Monday, 3 June 2013

Jess Suggests | Postmodern Fiction

Ah, postmodernism, a term many English students are very familiar with even when they don't know what it means, and it's not surprising so many people don't as postmodernism doesn't exactly have a set meaning.
     One of the most confusing aspects of postmodernism is that it didn't come around after modernism, but during. Why postmodernism, then? I have no idea. While modernism tried to prove that literature could be completely new, postmodernism arose with the argument that new literature is impossible; stories will always come from other stories. The argument was often given rather sceptically - after all Angela Carter's fairy tale re-tellings aren't particularly charming - but as postmodernism has developed it has become more of a celebration of our oldest stories by giving them new life.
     It is this aspect of postmodernism I will be looking at today by showing you five books which would never have been written if it weren't for an older text to act as inspiration. There are hundreds of postmodern novels out there today so these are just five examples from a very, very long list:

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Haroun's father is the greatest of all storytellers. His magical stories bring laughter to the sad city of Alifbay. But, one terrible day, everything goes wrong and his father runs out of stories to tell.
Haroun, determined to return the storyteller's gift to his father, flies off on the back of the Hoopoe bird to the Sea of Stories - and so begins a fabulous, exciting and dazzling adventure.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories has to be one of the ultimate postmodern reads. There are references from stories all over the world in this book - which makes sense, given that the main character's father is a storyteller - but the main inspiration has to be The 1001 Nights, perhaps better known as The Arabian Nights; the series of tales which originate from Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore and from which we have famous stories like Aladdin and Sindbad the Sailor.
     After Haroun's mother runs away with their upstairs neighbour - as she no longer believes that being married to a storyteller is practical - Haroun's father Rashid begins to lose his ability for storytelling. With the help of Iff the Water Genie and Butt the talking Hoopoe bird, Haroun travels to the bizarre and fantasical Land of Gup, where the soldiers wear pages from Shakespeare and there are Plentimaw fish in the sea, to defeat the evil Khattam-Shud, who is so boring he is poisoning the stories.
     This book is an absolute delight to read no matter how old you are, and it's a wonderful book to read if you're looking to rekindle your love for some of the world's oldest stories. It's also a fantastic celebration of postmodernism and of the way that we reuse stories to keep storytelling alive. As far as I'm concerned this underrated book is a must read.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Let's face it as far as stories go you can't get much older than Greek mythology. Yeah it can be pretty messed up - Athena burst out of Zeus's forehead fully clothed and poor Persephone was the daughter of a brother and sister who then married her uncle - but we love it all the same. 
     What's great about this novel - and this series - is that Riordan hasn't tried to rewrite the mythology or tame it, he's simply taken the idea of demigods and brought them forward into the present. Not only has he given the mythology the feeling of never having gone away, but he's also made it fun and accessable for younger readers; in a way Riordan is the bridge between mythology and children as Terry Deary is the bridge between children and history. 
     After finding out that he is in fact the son of Poseidon our protagonist Percy is sent to Camp Half-Blood, where all demigods are kept safe and are able to learn how to control their abilities. Throughout the story he encounters a satyr in the form of his best friend Grover, Annabeth the daughter of Athena, a centaur, a minotaur, Medusa, and even Hades and Persephone. This is an ideal book for any lover of Greek mythology and indeed for anyone with an interest in the mythology who feels a little intimidated by the original tales.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Meet Bridget Jonesa 30-something Singleton who is certain she would have all the answers if she could:
a. lose 7 pounds

b. stop smoking

c. develop Inner Poise
Bridget Jones' Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget's permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR. 

Unlike the other books listed here Bridget Jones's Diary is a modern day re-telling of a much more recent classic: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Unlike the previous two novels mentioned this is a direct re-telling of its original, yes there are some differences, but the story is in fact very similar to that of Austen's novel.
     We have Bridget Jones, our modern day Elizabeth Bennet, Mark Darcy, our modern day Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Daniel Cleaver, our modern day George Wickham. Through her wonderfully witty diary entries we see the world through her eyes as she struggles under the pressure of being a singleton in her thirties in a world full of friends and family who are desperate to see her settled and married. Sound familiar? Of course. The entirety of Pride and Prejudice is centered around the Bennet family trying to marry off their five daughters to good husbands.
     What's brilliant about this book is that it doesn't jump out as an Austen re-telling or try to shove the 200 year old story down your throat. You don't need to be a fan of Austen's works to enjoy this, but if you are then consider it an added bonus. This book is funny and charming, Helen Fielding has done a wonderful job of bringing a famous story to a modern-day audience.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Following Bridget Jones's Diary we have another re-telling of a classic story, one that every child knows well: Cinderella. Originally Cinderella was one of the many fairy tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, more commonly known as the Brothers Grimm. It's a story which has been told again and again in many different formats including  operas, ballets, pantomimes and film versions such as Disney's Cinderella, Ever After, A Cinderella Story, Another Cinderella Story, and literary re-tellings such as Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, Amber T. Smith's If the Shoe Fits and Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Obviously there's something about this story that we just can't get enough of, whether it's our adoration of true love at the stroke of midnight or simply our desire to root for the underdog, either way Cinderella is not going anywhere.
     And now? Now we have Cinder, a fantastic posthuman re-telling of the classic tale in which our Cinderella is a cyborg. Marissa Meyer has managed to give a well-known, age old story an utterly fresh spin and modernised it for an audience of people who are now obsessed with technology. Meyer has even opened up the fairy tale genre for sci-fi fans all over the world which can only be a good thing because this year sci-fi is huge, particularly with  the completion of Beth Revis's Across the Universe trilogy this January and upcoming films such as Man of Steel, coming this June, and an adaptation of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game set to be released in November.
     No longer is Cinderella a meek girl who sweeps the floors and waits for her fairy godmother, Meyer's Cinderella is a mechanic who really drives the novel forward by leading the plot in the way that all great protagonists do. Like Bridget Jones's Diary you don't need to be a fan of Cinderella to enjoy Cinder, for while it is indeed a re-telling it has been re-told in such a way that the story and characters feel brand new. This is a delightful book.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

'R' is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.

Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows - warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can't understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.

This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won't be changed without a fight...

You know what would have made Romeo and Juliet better? Zombies, of course! William Shakespeare is credited with writing possibly the most famous love story ever, but it's Isaac Marion who has made the story dead cool. See what I did there?
     Yes apparently a rose by any other name really would smell as sweet, even if it was covered in rotting flesh. Warm Bodies is full of familiar characters disguised by tweaked names; we have our hero R (Romeo), our heroine Julie (Juliet), her boyfriend Perry (Paris), her friend Nora (the Nurse) and R's friend M/Marco (Mercutio). R is a zombie, and after he kills Perry and eats his brain he begins to develop feelings he no longer realised he had for Perry's girlfriend Julie. When Julie learns that R isn't quite what he seems her belief that a cure for the undead can be found is reignited.
     This story is very much a marmite kind of a story. You don't have to be a fan of Romeo and Juliet to enjoy it, but there is a very clear cut line between people who like it a lot and people who don't like it at all. One thing that can't be denied, however, is that it has brought zombie fiction to women; that's not to say that women can't enjoy zombie films and fiction filed under the horror genre - I'm a woman myself and I love a good zombie story just as much as the next person - but in creating a piece of YA zombie chick fiction Marion has introduced a lot more women to the undead in literature, and that can only be a good thing. Try it for yourself, and give the movie a watch too!

So if postmodernism is now something which interests you go and check it out! There are plenty of postmodern texts to be had.
     Thanks for reading! J.


  1. Love the recommendations! Cinder is awesome, and I enjoyed Scarlet even more. I still need to read Warm Bodies.

    If you go to 'layout' on Blogger, you can add an option where people can follow your blog by email or Google Friend Connect - then I'll be able to follow! :D

    1. Cool, thanks for letting me know! ;)