2014 - October

‘The Importance of Having Friends’

Image: Photo © Rebecca Frey

Author: Rebecca Frey

The Importance of Having Friends’

In search of a suitable topic for my contribution to this first online issue of Muse, I was thinking that I should probably best write about a subject that interests me personally and keeps me busy right now besides work and university. The topics I discuss with my friends a lot. Like theatre, our love- and sex-life, strategies how to battle street harassment, or maybe it all comes down to one not so simple question: How to be a happy and confident young women approaching her thirties and at the end of her studies, on the brink of real life…

(But then again, what does ‘real’ life mean exactly? Why should I think about my current life as less ‘real’ than what I can expect it to be in the future, when I finish my studies, work full time and fully provide for myself? I have always focused very much on the present moment in my life. Even if at times a little more planning or at least thinking ahead could have saved me from making choices I would later regret. But from those few mistakes I always learned and I also learned to accept them as part of my history.)

Well, I am drifting am drifting away here, while I am actually figuring out what I really want to write about: Friends. ‘The Importance of Having Friends.’ (Why did Wilde not write a play about that topic? But only about twisted relationships full of deception, façade and intrigue?) Anyway, this article is intended to be a eulogy on behalf of my friends.

In the course of this last year I have once again fully realised to what extend friends make your life so much better. Not that I am against loneliness. I am actually convinced that spending time alone is also essential (at least for me). Loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing. Ask Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Co. Although I am not an expert on romantic poetry, I always felt that the ideas of loneliness and experiencing the sublime are closely linked. But on a more pragmatic level I believe that loneliness is less of a monster when loving, caring, funny, inspiring, faithful, honest and at times annoying, overwhelming, unreliable friends – just good people – surround you. Then it often happens that you need to be alone from time to time, to relax, procrastinate, do nothing, sleep, sing, play computer games, play the guitar, go swimming, anything. Then you actually perceive loneliness as a freedom and a blessing.

When I ended my last long-term relationship about a year ago I was devastated because I realised I was not only losing my loved one but also one of my best friends. Nobody knew me better, in a more intimate way, I thought. But when I had to break away from that person I realised to what extent my friends were there for me. They listened to me reasoning with myself, supported my choice and helped me be strong. Friends can be better (and are much cheaper) than any psychologist! When you are close enough to someone to be able to tell them exactly what your fears are, the mistakes you make and how unfair you sometimes feel the world is to you. I believe that good friends take you very seriously while at the same time they manage to relativize your problems. They care and don’t at the same time. They listen to your stories and they make you discover other sides to them.

Sharing about personal experiences is another thing friends are great for. You can compare, realize that your feelings are often similar, that your reactions are ‘normal’, that others have the same problems but that they might have other strategies for solving them. Being that open and intimate with good friends does make us vulnerable on one hand, but it also helps us to accept our vulnerability and be stronger after.

But what makes us able to build such intimate relationships with others and why do we need them? (Sometimes I wish I had studied sociology…) Well, there are many things I do with my friends and which I love them for. Eating is one important thing: shared lunches, brunches, dinners and the occasional lemon tart. Spontaneously inviting them to your place, cooking for them, which forces you to finally clean up your messy kitchen (“Ah well, while I’m at it, I might also quickly vacuum my living room”). Obviously drinking together is also an important friend-factor. Although I must say that I also enjoy a glass of wine on my own from time to time along with a cheese sandwich in front of some TV series’ latest episode. But it is great as well to drink a lot of beer with friends and then decide together to be abstinent for a month, and pay very close attention to whether the others are cheating or not. But not only alcohol, coffee also: I love spontaneous sleepovers, or friends squatting my living room and sofa for several days. At night we watch a movie and in the morning I make them coffee, a nice creamy cappuccino.

Spending time with my friends enriches my life immensely. I feel more alive; it boosts my energy and my enthusiasm. Discussions fuel my intellectual hunger, my thirst for knowledge and sometimes even motivate me to actually start writing that paper I have only been complaining about so far. On the other hand, when I am not at all in the mood for intellectual talk, when in fact my head is spinning and I need to get out and back in touch with my body, friends motivate me to do some exercise: “How about we pick up modern contemporary (or is it contemporary modern?) dancing?” or “Let’s run the Lausanne Marathon on that Sunday when we come back from our trip.” – “Are you crazy?” – “Well, I’m hoping that way I’ll be able to sleep at night despite our jet-lag.”

There are many more things friends are great for, like planning weekend trips, travelling, planning to go see an exhibition and never actually do it, talking about your flirt adventures, about your sexual adventures, about broken hearts and butterflies, about bees and flowers, about how reality laughs when you suddenly stop having your period, about family planning, about hypothetical unconventional plan B family planning, about the names of your future kids, being childish together, being angry together, being badass self-sufficient persons together (yes, together it is easier!), being completely lost together. But even when you’re lost, friends help you to organize your day: “Are you at the library tomorrow?” – “I was planning to. Let’s have lunch together.” – “Great, that will force me to get up early.” They help you find apartments, move, find jobs, translate stuff, they correct your papers, they lend you money, they plan your Friday nights, they are your matchmakers, your surrogate sisters, your surrogate brothers, your role models, your troublemakers, your mirror, and your shelter.

Thank you guys, for helping shape who I am and for making me feel alive!

2014 - October

The Perfect Word

Image: Writing to Father by Eastman Johnson. Source

Author: Corinne Morey

The Perfect Word


Have you ever witnessed the power and yet incompetence of words? They sometimes move nations and change hearts and yet are such small things; not even real if you think in linguistic terms. Words are human creations, barely sounds, that can simply fade into silence without reaching their goal. They are but mere movements of the air that sometimes bear meaning; but that is all. They are simply ideas put into a physical transmittable form. And yet these sound waves have the capacity to wring in your mind again and again and stick to your every thought, moving your soul.

Have you ever heard a string of words so beautiful that it stayed in your mind, echoing a meaning deeper than what your conscience can quite grasp? Like in a song or a poem, or even in a novel or someone’s speech. An experience described so perfectly and yet for some reason you had never thought of it; as if the author had reminded you of what really is; as if the writer had helped you – like you would a blind person – to see the world, or as if you had untied a knot in your brain you did not know was there – a description so bright, that you literally feel like someone shed a light on your thoughts. How come a person other than yourself can better express what you think and feel? How come you are only able to make the link once you’ve been pointed to it? Why is it that words are so hard to find? How can someone else’s words echo in you?

Have you ever searched, dug and maddened in the pursuit of the words and phrase that would finally make your mind clear; the words that would unveil your thoughts and let your soul flood your page, transporting you, soaring. Have you ever suddenly realized your whole body was stiff of the frustration of this everlasting chase? Or worse, experienced something that greatly moved you, yet once you attempted to put words to describe it, the feeling seemed smudged or simply disappeared? Loosing your pass to paradise.

Words are paradoxical things. All these words that we use everyday, on purpose or unwillingly, cautiously or very lightly,… how can these elements translate so much of one’s reality and yet fall so short of it? How can one use words to write about words? Our experiences are so much vaster than our words could possibly describe. For we are all limited by our language’s grasp of reality. So why do we still persist in this pursuit of the words that will translate our minds? For once you take the time to truly verbalise what you mean, you often find yourself resourceless when it comes to catching the perfect word.

2014 - October

Choral Fantasy

 Image: Medieval Town by Water by Karl Freidrich Schinkel. Source

Author: Benoît Rossel

Choral Fantasy

It was rising, the bleaching globe,
Under the steely deep blue sky.
The leafy path was bright and trod
Our feet across the winding aisle.

Early and Oh ! Aimless morning,
Leading two minds out of their homes.
And while hours were colouring,
we went below the hazy dome.

And as the pines lost their shadows
We felt the warmth, we heard the cords,
And as we went on, Ad agio,
Reeds played the wind without discord.

Then I saw them, piercing the air,
And knew the aim of my journey :
In this chancel I may wander,
And gaze at its roof, curved and fair.


With hopes, to the plain, down I went,
Eager, my longing had begun.
Meseemed the bells rang in my head,
As the belfreys did globe the sun.

To the asylum, I arose,
And the chalky columns did glow,
Thousands of pale moulded roses
Under the curved arches I saw.

And the stained glass, solemn and high
Coloured my mind and flamed my eyes.
As crumbled hopes were far behind,
I stood under light, mesmerized.

Then, I heard it! Many voices
Undisclosed from the chancel sung,
All in one solemn mass rejoiced.
From the altar it came,
From the altar it broke.


And harmony shattered into hundreds of shades, blinding !
Angels, angels ! Curved and marbled angels,
Came trumpetting down the grounds, and the cathedral tuned to life.
And I saw the trancept melt, and I saw the mother, singing,
Nearing ! Out of her frame she went, to gather the symphony.
I heard them, the horses and their marching knights,
From the rose they marched and spinned, spinned, spinned around.
But in my mind, as gravity, harmony died.
And all the choirs in my head spread far !
Glass crashed, and spread to unleash thin white arrows,
They pierced the vaults! They pierced the walls and thrones,
And turned this heavy shrine,
Turned it! Into a thousand-faces dream.
Visions, delusions, I fell into heaven, and lost it all,
I drank the chimeras, Oh ! Distant fears !
Ache and grief dissolved, in this elusive fantasy.


And all did spread, and all did collide,
In my own private ceremonial.
I left the altar with elusive pride
As stars sprinkled the Amarynth sky.

2014 - October

The Train

Image: Metropolitan Transportation Authority © Patrick Cashin. SourceCC License

Author: Sandrine Spycher

I’d been waiting for my train for ten minutes. Josh was walking up and down the platform. I was cold as well, but too tired to move so I just sat on the metal bench. Finally the train arrived and we climbed on. Although it was crowded like mad, we managed to find a seat near the window. I squeezed my overfilled bag under the seat and leaned against the cold window. A fat man sat next to me; I could hardly move without hitting him with my elbow. Noisy kids were chattering a few seats away, and an incredibly skinny person—so skinny I could hardly tell if it was a man or woman—was listening to loud punk music in front of me. Josh looked annoyed. I think he mumbled to him/her to turn the volume down, but wasn’t understood. It was in that uncomfortable environment that I finally fell asleep—I guess I was so tired I could have slept anywhere.

I was suddenly awaken by a loud noise and the train coming to an emergency stop. Everyone looked astonished. Almost every passenger moved toward the windows to try and see what was happening. As we were peering outside, the door crashed open.

“Nobody move!” a male voice shouted.

I was now fully awake. Three figures were standing in between the seats. They were holding huge guns in their hands, threatening the passengers with them. One of the kids started weeping. The one who seemed to be the leader of the gangsters yelled at the poor child, with the only effect of increasing his crying. The gangster then turned to the skinny punk listener and violently pulled the earphones away from him/her. That’s when I made my move. I jumped from my seat, clung to the gangster’s back and hit him on the head. He was so surprised that it was easy for skinny-one to snatch the gun from him. The other two gangsters were quickly overtaken by Josh and the fat man, while the kids’ mother phoned the police. A few minutes later, the gangsters were cuffed and taken away in flashy cars with loud sirens.

I had dozed off again, but at the next stop was woken up by a movement from the fat man. He got up heavily and made a clumsy way toward the door. The seat he’d just left was almost instantly occupied by someone else. He was even stranger than skinny-one. He was very tall, and the only way he could sit without disturbing anyone was by folding his legs under the seat. At that moment I noticed that his legs, just like the rest of his body, looked like rubber. The man was so flexible, it looked as though he didn’t have bones at all. When he saw I was observing him, he turned his round boneless head toward me. I couldn’t help but start up. His face was concealed under a hood, but I could see two blood red piercing eyes, which seemed to be flashing lights.

“I’m not from this world,” he said. “Don’t tell.” His voice was a somewhat strange mixture of hoarse and childish tones. It gave me the shivers and made the hairs stand on my nape. As I looked around, I saw Josh was sleeping, skinny-one was lost in the music, and the mother was telling one of the kids to stop shouting. It seemed I was the only one to notice how weird that man—or alien?—was.

Another sudden stop made me look outside. When I turned back, the alien was gone. I stood up, but didn’t see him. I started walking between the seats.

“Hey Sam, where are you going?” Josh asked in a sleepy voice.

“To see if… erm… if I can find out what’s going on.”

Yet, I didn’t go far. A ticket inspector told me to go back to my seat and wait. Wait for what, I wondered. So I sat down again in front of Josh.

“Look,” he said, “the railway tracks are completely flooded.”

I looked outside to discover he was right. But how could it be? The sun had been shining for a while, and it was way too cold for rain. I was really starting to think there was something uncanny going on with this train. First the gangsters appearing out of nowhere, then a boneless alien with red eyes, and now a flood. Perhaps the three events were linked. They had to be. I was so caught up in my thinking about conspiracy that I didn’t even notice the water level was going up. Passengers were hitting the windows and begging to be let out. It wasn’t long before I started panicking too. The water was freezing, and although I tried to keep my chin above the surface, I felt like drowning. I fought for a few more minutes before fainting.

“Sam? Sam, wake up, we’re here,” Josh said.

I opened my eyes and looked around. The passengers were getting up and gathering their things. A tall man wearing a hoodie handed me my bag. Skinny-one looked at me in a disgusted way. My shoes were soaked.

“What happened?” I asked Josh.

“Oh, that. I’m sorry. There was a sudden move and tipped off my water bottle.”

When I got up, I noted that hoodie-man was wearing strange glasses which were flashing red lights. I was trying to make sense of what didn’t make sense when Josh pulled on my sleeve.

“Come on! What are you waiting for?”

“What happened?” I repeated. “How did we get out of the water?”


“The water. It was flooding the train,” I tried to explain.

“There was no flood, or anything,” Josh said, surprised.

“How about the gangsters?”

“Which gangsters? Oh you mean the teens with their rap music? They got off a while ago. I didn’t think you’d noticed. You slept through the whole trip.”

2014 - October

‘Hollow Birds’ & Other Poems

Image: John Tenniel’s illustration for Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Source

Author: Charlotte Courdesse

Hollow Birds

The void of the mind, trampled and crippled,
Is written with a typography of desire,
Unconsciously torn between urge and stagnation,
Saturation of shattered leaves and thinned-off glass.
Nothing moves, but drifts slowly towards a stillpoint,
That awaits the flood of lapsarian minutes.
Meanwhile, lasses perform Saint Agnes’ rites,
Lovers stand near the withdrawing sea of Dover beach,
And a Nicean bark flings itself away
In the ever-tossing waves of poetry,
Images of yore, fantasies of old,
Whose existence is doubtful, less coherent,
Expressions of the self, set up to coy and object
The imaginary real, and the nature of dreams,
Originate from, and head to,
the deep alloy of philosophical thoughts,
the proto-hotchpotch of humanity,
the syntagms, phonemes, lexemes of truth,
that evince inspired crackpot, literature,
borne by putative beams of historic tradition.
There they lie, surfaces of black pauses,
Awaiting to be picked down by the bleak hands
Of ravenous rovers.


Over the heel of multiple amber voices,
Feather-wise, trimmed with brilliant eyes,
Under the ponderous feet of gilded thoughts,
Leathered and trite in their burnished vagaries,
They plummet and dive, they rust and rot,
Salt of the hard core, the European gods.

Over the years of multiples ardent hooks,
Silver embroidered, weapons armed, and yet
Under the potent helmet of rigorous princes,
Sharpened but weak in their pitying squalor,
They flaw and dodge, they deny and dye
The tenure of their arms, the worldwide army.

Tis no run-in in the drawback of their battles,
They know what they are, defined, not altered,
Albeit the gallivanting pleas of the whirlwind,
They die and march, resurrection for a ticker-tape,
Strolling in mid-air, they defile the wrongdoings,
Awaiting no graces: capstone of the vanquished hassles.

In a Spencerian rhythm, they mount epic ravens of yore,
And speak in monolithic A the plosives and the loves
Of numerous languages,

In a burst prose of purple tinges, they slide along the heroic shores,
And address the question of Clarisse’s and Acteon’s soars,
For the sake of euphonious staves,

Over the clouds of multiple gone off verses,
They modernize and dovetail the fingers of our chronic past,
Under the studied cant of their immortal spirits,
They rehearse the eyewash limbs of our words,
A cut from above, a cerulean window splits open,
Watchers of old times, quenchers of nigh nights.


Temple of the Ancient

Fake statues, upright erected, winged and frail,
Made a half-stifled cry, marble vibration,
Casting to the pending sky a marvel of doggerel.

Fascination took us, with its quills brazen,
Scripturient and demonic: that was the initiation,
Flow spouts us astray, and the flood of hell.

Gyrastic columns, Delic acanthus leaves, solemn
Salutes: they murmur their names, critics of ancient cultivation,
And sound the ivory statements of Aphrodites of stone,

Frozen ecstasy, gullible to the brink of madness,
Ties up the esthetic shackles of tantalization:
They indulge in gripping the void, rosary of invention!


Cheshire Hostel

Chain of substitutions – was it only a fantasy,
Or something easily removed from the path of dreams?
Windows wide closed in the downtime of isms,
Doors tightly open for the throwback to begin,
Fleabags I know not, but to them I return, continuously,
My rucksack in rag and my ring disposed,
Looks of dismay on my face, and defiance ahead,
When I book a room, and a gallivant around,
Steps patch up the cracks, on the crushed ferns,
In the sounds of the drills, and forests away,
I am the frontrunner, the wanderer,
In whom every belief crumbles and soars,
I sell highlife and hobnobbing,
Sandbox of departure, sold-out from the beginning,
For a minute of frenzy, antics follow, disreputably
Vulgar, but meaningful, for the hearers of will,
For my cause is mighty, and good,
That transmogrifies the void, for good,
That glitters with nuclear sparkles and bombs,
That spurs the soldiers of fortune to try their death;
There I reign over thousands of kingdoms of dawn
Purple and gild, across the mind, plunged deep in sea,
Thick and fast they bid me to admonish torments,
Advices I give them, nonplussed they depart
To dingy motels and gasoline stations, to filthy closets
Of evenings much distanced,
They ask for a homespun redemption, in the squalor, in ditch,
They remember me not, the merchant of magic, the knight of nights
Half-lit but rich, verbose and profound.
They have forgotten already the Forthcoming for the Candyfloss,
The hunchback for the witch.

2014 - October

Margaret Hare’s Sick Tenants

Image: ‘Heart of Midlothian’ © Neal Fowler. SourceCC License

Author: Elizabeth Leemann

I looked out my bedroom window yesterday morning and saw the Haar roll in. It came down from the sky like a heavy blanket covering the city of Edinburgh. I did not think the day would be different from any other. I had met Burke and his wife several times now and we had become fast friends. They came to visit me that night in my lodging house. I had promised to introduce my husband, Bill.

Once the introductions were made we decided to play cards. When the game was well underway, I realised I had not brought a candle to a client who had requested one. I made my way to his room, knocked and entered. I shrieked loudly when I saw the tenant. He was lying very still in his bed. I stared at him for several minutes, but his chest did not rise and fall with the regular rhythm of breath.

‘What is it?’ my husband said as he ran into the room closely followed by Burke and Helen.

I pointed at the body.

‘My God!’ said Helen. ‘Call the police!’

‘We can’t. If people find out about this no one will come and stay here anymore!’ I said turning back to her.

Burke patted me on the shoulder to soothe my nerves.

‘I think I know what to do, ‘ he said and walked towards the body examining it. ‘Yes, I’m sure they’ll take him. All his limbs are intact.’

We wrapped the body in the bed sheets and the men carried him down the stairs. We had been playing cards for several hours at this point and since card games generally require heavy amounts of liquid to be consumed in the process, the men now struggled with the body. It slipped twice out of their hands as they brought it down. Each time it landed on the wooden floor with a loud thud.

‘Shh!’ I said. ‘you’ll wake the whole house.’

‘These stupid floorboards!’ Bill answered.

I’ll admit the stairs were difficult to manoeuvre, not only because they were old but were in a spiral. Still, I could not help but be angry with the men when, at the top of the first floor, they angled it wrong and dropped it again. The body toppled over itself like a log thrown during a Highland Game and fell all the way to the ground floor.

I heard another tenant groan and a bed creak. We all froze and looked up. Silence greeted us in response. Then, we heard a loud snore. I felt Helen unclench beside me and I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand. We ran down the stairs and picked up the body once more.

The men carried it out into the cold night air while Helen and I looked out for witnesses. I had not been pleased that morning when the Haar had rolled in but now I was thankful for its presence. We made our way out of Tanner’s Close without being questioned by any passers-by, probably because we were hard to see through the mist. The men lifted the body and carried him under the shoulders as if he were passed out after a good night at the pub.

I looked behind us to make sure no one was following. The large black brick buildings surrounding us in the dark seemed menacing in the night. I could vaguely make out the outline of the castle towering above us. The Half Moon Battery protruded from the side of the fortress like a wart growing on a witch’s nose.

I turned my head back to the men who were still holding the tenant up by the arms. Bill was still feeling the effects of his drink. He and Burke zigzagged through the streets, ignoring the fact that the tenant’s feet dragged on the cobblestoned road in a tangled mess.

I heard someone coming towards us and whispered at the men to hide.

‘There’s a doorway over here.’ said Helen.

‘Grab his feet,’ said Burke.

We quickly obeyed trotting towards the side of the street. We shoved the body up straight in a doorway hoping it looked like he was relieving himself.

A young man emerged out of the corner of the next street. I could tell he was a student from the many books he carried in his arms and the scruffy yet pompous look he had on his face. Burke noticed this too and ran out towards him. I tried to yell at him to come back before the student noticed him but it was too late.

‘Excuse me, can you tell me where to find Professor Monro’s office?’

The student gave him directions while the rest of us tried to keep the body up. Bill was not proving very helpful and complained that he needed to relieve himself. Helen held the man from one side while I crouched in front of him trying to push him up with my back. I felt my dark red hat go askew on my head.

The student turned around and looked straight at us. We looked back. I froze mid-shove. I was so stunned that I stood up. I felt the body slip past me and hit the road with a crack. I believe we had broken several of the body’s bones at this point. Helen gave a sharp intake of breath. A tense smile spread across my face as I looked from Burke to the student and back.

‘I don’t think you want Professor Monro,’ he said eying the cadaver now sprawled in heap on the ground. ‘Try Professor Robert Knox in Surgeon’s Square.’

‘Would you mind… ?’ Burke pointed to the body on the ground.

The student looked at Burke, puzzled. Then his eyebrows slowly arched up in comprehension.

‘What? No!’ he said, offended, and stalked off.

‘Worth a try,’ Burke shrugged, looking at me, but I only shook my head at him.

Finally we arrived in Surgeon’s Square and found the Professor’s assistant. He was eager to buy the body from us and gave us a very generous price. Although we were all sweaty, tired (and in the case of Bill, ‘in desperate need of another pint’) we were quite happy with the money.

We made our way back through the streets of Edinburgh and saw a young man dressed in black lighting the streetlights. We walked up the Royal Mile back towards Tanner’s Close. I watched a cat move along the side of a building brushing its tail on the bricks as it went. Burke brought me back down the earth when he turned towards me saying, ‘any other sick tenants?’

Bill and Helen laughed but I stopped walking and looked at him full on. He smiled at me while I worked through the possibilities in my mind.

2014 - October

‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling

Image: Photo © Lila Mabiala

Author: Lila Mabiala

Review The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy - by J.K. Rowling
Source © J.K. Rowling. All rights reserved

The Potter generation was faced with a true wake-up call in 2012 when J.K Rowling published The Casual Vacancy. Like many, I struggled with the fact that not only was Harry Potter over, but Rowling had truly moved on. Hopes of returning to the comforting common rooms of Hogwarts and celebrating wizarding history were dashed when The Casual Vacancy flooded bookshop windows. I felt betrayed and didn’t pick the book up until two years later, this summer. When I did, the blurb felt like another let-down: a novel set in a small English town against a political backdrop? Surely there could be nothing less magical and un-Rowling like?

And then I started reading. I turned the pages and…just like that she had me.

The story is set around Pagford, an otherwise nondescript small town somewhere in Britain. There’s a school, doctor’s practice, a deli and its new café, a law office and a hospital a small way away. Each of these involves a set of characters. It is a small-knit community where everyone somehow depends on each other. But Pagford is in fact almost a suburb of Yarvil-the bigger, badder town where children meet up at the shopping centre, a livelier and less village-like place. But in its ambitions to grow, Yarvil’s council estates have edged too close for comfort. Worse yet – an addiction clinic is housed in a Pagford building. Anyone who has lived in such a setting even in Switzerland will recognise the rivalries which develop between neighbouring towns. Questions of expenses, borders and school districts… tensions work up until something gives. In this case, it’s a vein in Barry Fairweather’s brain.

Rowling’s Skills at creating attaching – and detestable – characters is soon apparent. Though we only get second hand accounts of the character who is in fact the most important, everyone else feels irkesomely real. The Mollisons are the closest thing to a royal dynasty Pagford has to offer. Both generations are haughty and heavy; striking in their calculating coldness. All the while one can’t help but feel pity for Samantha and even Shirley, the women behind their imposing husbands. On the other end of the spectrum is Krystal Weedon and her broken home. Though insulting and not always easy to understand, she represents less well-off part of the community which struggles to be recognised as a valid member of it. She is particularly touched by the death of Barry Fairbrother and struggles to come to terms with it, making her someone the reader wants to protect and encourage.

The story covers all levels of the community, a massvie range of emotions and relationships. Each of the characters gets a turn in the spotlight, making this novel a beautiful portrait of British society. It also seems to encourage reflexions on our own place(s) in society: whether parent or child, student or teacher, employer or employee, carer or in need of care, we all have duties and an immeasurable impact on those around us. The Casual Vacancy, under cover of a petty political drama is in fact a fully-blown, heart-wrenching collection of lives.

Oh and one more thing… in true J.K Rowling style, the first 300 pages are all there for setting the scene to an unexpected, chaotically frightening ending. This will remind you of having the breath knocked out of you, the feeling of devastation and somehow the yearning for more at the end of any of the seven Harry Potter novels. Just as well the characters are set to take life in a miniseries being filmed as we speak.

2014 - October

Indie Author J. David Clarke

Image: Missing Time cover design by Kimi A. Philips. Source

Author: Sandrine Spycher

Indie Author J. David Clarke

J. David Clarke is a talented independent author from Texas, who writes various genres such as science fiction or young adult fantasy. However, writing was not his first dream. Indeed, Mr Clarke started life with the goal of performing in live theater. After becoming a Fine Arts graduate of Southwest Texas State University and having majored in acting, he wanted to perform and teach acting himself. Yet, as life is often unfair, it did not allow him to follow his dream. Not able to move to New York as he had wished, he instead had to work in different jobs to pay off debts. After taking care of his elderly grandfather, Mr Clarke finally turned to writing. First, he posted chapters of a story “concocted as an experiment,” like he says himself. Those chapters were eventually reunited in his debut novel Missing Time.

As most indie authors, J. David Clarke has no marketing machine behind him. He was published in the literary journal of Tarrant County Jr College. Later, discovering tools for self-publishing, he decided to publish his own work online. Not yet making much money from his books, he writes above all “for the love of creating stories which bring people together in their fascination for cool characters and bizarre tales.” His working team involves himself, his computer, and a giant list of ideas for upcoming tales. Mr Clarke is currently working on his fourth novel Time Lost, the conclusion of his science fiction trilogy of which Missing Time is volume one.

Missing Time is the story of eight teenagers involved in a school bus crash, and waking up with special powers, such as flying, reading minds, or resurrecting the dead. Each remembers a different thing, but none knows what actually happened during the bus crash. Being hunted down, they must put their memories together to find who wants them dead, and answer the question of what happened during the missing time.

J. David Clarke’s science fiction debut novel is filled with action, suspense, and plot twists from beginning to end. The unusual use of narrative structure allows the author to work on the characters’ distorted memories and visions through short scenes and vivid flashbacks. Although some chapters might seem elliptic or lacking in plot background, the dynamic writing makes Missing Time a fast and easy read.

The characters in Missing Time all have very diverse personalities, which are cleverly revealed through their dialogs and interactions. Moreover, Mr Clarke builds their relationship through memories, thus giving the reader different viewpoints on each protagonist.

This novel is fueled with lots of intertextuality, such as X-Men or Heroes, sometimes explicitly evoked by the characters. And although his style is a bit flat and repetitive, Mr Clarke has the reader wondering, along with the protagonists, what is going on; a question which is beautifully emphasized by the thrilling, and somewhat abrupt, ending of the novel.

Missing Time is an absolutely breath-taking page-turner which will make you cling to it and ask for more. I’d recommend this novel to all sci-fi aficionados, and possibly also to anyone interested in questions of memory and forgetting.

Apart from Missing Time, J. David Clarke has written three books. Volume two of his science fiction trilogy 313 is called Time Spent; and he anticipates the release of volume three, Time Lost, in late 2014. He also wrote a collection of short stories under the title of The Rubberban Man and Other Stories. He is working on an epic fantasy series, Keeper of Days, and hopes to have completed volume one this year. Last but not least, he published a young adult fantasy adventure called The Wizard in my Window, to which a sequel is planned.

The Wizard in my Window is a great story which gets you clinging to it, turning the pages to find out what is going on. The story is that of young Timothy Collier and his family who move into a big old house. Timothy finds a mark on his bedroom window with the shape of a wizard. First his family thinks it’s just a scratch on the window, but soon magical items start appearing out of nowhere. Timothy and his sister Nichole have fun playing with the objects, until they find out that the magic belongs to an ancient wizard and that it’s not devoid of danger. Soon the whole family has to face the wizard’s powers and his old enemies.

In this novel, half stated things create great suspense; the reader is not told the truth and has to wait until the end of the book to finally discover it. The mystery begins right away as the writer cleverly puts his story through the viewpoint of the window in the first chapter. Plot twists are also very good. The characters are well created and realistic. Their interaction as a family—kids fighting, for instance, or hiding things from their parents—is very convincing. Moreover, there are a lot of funny moments in their dialogs. Several references to other works of fantasy can be noticed throughout the book. One would think of Jumanji or Prince of Persia, for example.

The only reproach that could be addressed to Mr Clarke about this novel lies in the incoherence between Greek and Latin references. Indeed, the Wizard says he was born in Greece, why then are the book, names, and spells in Latin? There are also a number of typos, but not enough to put you off. To summarize, this short novel is a good read which I’d recommend to any fan of magic, humor, and suspense.

J. David Clarke’s writing is a must-read among contemporary fiction. And although he says that there is “nothing very extraordinary about [him] at all,” I believe he has an extraordinary talent for making up original, thrilling stories, which deserve the greatest attention.

2014 - October

John C. Espy’s Eat the Evidence: A Journey Through the Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind

Image: John C. Espy’s Eat the Evidence: A Journey Through the Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind Book Cover. Source. All rights reserved.

Author: Elvis Coimbra Gomes

Raw. Revolting. Unrestrained. These are the three words that pop into my mind after reading John C. Espy’s Eat the Evidence: A Journey Through the Boroughs of a Pedophilic Cannibal’s Mind, the first book in a series by Karnac Press. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews, Espy delivers the biography of the child predator Nathaniel Bar Jonah in a journalistic style. Although the protagonist was born David Paul Brown in 1957, Espy always refers to him as Bar Jonah (a self given name with a religious background) in order to shape his monstrous character. The reader follows the protagonist from his birth up to the murder of 10-year-old Zachary Ramsay in 1996 in Great Falls, Montana. We discover a constantly lying character, who gets the confidence of many parents in order to get access to their children. The more we read, the more we get frustrated by the naivety and ignorance of Bar Jonah’s surroundings. Wouldn’t a woman find it weird, if her lover didn’t want to share the same bedroom in order to preserve his virginity until marriage, but welcomed little boys to sleep in his bed with him? We get disgusted when Bar Jonah offers his special chili con carne (made out of human flesh) to his neighbors. We get revolted by his release when Christian psychologists evaluate him and understand that his deeds were “in the service of the Lord.” And we even get challenged to question if pedophilia is not only another sexual orientation that is fortunately seen as immoral when another pedophile, Doc Bauman, questions Bar Jonah’s murderous attitude.

Through very short, but detailed, descriptions of the character and his atrocious killings, Espy culminates in twisting the reader’s stomach. You feel suffocated by Bar Jonah’s hunger. The sharp and direct words sting your olfactory senses once you realize that the description of Bar Jonah’s horrid scent is invading your nose. This however won’t let you put the book aside. After a deep breath of fresh air you pick it up again because of the thrilling, fast-developing plot that turns you into an investigator of the Ramsey case.

It might be disappointing that the plot is told in a third-person narrative, however this might also be the strength of this book. Espy’s aim wasn’t to pity Bar Jonah’s condition, but to show how this psychopathic mind works. He wanted to “take the reader inside the inner world of a serial pedophile but also to allow the reader to experience someone as pathologically primitive from within.” Before plunging into the narrative, Espy takes time to educate the reader on the condition of a pedophile which instantly shapes the monstrous character of Bar Jonah: “It is imperative for the reader to understand that pedophiles live for only one purpose and that is to manifest their pedophilia. Everything that the pedophile does is to find a way to express this profoundly primitive psychological state of being. Inherent in the world of the pedophile is the aspect of lying, deception, and manipulation; they are the life’s blood of his inner and interpersonal world and are manifest through a primitive psychological mechanism called projective identification.”

Although the editor missed some spelling mistakes, this book might not be the best read for some people due to its harsh treatment of such disturbing topics. As a big fan of torture porn movies like Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005) and the Saw franchise (2003-2010), I had an uncomfortable, yet insightful, reading experience. The book really does “take the serial perpetrator into the psycho of the reader” as does the synopsis state. Espy really punches you in the guts with his raw vocabulary and sometimes cynic tone and leaves you craving for the second part A Parasite in the Mind (published in September 2014). A must read for all those who want to get instructed and who are interested in the dark boroughs of a troubled human mind.

2014 - October

A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven and the Essay I Never Wrote

Image: Photo © Lila Mabiala

Author: Lila Mabiala

A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven and the Essay I Never Wrote

All the time I was reading May We Be Forgiven, I kept having to jot things down, thinking they corresponded to the exact topic of an essay I had written a few semesters back. I thought either for a class on Post-modernism I took in Lausanne or a more recent one about the Post-1945 Novel in Fribourg. This novel was like an echo to everything I had learned and been interested in.

The book rings a tribute to all things Am-Lit. Aside from references which are spelled out in full, a lot of elements nagged me throughout, challenging me to identify and remember. I’ve only taken two American literature classes in my university career but obviously they covered some vital bases. Enough for me to want to tear this book apart and dissect it.

Harry Silver has a brief affair with Jane, his brother George’s wife. A cheeky peck, car crash and a couple unforgiven acts later, the Silver brothers’ lives are turned upside down and shattered into a million pieces. The book follows Harry during the full year following that fateful Thanksgiving evening. A book which starts and ends with Thanksgiving? That’s right, we’ve just been catapulted straight into Americana.

Welcome –

Fans of Nabokov’s Lolita

Harry has something distinctly Humbert Humbert-y about him. It’s not only about a shared initial. He’s a middle-aged university professor. Simple enough (fans of Delillo, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten Jack Gladney). Though Harry never detects it in himself, the reader can’t help but feel an awkward sense of déjà-vu when he goes on road trips with the children, and frequently shares his bed with them. He plays the role of surrogate father to the T. At one point he even compares his own excitement to the way “Humbert Humbert once liltingly tripped over the three syllables in Lo-lee-ta” (p 183).

Recap: lonely professor, attachments to children under his responsibility, road-trips through America (where the children are in charge) – check, check, check.

Fans of DeLillo’s White Noise

Homes’ tribute to Delillo couldn’t be clearer. Harry actually runs into Don DeLillo as a person more than once in the novel– when grocery shopping for example. And how could we forget the meaning Delillo invests in the setting himself in his blatant denunciation of consumerism. Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies, Harry Silver a Nixon over-enthusiast. Both men’s obsession with a single historical figure can undoubtedly be paralleled.

Recap: fear of death/need to feel alive, initially harmless betrayal leading to murder, intellectually ambitious eldest sons, abundance of children with Stories, …- that’s clearly a pass.

Fans of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters

“She has a weird problem where whenever she goes to someone’s house for a weekend she steals drugs from everyone’s medicine cabinets” (p321) sounds just like the Rhea sisters. This is only one example of self-medication in May We Be Forgiven. It is an issue which crops up in a number of American novels I have read, and one that would merit looking into. That’s what I was aiming for the topic of “One pill to save them all: counting on medication to solve all one’s problems”, using some of the novels I am mentioning here (White Noise, The Corrections, as well as Invisible Monsters obviously).

Recap: serious sibling issues, pill guzzling – you bet!

Fans of Franzen’s The Corrections

For an epic family portrait. But mainly because Enid and Alfred Lambert are all the (grand)parent figures in May We Be Forgiven. The complicated nature of family relations and the dangers of festive meals are also common to both novels.

Recap: old-age ailments and miraculous recoveries, not forgetting…wait for it…the lonely professor (in the shape of Chip Lambert) – it’s all there.

Fans of the Double

This is one of the most complex themes in literature and anyone interested in it is in for a treat with Harry and George Silver. Are they really separate? They can definitely be read as one and the same, as projections of each other. Are they ever seen in the same place at the same time? It’s a truly troubling dimension of the story; proceed with determination and a good eye for detail. Things like “I have no doubt that the only thing that stopped him was narcissism – to kill me was also to kill some part of himself” (p178) will titillate these fans. I myself somehow thought of the narrator as being called George at times; Harry’s name is very seldom mentioned

Recap: mistaken, borrowed, stolen identities – not only between George and Harry but also Amanda and Heather…there is enough to stay entertained long enough.

May We Be Forgiven is a magnificent pot-pourri of a strikingly difficult to label tradition of literature in America. Homes has acted like Frankenstein, skilfully putting it all together, with seamless narration, compelling penmanship and a confidently demented pace. The content is dramatic and worrying but the tale of redemption behind it all is heart-warming and full of hope. This is probably one of the best books I have read in a while, making me want to betray my passion for all things Romantic and dive into contemporary American literature instead. What about that essay, I hear you say? Well, as I was gathering my notes to write this review, I just couldn’t find it anywhere. How come I could remember researching it so vividly though? Well, I found out that in fact I had only started elaborating the topic as one of two exam questions…and I never got the chance to discuss it! Is it a bad sign when you wish you could sit an exam all over again, just to be able to go further with an idea? Or maybe it’s just the sign of a truly good, thought-provoking novel…

2014 - October

Welcome to the Who-niverse, it’s bigger on the inside

Image: Painted illustration © Jessica Pigott

Author: Jessica Pigott

Welcome to the Who-niverse, it’s bigger on the inside

Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi programme ever. It first aired in 1963 and, more recently, returned to our screens for a new lease of life from 2005 to the present day. The story told is that of the Doctor, an alien called a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He journeys through time and space in the TARDIS – his ship – that has the appearance of a blue police box from the 1960’s, oh and it’s bigger on the inside… Throughout the series the Doctor has travelled with many companions, who help him defeat the variety of monsters he meets whilst saving worlds, people and generally righting wrongs.
The Doctor has had thirteen different faces over time – one per actor. In order to incorporate this change of actor, the original story writers came up with a nifty trick for the Doctor; he can change his face by regenerating. It’s a Time Lord process in which they take on a new body and new personality instead of dying or being seriously injured, so you could say it’s a form of reincarnation, although all the faces of the Doctor are still the same person inside. Because of the vast amount of time travel that happens in the show, a couple of different Doctors have met each other, the most recent occurrence of that being the fiftieth anniversary episode, in which the 10th (David Tennant) and 11th (Matt Smith) Doctor both met the elusive War Doctor (John Hurt). Today’s Doctor is the twelfth, played by the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi.
Doctor Who is one of the most popular television shows in the UK, and is quickly growing in popularity in most of Europe and America ever since its “rebirth” in 2005. Since then there have also been a couple of spin-offs produced by the BBC, such as Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and K-9, all of which involve characters and companions from the initial series.
My favourite episode of series 8 so far – so the series happening right now – is “Mummy on the Orient Express”, which aired on the 11th October. It was written by Jamie Mathieson, who has written many episodes of the series Being Human, but had never written for Doctor Who before.
In this episode the Doctor and his current companion, Clara, have landed on the Orient Express train, only this is the future so it’s a space train! Everyone is dressed in 1920’s style costumes and they’re enjoying their journey… Until an old woman calls out for help from the decaying mummy that’s approaching her, or that’s what she claims at least – no one else can see this monster and so no one believes her, until she dies 66 seconds later. Of course the Doctor soon picks up on this and (from the old woman’s description and some help from fellow scientist passengers) names this creature as the Foretold, a mythical being that only shows itself to its victims, killing them 66 seconds later. He befriends the train’s engineer, just as Clara befriends the first victim’s granddaughter, and they try their best to save the passengers… Or do they?
As you now know, the Doctor is an alien, and what I love so much about this new Doctor (apart from his fab accent) is the fact that he is so, so alien. Since I started watching the show in 2005, the first three new actors had been made to portray their character as someone who loves the human race, however stupid they can be, and who tries their best to save the individuals. The guy however, is different. So far in this series he’s had an identity crisis after regenerating, told a schoolgirl she was unimportant, been called a “good Dalek” (that’s for me to know and you to find out!!), orchestrated a bank robbery, potentially ruined Clara’s love life, abandoned her at the worst of times, and lied to many people about being able to save them. He is far more about the bigger picture, trying to get the human race to try things for themselves instead of relying on him to save the Earth time after time. He’s rude, arrogant, and has already been slapped quite a few times, but underneath it’s so obvious that he misses when he had the appearance of a young and (some say) handsome man, Clara loved him and part of him still loves her. Now though, and speaking as a psychology student, the Doctor has changed from clinical to research, and it doesn’t matter that much if a few people die during the process. As Moriarty once said “That’s what people do”.
The Doctor then, despite all that, is fantastic. He’ll show you a different way of living other than “taking the bus, eating chips, watching tv then going to bed”. There are so many wonders out there to explore, monsters to defeat, civilisations to rescue. Be you with “Fantastic” 9, “Allons-y” 10, “Geronimo” 11 or the “Shut up” 12, grab your nearest screen and welcome to one of the best things television can offer you. New episodes are on BBC 1, Saturday night, 9:30 – Enjoy, it’ll be the trip of a lifetime.

2014 - October

SWEET’N’SOUR POPCORN — honest movie reviews, like you’ve never seen them before.

Image: Photo © Anna “bcmom.” Modified by Céline Stegmüller.  SourceCC License

Author: Céline Stegmüller

SWEET’N’SOUR POPCORN — honest movie reviews, like you’ve never seen them before.

Begin Again (John Carney, 2013): This one is for the music lovers, those who want to be the insider and see how the music business works, how people make songs, how singers live and so on. Do you like Maroon 5? Even better. The film stars Adam Levine, a young and talented singer—duh, paired to the sweet and pretty Keira Knightley; obviously featuring love troubles and family drama, this romantic comedy will wrap you tight with all its good music and make you want to leave university to become an independent singer-songwriter.

Happythankyoumoreplease (Josh Radnor, 2010): in case you’re still looking for a philosophy to your life, here it is. “The key to your life is gratitude. Say thank you, all the time… and after that, say more please. That with gratitude the universe is eternally abundant.” Love, hope, friendship, courage and passion mingle to one another in this sparkling and lovely comedy starring Zoe Kazan, Kate Mara and Josh Radnor (yes, the overly romantic and awkward Ted Mosby). A must see, one of those movies that leave you wondering about your life while the cast names and credits keep on rolling.

Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013): Disney fan anyone? Does the name Mary Poppins make you smile? This movie, based on a true story, recreates the making of the famous blockbuster, with Tom Hanks impersonating Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson as the author of the children’s book Mr. Disney wants to turn into a movie. Funny and at times quite sad, yet definitely worth watching, if not just for the witty British humor the novelist throws at the poor crew that is working with her.

Still Mine (Michael McGowan, 2012): Based on the real life of Craig Morrison, this movie could’ve easily been a Nicholas Sparks’s adaptation. An elderly couple is struggling to stay together despite financial problems, Alzheimer’s disease and the law. It’s easy to talk about young love, but what about the love that struggled a whole life and is still burning even at 80 years old? Beautifully sad and powerful, the desolate Canadian landscape is the perfect setting for this story of endurance, hope and all kinds of love.

Chef (Jon Favreau, 2014): A movie that shows the power of food, featuring a super cool food truck on a journey from Miami to LA and Scarlett Johansson as a sexy sommelier. It all starts with a bad critic review: Carl, chef de cuisine and absent dad, wants his revenge, and boy, get ready for it. Sandwiches have never looked so yummy, so be sure to watch this when your tummy is full or be ready to eat all you can find in your house (still unsatisfied because all you have is crap compared to what you see on screen).

The Giver (Phillip Noyce, 2014): This is a movie that will make you realize how weird and stupid we must look like if seen from “the outside”: wars, murders, hate and violence don’t exist in the overly-controlled world this story is set in. But so are emotions, feelings and colors. The Giver makes you for a moment want to leave our planet, but then you realize you actually do want to come back. Obviously because of love, but also to change things. So have a look. It’s good to see.

The Best Offer (Giuseppe Tornatore, 2013): Do you think you know everything? Do you think you know better? Wait for it. Mr. Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a very famous and predictably lonely director of a prestigious auction house, who through the guidance of a young friend (Jim Sturgess) will discover the perks and risks of love. Brilliant movie, very fine acting, and an amazing soundtrack by Ennio Morricone: what else.

2014 - October

Laura Marling’s “Once I Was an Eagle”

Image: Photo © Justin Tyler Close. Design © Alex Cowper.

Author: Jonathan Afonso

When it comes to love at first sight, I must confess that I do not have a lot to say about it relationship-wise. However, I remember very clearly the times I fell in love with music; this always strikes me as a very transcendental experience, something that I never quite entirely recover from – which is a very good thing, actually, because what is the point of listening to music if you are not deeply moved by it, if it does not help you think about the world in which you evolve?

Last time I went through such an experience – the falling in love at first sight/hearing – was one year ago (more or less). That morning I woke up, as usual, brushed my teeth, as usual, had breakfast, as usual, and the day seemed as boring/exciting (it all depends on the point of view) as any other one. Nevertheless, as I was standing in that crowded M1 train, stuck between a girl trying to revise her medicine stuff (something about the inner ear, if I remember correctly) and a guy proudly telling his erotic exploits of the weekend (well, he was way cruder about it than I am, but since I am all for subtlety, I will leave it to this), something magical came to my ears. Prior to entering the metro, I had chosen to put all the albums of Laura Marling on shuffle and let my iPod rule it out as it wanted. I had recently been stuck on Marling’s debut album, the 2008 Alas I Cannot Swim, which showed, in a way, Laura Marling’s skilfulness at playing guitar and her talent as a songwriter, but also lacked a bit of maturity, even though one could easily sense that she would eventually come to something majestic if we just gave her some time to grow up (as she was 17 back then); I had decided to buy all her other albums, given the spell that her music seemed to cast on me. And then, at that moment when the metro was crossing its last meters before arriving on the campus, right on that bridge over the motorway, there was Laura Marling fascinating me: “When we were in love, if we were / I was an eagle and you were a dove.” This was sung with Laura’s sweet but determined voice, as if she had seen it all, as if the world had no surprises left for her, as guitars were gently strummed before ferociously engaging in an infinite crescendo. How could I possibly not fall in love with it?

As you can imagine, as soon as I had time, I sat at my desk and let my CD player spin Once I Was an Eagle and deliver its magic. This album is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of British folk music, and this is what I would like to show with this article. Therefore, I will mainly focus on some of the aspects that I find most striking in Once I Was an Eagle, sometimes referring to past Marling’s albums as she uses a lot of the imagery she has already deployed in different albums and refines it. We should first start with the notion that this album is a concept album, that is, an album that is centred on a specific image and builds it up throughout the whole work. As such, this album explores the idea of naivety given that Marling sets a persona who has lost every notion of naivety and seems not to be able to fall in love again. I will argue that this view is not linear in the album, and that we switch from one position (the ‘Master Hunter’ as the title of one song shows) to another one (a more fragile one, where the album’s persona is insecure about her experience, her life and her dealing with love itself) rather frequently, which actually constitutes one of the strengths of the album (because who may say never to have been tormented in love and to have always been clear about they wanted?).

One of the first elements of analysis is the structure of the work itself: it is very well wrought, whilst previous Marling albums were not so much focused on producing that kind of continuity. This 16-track album can easily be divided into two parts: the first one is made of tracks one to seven, whilst the other goes from track nine to sixteen, with track number eight, rightly called ‘Interlude,’ serving to delimitate them. There is also a very clear thematic distinction between the two parts, as the first one consists of various rhythmical pieces, some being more upbeat than the majority, while the second one is mainly made of calm, reflective songs. Nevertheless, it is possible to go even further and to break the first group in two, with the first four tracks being part of a series that is musically linked by the presence of a recursive guitar and drums pattern introduced in diverse ways in each of these tracks. A lot of emphasis was put in these tracks, as Marling played the whole series during unplugged sessions and even had a short film made on them (When Brave Bird Saved). Therefore, analysing them, as well as the following tracks of this first part, provides much of the work’s themes and key-concepts.

The first track of the album, ‘Take the Night Off,’ presents something that could be read as a post-breakup situation. The I-speaker mentions a ‘beast’ that ‘should be gone’: this is a very precise reminder of Laura’s latest album, titled A Creature I Don’t Know, in whose track ‘The Beast’ and the longer eponym web-published poem, Marling calmly claimed that she “chose the beast” and that “tonight he lies with me,” while urging listeners to “put [their] eyes away / If [they] can’t bear to see / [their] old lady lay / Down next to the beast.” We therefore seem to be, at the opening of Once I Was an Eagle, in a situation that has slightly evolved, since the narrator does not want the beast anymore, but on which she does not have complete control. She seems to be saying that she has no interest in love anymore, as she mentions ‘I don’t want you to know me / Wouldn’t want you to know / I don’t care where you’ve gone, beast / I care where you go.’ The second track, ‘I Was an Eagle’ (the one that I fell in love with whilst riding to the university), gives us a sort of snapshot of the relationship the narrator has just been through, although only providing us with hints about it, since, as the NME review pointed out, the album is more concerned about the poetic persona and his/her evolution than the actual events. Marling makes huge statements about naivety, saying that ‘Every little boy is so naïve’ but also that ‘Every little girl is so naïve / Falling in love with the first man that she sees’; she is moreover determined to build her character as someone who ‘will not be a victim of romance / will not be a victim of circumstance / Chance, or circumstance, or romance, or any man / Who could get his dirty little hands on [her],’ as is stated in the chorus. The very depiction that Marling gives of their past relationship also shows how peculiar, if not tormented, it was, as she says that ‘When we were in love, / If we were, / When we were in love, / I was an eagle and you were a dove.’ This last line becomes even more interesting when we compare it to the traditional imagery that is linked to birds in love poetry, where the eagle is often used for the male part of the relationship while a woman is a dove. For example, John Donne in his Canonization glorifies his relationship with his lover by saying that ‘… we in us find the eagle and the dove. / The phoenix riddle hath more wit / By us; we two being one, are it’: their love is so strong that gender distinctions do not matter anymore, they form only one being. On the contrary, Marling specifies and delineates this dichotomy, and even goes further as she inverses gender roles: she is the eagle, whilst her lover is merely the dove. Marling ends the track, lyrically speaking, by saying that ‘I was an eagle and I rose above you / And preyed,’ thus giving an even more striking statement on her previous relationship, making it a scene of hunting.

Tracks three and four, respectively ‘You Know’ and ‘Breathe,’ keep on building this blurred image of an odd relationship. On one track, the narrative character mentions incomprehension on both parts and signs the death of their relationship by saying that ‘We were a pair once / Of oh such despair once / We were a child then I’m sure / But if we were a child then we are children / No more,’ and on the other one, the I-speaker’s symbolic attempts to make up for this messed up relationship are all crushed down to nothing, as she says that ‘[She] wrote [her lover] a book but … left it out in the rain / Left it there to dry but it got rained on once again’ and mentions ‘Us of constant banging throwing fists against the wall’ as well as ‘How cruel you are to me / How cruel time can be / How cruel I was to you / How cruel things I do.’ Therefore it comes as no surprise that track five, ‘Master Hunter,’ closely connected to this series we have been analysing helps to build this narrative persona as a strong woman who knows what she wants after a relationship that has left nothing but wonder. ‘Master Hunter’ is by far the most upbeat track of the album, with its structure being mainly led by a ferocious guitar, and the lyrics are as fierce as the music. Marling boldly begins by saying that ‘[She is] a master hunter / [She] cured [her] skin / And nothing gets in / Nothing not as hard as it tries,’ and later on defines this idea of independence against relationships: ‘You want a woman ‘cause you wanna be safe / Well I tell you that I’ve got a little lot on my plate / You want a woman who’ll call your name / It ain’t me babe’ and even ends the song’s bridge with ‘Wrestling the rope from darkness is no fucking life that I would choose.’

This image of a strong and independent woman is however counterbalanced by the following track, ‘Little Love Caster.’ Although Marling starts by affirming again that ‘Yes, I am a master / I have you bad man,’ it now seems that she wants to reassure herself, as the tone of the song is definitely more stripped down (by now the huge chorus and violence of the guitar has turned into a sweet, precise and toned down tune). The speaker goes on and uses conditionals which may show that not everything (whatever it is that she wanted to do) went according to plan, seeing that she mentions that ‘[She] would take [him] home / [She] would take [him] home and then / [Their] love spell will end.’ More importantly, the narrator clearly says that ‘You are new to me / You are new to me / I can’t seem to say / “I’d like you to say”,’ showing how she is torn between what she wants to show the world – that she is a master – and what she may want deep down under – to find true love, something that she cannot achieve for a reason that is unknown to us listeners. This situation is again nuanced by track seven, ‘Devil’s Resting Place,’ in which Marling returns to an imagery worthy of her previously mentioned third album. In this song, the poetic persona tells her lover how she is back to the devil’s side and the power it gives back to her: ‘Come up here to speak to me and hold your face to mine / Any man can hold my gaze has done his job just fine / You just sold your life away to be with me tonight / Hold your head against my chest, I think you’ll be just fine.’

The first half of the album gives enough material for analysis and is so dense that some reviews have noted how ‘poor’ the second part is – or at least, how it does not keep up with expectations set during this first part. I would say that such a judgement is a bad thing, given that the second part of the album has its jewels that should not be left apart and that it, in a way, focuses on the narrator achieving her journey back to naivety and love (but does she ever succeed actually?). This idea is clear from the very first track of the second part, on which Marling’s character goes after ‘Undine,’ since she has heard that ‘if you saw her, / She would make you more naïve,’ finally begging the divinity ‘Oh Undine, so sweet and pure, make me more naïve / Oh Undine, sing your love to me.’ The quest also becomes more spiritual with the track ‘Pray for Me,’ and Pitchfork’s Rachael Maddux could not be more right when she notes that the “preying” of ‘I Was an Eagle’ has now become “praying.” The quest is not linear, again, as Marling often goes back to previous statements, saying that ‘Once is enough to break you / Once is enough to make you think twice / About laying your love out on the line,’ lines that show how hurt she was by her previous experience(s), or even acknowledging that ‘the more I think / The harder it is for me to breathe.’

The album ends on a very cathartic note with ‘Saved These Words,’ a track that does however not entirely resolve everything that has been brought up in the album. The song begins with a guitar riff, slowly building the melody, and, after a strummed bridge, finally moves to a very moving and even almost hyperbolic pipes section, when compared to the calmness and sparseness of the latest tracks. The lyrics tend to a sense of completion, as they state ‘When your work is over / And your day is done / Put down your hammer / Into my world come.’ It thus seems that there is no master hunter anymore, given that ‘Life is heavy / When you’re no master’s son / When you’re ready / Into my arms come.’ The bridge and subsequent chorus is however more revealing. The lines go as follow: ‘Should you choose, / Should you choose / To love anyone, anytime soon / Then I saved these words for you.’ There is a very clear sense of moving on here, but also of reflecting about past relationships with a healed mind, as Marling goes on singing that ‘You weren’t my curse, / You weren’t my curse / Thank you naivety / For failing me again / He was my next verse.’ This is however very problematic: some tracks have made the listeners think that the speaker was looking for her naivety, which she had lost, but now she is thanking naivety for having let her down, because, otherwise, she could not have realised that her relationship was what made her move on and understand life, or simply how she works. The last line can also be read in a way that is completely related to Marling’s life, since she often writes about her, or anyone else’s (failed) love stories that become her ‘next verse.’

At the end of the album, it is very hard to say what Marling has achieved anything if we think of a naivety/experience dichotomy only. It seems to me that the narrator has clearly evolved: her goal seems to have been to look for her lost ingenuity, which would allow her to love again, but as she went on and thought about what had happened to her and how she wanted to define herself (as a master hunter, an eagle, or a dove, a little love caster), she has actually understood that there was another way of dealing with love, something that stood between the Manichaeism that she had imposed on herself (and on us listeners too).

This already lengthy article does not cover the whole of the album, as I think that I could write pages and pages about it without feeling the need to stop for thinking about it or gather other resource. I truly think that this album is a masterpiece and that anyone who likes British contemporary folk music should have a listen to it – I hope that this article may help you go through the whole of it, but that you can also build your own reflection on the album, as it is so full of references, both external (there is some Bob Dylan in that ‘It ain’t me babe’ line, some Joni Mitchell as well, etc.) and internal (is any of the album’s character a reference to Marcus Mumford or Noah & The Whale’s Charlie Fink, both of whom Laura used to date?) – well, there is definitely lots to think about when Marling’s career is considered, and we should definitely not stop here.

2014 - October

Critical response on Will Kaufmann’s guest lecture

Image: Photo of Woody Guthrie by Al Aumuller. Source

Author: Rebecca Frey

Critical response on Will Kaufmann’s guest lecture on Woody Guthrie, December 10th 2013

Will Kaufmann’s lecture on Woody Guthrie illustrates how strongly connected music, poetry and history can be. By giving historical background information to some of Guthrie’s songs, he helps to contextualize and understand the songs better. As Kaufman illustrated in his lecture, Woody Guthrie, as he grew up and was educated by life experience turned from a poor white Oklahoma Dustbowl country boy and raised racist to an important and fervent civil rights activist. In his songs we can trace the development for his concern for social justice and civil rights. Kaufmann’s lecture was very accessible and vividly illustrated by images and underlined by Guthrie songs. Where as you could read about Guthrie’s radical political activism Kaufmann’s presentation makes Guthrie come alive much more than on the pages of a book or some website. Kaufmann seems to have internalized the stories of Guthrie’s life like any good storyteller. He cites Guthrie and others by heart, speaks with enthusiasm and like any good storyteller he acts out his stories while telling them and singing the songs. It becomes clear to what extent Woody Guthrie’s ballads are stories put to music. And how his songwriting is somehow a kind of oral history. In his songs he is telling historical events from the perspective of the people involved, often the victims themselves. He gives them a voice, although a fictional one, and lets them speak out in his songs. For example in a song about the Sacco and Vanzetti case, called “Vanzetti’s Letter”, the two convicts address Governor Fuller:

We, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, do say:
Confined in your jail here at Dedham and under the sentence of death,
We pray you exercise your powers to look at the facts of our case;
We do not ask you for a pardon, for a pardon would admit of our guilt;
Since we are both innocent workers, we have no guilt to admit.

Guthrie lets the victims in a case of miscarriage of justice speak out, thereby pulling in his listeners to identify and feel complicit with them. If one is not indifferent to Guthrie’s music and lets oneself be touched by it, it is almost impossible not to feel appalled by the extent of injustice of many of the stories he tells. The song “Don’t kill my baby and my son” about the Okemah lynching of Laura Nelson and her son, where Guthrie’s father was possibly involved, gives the same shivers down the spine as the poetic I sings about, when he hears the “deathly call” of a desperate mother willing to give her live in order to protect her children, especially when you know the background story and when you have seen the postcard of the lynching that Guthrie also sings about.


Will Kaufmann on Woody Guthrie:

Okemah lynching: – mediaviewer/File:Lynching_of_Laura_Nelson_and_her_son_2.jpg

Guthrie Songtext „Don’t kill my baby and my son“

„Vanzetti’s Letter“