Thursday, January 31, 2019

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

A friend once told me a story (a true story, said he, though I never verified it myself) about an experiment held in prison, which would prove that you could only see one's original character when you put him/her into absolute power. Put someone nice and kind to be a prison warden, with absolute power, for a period of time, and see if his personality wouldn't change after that. This story came back to me while reading this book.

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is about a psychiatric hospital ward ruled by a dictatorial Head Nurse. It was told from the point of view of 'Chief' Bromden, a half Native-American who pretended to be deaf and dumb. Nurse Ratched ruled the ward iron-handedly. Despite of having no credibility in mental health, she decided what's best for the patient's health, just to make them docile. Everyone (the patients) knew that they were treated unjustly, but nobody dared to oppose her. The punishment of disobediences was electroshock therapy, which was a common practice in 1960s as a cure to mental disorders. 

Then one day came a new Admission into the ward, an ex-con man named Randle McMurphy. He's rebellious; and from the beginning he resisted Nurse Ratched's authority. He began by annoying her; then gradually resisted her rules or instructions. Soon he became a hero and inspiration for the other patients. The fight is now up between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched; but can the patients really fight against the authority?

One Flew is all about abusive power. It's not just about corrupt leaders, but, as Chief Bromden calls it, the Combine – meaning the wider part of the society. Ken Kesey has interestingly picked insanity for his story. What is insanity? Who decides what is sane and what’s not? Aren't we all created by God, and are, thus, equal, though different and unique? We often label others who do not act, think, or react as our standard, as insane. We don't want to deal with them, or to be burdened by them, so we put them into asylums "for their own sake". 

What struck me most of this book, is the fact that most of the patients are as normal as we are. Some were committed, but some came there involuntarily. Involuntarily! They were rejected by the society because they were out of the standard, and therefore must be thrown out of our presence – or, in Chief Bromden's case, because he is off a different race. We talk a lot about xenophobia now, but I think it has always been human race's weakness from the beginning.

In short, this is a very disturbing book. It forced you to realise the real problem of our society – is it not we, our family, who have created it in the first place? Then the solution must have been by changing our point of views, instead of changing others' to fit ours. 

The patients in McMurphy's ward were lucky they had someone as brave as him. One man might not have succeeded in overthrowing a powerful authority, but his actions would not be in vain; it might encourage and inspire others to not let anyone else controlling our lives. I also loved the way Kesey put a tiny spark of hope by Chief Bromden's ending. He really deserves it, because his case is, I think, the greatest injustice of all the others.

This book is not really a perfect reading for opening a new year, but The Classics Club Spin #CCSpin has chosen it for me, so I must relent. However, far from regretting it, I'm grateful to have read and been inspired by it. 

4,5 to 5

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

"I bet you can't write a good detective story," that was how it all started. Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie's real name) was challenged by her sister Madge (herself was a detective story at that time). With her professional knowledge of poisons, which she possessed from working at the dispensary at local hospital; and with many Belgian refugees from World War I entering her village, Mary Wesmacott wrote her first detective story: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

This book introduced us to one of the most famous fictional detectives in the world: the genius, charismatic, and flamboyant Hercule Poirot. It also marked the first appearance of Captain Arthur Hastings, Poirot's dearest sidekick. Interestingly, Christie would later couple them again in Poirot's last case: Curtain.

As a first work, The Mysterious Affair at Styles struck me with it's beautiful writing and simplicity. The murder is far from gory or violent; it feels more clever and scientific, and... so simple. Indeed, in her later works, simplicity is most oftenly becomes the tone.

Mrs. Emily Cavendish was an old wealthy widow who remarried Alfred Ingelthorp (a total stranger), and became Mrs. Ingelthorp. Although fair and generous, Mrs. Ingelthorp always expected people whom she helped to be dependent on her. She provided her two sons: John (with his wife Mary) and Lawrence Cavendish with luxury and comfort, and also handsome allowances. She even took her orphaned relative Cynthia Murdoch, and the old spinster Evelyn Howard (Alfred Ingelthorp's cousin) into her care. But they were all dependent on her, and never had freedom.

One night she died of poisoning; and there's no doubt that someone inside the family circle has deliberately killed her. Hastings was at that time being invited to stay at the house by John, and he brought Poirot to investigate the case to avoid any scandal, which would have been the case if the police was being involved. 

The rest is typically the same as most detective stories: interviews, proof searches, cross examinations to find alibis, 'misleading red herring' (usually using the side kicks, who'd lead us to believe the suspect was A, while it turned out to be B), and finally: plot twist. But again, Styles is unique for its combination of Christie's particular knowledge of poisons and simplicity. It reminded me again, that murder is more about chance and decision. Anyone can do it, you don't need sophisticated weapons. When you find the extraordinary chance is presented to you by itself, all you need to do is to decide. To kill or not to kill, that's the question.

This was my second read (the first was perhaps more than 30 years ago), and I'm lucky to have read the e-book version I bought from Google Playbooks. It has John Curran's introduction, and includes the original unpublished ending. As you may have been familiar with Poirot's conclusion or revelation method; he always holds a mini conference with everyone involved, then presented his chronological investigations dramatically, and finally 'pointed his finger' to the murderer. However, in the original script Christie wrote the scene as court investigation before the judge and jurors. Luckily her editor asked her to change that, and after that Christie always used the mini conference as her trademark revelation scene, as we know now.

This is my first entry for Agatha Christie Perpetual Challenge. This time I will read chronologically from publication date list. What a perfect start I have had for this fun perpetual journey! 

4 to 5

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge

Agatha Christie is one of the most influential authors in my life. She is the first author of adult book I read through when I was a teenager (yeah, I leapt straight from children books to adult’s – we didn’t have Young Adult’s back then). Christie is also that author, whose books have transported me from fairy tales to reality. She has struck me with the notion that EVERY single person can commit murder – it’s not about criminals or gangster, it’s about us. Killing another human being is just a decision – it’s as simple, for example, as deciding to shop or not to shop today. If you think it’s possible, and if you really need to buy something, then you just go on. Just like that. And that is horrifying for my younger self!

Because of that influence, Agatha Christie becomes a very important literary figure of me. I have read a lot of her books – all of Hercule Poirot’s and most of the others – during my youth. Actually I never keep track of which books I have read and which I have not; and I have forgotten most of the stories. So, when I found this Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge at Robin @ Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks, I thought: Why, this is a clear sign that I must reread all her books (and read ones I haven’t)! There is no time limit, so no pressure. Indeed, if I read, let’s say, three or four books a year, with her almost 100 books, I’ll need 30 years to read all! Whew… it’s perpetual indeed!

This is the complete list in publishing time order (which I intend to read through), but I think I will skip some of the short stories collections:

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles - 1920 (Hercule Poirot & Hastings)
  2. The Secret Adversary  - 1922 (Tommy and Tuppence)
  3. Murder on the Links  - 1923 (Hercule Poirot & Hastings)
  4. The Man in the Brown Suit - 1924 (Colonel Race)
  5. Poirot Investigates - 1924 (Poirot short story collection) X
  6. The Secret of Chimneys - 1925 (Superintendent Battle)
  7. The Murder of Roger Akroyd  - 1926 (Hercule Poirot)
  8. The Big Four - 1927  (Hercule Poirot & Hastings)
  9. The Mystery of the Blue Train - 1928  (Hercule Poirot)
  10. The Seven Dials Mystery - 1929 (Superintendent Battle)
  11. Partners in Crime  - 1929 (Tommy and Tuppence short story collection)
  12. The Mysterious Mr. Quin  - 1930 (Harley Quin short story collection) X
  13. Giant's Bread (Published under pseudonym  -  Mary Westmacott)
  14. The Murder at the Vicarage  - 1930 (Miss Marple)
  15. The Sittaford Mystery - 1931
  16. Peril at End House  - 1932  (Hercule Poirot)
  17. The Thirteen Problems - 1932 (Miss Marple short story collection) X
  18. The Floating Admiral   (Detection Club collaboration)
  19. Lord Edgware Dies - 1933 (Hercule Poirot & Hastings)
  20. The Hound of Death  - 1933 (Macabre short story collection)
  21. Ask a Policeman (Detection Club collaboration)
  22. Murder on the Orient Express - 1934  (Hercule Poirot)
  23. The Listerdale Mysteries - 1934 (Short story collection)
  24. Why didn't they ask Evans? - 1934
  25. Parker Pyne Investigates - 1934 (Parker Pyne short story collection)
  26. Three Act Tragedy - 1934  (Hercule Poirot)
  27. Unfinished Portrait  (Published under pseudonym  -  Mary Westmacott)
  28. Death in the Clouds  - 1935 (Hercule Poirot)
  29. Murder in Mesopotamia - 1936 (Hercule Poirot)
  30. The ABC Murders  - 1936 (Hercule Poirot)
  31. Cards on the Table  - 1936  (Hercule Poirot)
  32. Six Against the Yard (Detection Club collaboration)
  33. Dumb Witness - 1937  (Hercule Poirot)
  34. Death on the Nile - 1937  (Hercule Poirot)
  35. Murder in the Mews - 1937 (Poirot short story collection)
  36. Appointment with Death  - 1938 (Hercule Poirot)
  37. Incredible Theft (Hercule Poirot)
  38. Hercule Poirot's Christmas - 1938  (Hercule Poirot)
  39. Murder is Easy - 1938
  40. And Then There Were None - 1939
  41. The Witness for the Prosecution - 1939 (Short story collection)
  42. Sad Cypress - 1940   (Hercule Poirot)
  43. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - 1940  (Hercule Poirot)
  44. Evil Under the Sun  - 1941 (Hercule Poirot) 
  45. N or M?  - 1941 (Tommy and Tuppence)
  46. The Body in the Library - 1942  (Miss Marple)
  47. Five Little Pigs - 1942  (Hercule Poirot)
  48. The Moving Finger - 1942  (Miss Marple)
  49. Towards Zero - 1944
  50. Absent in the Spring  (Published under pseudonym  -  Mary Westmacott)
  51. Death Comes as the End - 1944
  52. Sparkling Cyanide - 1945
  53. The Hollow - 1946  (Hercule Poirot)
  54. The Labours of Hercules - 1947 (Short Story collection)
  55. The Rose and the Yew Tree  (Published under pseudonym  -  Mary Westmacott)
  56. Taken at the Flood  - 1948 (Hercule Poirot)
  57. The Witness for the Prosecution - 1948 (Short Story collection)
  58. Crooked House - 1949
  59. A Murder is Announced  - 1950 (Miss Marple)
  60. Three Blind Mice - 1950 (Short story collection)
  61. They Came to Baghdad - 1951
  62. The Underdog  - 1951 (Hercule Poirot)(Short story collection)
  63. They Do It With Mirrors  - 1952 (Miss Marple)
  64. A Daughter's A Daughter (Published under pseudonym  -  Mary Westmacott)
  65. Mrs McGinty's Dead   - 1952 (Hercule Poirot)
  66. After the Funeral - 1953 (Hercule Poirot)
  67. A Pocket Full of Rye - 1953  (Miss Marple)
  68. Destination Unknown - 1954
  69. Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly (Hercule Poirot)
  70. Hickory Dickory Dock - 1955 (Hercule Poirot)
  71. The Burden   (Published under pseudonym  -  Mary Westmacott)
  72. Dean Man's Folly - 1958 (Hercule Poirot)
  73. 4.50 from Paddington - 1957  (Miss Marple)
  74. Ordeal by Innocence - 1958
  75. Cat Among the Pigeons - 1959  (Hercule Poirot)
  76. Adventure of the Christmas Pudding- 1960  (Short Story collection)
  77. The Pale Horse - 1961
  78. Double Sin - 1961 (Short Story Collection)
  79. The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side - 1962 (Miss Marple)
  80. The Clocks - 1963  (Hercule Poirot)
  81. A Caribbean Mystery - 1964  (Miss Marple)
  82. At Bertram’s Hotel - 1965  (Miss Marple)
  83. Third Girl  - 1966 (Hercule Poirot)
  84. Endless Night - 1967
  85. By the Pricking of my Thumbs - 1968 (Tommy and Tuppence)
  86. Hallowe'en Party - 1969  (Hercule Poirot)
  87. Passenger to Frankfurt - 1970
  88. Nemesis - 1971  (Miss Marple)
  89. Golden Ball and other Stories - 1971 (US short story collection)
  90. Elephants Can Remember  -1972 (Hercule Poirot)
  91. Postern of Fate - 1973 (Tummy and Tuppence)
  92. Poirot's Early Cases -1974 (18 story collection)
  93. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case -1975 (Hercule Poirot & Hastings)
  94. Sleeping Murder - 1976 (Miss Marple)
  95. Miss Marples Final Cases - 1979  (8 story anthology)
  96. Problem at Pollensa Bay - 1991 (Short story collection)
  97. Harlequin Tea Set - 1997 (Short story collection)

Are you Agatha Christie’s fan too? Have you read a lot of her books?