Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time coverContext

I have first heard about this book by Mark Haddon in a university class. The teacher’s sales pitch was that the narrator was autistic and therefore his view of the world was quite unique.

Now, the main character of my first novel is autistic too. I didn’t mean to make her, it just happened. That being said, I became curious about how this other autistic character was portrayed and consequently bought the book.

Review

I was hooked from the very first chapter’s number: 2. Yep, who cares about conventions, right? I’m all for throwing them through the window when they don’t suit my taste and have no disastrous consequences for anyone. So I started bonding right there and then with the narrator and protagonist, Christopher Boone.

It is nowhere mentioned that Christopher is autistic – although it is obvious to anyone who has basic knowledge on the subject – so I don’t see why people insist on using autism as a sales pitch. It is quite obvious that the writer didn’t want to put a label on him. And in fact, I wouldn’t even say that his autism was one of my favourite aspects of the book. On the contrary, I found him very “textbook” autistic – as in very stereotypical. Which is okay, but there is so much more to this book than that.

Christopher might seem very different at first, especially for a close-to-100% neurotypical reader (which I’m not, I’m 50-50 so to me he wasn’t that much “weirder” than the 90%+ neurotypical characters I read about all the time), but as the story progresses I think most people could realize he’s more like them than they would ever have thought. Which is often the case with anyone you think is “different”.

The characters are all unique, believable and not always very sympathetic. I had very mixed feelings for almost every character in the book (except Mrs Alexander, she’s the best). They were mostly loveable, but then they did that thing of which I disapproved (a different thing for each). However, that’s part of what made them so realistic. I felt deeply, in particular, for Christopher’s parents.

That being said, to me the most interesting aspects of this book were the plot and theme. Although Christopher keeps saying that “this is not a proper novel”, I think it is. There are several interesting mystery and adventure elements, but mostly it’s a story about life and how different people deal with it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time cover 2The main theme, to me, was that of courage. In the later half of the book, Christopher shows the kind of real-life courage that cannot fail to have an impact on me. Some other characters also show their courage… or lack of it.

Finally, this novel is refreshingly non-moralistic. Good people do good things and bad things. They care for the people they like and want to protect them, but they hurt them too, sometimes. They don’t mean it. Sometimes emotions cloud their judgement, sometimes they can’t understand how the other person thinks, and sometimes, one person’s needs are simply too much for what the other person can give. There are all three examples through the story and I loved that

Rating: 9/10

Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. Except if you’re reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time because there are spoilers. And yes, of course I was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time or it wouldn’t have been funny: I had meant to finish it before reading this book, but then lack of time happened and I didn’t want to review two classics in a row so I put Sherlock on hold only to see my mistake when Christopher told all there was to know about its plot. Oh well.

Psst! I also posted a “life update” on my Facebook page.

When you don’t become a mother overnight

bunny mom and baby bBefore we become parents, we all have an idea of what it’ll be like. We’ll do this, not do that. We’re looking forward to holding our child’s little hand, yet we’re scared of it, too. We all know that it’ll be hard, but if other people can manage, so can we. That’s what I thought, too.

Well, now I manage… but it took me about 3 years to get to that point. And even now, some days I think I’m going to go crazy. I’ve had a panic attack not so long ago after almost two years free of it, and it was because sometimes I feel so incompetent as a wife and mother that there’s no way to express it.

My experience isn’t quite typical. For one, most women don’t have postpartum depression; I was in the unlucky 10-15% who did. It probably didn’t help my bonding with my child, but that’s not all there is to it.

I have an immense love for people, and animals, and plants.  However, I don’t “bond” easily with anyone or anything. I’ve always been this way. I don’t know why I thought it’d be different with my daughter… it wasn’t.

IMG_0629cOf course, I loved her from the moment I first knew I was pregnant. I became extra careful about my health to give her all the chances in the world of being healthy. I endured two months of acute pain that’d make me cry in order to breastfeed her so that she’d be as healthy as possible (don’t do that, it’s stupid; if you want to throw your baby away every time you breastfeed because they hurt you too much, you’d BOTH be better off with commercial preparation). I only stopped breastfeeding when I was admitted to the hospital for severe depression, and at the time it felt like yet another failure.

I felt so incompetent. Ironically, I was the one to tell my husband everything that had to be done because he was rather clueless about babies in general and girls’ hygiene in particular. I had the knowledge… but I didn’t have the stamina or the endurance required to take care of a baby. I didn’t have the “warmth” either. I’ve never liked holding babies, and it wasn’t different with my own.

I loved her, but there was no special bond yet. I didn’t enjoy my time with her, either. In the first year, I could probably count the happy moments on my fingers. I know I had some, but I cannot remember them. Then again, during that year, the “happy” moments were relative… none of them was really happy because I was depressed.

I felt so relieved when I started working again only 5 months after her birth. My in-laws would babysit her during the day, my husband would take care of her during the night. Still, I knew I “had” to spend time with her to work on that missing bond – my husband wouldn’t let me forget it – but it was difficult. All of this combined made me feel like I was a bad mother.2014-04-29 01a

After a year, I started feeling better and the bond with my daughter grew stronger, but still, having to “babysit” her felt like a chore. She had started walking at 10,5 months and was very energetic, still is, and I was always tired, still am. And even if it wasn’t for my energy level… she’s a handful. My parents and sisters and in-laws think so too, so it’s not in my head.

However, the biggest improvement yet happened when we put the diapers away because she didn’t need them anymore. Suddenly, she didn’t feel like a weight anymore. I could go out with her and not bring a huge bag. Sometimes, I don’t even need a stroller. And I don’t need to be constantly watching her, either.

Now, I’m probably no different from most mothers… well, no more different than I am from most people in general. You probably couldn’t tell that I ever had “bonding issues”. I am practically her sole caretaker one week out of two because of her father’s weird work schedule, but we get along just fine.IMG245

My daughter “prefers” her father; he’s the “motherly figure” while I’m more of a “fatherly authority figure” and anyway girls that age tend to cling to their father. But I know that, when I’m not with them either because I’m working or because I need a break from social interactions, she’d like me to be there.

She doesn’t think I’m a bad mother, nobody does. It was in my head all along.

There are more than just one type of mothers. None of them is perfect, and none of them is the “right” type. All mothers do what they can. There are moments of joy, and there are moments of tears. But they endure and never give up.

To those strong, resilient women, I’m wishing a very happy Mother’s Day. ♥

5 things Dungeons and Dragons taught me about life

nat201 – Progress doesn’t show immediately.

In Dungeons and Dragons, the experience you gain accumulates and, once in a while, you level up: you get more powerful, learn new skills, etc. It’s the same for almost anything you learn.

There will always be a time when you feel like you’re stagnating. You’re not, unless you’re doing nothing; you’re accumulating experience and will level-up eventually. You just have to be patient and find the right challenges for your level. A challenge too formidable might kill your character (or your motivation); one too humble will be a waste of time.

IMAG0029a2 – Sometimes the dice won’t roll your way and there’s no higher meaning to it.

No, the DM (or God) doesn’t hate you. It’s probability. A car accident is a probability; a disease is a probability; being hired is a probability. You can and should do your best so as to put the probabilities in your favour, but a 0,01% probability is still an existing one; a 90% probability isn’t a certainty. All of us get our fair share of fumbles. Don’t worry, in the long run, we get an almost equal amount of critical hits.

Also: Even level 20 characters can get a fumble. It doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy of their level.

3 – Alone, you’re vulnerable.

There was that strong half-orc warrior that got killed by one of the smallest creatures in the bestiary: it got on his back and he was unable to fight against it, dying a slow death. Had he not left the party alone, any accompanying member would have been able to save him. But he thought there was no need for that.

It’s easy for people considering themselves “strong” to think they can do everything on their own. But all of us have our kryptonite. Besides, it’s so much more fun to share experiences with people.

4 – You’ll encounter bosses once in a while.Creator Dragon a

Sometimes they’ll almost kill you. Sometimes you’ll fall and your companions will save you. Sometimes you companions wil fall and you’ll save them. Sometimes, too, one playing character will die and there’s nothing you could have done differently to save them. But even then… the rest of the party has to keep moving forward.

It’s really just like life. You can get knocked down and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. The characters most at risk of falling during a fight tend to be those with the highest armour class and constitution – in other words, the most resilient. They take all the hits to protect other characters who could not endure them. Which brings us to…

5 – Diversity is essential.

While the tank takes most of the damage, the mage, for her part, deals most of the damage. The healer cast protection spells on the party and keeps everybody alive. The thief is especially useful outside of encounters as a stealthy vanguard, lock picker or trap detector.

All those characters don’t necessarily get along, but they understand the value of having different skills and point of views in the party.

IMAG0039a Centaur made using hopeso 009’s technique.

It’s good to have contacts with people whose personality or culture is different from yours. Sometimes, problems that seem impossible for you to solve seem simple in their eyes.

Diversity is precious and we must embrace it.

 

A persona of myself

selfie01aA year ago, I had this crazy idea of creating an online persona. I was going through one of these phases where I hate myself and wish I was somebody else, when I realised that with the internet I could be someone else. Nobody would know it wasn’t true.

I’d create a character for myself, the person I’d love to be. She’d be beautiful, stylish, elegant, classy, smart, sensitive… I could dye my hair, photoshop my face, use a pen name. There were no limits to whom I could pretend to be. I mean, obviously I couldn’t pretend to be famous or anything, but… I wouldn’t want that anyway.

Hannah Jane McMurray 03
Ida would look more or less like Hannah Jane McMurray

The name I chose for her was Ida. It’s made up the 3 central letters of my full name. If I was to make it big or get found out as a “fraud”, I could say cool stuff like “Ida is my core self”.

She would be a writer. Not a famous one, just… a surviving one. Ghostwriter, maybe? That would explain why her name couldn’t be found anywhere. She’d be driven, she’d know how to get things done, unlike me. She wouldn’t bother with countless hobbies like I do, either. She’d be writing, reading… maybe just… playing piano in her free time (I do play a little).

She’d be 30 something and have written several books. She wouldn’t let myself get sidetracked. She’d be quite assertive, too. And a business woman, out of necessity.

Her beauty routine would be psychotically perfect: she’d exercise 6 days a week, eat healthily, keep a steady weight all year long. She’d take excellent care of her skin, paint her nails, go the beauty parlour every week. Her house would be clean, her garden well-groomed.

Belle 03
Art by Arisbeth Cruz Hernandez

Oh, but she’d have to have a few faults, or else she’d look superhuman. So… I guess… uh… well, she’d be a perfectionist like me. And then… wait, I gave her too many qualities, she looks like a freaking Disney princess. She wouldn’t be assertive; she’d be a shyish introvert like myself. And she wouldn’t be so pretty. It’d be a bother to heavily photoshop all of my pictures anyway. There is no need for a writer to be model-pretty.

That’s when I realised the beauty to die for was the only unachievable characteristic – that is without surgery and time-consuming daily routines. Nothing was keeping me from becoming that person. I could take better care of myself. I could give up those hobbies that didn’t make me feel like I was doing anything of value.

Ida became me. I was fine with it; I was good enough. I already was who I wanted to be, all that was missing was a clear path to follow.

DIGITAL CAMERAThen, gradually, I became more like the original Ida. I became more driven; I wrote two first drafts; I gave up all of the hobbies I could; I even go to the beauty parlour every few weeks now. I still gain weight in the winter to lose in the spring; my house is still messy most of the time; my lawn is half grass, half dandelions. It’s fine. People gotta have faults, hey?

Becoming a surviving writer might never possible. It doesn’t matter, being a struggling writer is good enough.

Who would have thought I’d have to create a fake identity to find my true identity?

Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magical person that your are.
– Mandy Hale

Declutter your text: beware of repetitions

Repetitions can take different shapes: multiple occurrences of the same word, synonyms, pleonasms, redundancies. When used wisely, repetitions can be an interesting stylistic device. When used unwisely, they can severely harm the elegance of your text.

The easiest repetitions to spot are the multiple occurrences of the same word (or the use of a word in the same family). Of course, some words have to be repeated: “repeat” or its substantive “repetition” have been repeated 7 times by this point. However, it is wise to reduce their number as much as possible.Camouflaged cat c

When trying to avoid reiterations of the same words, don’t succumb to the temptation of the thesaurus. Using a synonym won’t get you rid of the repetition of ideas, it will only camouflage it a little. Or if you use synonyms, know that you are creating a repetition.

To really get rid of the repetition of ideas, you can first see if you couldn’t just delete the phrase or the whole sentence without deleting any useful information. Otherwise, you have to reword the sentence or the two or three sentences in which the repetitions occur until you are convinced that you express your ideas in the best possible way.

A pleonasm happens when you put together two words, one of which was already included in the other’s definition. Some examples would be “false pretence” or “safe haven”. By definition, a pretence is false and a haven safe.

marie_cecile_thijs_4Close to pleonasms are redundancies. How many times a year do you see or hear the phrase “plan in advance”? My own experience is limited, but I’ve never seen anyone plan anything after it was done. Or even plan it as it was being done. The act of planning is done in advance. If you really must stress that the planning process takes time and it should be started X time before the D day, then be specific!

In the same vein, you have the tautology: the act of repeating the same idea back-to-back. “I saw it with my own eyes”, “In my opinion, I think…”, etc.

You can find lists of redundancies, tautologies and pleonasms through search engines or… start analysing each and every word, wondering whether they’re absolutely necessary. Yup, studying writing will make you paranoiac. You’ll learn to live with it.

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Tired of cat photographs yet?

Redundancies can also be a repetition of ideas whether in the same sentence or paragraph or through the entire text. I’ve had started a book quite recently, but the writer’s insistence on the love interest’s beauty and sexiness got old quick. It was like a broken record. The reader is not so stupid that you have to remind them all the time of the aforementioned ideas. Besides, it’ll make you look like you have nothing new and fresh to say.

If you really *must* repeat an idea, do it with intent: introduce it early and “prove” it in your conclusion; change the outcome and make it a progression as in the Three Little Pigs; make everything the same so that one thing stands out.

When finding a repetition while editing my texts, I ask myself 3 questions: 1) Is it there for artistic purposes? 2) Does it serve the text? 3) If the repetition is clumsy, is there any way I could reword the sentence to avoid it?

I think this will be the last post in the series for a while. If the subject interests you, however, I warmly recommend you to read On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

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Other posts in this series: Narrow your scopeUse modifiers in moderation.

Spring is the time of plans and projects

IMG_0842(The title is a quote from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoi.)
It’s finally starting to look like spring in Québec! Snow is melting fast, temperatures are forecasted to be around 6-10 °C all week, everybody and everything seem to be reviving… including me. Especially me.

The slump in which I had been stuck the first 3 months of 2017 has come to an end. The whole car accident thing is in the past: we got a brand new car, brand new car seat for our daughter which she loves, my husband is undergoing treatment for his neck… all that almost for free thanks to our insurance company.

What’s more, my former employer called to offer me a job as a freelancer. I accepted and they proceeded to send me full-time work for two weeks. That alone will be enough to keep my mind off money issues for a while, but I’m thinking I’ll get even more work in the coming weeks.

blue flower3In March, I’ve also received more visitors on my blog than ever before, and that pumped me to start researching blogging. It was one of my resolutions for the year, and it’s about time I got started! I’ve bookmarked a beginner’s guide to SEO, and I’ll fight hard to make time to read it. It’ll be a first step.

I’m also thinking of moving my “personal ramblings” such as this post to a Facebook page to keep the blog more focused on writing and literature.

To tell you the truth, my energy level and mood are so high that I have about a hundred projects right now, and I know I won’t have the time to do half of them. It’s alright, they’re all aimed at the same goal anyway: to make me a kickass writer.

I’ll be busy this month.

But I’m happy.
magnolia flower

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King.
– Emily Dickinson

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a MockingbirdContext

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has been on my to-read list for a long time. When you hear a title frequently enough, you become curious. There was a child on the cover, it seemed light-hearted… hahaha. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.

I had no idea what the story was about – at all. Had I had the slightest idea, I would’ve kept it for later and would probably have never come around to read it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it: this book is a masterpiece and deserves its Pulitzer Price. But it took all my courage to finish it, and now I’ve had enough emotions for a while.

Review

The plot kept me on my toes for a very long time: until about the middle of the book, when I realised what the story was about. Then, for another 150 pages, I became frustrated and wished I had never started that book. I could see where it was leading and didn’t like it. Worse: I was crying so much, I found it hard to continue reading. But the final 70 pages pacified me and made me feel… at peace. Once you started it, you have to push through until the end and not stop when it gets frustrating because the ending is so worth the effort. (Wow, that could be said of a lot of things in life.)

The themes are the strongest point of the book, as is often the case with non-genre fiction. They are deep and they are many, including courage, compassion, racism, karma and gender roles. It’s impossible to finish that book without having thought long and hard about at least one of its themes… or without having had the urge to throw it out the window.

To Kill a Mockingbird movieThe characters felt so alive, it’s like I was a Maycomb citizen and had known them my whole life. I identified a lot with Scout… It might be only the second time I identify so much with a character (the first being Villette’s Lucy Snowe). When I read my own thoughts written by an author with whom I haven’t much in common, I can only admire them. Someday, I want to do that to someone else.

The secondary characters weren’t any less three-dimensional, though: Jem, Atticus (my new favourite name), Miss Maudie… It’s like I was allowed to see their souls.

The language was plain and easy to understand except for some local words, but nothing out of the ordinary considering English isn’t my first language. I loved to “hear” people’s accents.

There might have been a few too many historical references to my taste, but that might just be me not liking to be showered with dates and historical events.

Rating: 10/10

Who would I recommend this to? Lovers of deep non-genre literature, who love feeling intense emotions; even better if they also love American history (I’m sure there were lots of references in there I didn’t get because I’m not a US citizen). However, I think it’s cruel to force anybody under 18 to read it; there are more accessible English classics out there.