“The Witcher: The Last Wish” – a magical collection of tales

Yeah, yeah, I saw the Netflix series. Oddly enough, that (as well as a friend of mine) drove me to pick up the books. I promised myself not to entangle with yet another fantasy series, and especially not with a series that goes on for six or seven books… but here we are. I guess I’ll just stay a fantasy lover until I die, and that’s it. But enough of that. Let me talk about the book a while.

I picked up a paperback version at first, a dear gift I had received for New Years’ Eve at a present exchange with friends, then switched to an e-book version, and, at the end, got to listen to it. This is one of my first times enjoying an audio book, and listening to the story instead of reading it helped me immerse in it even deeper.

“The Last Wish” tells us about Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher – a hunter of monsters with supernatural strength and abilities. There are seven stories, six of which told as flashbacks as Geralt rests in a temple after fighting a battle.

In the first story, The Witcher, Geralt makes a deal with the King of Temeria, Foltest, to break his daughter Adda’s curse and turn her back from a striga, a vampire-like demon, into a human. Foltest insists that Adda doesn’t get harmed, though in the end allows him to kill her if she cannot be turned back, so as to end her suffering. Ostrit, a nobleman, tries to pay Geralt off and make him leave instead of facing the striga, but Geralt knocks him out and uses him as bait for her instead. He fights the striga and overcomes her, shutting himself inside the crypt and leaving her spend the night outside, breaking the curse. In the morning, she attacks him and draws blood, at which Geralt faints, awakening to find out Adda is human again and being cared of, and he has earned his reward.

In the second story, Grain of Truth, Geralt stumbles upon the corpses of a man and a woman dead from strange wounds. Following their path, he discovers the wall of a mansion. Inside it lives a beast-like creature called Nivellen. He lets Geralt in after finding out that the Witcher isn’t afraid of him, inside the mansion which follows his orders. Nivellen reveals that the reason for his looks is a curse, put on him by a priestess he rapes as he and his friends rob a temple. He only remembers the curse has to do with a kiss from a woman.

When he returned home to the mansion, he invited the daughters of local villages to stay with him and sent their families gold and precious stones. The girls staying with Nivellen however did not break his curse, and he settled down for simply enjoying their company instead. Before Geralt leaves, he mentions to Nivellen that his new flame Vereena might be a mermaid, a monster, like him. He is determined that he and Vereena are truly in love and doubts himself whether or not she would love him if he broke the curse and became human.

On his way back, Geralt’s horse acts strangely again, and he retraces his steps back to the mansion. At the gate, he hears Vereena sing and realises she is a bruxa, a creature similar to a vampire with telepathic powers. They fight, and the bruxa overpowers Geralt before Nivellen impales her on a pole. Just before she dies, she confesses her love for Nivellen through telepathy. This breaks his curse, and he becomes human again. The Witcher explains to him that all the stories about a maiden’s kiss lifting a curse are myths, but the grain of truth is there has to be love for the power to work.

In the third story, The Lesser Evil, Geralt rides into the town of Blaviken and seeks out the mayor Caldemeyn for a reward for slaying a kikimora. Caldemeyn refuses, but suggests that the wizard in town might show interest.

Then they meet, the wizard ends up being interested in the Witcher himself instead. It turns out Geralt and the mage, Stregobor, have met before. Stregobor explains he is seeking out Geralt to protect him from a cursed young woman who wants to kill him. The Witcher does not believe him and leaves.

Just then, Geralt tries to get a handful of men in the prettiest Inn in town to tell him where said woman, Renfri, is. She strides in just when the men want to fight him. Caldemeyn orders her to leave in the morning, but she hands him a letter from a king stating she is under his protection. She threatens to kill Stregobor. When returning to his room at Caldemeyn’s, Renfri is sitting on his bed. She tells him Stregobor only tried to kill her because of a superstition, and encourages the Witcher to kill Stregobor instead. Geralt begs her to forgive the mage and stop the superstition, and although Renfri refuses, she hints she will leave town.

In the morning, while talking with Caldemeyn, Geralt realises Renfri has tricked him and will massacre the people to Stregobor out of his tower. He races to the market, finds Renfri’s men and kills them, finally defeating and killing Renfri as well. Stregobor approaches the Witcher, asking him to take her to his tower for an autopsy, but Geralt refuses to let him touch her. The townsfolk throw stones at Geralt, believing he has just murdered innocent men. The mayor stops them but insists Geralt leave Blaviken and never return.

In the fourth story, A Question of Price, Geralt is at the castle of Cintra, invited to the marriage of the princess Pavetta by her mother Queen Calanthe. An uninvited knight with a hidden face, Urcheon of Erlenwald, appears and claims Pavetta’s hand. Calanthe orders him to remove the helmet, and everyone is shocked to discover he looks like a furry monster.

To the outrage of the rest of the suitors, Pavetta agrees to marry Urcheon. They attack him, and Geralt and the King of Skellige who loves Calanthe defend him. Pavetta, worried for Urcheon, releases her latent magical powers. Geralt and Eist manage to stop her. She reaches out to Urcheon, and he transformed into his human self, a man named Duny. The queen agrees that he marries Pavetta, as well as that Eist marries her. Duny offers Geralt a prize, and Geralt reveals Pavetta is pregnant and asks to have the child raised as a Witcher.

In The Edge of the World, Geralt and his friend, the bard Dandelion, pass through Upper Posada, looking for work, but find none, and move onto Lower Posada. The village elder Dhun tells them of a mischievous devil who has become trouble. The duo confronts the devil, who looks like a satyr, and he tosses iron balls at them and makes them leave.

They read an ancient book and discover the devil is a sylvan. They approach him again and get into a fight, then someone knocks them out. It turns out that has been elves, with which the sylvan Torque has hidden away. The leader of the elves wants Geralt and Dandelion executed, but is distracted by the Queen of the Fields, and Torque sets the friends free.

In The Last Wish, Geralt finds an ancient amphora while fishing with Dandelion. Dandelion opens it despite Geralt’s warnings and releases what he thinks is a genie. It attacks him. Geralt banishes it with a spell and takes Dandelion to the closest city. The guards however refuse to allow visitors in during the night, and the two have to stay in the guardhouse. Three other men, also detained, tell Geralt there are strict rules on spellcasting, and there’s but one Spellcaster in the city, Yennefer of Vengerberg, who is staying at Novigrad.

At dawn, Geralt finds his way in the house where Yennefer is staying, and she agrees to hell Dandelion. One of the three detainees, an elf, warns Geralt not to trust her despite her beauty. Yennefer asks Geralt to come upstairs, where Dandelion is healed and asleep, and insists on payment. Geralt passes out before responding to her and awakens in a cell with the elf.

When Geralt and the elf are brought to be judged by the mayor, Dandelion pops up through a magic portal and announces Geralt innocent. At the same time, Yennefer is trying to capture the genie and its magic, and causes a chaos. Geralt tries to save her, and finds out the genie has obeyed his wishes, as he last held the seal to its urn. His first wish was to “go to hell”, for the second it murdered one of the guards beating him in prison, and has a last wish left. After that it tears free and leaves Yennefer and Geralt in a destroyed inn. She finds herself in his arms, and they begin to make love.

And in The Voice of Reason, the Witcher and the bard leave the temple but are stopped by the two knights from the Order of the White Rose that Geralt meets in the foreword to The Lesser Evil. They have been ordered to chase “the butcher of Blaviken” out of town, and Geralt promised to leave in three days, to which one knight responded with a duel challenge… and now the time for the duel has come. The knights tell Geralt he has to accept the challenge but not harm his duellist, or else he loses. Geralt fights with such force that his opponent hurts himself, and he is free to leave. The other knight is furious and Geralt offers him a duel as well. When he does not accept, Geralt congratulates him on listening to the voice of reason.

Whew! That was quite the long review, don’t you think? And don’t worry. I haven’t actually spoiled too much. In the end, the only way to truly immerse yourself into the story is by reading it, right? And if all of this has sounded interesting enough to make you read it… then my job is done.

“All the Stars and Teeth” – the last book of 2020…

So, let me just start with a thought from the world’s collective brain cell – 2020 was, nicely put, am absolute flop. I could use far more derogatory and offensive words. But I’m done with it. This has been, so far, one of the most stressful and emotional (not entirely in a good way) years of my life. Hence, my book reviews halted to a stop, and the time I spent on reading that year was less than even my rich imagination could summon.

For luck, however, I managed to finish a certain book during last year’s (it’s the 1st of January, so I’m allowed to say that, right?) final death throes, through its longest, darkest days. And that book is All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace.

The plot may sound typical and overused to many, which probably explains its Goodreads rating of about 4/5 stars… but it was also the reason I stayed around.

In Amora Montara’s world, magic exists, and she is expected to be capable of mastering one of its six kinds. After the ceremony in which she has to prove her power goes terribly wrong, as Amora gets overwhelmed with feeling, she gets locked away. But her story doesn’t end here. One of the visitors from one of the other island kingdoms, the royal advisor Bastian Bargas, helps her escape from prison and begs her to sail away with him.

He turns out to be a pirate with a troubling past who knows an even more troubling secret, a secret about his kingdom’s leader that threatens the future of its people. Bastian has also lost his magic, just like Amora – her crown, and they strike a deal. Along the way, they get joined by an angry mermaid and company that Amora knows a little too well… and get forced to fight, discovering where exactly their hearts lie.

I had not read fantasy for a while. I enjoy it thoroughly, but, you know, a break is good every once in a while. So when I picked up All the Stars and Teeth, I read it with a fresh mind, not thinking about whether the plot reminded me of a couple of other fantasy books I had read.

This is a story that includes a lot of sailing, with all the good and the bad parts about what life at sea is like. It’s a story about choices, and, as we all know, we humans make a lot of bad choices. It’s also a story about people, obviously; about friendship, rivalry, and also, partly, betrayal, and of course love (and lack thereof). You could say it’s a cliche, but at some point you may have also been there yourselves, feeling affection for a friend you have grown close to, and catching yourself developing feelings for them.

And then, it’s a story about magic, a kind of magic that’s unique to Amora’s world. It’s extremely powerful and hard to master, and its use leads to a few more violent moments in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about it, and about all the other kinds and how the people in that world used them and interacted with them.

I did find a few paragraphs a few pages before the ending tripping me, and at a few points throughout the book I felt like looking for explanations. I appreciate it when the author doesn’t over-explain everything and leaves something to the imagination. But then again, under-explaining and having the reader wonder how the story got to a certain point isn’t the best option, either. I believe I wavered between the two on and off, and it was because of that that this story wasn’t a 5/5 or 10/10, or whatever other rating you’d like to use.

It was, however, highly enjoyable, and the author’s voice could definitely be heard in the story. I loved the way she described everything, and where the story went, even when the characters surprised and maybe even exasperated me here and there. And I can’t wait for February, when the sequel comes out!

“The Girl the Sea Gave Back” – a book to love by its cover

The title reminds you of the book I just talked about, doesn’t it? Well’, you’re not wrong. This is Adrienne Young’s companion novel for Sky in the Deep, and one look at the cover tells you the story will feel like a trip back to the Viking age again, a familiar taste of a weathered, well-worn story that you had a taste of before but still itch to devour. And then again… speaking from the experience of a writer, who doesn’t like setting stories in the same universe? It’s quite a bit of work to create a separate world for a separate story. Though, then again, I don’t really do that much myself, that same-world -many-stories thing.

Anyway, on to the tale.

The story tells us about Tova, a young woman the Svell clan took in after they found her washed ashore. She can see the future, casting rune stones and reading them. But she can’t forget her home, and her mind often wanders in search for her memories, seeking to explain the tattoos on her skin. Though not much loved by the Svell, thought to be the messenger of evil and a cursed outsider, she does not fight with them – but they start a fight with the leader of the Svell’s enemy clan, Halvard (the little brother in Sky in the Deep, now grown up, being the new clan leader). That’s a fight neither clan wants, and this only fates trouble for the already divided Svell. Both Halvard and Tova get the sharp end of the stick – Halvard loses people from his family, and Tova – the trust of the man who took her in.

This leaves them reeling. Halvard’s family and loved ones, by blood or by choice, is a big part of everything he has ever known, if not all of it. And Tova seeks herself… and they meet somewhere in the middle, subtly somehow, not too loudly like you would expect. This is their world, and they take a stand in it.

And it’s also the world where the Vikings live and share with the gods they believe in, a world ruled by destiny’s twists and turns, painted blood-red with battles driven by feuds and brimming with violence, but also family and the warm feeling of care it brings. The story is about bonds and connections as much as it is about war and about the demon that it is, with all its brutality and the inevitability and grief that come with death.

I loved this book as a follow-up to “Sky in the Deep”… but, at the same time, you won’t be disappointed if you read them separately, either. The resolve of everything feels too fast, like we’re rushed through it towards the end of the story. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the story as a whole, though, or its characters, or events. Tell you what, read this book. Enjoy it.

And thank me later. ;))

“Sky in the Deep” – a tale about betrayal, love, and loyalty

2020 was nasty enough to make me forget about most of my hobbies. I gave up on taking part of NaNoWriMo, I’ve probably barely made 20 drawings for the whole year, and, well… you can notice the regular(ish) book reviews I had up dropped to non-existent. And what should I say about things like playing the guitar or singing. Now, on the bright side, I managed to finally finish a novel I’ve been writing for, I think, two or three years, NaNoWriMo or no NaNoWriMo. And I think it’s time to put the fullstop on all the reviews that have been sitting in my drafts half-done.

Our main character is Eelyn, a 17-year-old young woman from the Aska clan who fights along her clans-people in the centuries-old war against the rivalling Riki clan. Not an unlikely Viking story, I’d say. The whole book has the flavour of the Viking age: life is simple, but it’s also a battle for survival, fierce and brutal, a life of belief in the gods and in struggles with the self and with nature.

Eelyn is also an uncomplicated person. She loves her family and the members of her clan, hates their rivals, and is ready to destroy the enemy at the blink of an eye.

One day, Eelyn witnesses her brother Iri, whom she saw dying in battle five years previously, fighting on their rivals’ side. She runs after him and loses focus, getting captured by the Riki. They then take her to their mountain village as a dýr… a captured animal. A slave.

And the worse part – it’s the middle of the winter, which leaves our heroine little chance to escape. The Riki and she don’t share the warmest feelings. And not just that. Iri has become a part of Riki, a clan he once fought against side by side with Eelyn and the rest of their family, letting the Aska believe him dead. The attack over the Riki by a third clan, the Herja, that both Aska and Riki see as an adversary forces Eelyn to trust the hated Riki, and specifically a friend of her brother’s – Fiske. Eelyn’s choice depends on a lot of things. Her love for her clan. The connection to her brother. And, later, her feelings for Fiske…

So what does she choose?

Read. And you’ll find out.

“Hunger” – when the hunger for life is as powerful as the hunger for success

O, dearest reader! I must confide in you now – I experienced this book. As a poor university break-taker with no job, I, too, have had my moments of famine, and the story that takes place in ‘Hunger’ as if described my exact feelings at my lowest of lows.

Set in Oslo in 1890 – or, as it was previously called, Kristiania – the novel takes us on a tour of the writer’s life of misery and poverty. In the beginning, Hamsun says, “It was during the time I wandered about and starved in Christiania: Christiania, this singular city, from which no man departs without carrying away the traces of his sojourn there,” and this sets the theme and mood for the rest of his story – a recounting of all his ravings and wild thoughts during his fight with hunger.

At the face of suffering, the narrator keeps a noble heart and tries to help a homeless man and some children, selling his cardigan so he can give them a little money, and ignoring his own hunger and woes to the point of self-destruction. Although he tries to keep the air of respect about himself, his mind and body are rotting, and his moods swing this way and that much like an untamed winter wind. And even if it pains him to do so, he keeps writing and sells one of his texts to a newspaper, doing everything he can to get food, even nearly eating his most precious pencil and his own finger, his sanity slowly crumbling under the beats of starvation.

The narrator’s feelings are deep and honest, strong, powerful, their intensity sweeping you off your feet. They change like a tree’s leaves do with the passing seasons, pushing him to action. At first, he is morose, realising his life has turned worse. Then he goes outside, and the traffic and people cheer him up. After he has walked through the streets for a while, he bumps into an old, crippled man, and is instantly filled with annoyance that then shifts to bitterness. He deposits his vest to give the man some money, and gets left with enough money for a breakfast, which lifts his mood. Alas, his precious pencil, with which he pens the articles that earn him his daily bread, seems to have stayed inside, and that fills him with anger. Just like the weather changes in spring.

This book reads like a confession. Surely, Hamsun is no saint. He’s both loved and hated, called a traitor for his support of Nazi Germany, detained and fined, and hailed a literary genius. And amid this writhing mess of feelings he causes, I believe he is human. In this day and age, people often love to hate others, especially if those others are artists, politicians, musicians, writers, or any other kind of inspiring force. And indeed, not every single person born in this world is truly, entirely good – and we don’t need to be.

When thinking about a writer or a painter, or a musician, I like to separate their art from their personal opinion and their views, at least in some cases. And I shall do so now, too. You don’t need to agree entirely with someone or condone or support what they do or say to enjoy their works of art. You know that too well, dear readers – a big part of us have grown up with Harry Potter, and look at what our dear J. K. Rowling has been, so to say, spewing these past few years. She’s definitely not perfect, and neither was Hamsun. So if you want to read ‘Hunger’, do it, and enjoy it slowly, the way it deserves to be enjoyed.

“They Both Die in the End” – so why do you think I hate endings?

Imagine yourself finding out that you’re going to die. You get called from a company, Death-Cast, whose task it is to contact people like you. You have one more day to live. Pretty depressing, is it?

For a book that makes you think it has spoiled itself with its title, this one offers a lot more than you would expect.

We get led into the world of two teens from New York who get Death-Cast calls – Mateo, who’s rather private and shy and needs someone to help him live his last hours as an adventure, something he feels he has missed out on throughout his entire life, and Rufus, living in a foster home he shares with his two best friends, who has gotten into trouble worth setting the police after him. They meet through an app called Last Friend, made for people who have just gotten word from Death-Cast about their ending like they have. Both of them sink us in their small worlds, telling their stories through first person so we get even more immersed in them. And suddenly, with the help of Last Friend, these two stories become one.

Even though I’m a bit past those years myself and I would probably cringe at the things that seventeen-year-old me has said and done, the characters of this book felt pleasantly normal, sans the cringy part, even though they’re teenagers. In fact, Mateo’s and Rufus’ actions portray them in a rather grown-up way. For example, Rufus makes sure he has told all his closer friends from the foster home that he is to die, including his girlfriend. And even though Mateo knows his father is in a coma and cannot hear him and react to him immediately, and that the truth will crush his feelings, he does his best to be a good son and tells him all about it through his visits in his dad’s hospital. He takes care of their home for whenever his dad wakes up and gets sent back home, and makes sure that his best friend knows what fate is awaiting him – regardless of the fact that it will break her heart, much like with his father. This book literally brought to life the phrase ‘Live life as if it’s your last’, only, I’d add, ‘your last few hours’.

And then – as if all the other little details hadn’t rolled together into a huge boulder of pain that would, in the end, ultimately bring me to tears (because of course it would, THEY BOTH FRICKIN’ DIE!) – Mateo and Rufus, as their story progresses slowly, realise that they feel each other as more than just a pair of Last Friends. Even though they are about to die, they have made sure they stay alive for each other and live their last day to its fullest… and I think that added the perfect amount of heart-melt to the book.

Now, on the darker side, there are two issues I had with the story. First, the world Mateo and Rufus live in felt a little, how do I put it? Confusing. I felt like wanting to find out things like who came up with the idea of Death-Cast, or who made the app – little things that I did not find that much of a bummer, but could have probably enriched the story a little. As I read, I decided to just brush that off and leave it there like a little mystery. It’s a thing that I myself, as a writer, would not mind doing. Not laying out every single detail on a map when we already have enough information to go by isn’t that bad, is it?

And last but not least, the ending. Plot twist. Plot twist! PLOT TWIST! I’m not going to spoil how the book ends – I feel its name has done it already – but it’s not the way you expect.

Prepare to feel.

A lot.

“Втора кожа” от Катерина Стойкова – стихотворенията не съществуват само за красота

Случвало ли ви е е някой път съвсем случайно да попаднете на нещо, което на пръв поглед не изглежда необикновено и не ви идва мисълта, че ще промени живота ви, но в последствие се оказва, че сякаш създалият го е прочел мислите ви? Нещо подобно се случи и с мен и тази стихосбирка.

Спомням си част от срещата ми с тази книга. Бях в Сиела-та в подлеза на метрото на Софийски университет и ме беше обхванало желанието да се запася със стихосбирки, разбира се, след първоначалното желание импулсивно да изкупя цялата книжарница (хайде де, ако следите този блог, и вие го знаете това чувство, поне част от него, ха-ха), казвайки си накрая, не, Ани, трябва да се спреш на нещо конкретно.

После си казах, нямам достатъчно стихотворения вкъщи.

В крайна сметка отнесох вкъщи няколко книги, дори вече не си спомням кои точно, и преди няколко седмици най-накрая реших да ги разлистя, започвайки с “Втора кожа” – корицата й с онова крещящо червено и с момичето от думи, което пада от една бездна в друга, от едното “о” в другото, просто ме грабна. За гърлото.

Добре дошъл, Страх от баща ми.
Време е да те извадим
и разпънем на простора.
Виждам те, втора кожа.”

Не знам дали и какво сте чували за тази книга, или, ако сте я чели вече, какво мислите за нея. Не знам и дали ще се съгласите с това, което аз мисля за нея.

Да говориш открито за травми, които си преживял, е изключително трудно (особено ако са ти причинени от собственото ти семейство). Както с всички негативни емоции, ние ги заравяме, крием ги, давим ги в надежда, че бъдещето ще ни даде повече шансове за щастие. Но тази книга не прави това. Точно обратното, тя крещи за промяна. Тя вади на повърхността най-тъмните емоции, които минават през нас. Болка, страх, срам, вина, тъга. И някъде сред тях, по един съвсем невинно-детски начин, усещането, че реалността трябва да е другояче. Надеждата. Защото тя е там, тя винаги е там, дори и в най-гъстата мъгла от страх и болка.

Мисля, че няма достатъчно такива книги – а трябва да има повече. Книги, които изобличават насилието – в този случай, домашното насилие. Домашното насилие, което тихо къкри като отрова във вещерски котел и съска като киселина, разяждайки мира, любовта и спокойствието в едно на пръв поглед нормално, обичащо семейство. То е едно от нещата, с които толкова много хора тук са свикнали, и то дотолкова, че да няма млад човек, или дори по-възрастни вече хора, които да не си спомнят шамари и обиди от детството си. Дори и вие, четящите това, да не познавате това чувство, сигурна съм, че имате приятели или познати, на които подобни неща са им се случили.

Такива неща не трябва да се случват в едно семейство.
За такива неща не трябва да се мълчи.

Защото дори и най-тъмният тунел ще те отведе до светлина. До надежда. До помощ. До промяна.

И тази книга е послание именно за това.

“A Clockwork Orange”: The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual – crime.

As you will see in a little bit, dear reader, Max Stirner’s words ring quite true, for this one novel at least. (And perhaps with reality, too?)

First published in 1962 – and written in just three weeks(!), according to the author – the story takes place in an English city from the near future. The narrator and protagonist is Alex, a fifteen-year-old leader of a gang. Through his eyes, we get led into the first part of the book, and namely into a milk bar called the ‘Korova’ – one of the first examples of the specific Anglo-Russian slang in the book. There, Alex is sitting with his friends and members of his gang among three young girls and an elderly man who seems to be rambling drunkenly. Alex feels ready to leave the bar, and as he yells to his friends to get out, he slaps the man. It’s only the beginning, and you might not take much notice of it – but this action is the poisonous bud of the horrors that are about to blossom.

Only a few lines further down Alex makes his plans clear. He and his friends are looking for a small joke for the night.

They run into a man dressed like a teacher and start messing with him, taking his books and tearing them apart, then grabbing him and tearing his teeth out and punching him – and the first chapter ends with them stealing from a “sweets and cancers” shop and beating up the staff. They then beat up a beggar and come across a rival gang which they engage in a fight with. They steal a car and go joyriding (driving it with no aim other than the sheer pleasure of it), getting into a fight or two on their way before arriving at a cottage. Alex’s friends beat up the writer who lives there while Alex rapes his wife. (Curiously enough, said writer is working on a script titled “A Clockwork Orange”, which Alex tears to pieces.) The next day, after skipping school, he rapes two more girls and then takes a nap as if nothing has happened. After a challenge for his leadership, he slashes Dim’s hand and fights with Georgie, and they head for the burglary of an wealthy elderly woman’s home. When he returns to his friends, having knocked her unconscious, Alex gets beaten by Dim as revenge and left for the police to find.

The second part of the book tells about Alex’s fourteen years in prison. Two of them fly by, and he picks up a job. He has not changed much, reading parts of the Bible only to enjoy the violence in them and beating up a cellmate to death. That action of his is what leads him to undergo a behavioural modification, the Ludovico technique, and gets freed from the rest of his sentence. The Ludovico technique itself is not entirely to blame, although it is quite gruesome and involves watching films full of violence while taking drugs that induce nausea at the sight of said violence. Simply thinking of violence starts to make him feel ill. While this takes away his right to have free will, it also leaves him a free man, and he leaves prison.

In the third part, Alex returns home, only to find his parents have left a lodger live in his room. He wanders the streets, homeless, and revenge from those he has wronged in part one befalls him – first a beating at the hands of the old scholar, then one at his ex-friend Dim and the ex-leader of the rival gang, and finally he arrives at the door of the writer he once brutalised. The writer does not recognise Alex at first, but the main character later reveals he had been the leader of the gang that raped his wife and beat him up, and gets locked up in a bedroom on a higher floor by the writer and his friends, the classical music he now hates spilling from the lower floor. He gets driven nearly insane by the music and tries to end his life with a jump from the window.

When he comes to, Alex is in a hospital, being approached by the trio, from whose apartment he tried to spring to his death. His words and actions hint at his violence having returned, as well as various tests. Alex gets many photos taken of him and is finally left all alone with his favourite music, Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, thinking, “I was cured alright.”

The American version of the book – much like Stanley Kubrick’s film – ends here, on a disturbing, pessimistic note. But the British version continues the story a little more, adding to it in its own way – Alex has new friends, and while getting ready for going out with them, he runs into Pete, who has gotten better and has a wife. Alex starts to think about a new life, one without a violence where he has a normal life and a wife and children – a beam of hope for a man whose youth has been wasted away on violence.

The novel explores a few more things. Throughout the story, the gap between young and elderly people is made starker and starker, with young people using different clothes (Alex and his droogs are dressed in white), and their own slang, Nadsat, to exclude outsiders, in a fit of youthful riot. Adults grow afraid of younger people and grow anxious around them, the younger taking refusal as a challenge to their egos. And it makes sense: the revolt of the young is against old age, for it is contemptuous.
And not just that. As adults have been scared away from their position of power, younger people have now reached out to it and act as though they are older. The girls Alex rapes all dress and put on make-up, which shows their desire for maturity.
Youth is wild. But, after it, maturity sets in, slowly but surely. Though, is everyone’s youth this wild? And if so, how do we find our way back to peace in such wild years as those when we feel indestructible?

Last, but not least, I want to pay attention to the title of the book. After reading about the novel on a thousand sites, I have found one that describes it best – and that’s none other site than the one dedicated to Anthony Burgess:

“The title of the novel, A Clockwork Orange, derived from, Burgess claimed, ‘ a phrase which I heard many years ago and so fell in love with, I wanted to use it [as] the title of the book. But the phrase itself I did not make up. The phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange” is good old East London slang and it didn’t seem necessary to explain it. Now, obviously, I have to give it an extra meaning. I’ve implied an extra dimension. I’ve implied a junction of the organic, the lively, the sweet — in other words, life, the orange — and the mechanical, the cold, the disciplined. I’ve brought them together in a kind of oxymoron’. Like many of Burgess’s proclamations, this origin of ‘clockwork orange’ is rather hard to back up. It is not recorded in any dictionaries of London slang, and some linguists believe that the phrase originated in Liverpool. It is apparent that there are no recorded citations of the phrase before the novel was published in 1962, and the only authority for its usage is Burgess himself. It is possible that Burgess is misremembering the genuine Cockney phrase ‘All Lombard Street to a china orange’, or that he simply made it up.”

While the violence in Alex’s deeds and thoughts might be horrendous, even more so when seen in the film, the book remains a magnificent masterpiece, not just to me, but, I’m sure, to many more – as well as a true gem in the crown of dystopian literature.

“Скелиг” – където мистичното и детското се срещат

От доста отдавна не бях чела книга на български, дори и в превод от друг език… както и книга за деца или пък за подрастващи. Признавам си – вкусът ми е изключително разнообразен, независимо дали става въпрос за някакъв вид изкуство като литературата или музиката, за мода или за ястия. Старая се и да не залитам в крайности.

Да, имам любими книги, към които бих се връщала отново и отново; те са много. Има и други, които не са ми допаднали толкова, както и такива, които все още не мога да надвия себе си и да прочета. Но стига приказки – да си дойдем на думата. Харесвам и книги за деца. И сега ще ви разкажа за тази.

Десетгодишният Майкъл и семейството му се нанасят в нов дом, порутена къща със стар гараж. Родителите му са притеснени и разтревожени, защото наскоро са открили, че сестричката му е била родена няколко месеца по-рано, отколкото е трябвало, и има проблем със сърцето, заради който може да умре.

Докато проучва къщата и гаража, Майкъл се натъква на странно създание, скрито сред кутиите, праха и развалините. Първоначално момчето решава, че създанието е бездомен човек, и решава да му занесе храна и да се погрижи за него. Човекът е сприхав и сопнат и настоява да му се донесе аспирин, две ястия от менюто на китайския ресторант зад ъгъла, и кафяв ейл (традиционна английска бира с характерен тъмнокафяв цвят).

За да е сигурен, че не си въобразява, че човекът съществува, Майкъл взима със себе си новата си приятелка Мина – съседско момиче от отсрещната къща. И макар че мненията им се различават, защото Майкъл ходи на училище, а Мина се обучава у дома си, те намират лесно общ език и се сближават.

Майкъл решава, че ще й се довери – все пак те прекарват известно време заедно, рисувайки и говорейки си и споделяйки компанията на другия – и я води при Скелиг. И макар и приятелите на Майкъл да му се смеят, задето прекарва толкова много време с Мина, тя и Майкъл се стараят да запазят съществуването на Скелиг в тайна.

“Скелиг” за мен беше история от нов жанр. Да, историята беше богата на елементи от истинския свят, който ни заобикаля. Но имаше и достатъчно фантастични елементи в себе си, и то без да се обясняват те до смърт. Имаше лека загадка; какво точно същество е Скелиг така и не научих. Но пък успях да си го представя достатъчно ясно. И мисля, че точно там се крие и чара на историята, да опишеш нещата точно толкова добре, че читателят сам да дпоълни нужното с помощта на фантазията си. :))

“Fight Club” – I’ve broken the first rule.

If you have read the book or seen the film, you will know exactly what I am talking about. *wink* And if not? Well, sit down, then. It’s storytime… albeit a story told from an unreliable narrator (one of the tropes I find the most curious and interesting).

From the very first page, we are introduced to our two main characters, the unnamed protagonist and Tyler Durden, a waiter. The duo finds themselves on top of a building, a scene hinting at the way the novel is about to end – and right afterwards, we get drawn into the protagonist’s story.

In the beginning, it puzzled me. After I read the book, in a post-having-seen-the-movie state, I understood. The narrator is nameless. But the main characters in his story aren’t. And neither is the reason for his story to unravel, insomnia, that seemingly appears two years prior to the beginning of his story. But what would be the reasons a person with such a coordinated, mundane, normal – perhaps boring, even – job as that of a product recall coordinator, could have insomnia?

Nevertheless, the insomnia is a fact. A torture. But also the trigger of our story. Our main charcter’sdoctor tells him that if he wants to see real pain, he should try going to a support group.And it is exactly what he does. Visits to support groups for testicular cancer, to support groups for guided meditation. Support groups for tuberculosis. He does not have any of those illnesses – but he feels better after visiting them and crying to let go of his emotions. Thus, he sleeps better, too. Or at least he does until he meets another liar, Marla Singer, with weirder reasons to go to support groups: to feel close to death.

As the meeting has left him quite shaken, the narrator visits car accident sites, trying to determine whether the cars his company makes could have parts in them that are prone to make accidents easier, and tries to take his mind off of support groups. Burned out from travelling here and there, he then decides to take a break. And it’s on that break that he meets Tyler Durden, our third most important character, who gives him his phone number.

When he comes back home, the narrator finds his condominium destroyed in a suspicious explosion. His first reaction is to call Tyler, and they meet in a bar. They end up drinking a lot and Tyler allows the narrator to move in with him, but on one condition – that he will hit him as hard as he can. They start fighting and realise they like it, because it makes them feel alive and “real”. And thus, it begins.

The two continue fighting in parking lots and in bars, attracting the attention of other men, and the secret society of the fight club gets eight rules, two of them stating that ‘you do not talk about fight club!’. Fight club gains more and more members – more and more men who have gotten in touch with how visceral reality is and have rediscovered their masculinity. The narrator starts noticing people with bruises over their faces, people who have obviously also taken part of fight club.

One night the Narrator has a dream that he is having sex with Marla Singer. The next morning Tyler tells him that he met Marla last night and the two of them had sex. The Narrator is angered. Marla was the reason he couldn’t enjoy the support groups, and she has invaded his home life with Tyler too. With Marla in the picture, he will also get less of Tyler’s attention. He comes home every day from work to hear Marla and Tyler having sex and calling each other names.

Tyler receives a call at his house from Marla, and goes to Marla’s hotel. Following this incident, Tyler and Marla begin having loud, frequent sex in the house, irritating the Narrator. Tyler tells the Narrator not to mention him in front of Marla, or the Narrator will never see Tyler again. Tyler also shows the Narrator his other source of income: making soap and selling it to fancy department stores. During one soap-making session, Tyler kisses the Narrator’s hand and pours lye it, giving him a scar that looks like Tyler’s kiss. Tyler insists that he’s trying to get the Narrator to embrace death and pain so that he can find enlightenment.

Marla regularly stops by Tyler’s house to drop off shipments of collagen, removed from her mother’s aging body by liposuction. Secretly Tyler converts the collagen into beautiful, creamy bars of soap, which he sells for a big profit—when Marla finds out, she’s furious. The Narrator notices that he, Tyler, and Marla are never in the same room together.

Marla calls the Narrator and asks him to examine her for breast cancer; they learn that she does have breast cancer, and afterwards, Marla begins attending cancer support groups for real. Meanwhile, the police call the Narrator and tell him that they suspect that someone—possibly the Narrator himself—blew up his condominium. Meanwhile, fight club becomes bigger and bigger, to the point where other chapters spring up across the country.

Tyler and the Narrator decide that they need to blackmail their bosses for the civil disobedience they have been committing on the job. After ensuring checks will continue to be sent to them even though they won’t be working, they are able to focus all their time on fight club. The Narrator learns that Bob has also joined fight club and that there are chapters of fight club that he didn’t even know about.

Tyler decides to escalate his civil disobedience into a larger project called Project Mayhem. He recruits fight club members to join and begins amassing a large following. He hands out homework assignments for the members, including the Narrator. After a while, Tyler suddenly disappears. The Narrator, confused, tries to track down Tyler by going to different bars and clubs. Each time, the bartenders address him as “Sir.” Eventually, the Narrator realizes the truth: everyone thinks that he is Tyler Durden. The Narrator calls Marla and she, too, addresses him as Tyler. Suddenly, Tyler appears before the Narrator and explains that he’s the Narrator’s alter ego. He and the Narrator share the same body, but Tyler is braver and more charismatic than the Narrator—he’s The Narrator’s unconscious, the wish fulfillment of his repressed desires. The Narrator has been the one having sex with Marla, organizing Project Mayhem missions, and converting human fat into soap and explosives. The Narrator, frightened of what he’s becoming, tells Marla the truth.

Tyler “returns” and is upset with the Narrator for discussing him with Marla behind his back. Project Mayhem has begun to take on more extreme assignments and is growing in its number of members. While on an assignment, Bob is killed by a police man. His death prompts the Narrator to try to shut down fight club, but he is thrown out by its members instead.

Upon arriving at work one morning he discovers that his boss is dead. Worse yet, the Narrator knows Tyler is the one who killed him, which means that he killed him, though not wittingly. He boards a bus and tries to get away from the scene before he is spotted. The other passengers are all members of Project Mayhem. They tell him that they have orders to castrate him for trying to shut down fight club. They corner him and knock him out with ether.

The Narrator wakes up in the ruins of his old condominium, (he hasn’t been castrated). He considers committing suicide, but realizes that he cares about Marla and has to protect her. He finds Marla, who tells him that “he” (as Tyler) has murdered more people. The Narrator loses consciousness again, and finds himself at the top floor of a skyscraper (right where he was at the beginning of the novel). Tyler explains that “they” will now die in a blaze of glory.

Suddenly, Marla and the members of her cancer support group walk into the skyscraper, where they find the Narrator pointing a gun at himself. The timer for the bomb goes off, but nothing happens—the Narrator realizes that Tyler and Project Mayhem must have used faulty explosives. Nevertheless, he shoots himself in the face.

In the final chapter of the book, the Narrator reveals that his suicide attempt didn’t work: he shot through his neck and ear, leaving him injured but alive. Tyler hasn’t disturbed him since his suicide attempt. Marla writes him letters while he recovers in the hospital. Occasionally, members of Project Mayhem stop by and, addressing him as “Mr. Durden,” say that they’re eager for him to get back to work.

And, at the end, I’ll only say this: the book and the movie are on par with each other, and neither is better. Trust me. It doesn’t matter which you will consume first. Fight Club is no ordinary story.

And it will haunt you, I believe, as it did with me, for a long, long time.