John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars caused a stir across the world when it was published earlier this year. Never before had a young adult novel about teenagers dying of cancer grabbed the attention of so many, so quickly and so emphatically. It’s both hilariously funny and devastatingly sad, a combination few writers manage to successfully pull off. British author Jenny Downham did achieve something very similar when she released her debut novel, Before I Die, back in 2007 but unfortunately, for whatever reason (the lack of a Twittersphere? The global economy? Twilight?), very few people read it. It’s always disappointing when a really great story misses out on the attention it deserves. Luckily, this one gets a second chance…
Five years after its publication, Before I Die gets a new lease of life in the form of this immensely enjoyable and unexpectedly cool film adaptation starring Dakota Fanning and Jeremy Irvine. Fanning has grown into a serious star, proving that she’s cooler than the pixie-cut-and-Cons combo she rocks for the duration of her turn as Tessa, a 17 year old leukaemia sufferer who decides to give up chemotherapy in favour of living life to the full in her dying months, completing a list of daring and often illegal tasks while she still can.
Joining her along the way is the outrageously pretty Irvine (of War Horse fame) who manages to convince us that he has just stepped out of the pages of Downham’s book as Adam, Tessa’s boyfriend and granter of several of her final wishes.
Don’t be fooled by the storyline, though, this is as far from a weepy sick-flick as you can get. The dialogue packs a punch, the cast – also featuring seasoned great Paddy Considine and Skins beauty Kaya Scodelario – oozes with talent and there’s an uber-hip soundtrack to boot, with M83, Ellie Goulding and Metric all making appearances. It will make you smile, it will make you laugh and yes, it will make you cry. But you will enjoy every minute of it.
Though touted by many as “the greatest novel ever written”, the truth is that Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a weighty tome, one that I’m ashamed to say I have yet to commit to reading. Nevertheless, its prevalence in popular culture means it is a tale that many will be familiar with – beautiful married socialite falls for dashing young Count in nineteenth century Russia, only to be ostracised from society for her adultery before descending into madness.
I was particularly intrigued to see this year’s big screen adaptation of the book (the latest in long line) since the director, Joe Wright, had done such a good job with Ian McEwan’s Atonement back in 2007. And while many filmgoers seem to have an unhealthy dislike for her, I was pleased to see Kiera Knightley as his leading lady once again, in a flawless performance as the tragic heroine. The cast choices in general are commendable, with an aged Jude Law in a convincingly broody performance as Anna’s cuckolded husband, Karenin, and Kickass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson (hiding his baby-faced looks behind – it has to be said – ridiculous facial hair) as Anna’s seducer, Count Vronsky. Period-drama stalwart Matthew MacFayden provides comedic relief as the womanising Stiva, brother of Anna, while Irishman Domhnall Gleeson’s turn as his friend, Kostya Levin, is most enjoyable, not least because his life as a rural landowner makes for a welcome change from the fast-paced theatrics of high society Russia.
Speaking of theatrics, you should be prepared, when going to see this film, to be completely baffled for at least the first quarter of an hour. You may find yourself wondering if you’ve inadvertently stumbled into a Moulin Rouge-esque musical. I was certainly unprepared for the theatrical setting, complete with revolving stages, painted backdrops and backstage ropes and pulleys. The idea seems to have been to literally ‘stage’ the film as if it were a play but, since scenes regularly switch between this theatre setting and real outdoor locations, it ends up feeling quite disjointed and takes a while to get used to. It nonetheless makes for an impressive visual spectacle.
Back to the story itself, I imagine that Shakespeare in Love penman Tom Stoppard’s screenplay only barely scrapes the surface of Tolstoy’s thousand-page tale. Anna spends more time worrying about society’s perception of her than she does about seeing her children, which I’m told is not the case in the original account. Little time is awarded to the wider political and cultural issues of the day, which we all know were of intrinsic concern to Tolstoy in all of his writings. But you can only expect so much from a two-hour film and in fairness, if you want to know the whole story, there’s always the book (which is in our Autumn/Winter 3 for 2 promotion). The movie poster promises “a bold new vision of the epic story of love” and there’s no denying that this is exactly what you get.
Teenage angst and broken hearts – we’ve all been there, done that, worn (or should I say, Torn) the T-shirt.
In this tale of heartache, beautifully pieced together by Daniel Handler (better known as Lemony Snicket), we accompany Min Green as she exorcises her relationship demons through the removal of various collected items that defined what seemed to be the good times but ultimately were not.
The accompanying letter, upon which the text of this novel is based, captures every intimate moment and gesture of Min’s overwhelming love for Ed Slaterton, only for us to see it all come crashing down around her feet, with a sad, tragic and bittersweet tone.
Maria Kalmans’ beautiful illustrations show us the various objects which have been collected by Min, objects that once symbolised a cute, heartwarming, blossoming relationship but now represent pain, rejection and anger.
It would take a cold heart to not be moved by Min’s tale of heartbreak. Handler gives her heroine a strong, independent and sometimes quirky voice that can only lead us to hope she’ll get through this, her version of the world’s end.
Something tells me, like those T-shirts we’ve all previously Torn… she’ll be okay!
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler is an Eason’s Children’s Book of the Month for August.
In case you’ve been living in solitary confinement for the last few weeks, there’s a new Batman movie out! The Dark Knight Rises brings Christopher Nolan’s trilogy to its epic conclusion, also ending Christian Bale’s sojourn as The Caped Crusader. The previous instalment, The Dark Knight, was an extremely hard act to follow, particularly since no villain could ever match Heath Ledger’s Joker. Nevertheless, Tom Hardy makes a valiant effort as the masked madman, Bane, in this thrilling climax.
While it’s immensely enjoyable viewing, it’s not the easiest to follow. For a start, it’s very long. We’d advise you to leave that large Coke in the foyer. It also contains the most intricate plot ever seen in a Batman movie, introducing a whole host of new characters just as we prepare to say goodbye to the old ones.
Be warned, you may leave the cinema reeling. There’s so much left untold. The best thing about Batman, however, is that there’ll always be the comic books. Lots of them. Don’t know where to start? Here are our jpg recommendations:
For those not so enamoured by panels and speech bubbles, there’s still plenty to feed your Batmania:
Batman: The World of the Dark Knight is full of interesting facts about The Caped Crusader, with in-depth timelines and lots of details about his career. There’s also the very cool Batman Files, which comes in a gorgeous package full of journal entries, bat-computer files, news articles and documents on villains from Batman’s personal collection.
The Dark Knight Manual is an in-world exploration of Christopher Nolan’s Batman and a definitive guide to his tools, vehicles, and technologies.
Fans of the Batmobile, take a look at this book on its history – Batmobile: the Complete History. Pages and pages of the best superhero vehicle in all its glory!
The next time you’re browsing the children’s department at your local Eason, you may find yourself looking twice at the newest addition to the shelf. It looks so out of place that even some of our own staff members have been caught trying to move it to adult fiction. The book in question is Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, 16 year old Samantha Van Leer.
For those not familiar with the international bestselling author, Picoult’s novels deal with a myriad of moral dilemmas and ultimately pose one question to the reader – ‘what would you do?’ It sounds innocent enough but when the ‘moral dilemmas’ in question surround issues such as murder, child abuse, school shootings, suicide and harvesting organs – the subject matter of her biggest hit, My Sister’s Keeper – perhaps Picoult is not the ideal candidate for your child’s new favourite author.
However, this novel marks a new departure for the 46 year old, as she is joined by her daughter for her first foray into the children’s’ book market. Between the Lines is an innocuous tale of a 15 year old called Delilah who finds solace in her favourite childhood fairy tale while her peers have moved on to boys and make-up. We see Delilah taking the definition of ‘getting lost in a book’ a step too far as she strikes up a friendship with Prince Oliver, the fairy tale’s main character. She then has to choose whether to help Oliver escape from his bookish prison or to join him herself in what she sees as the land of ‘happily ever after’. Here we see Picoult’s trademark ‘what would you do?’ approach come into play. Well, you didn’t think it was going to be entirely different, did you!?