This post can now be found at The Attic on Eighth.
My time on the internet has brought me lots of different friends over the years who specialize in a great variety of fields. It's allowed me to follow different budding careers and academic paths, and this year, it's allowed me to learn about the publishing process as one of these friends is having her debut novel, If We Were Villains, published later this year.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy over the past few days, and it was quite the experience. M. L. Rio has has a theatrical background –– both as an actor and Shakespeare scholar –– and this plays an important role in her novel. Following a group of seven theater students at an elite college, If We We Villains is a story of crime and obsession and Shakespeare. The novel begins with Oliver Marks, the novel's protagonist, finishing a ten year prison term "for a murder he may or may not have committed." The story quickly goes back ten years in time and turns to drama Oliver faces on and off stage with his friends and classmates.
If We Were Villains is a murder mystery at heart, but I'd say it's first and foremost a novel about the theater. Its plot revolves around the stage, but it also innovatively uses aspects of drama to form itself: without becoming a play in prose, it's shaped like a play and makes theatrical use of speech and action. It also works a /lot/ of Shakespeare into different quotations throughout the novel. No doubt this added layers of complexity to the story, but I'll admit that I'm impatient to get along with the action, and I was especially so in this case... so I may have skimmed a few quotations.
It should come as no surprise then that my favorite thing about If We Were Villains was the story. It had a lot in common with both Donna Tartt's The Secret History and John Knowles's A Separate Peace in that it takes place at a prestigious but very small liberal arts school in a very small town and centers around a group of very tightly knit friends who study their craft –– and each other –– obsessively. It fits into a very specific type of campus novel, and for that I'm glad because I've always been at a loss as to what to recommend to people who love The Secret History other than A Separate Peace. Now we have a third novel in the mix! That though isn't to say that the novel is too like the other two. The settings and themes may be similar, but the action is all its own. If We Were Villains is a darkly enthralling read from the beginning. It sucks you in and makes you want to know what happens next –– or rather makes you want to know how things came to be. It's been a long time since I've stayed up reading because I couldn't put a book down, and IWWV did just that to me last night.
Part campus novel, part literary thriller, If We Were Villains is a great read, and I look forward to seeing what M. L. Rio writes next!
You can pre-order If We Were Villains here and read the prologue here.
Finishing with exams last week meant that I got to go back to reading "for fun" last week. That meant finishing Zadie Smith's Swing Time, starting M. L. Rio's debut If We Were Villains, and going back to reading for my thesis. Right now, thesis reading consists of reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman and is consequently great fun. I've read some of her short stories in the past and this week, I had the pleasure of reading her feminist utopia, Herland.
Gilman doesn't get discussed very frequently – I only really picked up on her existence via my supervisor's chapter on "The Yellow Wallpaper" in a book of feminist criticism. She'd never come up in any of my classes at university or in high school, and I can't even say that's from a lack of female authors on any of the curriculums – I've luckily avoided the whole "my professors worship the great male authors" ordeal. Still, no Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Thankfully, that's changing now.
Herland was a delightful read. It tells the story of three male explorers who go on an expedition to South America and find a lost country inhabited only by women. These women live in a sort of utopia where they peacefully coexist in a society that is clearly so much better off than early 20th century America. The novella does a great job at addressing and dismantling sexist hypotheses of the era, proving that women are perfectly capable of not only existing but thriving without men. It's very much a product of its time in some ways – racist comments and horror re: abortion make their way into the text, but it's also ahead in some. For instance, it separates "femininity" from "womanhood" and begins to hint at the fact that sex and gender are not tied together and that what we know as "femininity" is highly indebted to patriarchal society. It's not Judith Butler, but it's still both nice and surprising to see in something written in 1915.
Feminist issues aside, the book is also wonderfully narrated. At first you may wonder why a book about a feminist utopia is narrated by a male character, but that it is is a gift. The narration reads almost like a parody. The narrator is the most likable of the three men, but you still find yourself commenting on and rolling your eyes at the stupidity of men as you read. It's highly entertaining,
I'm very happy my supervisor recommended I read Herland and I will now be recommending it to anyone interested in the era and will be adding it to my "intro to feminism" reading list.
It was my birthday this week, and as a result, I let myself step back from current events for a day and think about the good in my life and oh my god was it amazing. I've decided since then that I'm going to make this a weekly thing. Every Sunday, I'm going to look back at my week and think about the little things that made me happy. And I'm going to post it because I miss being able to share happy thoughts on my blog and eh, we could all use a bit more positivity these days. So here goes for this week:
It's been a long ten days and a tiring ten days and a very demoralizing ten days since I last posted. I spent them preparing what was (hopefully) my last ever exam and staring at my phone and my computer in horror as more and more news came out of the US. It's hard to get through the day without breaking into tears multiple times at this point, and it breaks my heart to think this is what things have come to in so little time.
I don't say "what the country has come to" because no. The country hasn't come to this. The country has stood up and resisted and done everything to make its voice heard. I'm not ashamed of my country and I'm not ashamed of being American. This isn't what we are, and I have faith in the people. Half the time I cry when reading the news is because of the good I see as people resist. I'm greatly demoralized by everything, but I know we won't passively sit by and let this happen.
I don't have much to say now. It's hard to think about other things, even if it's greatly important to do so because doing so is taking care of yourself at this point. They want us to feel demoralized and overwhelmed because that makes us weaker and gives them an advantage. So I will just say this – take care of yourselves. Take the time you need, put down your phones and hug your loved ones, pick up some escapist fiction. Recharge. We need to fight this, but we need to take care of ourselves. It's easy to think nothing else matters right now, but they /do/ matter and they /will/ fuel us to keep going.
I have a little confession to make. I hate working in libraries. I keep thinking I never work at the library because I need my coffee and am more comfortable either at my home desk or my work desk or at a coffee shop... and while that's partly it, it isn't all. Every time I *do* go to the library, it ends badly.
I committed to a study afternoon with Rory yesterday and when she suggested we go to the Art and Architecture library, I agreed. It's the prettiest library in town, has huge tables, and is rarely packed. But then we got there and sat down to work and I couldn't do it. Granted, yesterday was January 20, so I was already raging on the inside for obvious political reasons, but all the feelings of unease I tend to feel at libraries descended upon me at the same time. It's just so quiet in libraries that I can't cope. I love quiet, but I hate unnatural, imposed silence. It makes me hyper aware of every single thing not only around me but that I do myself... and as a result, my brain can't actually focus on anything else. It's a lot like sensory overload... but out of silence instead of excess noise or light. Thank you, anxiety, for messing things up in every direction.
So I left the library after an hour yesterday, and I don't think I'll be back anytime soon. Still though, it made me think... how common is this amongst academics? We're supposed to love libraries (and I do! I love everything about them until I need to sit down and be productive in them) and live at the library and all that jazz, but we're also a hyper-anxious group of people! I got a message almost as soon as I posted a few of these thoughts on tumblr yesterday, expressing the same feelings, and so I've decided to post this here, too.
Who else feels the same?
I'm too angry to accomplish much of anything today, but here's a shot from one of my favorite streets in Geneva.
Back from Paris and now from Neuchâtel, this week's been all about reading. In A's office, at a coffee shop/breakfast diner in Lausanne, in A's family's living room, in my office, at my desk...
I picked up Zadie Smith's latest novel, Swing Time, right before getting on the train to Paris and I've slowly been making my way through it for the past ten days. I'd say I don't want to put it down, but I also want to read it in small bits so as to appreciate it as much as possible. Anchored in honest realism, it's as enlightening as it is enchanting. I still have a bit less than two hundred pages to go, but I already don't want it to end.
Otherwise, it's been back to Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales for me. I've decided to work on The Wife of Bath for my upcoming oral exam (my last ever exam if things go well!), so I've been making my way through all the criticism I've picked out. I've done a lot of medieval literature over my grad school years, but this is the first time I'm not taking the medievalism from a text and running towards the modern... so I have to admit that I'm somewhat terrified.
We'll see how things go...
How beautiful is the Neuchâtel castle? It looms over the city, and you can see it with perfect clarity as your train pulls in or out of the train station. It's one of my favorite views, and I've been waiting to catch it in the snow. It does not disappoint...
I've been in Neuchâtel since getting back from Paris, here to see Orphée aux Enfers at the opera with A's mom (a truly beautiful performance) and to spend some time with his family and friends. It's been a lovely experience. I'm growing to like the city more and more, and this snowy visit may have finally, truly won me over.
I take a lot of trains these days, but one of my favorite journeys is the one from Geneva to Paris. I never get sick of scenery, so if I'm on a car, train, or plane, I'm almost always glued to the window. Watching the world go by is endlessly fascinating, and I love seeing all that it has to offer while sitting back in a comfy chair.
A and I left for Paris earlier this week, and the window gazing was exceptional this time around. It's been extremely cold lately, so for one of the first times, I got to see my favorite bits of landscape covered in snow! It was beautiful. Snow makes the flatest, not-in-the-least-dramatic landscapes chillingly beautiful, so how could it not with the pre-Alps?
Lots of Paris photos to come soon...
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.