Monthly Archives: June 2016

Book thirteen: Watchmen #Moore #Gibbons

As discussed in an earlier blog Watchmen is the first graphic novel I’ve read.  Whilst I quickly got use to the format, finding it much easier and engaging than I had initially expected, I did struggle with getting my head around the story.  Unlike most novels there was no summary of the story available on the back cover and whilst my husband tried to give me a brief introduction I felt quite in the dark for the first few chapters.

So, having read it, what is it about?

Originally written as a series of comic books in 1986 and 1987 Watchmen is set in 1980s America, mostly true to the real world in setting but this one has superheroes who fight crime.  Although referred to as superheroes all bar one of them, Doctor Manhattan, are in fact just highly skilled, trained and equipped civilians, think Batman rather than Superman.  These costumed crime fighters together known as the Watchmen have in the preceding years to the start of the novel affected and altered the outcomes of key events in America’s history including the Vietnam War and presidency of Richard Nixon.  However, over time they have grown unpopular with the police and public leading to the Keene Act which in 1977 outlawed them.

The novel opens with the murder of Edward Blake, known as the Comedian who along with Doctor Manhattan had been operating as government-sanctioned agent since the introduction of the Keene Act.  Rorschach, who has been operating outside of the law believes there is a plot to terminate retired costumed adventurers and takes it upon himself to warn everyone.

Can he get to everyone in time? Who would want the heroes dead? And with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan threatening to start World War III is there a place once more for masked avengers?

I found this to be quite a complex story, there is a lot of movement between the past and present as we learn about the different members of the Watchmen and it wasn’t always clear where in the timeline we were.  In the different chapters we jump back in time to find out more about how the characters developed their costumed alter egos, how they all met, what their relationship and friendships with each other were like.  At the end of chapters we are given access to additional material, extracts from autobiographies, newspaper clippings, letters etc. I believe these are there to give depth to the characters to flesh them out but I don’t think they quite succeed.  I felt that character development was lacking and I struggled to feel empathy or a connection with any of the characters.

Alongside the main story we have a young boy sat by a news cart reading a comic about pirates.  At no point within the story did I understand the relevance of this sub-plot.  I just found it frustrating and would often put down the book during those sections quickly losing interest.  Since finishing the book I have read explanations about the story within a story, how the author included it to bring a subtext and allegory about the darkness within man but even on reflection I fail to see any greater meaning or impact within the main story.

The title of the series apparently refers to the famous question by Juvenal “Who watches the watchmen?” and the theme of power and the role of “superheroes” within society is very strong in the book.  Power struggles between the heroes, US and Russia, between husband and wife, lovers, friends all of these are given a spotlight with the ultimate question being does power corrupt us or is manipulation and strength the only way to win in this world?

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Book twelve: S is for Stranger #Stone

Louise Stone’s first venture into psychological thrillers is a real page turner, don’t start reading this book unless you’ve the time to finish it! Already compared to The Girl on the Train this book is in a different league.  Even at the end we’re left with a massive question mark and I love that!

When Sophie’s daughter Amy goes missing whilst they’re at the fair a doorway to a dark and murky past opens. What do events from 20 years earlier have to do with the kidnapping? Is her ex-husband telling the truth? Did Sophie’s best friend commit suicide or was she murder? And most importantly can Sophie solve the mystery in time to save her daughter Amy?

In Sophie Fraiser Stone has created a fantastically complex character.  A recovering alcoholic, desperate to do right by her daughter but plagued with issues from her past, the death of her parents when she was a teenager and the apparent suicide or murder of her best friend at University.  Stone is very clever in her narrative, we very quickly warm to Sophie, she has a vulnerability about her, and you want to believe in her.  At the same time we are painted a picture of a cold calculating ex-husband someone not be trusted.  Is Paul involved somehow in Amy’s kidnapping? Is it all a ploy to make Sophie look bad at the custody hearing? Would someone really stoop that low?

What is easy to forget is that S is for Stranger is purely Sophie’s account.  At no point do we see the situation from another perspective.  We see the Paul she wants us to see, we read the other characters DI Ward, Oliver, Darren Fletcher as Sophie wants us to see them.  Whilst she appears as a frantic character spiralling under the strain of the situation, our main character is very much in control of this narrative.

It is very difficult to discuss some of the finer and more compelling aspects of S is for Stranger without giving away key plot lines and twists.  What I will say is that Stone writes a fantastic fast paced and complex thriller.  There are a number of cliff hangers and plot twists but each one brings more depth to the story and characters rather than just being there to confuse the reader.  Stone’s choice of ending is brave and leaves the reader with a massive question mark, there is a definite implied conclusion but we are left to reason it our self.

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a thrilling read.

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Venturing into the world of the graphic novel

As a child I never really read comics.  The closest I came was reading two bumper books of Asterix the Gaul stories which I think were probably originally bought for my brother.   I must admit I loved those stories and continued to re-read them well into my teenage years.

I am now at the age of 34, thanks to my husband, expanding my reading to include graphic novels.  No longer associated with socially awkward teenagers graphic novels have emerged and are quickly becoming a part of mainstream literature.  In starting to write this blog I did a little bit of research about what constitutes a graphic novel, according to my findings “to be considered a graphic novel, rather than a picture book or illustrated novel, the story is told using a combination of words and pictures in a sequence across the page.  They can be any genre, tell any kind of story, it’s the format that makes the story a graphic novel – text, images, word balloons, sound effects and panels. “

Having only read a couple of chapters of The Watchmen, I can immediately see why this style of book can be appealing to readers, and in particular boys.  Whilst they are rich with complex plots and narrative structures they are easily accessible, often vibrant with colour and offering a visual experience similar to that of computer games and animated TV.  They’ve also made the jump across to film adaptions easily, the most mainstream one probably being the 2005 film Sin City.  A stranger to the genre I was incredibly taken with this film.  The cinematography was striking, the use of colour to highlight certain objects against the main black and white was something I hadn’t seen before.  I felt like I was watching a comic played out.

But back to the paper copies.   For those not familiar with the style it definitely takes time to become comfortable with it. Naturally the character development is a little slower, the conversations shorter and normally there are few sections of long prose setting a scene.  I say normally because The Watchmen comic strip sections are broken up with extracts from an autobiography written by one of the characters.  This has really helped me to get my head around the background and the context of the main storyline and being a format I am more familiar with it has helped bridge a gap.

I’m not far enough into the novel to say for certain if I would read another one but I am enjoying trying something new and expanding my literary boundaries.

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