The World According to Renee

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Review: Life After Death

Damien Echols is infamous for being part of the so-called West Memphis 3. Convicted of murders he didn’t commit, Echols spent eighteen years behind bars, including several years on Death Row. Echols and his two mates who had also been convicted of murdering three young boys were released late 2011. Life After Death reveals what it’s like behind bars and how Echols came to be there.

The book is pieced together from a previously published memoir plus journal entries, essays and letters Echols wrote from inside. This gives the book a disjointed narrative, culminating with inconsistent tense; in one paragraph he’ll be writing in the present tense even though he’s now out of prison, while in the next he’ll be writing in past tense about the same thing. This gets quite confusing, especially in later chapters when he seems reluctant to talk about his last months in prison, instead just copying-and-pasting earlier writings. This in itself isn’t a bad thing; as Echols repeatedly tells his readers, he is tired of being thought of just as that guy, the one on Death Row (or used to be on Death Row) for the murders of those little kids. I wouldn’t want to keep rehashing it either, so sure, it’s acceptable to c’n’p previous writings… just change the tense.

Having said that, the book smacks of “I’m not the guy you think I am”. He’s spiritual, spending most of his time reading everything he could lay his hands on, talking to spiritual leaders, learning and practicing meditation and generally keeping to himself. He writes about his childhood but skirts around much of his teenage shenanigans. For example, he writes that the detective for juvenile problems was “obsessed” with Echols for no reason. Further investigation reveals that this detective had reason to believe Echols was part of a Satanic cult; which is never mentioned in his book. Echols himself has admitted (though not in this book) that he once drank blood from a living human’s arm. Echols’ insistence in his memoir that there was no reason for the cops to be on his tail just doesn’t ring true.

Taken with a grain of salt, Echols’ story is hard to put down. He perfectly captures the feelings of loneliness and depression that so many teenagers suffer. As yet, the murders of the three young boys remain unsolved, and if you’re looking for a theory as to what happened to them, you won’t find it here. Instead you’ll find a regular guy caught up in a whirlpool of injustice and the need to lay the blame on someone. Definitely do your own research though, the bits he omitted often fill in gaping holes in his narrative plus add an interesting alternate viewpoint.

8 out of 10 bookmarks.

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December 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

An Interesting Life

I had an interesting chat with some Jehovah’s Witnesses recently. Here’s what they believe in a nutshell: one day, the Earth will be restored to perfection and everyone will live forever in perfect happiness, health and harmony. I was asked if I would like to live forever. I thought about all the vampire novels I’ve ever read, the torment of immortality. I thought about Paul Edgecomb from The Green Mile who watched his family and friends die, not knowing if or when his time might come. I answered no, I would not like to live forever.

The older of the two JW women said she once thought that way, but she’s since changed her mind. She remembered being young, her joints moving perfectly, how fit and healthy she felt. She recalled being on the beach, swimming and jumping in the waves with the sun on her face thinking that the moment would last forever. If she could feel like that every day forever, then count her in!

I thought about this for a moment, then asked, “Wouldn’t you be bored? All this time and nothing to do?” Both women replied that there was no hurry, they could do whatever they liked for as long as they liked… which is where I started to ponder deep thoughts. With all that free time, I can read books and watch movies! I like reading. I like watching movies. I like reading about people who are far removed from anything I could ever be. I like knowing how and why people got to be famous or why their story is worth sharing. The secret to an interesting story is suffering. Something has had to happen to a person to make their story interesting.

“But, wouldn’t it be great if there weren’t any wars? No sickness? No school massacres?” Yes, it would be great. But through suffering comes greatness. Whenever something awful happens, the best comes out in mankind. Consider The Book Thief, one of the best novels I’ve ever read. The backdrop is WWII and the story is beautiful and sad, but awesome. You’re not going to get that kind of story in a Perfect World (unless previous stories from humankind somehow exist throughout the transformation of the planet, which I’m assured will not happen as everything from the former Earth will be completely wiped out). Consider movies which are considered the best of all time, such as Gone With the Wind. Again, set against the backdrop of a war. Scarlett O’Hara et al have nothing to work with if there’s no war. Scarlett is not nearly as interesting without having two dead husbands and traipsing around creating scandals left, right and centre.

Whether or not your beliefs in the second coming and restoration of the Earth, I would not like to be part of it if there’s nothing to read or watch. Save the happy beach memories for Instagram, because there’s not really any story worth telling behind it.

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Sisters of Mercy

Let me start by saying two things: 1) I was so annoyed with the book by page 150 that I was tempted not to finish it, 2) The hook of the novel isn’t what the story is about, which is a trademark of Caroline Overington’s novels.

Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington starts out to be a mystery: what happened to a grandmother who went missing during a 2009 dust storm in Sydney? The story doesn’t start or end there, and the mystery is belayed to the background while a different yet related story is told. At the centre of both is Snow Delaney, the long-lost sister of the missing woman who is in prison for other crimes. Her story is told to a journalist through letters while the journalist pieces together what the hell is going on (as all good journalists do).

The novel has a few gaping flaws, which lessened the believability somewhat and led to my annoyances with the plot.

Journalist Jack Fawcett seems to be an outsider on the case. He misses a lot of the important developments in the story, therefore also missing being the one to publish the scoop. In fact it seems he only becomes truly interested in the case when Snow begins writing to him from prison, which she does to correct him on mistakes in his articles. It is never mentioned whether Snow has written to other journalists; presumably she’s found fault with their articles as well (as she mentions later in her letters to Jack about media sensationalism vs truth). So here we have a journo with his hands tied- the story has gone cold, the links to the missing granny have closed and he’s left with an inquiring mind with nothing to gain. Although Jack reveals nothing of his own life, it’s easy to imagine him as a bachelor with nothing better to do than follow trails of breadcrumbs.

The most interesting person in the novel is Snow, a nurse and foster carer for disabled children, currently imprisoned for her startling naivety.

Apart from the granny, the owner of Delaney House (Snow’s care centre for disabled children) has also gone missing. Snow pleads innocence; she didn’t question the disappearance although in the closing chapters it is revealed she lied about her whereabouts during a critical time. Intertwined with these disappearances lies Snow’s story of how and why she came to care for disabled children which ultimately led to her imprisonment.

I like the ambiguity of who might have done what, although I am not in the least bit convinced Snow had anything to do with either disappearance. Her boyfriend has motive for both missing women: money. The owner of the house bequeathed the home to both Mark and Snow in her will, coincidentally signed just days before she went missing. Snow wanted the house, sure, but the money and equity afforded to Mark probably proved too tempting. Snow’s sister, the missing granny, stood to inherit over a million dollars which, if she was out of the picture, would become Snow’s inheritance. Considering Mark’s criminal record and gambling addiction, surely he would at least have to be a suspect, but apparently not. As mentioned, by page 150 I was outraged that the blindingly obvious solution to all the novel’s mysteries had not been mentioned. It was only after Ms Overington herself replied to my frustrated tweet that I finished the novel.

Apart from the most obvious person not being a suspect, I had difficulty believing Snow could be that naive. Both media and the law grasped her inhumanity, but yet Snow was blind to it all. What she believed was in the best interests for her clients was in fact child abuse, which she was eventually imprisoned for.

All in all, this novel is what one can expect from Caroline Overington, a former journalist. Along with this one, her previous novels contain a hook which is part of the story, not the whole story, and quite often don’t have a narrative resolution. I actually quite like this style. As happens so often in Real Life, stories have no resolution and it becomes a trial by media and the public. As such, the reader is left to form their own conclusions which may or may not be what happened. Case in point: the boyfriend’s non-suspect status (which turns out not to matter much but is oddly convenient…) Although I am not a journalist nor studying to become one, I am required to undertake journalism units to earn my PR degree. Knowing Ms Overington has a journalism background, I was interested to see the differences between journalism theory and practice, especially the tendency of sensationalism and twisting of facts to create a story.

As always, the sign of a good novel is the ability to bitch about it. It shows you’re engaged enough to care what happens. I’d read it again and look for clues that Jack Fawcett missed.

7 out of 10 bookmarks.

December 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Babel

How did I miss Babel when it was released? Never mind, I’ve caught it now and I loved it.

Babel is four interwoven stories centred around an American couple visiting Morocco (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett). The stories take place on different continents so the viewer is transported from Morocco to Mexico to Japan following characters that have all played their part in the story of life. Astute viewers will pick up who is who fairly quickly (I admit to being embarrassingly slow on the uptake with the Japanese contingent) and the film walks the viewer through each segment so there’s never any confusion.

This film is perfect for analysing. The colour red is present in almost every shot, forming a rich tapestry within the stories. The film is almost a connect-the-dots and when you see the formed picture, it’s breathtaking in both beauty and form. There’s no star of the film; Brad Pitt may be in it but he doesn’t steal the limelight. Cate Blanchett does what she does best, while allowing others to be drawn into her story. The other characters are not played by well-known actors, yet they still capture the screen like they were born for their roles. The Moroccan children are perfectly cast for their roles which remind us that sometimes, there are no villains.

Babel is a very long movie, so make sure you have supplies and a pause button for quick toilet trips. I took an intermission not because the film was dragging, but because I was so caught up that I forgot I needed lunch. This is a hallmark of the very best films, which should now be including Babel. And like any good film, there are questions forming inside the viewer’s mind, burning to be answered yet unsatisfactory if they are; the film doesn’t need a sequel to answer them, half the fun is pursuing the questions yourself.

A highly recommended film. 9.5/10 popcorns.

December 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fin

Yes boys and girls, I completed the epic task of 50,000 words in a NaNoWriMo month! (Plus the other essays and assorted writings I was doing during November…) My best day was Saturday, 24 November when I wrote a whopping 11,000 words in a day. It was all because I had taken the weekend off to attend a writer’s retreat on the beautiful Stradbroke Island in Queensland. I’m so glad I did! I met a bunch of awesome people, got very little sleep (thanks to some all-night singing) and absorbed much inspiration via osmosis from the lovely people around me. I will definitely do it again should the opportunity present itself.

I have withdrawn from uni for this semester though. I felt that my being away for 3 weeks in January 2013 (a quarter of the semester) would be of detriment and I wouldn’t be able to dedicate my best effort. So far, it’s been two weeks and I’m a bit lost. I have nothing to do… so I thought it would be a great time to start a new blog about watching an episode of The Simpsons every day until I have seen every episode. Follow the insanity here.

As for my NaNo novel, I really like the work I have done on it and plan to continue with that journey. Firstly, I need to finish it. Then comes the process of editing and eventually, I think I would like to self-publish on a platform such as iTunes and/or Google books etc. Just to be part of the process, ya know?

Thanks to everyone for putting up with me, especially to my boyfriend who basically didn’t see me at all for the last two weeks of November as I spent every waking minute writing or at work. A special thankyou to Bryce Courtenay, who passed away recently. Thankyou for the stories, for your dedication in getting a novel written every year and for sharing so much with us. You’re sadly missed already.

December 8, 2012 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment