Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.
Apologies for the inactivity, I’m so inundated in assignments right now that I haven’t mentally moved passed the Renaissance literary era for quite some time. Either way, this week was a Halloween-centric topic. I don’t celebrate, but Happy Halloween if you do! I’d like to note that I deliberately excluded Shakespeare from this list, and tried to focus on books which people might not necessarily have read/heard of, to try to achieve at least a minimal degree of originality. Just a tiny bit though, no need to expect too much.
I’d also like to say that I don’t think of these traits as ‘sins’ in themselves, just as I don’t think ‘honesty’ or ‘patience’ are by themselves good. I’d further like to say that anybody who is lazy (me) or a bit greedy shouldn’t see it as hugely negative or a character flaw. Unless you’re analysing yourself in a double spaced word document (I’m very bitter about all the work I have to do), perfectionism in the sense we see it really doesn’t exist. It’s okay to eat a whole packet of biscuits. Or two. If you think that makes you greedy, that’s okay. If we were all perfect, well-rounded individuals, the world would be a very boring place.
I normally don’t intercede with these meaningless opinion-based rants, but, to the collective relief of all, we can move on now. These novels aren’t necessarily ones I’ve loved (although I haven’t put in any that I loathe), at least, not all of them are, but this isn’t a book review so I tried to include a bit of variety. Most of these aren’t really obvious or perfect choices but I picked from books I’ve actually read.
1) Pride in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Considered a classic literary work that is set in the Nigerian clan of Umofia in the late 1800s, before the arrival of the white settlers, Things Fall Apart deals with the character of Okonkwo, a stubbornly traditional, well-respected man in the Igbo villages of Umofia. Achebe creates a vividly detailed cultural reality in the novel, but Okonkwo’s extreme pride is what disrupts the peace, and leads to his fall from grace. His pride is so powerfully manipulative in his overall character that it leads him to extreme violence, shame and guilt, and he essentially separates himself from any kind of an emotional life and refuses to confront his emotional realities. His extreme egoism clouds his judgement; he refuses to take into consideration other modes of thought and will not stand for anything that strays from tradition. His pride is strongly tied to his understanding of his masculinity, and it is ultimately what results in his fall.
2) Envy in The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
I’m sure everyone’s heard of this, but in case you haven’t read it, it’s told from the perspective of three women, including the titular character, who’s in the habit of people-watching while riding the train. She makes for an interesting unreliable narrator when she is drawn by a woman’s sudden disappearance, but she’s also a good candidate for envy. She still, to some extent, loves her ex-husband, and harbours a great deal of jealousy and resentment for his current wife, as well as for the life they share.
3) Gluttony in Dragon Rider (Cornelia Funke)
This is a lovely little novel about a dragon named Firedrake finding his way to his legendary home in the Himalayas, called the Rim of Heaven. It’s written for children really, but anyone can read it. The reason I shelved this under gluttony is because the antagonist, the Golden One, is a golden-scaled monstrous creature known as Nettlebrand who is desperate to eat silver-scaled dragons like Firedrake (but he eats many other things besides). He’s sick of cows and sheep and is hungry for real dragons and very proud of his golden scales. He even ate the alchemist who created him (and a lot of other things besides). Literally biting the hand that fed him.
4) Wrath in We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
Kevin, a boy with sociopathic tendencies, becomes a school shooter and is responsible for quite a few deaths. The book is a series of letters from his mother Eva to her husband, but they’re also like a documentation of his various crimes. His blistering rage and intolerably superior attitude are forceful aspects of his character. He is clearly a highly dysfunctional individual motivated by god knows what exactly (and frankly, I don’t want to guess or know) but anger is definitely a large part of it. To be honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy this reading experience, but I know lots of people who’ve loved this book and therefore felt I should include it.
5) Lust in Orkney (Amy Sackville)
This is a strange novel about physical desire and obsession. A professor marries a student forty years his junior and, as per her request, takes her to the sea for their honeymoon, to the Orkney islands in Scotland. Rich in descriptions of landscape and pivoting around a dysfunctional relationship, I can’t tell you what I think of this novel except that if you find it promising you should give it a shot. The professor’s all-consuming desire for a woman four decades younger is the pivoting point of the novel, as well as the sharp disjunct between what he sees and what is.
6) Sloth in Dungeon Tales (Venita Coelho)
This is also a book possibly targeted to children/young adults, but again, anyone can read it, and it’s a delightful and funny magic realism story. The Badmash Badshah is a tyrant who revels in cruelty and likes to keep his dungeons well-stocked. However, when he is cursed and can no longer sleep, as per the suggestion of a prisoner, he allows all the prisoners locked in the dungeon to tell him their stories. This is an amusing, interesting little gem (although you can’t expect too much in terms of plot), and I chose it for sloth partly because it’s entirely based around a cast of characters sitting around hearing other people’s stories, which is how the novel progresses. But also, many of the stories are about young men who have things happen to them to their reluctance, where they have little agency, like a spoiled tailor’s son with a magic needle, or an archivist haunted by a family ghost. I really enjoyed reading this back when I read it as a kid.
7) Greed in Elmet (Fiona Mozley)
This modern Robin Hood story is about a father and his two children living off the land. But it’s also about how power-hungry and cruel people can be. In the case of this novel, a landowner named Price becomes the antagonist of sorts, a man unwilling to relinquish profit and property in the face of human suffering. His greed ultimately leads to his hunger for vengeance and he becomes the direct catalyst that tears apart a close-knit family just trying to survive.
That’s all! See you soon, hopefully.
(PS, thanks to my good friend Laura for helping me out with this list and generally being pretty cool.)