my holiday reads of years gone by, books I’ve read that would have been perfect holiday reads and one or two that I just love and will take any chance to pedal to people. Okay, let’s just get into it!!

10. Howards End by E. M. Forster


I can already feel the eye rolls of my course friends as I write this. They know how much I loved studying this book and I used to (…) get mad because no one else seemed to love it as much as I did. But I’m not trying to sell it as a book, I’m trying to sell it as a holiday read. I have to admit I knew fudge all about Forster before I studied him. That’s not a new thing for me, if studying English at university has taught me anything it’s that I have read, like, nothing. So, when I picked up this book as the first of the semester, I was immediately drawn in by how easy the form and style was to read. For a book from 1910, I was not expecting it. It reads almost cinematically: I found myself being able to picture every little thing – the landscapes, the houses, the characters – perfectly. Forster’s style is fluid and uncomplicated yet masterful at spinning the plates of upwards of seven principle characters. Thematically, it’s literary and pretty high-concept in some ways but super accessible nonetheless. I just loved this book and it’s well worth checking off the list whilst you have the time to. Read whilst travelling to get the full force of modernism.

9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Oooooh I have such emotions over this book. I got it in a Christmas stocking many, many years ago and was initially confused as to why my mum had bought me what presented as a creepy horror book (she’s more of a Jane Austen/historical fiction person). I flicked through it and was intrigued by the photographic inserts, creepy as they were, and settled to start it when the Christmas food coma set in.

missperegrine_334x518[1]It’s solidly grounded in the YA genre but I love that genre, still, no shame. Because of this, it is a quick one to engage with, the characters are relatable (if a little 2D) and the world has just the right amount of magic and suspense. The whole concept is well thought out and fresh for the fantasy world. The form and design of the book is delicious. Little magical trademarks always satisfy me – different Patronuses in HP, the Peculiarities of the children and.. yeah, okay, the skills of the vampires in Twilight. It’s an easy read and definitely one that you get as much as you put in. If I remember rightly I had been having trouble finding something I could really get into at the time so this book seemed like a godsend when I picked it up, so I got a load out of it. I didn’t have the same experience with the sequels, however, but this books succeeds more than enough as a stand alone. Great for plane rides or slow evenings on the balcony.

8. The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf


Okay, so I know this seems a bit heavy. This spot was initially going to be taken up by a Katherine Mansfield short story collection but this entry has a special little addition. It’s available, for free, on the Kindle app. Yep, completely free. As long as you have an Amazon membership you can get pretty much every piece of writing Virginia Woolf has ever produced for free. FREE. It’s madness, honestly. I found this out because I’m doing a single author study on her next year but I’m 100% taking this with me on my holiday. No matter where you stand on the whole e-Book debate, it is easier and more efficient to take a Kindle instead of 2-3 books in your carry-on. Virginia Woolf is a super important lady when it comes to shaping contemporary fiction and her work is really worth it. Though initially hard, once you get used to her style it can be really lovely. There’s the selection of essays, novels and even letters in the free collection, so you can dip in and out as you please. I recommend A Room of One’s Own and To the Lighthouse if you’re looking for that holiday setting. Good for after dinner when you can give it some thought. Did I mentions it’s FREE??

7. Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Now, here’s some textbook holiday read for you. A proper suspense novel, this book is a cliffhanger after cliffhanger page-turner of a read. Although not my favourite story or execution, I did completely devour it. As a thriller, it ticks all the boxes and for someone who prides themselves on being able to guess plot twists, it took me a long time to get this one. It’s a really good plot twist and a messed up one too.

51e--ljGmeL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_[1] The kind that makes you go ‘Ew. No. Oh my god. No. EW. I feel icky.’ You know? A film was made of it a few years back and I remember being disappointed-ish but I might have distracted by the fact Colin Firth was in it. I’ll explain that later. Most of the suspense comes from the main character’s amnesia, so it is a very internal kind of drama. That sort of thing is hard to translate onto the screen but is a novel writer’s bread and butter. A good alternative to this would be And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but Before I Go to Sleep has a definite modern feel to it and is perhaps more relatable and easy to sink your teeth into. This would be a great one when you’re killing time on the beach. There’s a whole section in my home love Brighton after all! Maybe don’t read in an enclosed space though.

6. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison


This one is just a cute one. I read it sat in a deck chair in my mum’s house in Norfolk because I didn’t bring any books home with me and it was just there on the shelf. Based around a thirty-something autistic man, there is the risk of it being a bit misrepresentative, but from what the author’s notes say Simison pulled from a real-life friend to create as accurate a character as he could in Don Tillman. It’s a pretty classic boy-meets-girl type scenario, where the girl is the complete opposite of what the boy wants but (SPOILER) they have mad chemistry anyway. You could easily tear this book apart in a day or two and will simply warm your heart. For something light and fluffy and to make you feel good about the world, go for this. Very easy to dip in and out of, so take with you to read in between holiday activities. It’s a proper book-club read so pass it onto your mum/friend/Airbnb host when you’re done with it and there’s a sequel for when you’re done.

5. Anything by John Green


By that I mean anything that he’s written, not some obscure book called Anything that you’ve never heard of. Like most people my age, I went through a right John Green phase where I read everything he’d written back to back. Specifically, I remember reading An Abundance of Katherines in Egypt and Paper Towns in Paris. Both books and both holidays had a whole bunch of driving in (stuff in Egypt is so far apart and Paris was a coach-led school trip) so these books really reflected my ‘I’m such a cool, well-travelled edgy 14-year old’ vibe. Again, they are YA fiction so it doesn’t take much to get sucked in. I prefer these two novels over The Fault in Our Stars, but that may be because I overhyped the latter in my head for ages before it came out. Still, all of John Green’s novels are enjoyable, readable, emotional and funny in just the right amounts. I had ‘I go to seek a great perhaps’ written on my wall for ages after I read Looking for Alaska. My John Green phase also coincided with my quote collection phase. A great one to read in the back of a car, driving literally anywhere and wishing you were younger, edgier and way easier to fall in love with than you are.

4. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak


Another book I have strong holiday memories attached to is this novel by the writer of The Book Thief. His previous novel is absolutely NOT a holiday read, unless you like being very, very saddened on holiday, but I Am the Messenger is a great choice. It’s sort of YA-y with a mystery element but based very much in the reality of a down-on-his-luck cab driver in Australia. Ed, the cabbie, ends up stopping a bank robbery and through various events becomes a messenger for an unknown entity. Being the messenger gives him this kind of mission, this purpose, in life and he follows it even when it seems to be doing more harm than good. I just remember really wanting to pick this book up. I read it on a super busy holiday but still managed to get through it in a short few days so I take that as a testament to the writing. Overall, just an engaging, fun book with characters who really make you care about them and a plotline that makes you wanna find out more. It also sets you up for the tear fest that is The Book Thief if you want to read that when you’re not trying to have a nice time.

3. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur


This one’s poems! You may have seen Rupi Kaur’s work online a lot. She gained fame as an ‘Instagram poet’, posting her short, sweet poems with little illustrations onto the social media platform. Her posts quickly escalated into a book deal and thus Milk and Honey was born. It’s a gorgeous book, it really is. The cover has a matte finish, the illustrations all the way through are adorable and even the font choice is delicate and resonating of the whole feel of the collection. The poems document a young love and all the bittersweet wonder of those feelings. In all honesty, I’m not overly into them, but there are little tidbits of gold in there. ‘i want to apologize to all the women’ is a beautiful piece of writing with a towering sentiment that stuck with me for days. My best friend has this poem written out and stuck on her wall, so it always makes me think of her (she is also resilient and extraordinary as well as beautiful so it makes me v emosh) and is honestly just such a heartwarming thing. The brilliance of taking a poetry collection on holiday with you is that you can spend as much time with it as you like. These pieces are super short to read so are perfect for skimming through between tan rotations on the beach or steps in the airport. Whether or not poetry is your thing, I highly recommend showing this lady’s work to your friends and family as they somehow resonate with everyone.

2. Emma by Jane Austen

STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES AT ME. You know who you are. I’m not going to defend Jane Austen because I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO but seriously, just, please, like.. give her a chance if you haven’t already. This is the root of my Colin Firth love (remember that from earlier?) and I had a hard time picking between Emma and Pride and Prejudice. P&P is my original love (I read it whilst sick in bed on a Wales holiday when I was 11) but Emma is my all-time favourite regency novel.

51UGpqQ+pAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Something about the whole book feels sunny to me, which is why I selected it for the holiday read section. Box Hill, where Emma and her friends visit together, is just a county over from mine and I have actually been there several times, so picturing that section of the book is always so vivid for me. Emma is a brilliant example of Austen’s work. It balances female friendships, male friendships, male-female friendships, single parent families, older couples, rich-poor relations, marrying for love and marrying for money. All with a great sense of humour and a main character you don’t always root for. Emma makes some major, like major, mistakes and sometimes seems outright intolerable but that’s what makes her such a brilliant protagonist. She grows and changes throughout the novel, and whether you believe if Emma’s intentions are always good or not, you can always track how she comes to the conclusions she comes to. I’m also a sucker for a good declaration of love and this is HANDS DOWN the best one in existence. ‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more’. OOOOF. Also, the BBC adaptation of this book is fantastic, so you’d get that all-too-rare warm fuzzy feeling of the TV show living up to the book. Also, Jonny Lee Miller is a dream. Read this one wherever, whenever, just read it, please. P-L-E-A-S-E.

1. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Here it is! Number 1. In a sentence, imagine a super modern, hilarious, Muslim Bridget Jones. I know, right. This was my pick for last year’s holiday after watching my absolute favourite Youtube/book gal Leena Norms interview the writer and also rant about it on social media. I’m ashamed to say my reading history has never included a Muslim author and has an unacceptably small about of POC writers. I’m a big believer in reading stories about people with different life experiences to you. For me, it’s the most effective way into empathising with others. But this book, man.


Aside from all that, this book is just fantastic. It’s hilarious, for one. Laugh-out-loud funny. Sofia is adorable, her family is awesome and her love interests range from mad to dreamy to shocking. It is, on the surface, very chic-litty. There is nothing wrong with chic-lit, by the way, but I know that can unfortunately out people off. In format, this book is written like a diary, so it immediately reminisces things like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging (childhood aaah). Therefore, it is incredibly easy to read and, apt to that holiday lifestyle, very pick-up-and-put-downable. I read this one by the pool overlooking the mountains between the Bonsian and Croatian border whilst on holiday with 5 boys, so it gave me a nice bit of girly respite. Even so, I would completely recommend this book to anyone. It’s just… smart. So smart. All the way through there are these little references, like to specific Patisserie Valeries which just give that little bit of richness to an already fully realised set of characters as well as providing a little bit of in-joke satisfaction. More importantly, though, this books taught me so much about Muslim culture. Without ever seeming like it was teaching me anything, I finished the book with a whole new knowledge base. I don’t want to get too political, because this book shouldn’t be political in any way, it should just be enjoyed for the pure joy that it is, but reading it really did open my eyes to things I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Achieving that whilst still making me laugh on every page and rooting for one guy over the other in a classic love triangle sitch is some pretty great writing if you ask me. A great read for pool or seaside, or as a nice light wind down on a dusky evening. Ayisha Malik also seems like a super lady, check out her and Leena’s interview here.

And just one more…

A little honorable mention here, for a book I want to read but haven’t managed to get my hands on yet. If you don’t follow @jonnysun on Twitter, please fix that immediately. He is the only person whose quotes still grace my walls. His book, Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too, looks like the most perfect little collection of messages, sayings and illustrations that ever did be. Here’s the quote that I have above my desk: for whatever reason, it is the most inspiring thing I’ve read all year. Perfect summer stuff.