Saturday Poem: ‘Concert Party: Busseboom’ by Edmund Blunden

The stage was set, the house was packed,
The famous troop began;
Our laughter thundered, act by act;
Time light as sunbeams ran.

Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
Jest chirped at gayest pitch,
Rhythm dazzled, action sped
Most comically rich.

With generals and lame privates both
Such charms worked wonders, till
The show was over – lagging loth
We faced the sunset chill;

And standing on the sandy way,
With the cracked church peering past,
We heard another matinée,
We heard the maniac blast

Of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
And the red lights flaming there
Called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
And dance to the latest air.

To this new concert, white we stood;
Cold certainty held our breath;
While men in tunnels below Larch Wood
Were kicking men to death.


Sunday Movie: ‘Calvary’ (2014) (Ireland Month)

The next movie I watched as part of the Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy746books and The Fluff Is Raging, is also a movie I was pretty reluctant to watch – Calvary.

I am not very much into religious movies or movies generally dealing with religious themes (thus my initial reservation to watch Calvary), but I never expected this movie to be what it actually was. It is quite hard to place my thoughts on it, since it not only exceeded my expectations, but it also is a much deeper and much more symbolic movie than one might expect.

Calvary begins in the most unexpected manner; while in a confessional, a parishioner relates his tragic past to priest James, confiding in him that he had been sexually abused by some priest in his childhood and threatens to kill priest James as an act of revenge towards the church, even though he is innocent and benevolent. The parishioner gives the priest exactly one week to make peace with himself and say his goodbyes until he kills him on the appointed day and place.

This is what happens in the first 5 minutes of the movie, which place the priest, as well as the audience in such an unexpected and difficult situation. The rest of the movie follows the priest’s life through each and every day of the week he was given and we watch his actions and the decisions he makes. We steadily learn more about him and his past and meet the people that consist his world and surroundings – Fiona, his daughter, as well as a bunch of parishioners, all broken and lost in some way or another, whom he tries to help overcome their problems one by one.

However, the priest is not always treated generously by the others. At first, I found his passive acceptance of the threat he received really strange – it was almost like he thought he was at fault for something, like he somehow deserved it. Maybe he had committed a sinful act in the past and desired to repent for it by not running away from the man who declared that he would take his life away. While the movie progressed, though, the benevolence and the good-natured heart of the priest became evident and the behaviour of the parishioners towards him became more and more illogical. Everyone makes mistakes throughout life, either minor or graver ones, and we do see the priest misbehaving at parts, but no one deserves to be the object of such spite.

Every character in this movie has their story and their own painful past (or present). Everyone is going through their own personal calvary, but the priest seems to suffer the most. The ending is surely one that triggers a lot of thoughts to rush through your mind all at once. The priest claimed at the beginning that he knew who his threatener was, and he did try, in his own way, to prevent him from commiting yet another sin.

I am not entirely sure of the exact location this movie was shot and set into, but the scenery was absolutely stunning. The Irish coast lines always look so beautiful, and combined with a rather cloudy weather, created the perfect ominous feeling in this movie. The setting was mostly simple, and not many props or background objects were used, with nature and the sea playing a major role and reflecting the pain and the psychological state of the characters in the most excellent manner.

The acting was also sublime. Brendan Gleeson was simply brilliant as priest James – I will certainly watch more of his movies to see him enacting other roles as well (I’m sure he does it equally successfully). I was very glad to see some familiar faces in it, like Aidan Gillen, whom I know from Game of Thrones, playing the role of an atheist doctor and Dylan Moran, whom I immensely adore, playing the role of a lonely millionaire who feels detached from everything. The rest of the cast was fabulous as well.

All in all, Calvary is a beautiful and brilliant movie that touches upon many issues modern societies and people face, whether they dare to admit it or not. It is a movie that shows you that everyone goes through their own personal calvary, even if you cannot see it at first glance. Everyone has their own troubles and demons to fight and, at the end of the day, it is the way we choose to face them or run away from them that determines our morality and quality of life.



Sunday Movie: ‘The Imitation Game’ (2014)

Last Wednesday I went to the cinema with a friend in order to celebrate the end of our exam period and we decided to watch ‘The Imitation Game’. One of the main reasons I wanted to watch this movie was, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch (who was utterly brilliant in this) but the entire movie itself proved to be a masterpiece as well.

‘The Imitation Game’ is set during the World War II and it centers around the attempts of Great Britain and the Allies to break the mysterious code which the Nazis used to communicate and transfer important messages and information among them, called the ‘Enigma’. This impossible-looking project is assigned to a mathematician, Alan Turing (played by Cumberbatch), who is a genius in his field, as well as in solving puzzles and decoding various secret messages.

The story alternates between past and present narratives, and so we have a more kaleidoscopic perspective of the events unfolding throughout the movie. The present narrative is set some years after the war and the entire Enigma project is presented as a narrated flashback. We also get to see some moments from Alan Turing’s early adolescent years, which aids considerably in gaining a better understanding of his character and how he came to be the person he was.
I don’t want to let out too much information on the film, as even the pettiest detail could take away the full enjoyment of this film, but I strongly recommend everyone to watch it. Apart from the main plot, this movie deals with a plethora of other (mostly social) issues, and it allows you to observe and contemplate how people in these years handled them, as some of them are quite shocking and rather disturbing.

The acting was exquisite and I could find no actor participating in the film that this wouldn’t apply to. Benedict Cumberbact was simply excellent in his role and his portrayal of Alan Turing certainly leaves you a long lasting impression. Keira Knightly was also brilliant in her role as Joan Clarke, the only woman participating in the project, as well as pretty much all the rest of the cast. The photography, the soundtrack and the ambience created were marvelous as well, as they captured the general environment and atmosphere of the era in the most brilliant way possible.

Since this movie is based on true events, the ending is, to say the least, realistic and greatly touching. It definitely is a thought-provoking movie, that has me thinking about it days after watching it. If you haven’t done so yet, I would highly recommend you to watch this movie.


‘That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Short Stories Ever Written’, edited by David Miller ****

The tales within Head of Zeus’ That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Short Stories Ever Written have been selected and introduced by David Miller.  The book’s blurb states, ‘Profound, lyrical, shocking, wise: the short story is capable of almost anything’, and goes on to describe the way in which the stories range ‘from the essential to the unexpected, the traditional to the surreal…  Here are childhood favourites and neglected masters, twenty-first century wits and national treasures, Man Booker Prize winners and Nobel Laureates’.

In his witty introduction, in which he leads an informed discussion about the power of the short story, Miller writes of the Herculean task of selecting the one hundred best tales ever written: ‘I’ve tried to remain dispassionate, searching for the finest, ending up being wholly and, I’d argue, usefully passionate.  I have spent weeks, then months, quarrelling with myself (and others) and, now there is a result, some will complain I’ve not included or y, or h or z or given due attention to the burgeoning literary genre or scene in delete as appropriate‘.  He goes on to say that ‘… as a short story is already a distillation, it gives the writer a far harder task to achieve everything, not just any thing.  Every thing in this book is as good as it can get’.

So many wonderful authors have been included in this anthology; just glancing at the full list on the back of the book before I began to read, I picked out Virginia Woolf, Anton Chekhov, Roald Dahl, William Maxwell, Ian McEwan and Flannery O’Connor.  The range of contributors is diverse, particularly when one takes into account the wealth of original languages in which the tales were originally penned.  Primarily, those in That Glimpse of Truth are English, but there are stories translated from Danish, Yiddish and Vietnamese to name but three.  The stories have been ordered by the chronological date of birth of each author as, says Miller, ‘that seemed easiest’. It is as good a way as any to organise a collection of tales, and there is consequently a marvellous progression from beginning to end.

The book’s title has been taken from a quote by Joseph Conrad, on why he chose to write within the short story form: ‘My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel… and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask’.  That Glimpse of Truth begins with a story from ‘The Book of Jonah’, and encompasses, among others, the Brothers Grimm, Nikolai Gogol, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Stefan Zweig, Edith Pearlman and Lorrie Moore.  The format of the book makes it a perfect volume from which to read one or two stories per day.  So many themes, perspectives, characters and emotions have been encompassed.  There are stories within stories, and also those which ask wider questions.

That Glimpse of Truth has been beautifully designed.  The book itself is lovely; a red hardback with a nicely designed dustjacket and ribbon bookmarks.  The only drawback is that there are rather a lot of mistakes within the majority of the stories, and it is a real shame that it was not better edited.  Regardless, at over 900 pages, That Glimpse of Truth is sure to keep readers amused over the entire festive season.  It is a marvellous collection, and has been thoughtfully put together, so much so that it is an absolute delight to read.

Purchase from The Book Depository


Saturday Poem: ‘A Trembling Star’ by Ethel Turner

“There is my little trembling star,” she said.
I looked; once more
The tender sea had put the sun to bed,
And heaven’s floor
Was grey.

And nowhere yet in all that young night sky
Was any star,
But one that hung above the sea.  Not high,
Nor very far

“I watch it every night,” she said, and crept
Within my arm.
“Soft little star, I wish the angels kept
It safe from harm

“I know it is afraid,” she said; her eyes
Held a sweet tear.
“They send it all alone into the skies,
No big stars near,
To stay.

“They push it out before the sweet, kind moon
Lights up the sea.
They laugh because it fears the dark.  `Soon, soon,
You’ll braver be,’
They say.

“One night I climbed far up that high white tree
Beside the beach,
And tried to stretch my hand across the sea
And tried to reach
The grey.

“For something made me feel my heart would break
Unless that night
I in my hand my trembling star could take
And kiss its fright

“There only blew a strange wind chillily,
And clouds were swept.
The angels would not let my own star see
That someone wept.
I pray

“To Christ, who hears my little prayers each night,
That He will seek
Through all His skies for that sweet, frightened light,
And stoop His cheek
And say

“`My angels must not send so frail a thing
To light the West.
Lift up the little trembling star to cling
About my breast


Saturday Poem: ‘My Heart’s Song’ by Aleksis Kivi

Absalon, my son, that I could have died for you, my son.
Life holds no pleasure, let me descent to hell, weeping

Grove of Tuoni, grove of evening,
There a sandy cradle is waiting,
There I will carry my child.

There the child is free from sorrow
In the wood, in the meadow
Tending the cattle of Tuoni.

There my child is free from sorrow
When the evening casts it’s shadow
Rocked in the cradle of Tuoni.

There my child is free from sorrow,
Lulled to sleep by a birdsong mellow,
Rocked in a cradle of gold.

Peace of Tuoni, far from passion
Far away from man’s oppression
Far from the treacherous world.


Yearly Wrap-Up: Top Twenty Books of 2014

With a new year inevitably comes a reflection of the previous year’s reading.  Whilst I am not going to recap everything which I read during 2014 – the task would be far too arduous and time-consuming – I thought that I would compile a list of my top twenty books.  It was very difficult to narrow down my favourites as I read so many wonderful things, and I feel a little guilty that I wasn’t able to include everything.  The following are in no particular order, and include a wide variety of genres.  I have linked original reviews where appropriate.

1. The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zolathoughts
2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznickthoughts
3. The Love Child by Edith Olivier thoughts
4. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Hellerthoughts
5. The Journals of Sylvia Plaththoughts
6. The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Wintersonthoughts
7. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Bakerthoughts
8. Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote thoughts
9. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor thoughts
10. The Still Point by Amy Sackvillethoughts
11. Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgeraldthoughts
12. The Greek Myths by Robert Gravesthoughts
13. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
14. The Listener by Tove Janssonthoughts
15. Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
16. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isobel Greenberg
17. Hangsaman by Shirley Jacksonthoughts (part one) and thoughts (part two)
18. A Certain Smile by Francoise Sagan
19. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
20. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Purchase from The Book Depository


Du Maurier December: Wrap-Up

The last day of December is upon us, and with it comes an end to my du Maurier December project.  I have had great fun reading the rest of du Maurier’s work, as well as literary criticism about her, and I hope that everyone who has joined in has enjoyed the project too. 

Whilst I am on my yearly blogging hiatus until next week, I would love to see all of your du Maurier reviews which were posted during December.  I will be creating a master list of sorts, so if you can link all appropriate posts into the comments section, that would be marvellous.

Thanks so much to everyone who has taken part in du Maurier December!  I am planning on running something similar in 2015, so if you have any authors to suggest, I would love to hear them.


Du Maurier December: ‘Rule Britannia’ by Daphne du Maurier ****

Before I purchased Rule Britannia for this month’s project, I had no idea that Daphne du Maurier had turned her talented hand to apocalyptic fiction. First published in 1972, the novel is a ‘chilling’ version of the future, in which du Maurier ‘explores the implications of a political, economic and military alliance between Britain and the United States’.  In essence, Rule Britannia is the author’s own exploration of a Cold War situation, in which a superpower named USUK is created in order to try and reduce the threat from other countries.

In Ella Westland’s introduction, she writes: ‘In Rule Britannia‘s sardonic scenaro for the 1970s, the United States administration sets up an alliance with the UK government over the heads of the British people, and sends in the Marines to quell the troublemakers.  But the authorities reckon without the truculence of the Celtic fringe’.  Westland speaks of real-world politics alongside the events within the novel, and also draws parallels with du Maurier’s other, more famous work: ‘despite its dream opening, dangerous cliffs, dead bodies, and the slanting of the story through a young woman’s eyes – all the elements in common with Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier’s last novel is indeed very different from the book that made her world-famous’.  Westland’s introduction has been carefully written, and each element of importance surrounding Rule Britannia – the thoughts of reviewers and the odd aspects of the plot, for example – has been considered intelligently.

Westland goes on to say: ‘In the zany Cornish world of Rule Britannia, Peter Pan meets the marines.  Mad’s cool and sensible granddaughter plays Wendy to Mad’s Peter Pan, the lovable and exasperating fantasist who refuses to grow up’. Due to the USUK alliance, eighteen-year-old Emma’s life, and the world she knows, is shattered: ‘There’s no post, no telephone, no radio – and an American warship sits in the harbour’.  When Emma wakes to no radio signal and problems all around her in the first chapter, the novel’s omniscient narrator says the following: ‘And this, she told herself, is what comes of living in a mad-house, rightly named after its owner [Emma’s grandmother, Mad], who, on retiring from the stage some years ago after a brilliant career, could think of nothing better to do than to adopt six parentless, maladjusted boys and let them run riot in her home, believing, by doing so, that she had justification for living when her career had finished’.

The characters in Rule Britannia are largely well-drawn, and all are distinctive and rather memorable.  The boys which Mad has adopted are all quite different; Andy, for example, is adventurous and likes to clamber onto the roof of the house to shoot his bow and arrow, and Sam is rather obsessed with saving injured animals.  The majority of the protagonists do feel like du Maurier creations.

Du Maurier demonstrates the way in which such a situation so affects the civilian quota, and can so easily create conditions with which people can pitch themselves against one another, creating an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ culture.  She shows the way in which such an alliance has the potential to change everything, from education to the standard national currency, and how hostility can so quickly manifest itself within society.  Divisions are set out immediately when we find out that Emma’s merchant banker father is he enemy of sorts; he represents the ‘clueless’ London majority in the book who are intent upon ruling over all.   Mad believes that he is ‘Treading the corridors of power. If there is any power left’.

In the small Cornish village in which Emma and Mad live, a resistance group is soon set up.  Du Maurier has tried to give ‘her Cornwall back to the Cornish’, allowing them to defend their own county. Secrecy becomes a part of daily life, and it is never quite clear whom one is able to trust.  Interestingly, aside from the setting and Cornish surnames used, there is nothing in the first few chapters of Rule Britannia which made me feel that it was distinctively du Maurier’s work.  It feels far more modern in its prose style – and other respects – than a lot of her other work, and it is clear that the author adapted well to the time period in which she was writing.

The entirety of Rule Britannia is rather cleverly done; the elements which du Maurier has woven into daily life could quite easily be true.  She has made them feel eminently realistic, so much so that as a reader, I barely questioned any of the new or ‘different’ elements which were added. The novel is well paced, and the plot moves along quite quickly.  My only criticism of the story itself is that as it goes on, some of the decisions which particular protagonists make, and conversations which they have with one another, can tend to feel quite out of character and unrealistic.  The realism, which was so well shown at first, seems to diminish rather in places.  The mantra which Mad consequently drums into those around her to excuse them for their questionable behaviour is that ‘these are not normal times’, but this does not go quite far enough to excuse some of the events which occur.  Rifts soon develop within the family too, running simultaneously alongside the problems in the wider community.

Rule Britannia is almost sinister at times; it feels as though the ever-present darkness within du Maurier’s short stories has crept in and firmly rooted itself.  The novel is an incredibly interesting one, particularly when one is familiar with du Maurier’s other work.  Interesting comparisons can be drawn to her other novels throughout.  Rule Britannia is engaging from start to finish, and whilst it is very different to the majority of her other work in a plethora of different ways, it is, I think, one of her strongest novels.

Purchase from The Book Depository