New Book Acquisitions – September 2017 – and the All-Girl Lord of the Flies

My apologies to whichever blogger it is I follow who recently did a post about MM Kaye and her book The Far Pavilions for I cannot remember who you are! Your post was one of those ‘how have I not heard of this before!’ moments that is familiar to all book bloggers when we see others’ posts. The Far Pavilions sounds like it ought to belong in my Read India journey and the fact that my wife is keen on it too made it an easy book to purchase. Her ‘Death in…’ series sounds fascinating as well.


What is it with the 1970’s-early-1980’s fascination with British India? You have Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet and Staying On (published between 1966 and 1977, TV adaptation 1984), The Far Pavilions (1978, TV 1984), The Siege of Krishnapur (1973), Heat and Dust (1975, film 1983) as well as the films of Gandhi (1982) and A Passage to India (1984). The themes of Britain’s relationship with India and Indians are resurfacing judging by films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015), Viceroy’s House (2017), Victoria and Abdul (2017) and the TV show Indian Summers (2015-2016). And there are probably a whole lot more. Or perhaps it has always been there, as a continual source of fascination and inspiration, and I am simply being selective about dates.

The Double Helix by James Watson, Nobel Prize winner and codiscoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, is a book that I’ve been wanting to get for a long time. Reading James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman, Genius (see my review here), gave me the final push. Here’s the passage about it from Genius:

When [David] Goodstein came down to breakfast at the faculty club, he found Feynman already there, talking with someone who Goodstein gradually realized was the codiscoverer of DNA, James Watson. Watson gave Feynman a manuscript tentatively titled Honest Jim. It was a tame memoir by later standards, but when it was published – under a different title, The Double Helix – it caused an enormous popular stir. With a candour that shocked many of Watson’s colleagues, it portrayed the ambition, the competitiveness, the blunders, the miscommunications, and the raw excitement of real scientists. Feynman read it in his room at the Chicago faculty club, skipping the cocktail party held in his honour, and found himself moved. Later he wrote Watson:

“Don’t let anybody criticise that book who hasn’t read it through to the end. Its apparent minor faults and petty gossipy incidents fall into place as deeply meaningful… The people who say “that is not how science is done” are wrong … When you describe what went on in your head as the truth haltingly staggers upon you and passes on, finally fully recognised, you are describing how science is done. I know, for I have had the same beautiful and frightening experience.”

Late that night in Chicago he startled Goodstein by pressing the book into his hands and telling him he had to read it. Goodstein said he would look forward to it. No, Feynman said. You have to read it now.

My daughter is now two-and-a-half and like any child her age she is getting a little… difficult. So far it is rarely anything my wife and I can’t handle and frankly, compared to the other kids at her playgroups, she is very placid and well-behaved. I don’t think my wife and I are doing anything necessarily ‘wrong’ or ‘harmful’ with regards to discipline, still, you want to stay ahead of the game and not resort to anything that may later turn out to be problematic and difficult to reverse. That is why I bought No-Drama Discipline by Seigel and Bryson, the authors of the best-selling The Whole-Brain Child.

I have a love-hate relationship with self-help books. I love the concept; who wouldn’t want to hear ideas that could change your life. But so many of them are only ideas, with little evidentiary support. So many are not written by experts but by people who are hard to distinguish from televangelists. I feel relatively more confident that the authors of No-Drama Discipline know what they are talking about. Whether their advice works is something that will have to wait for a later post!

Have you heard that there is going to be an all-girl film adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies? When I first heard, I just thought ‘cool, that could be interesting’. The response from others, however, has been overwhelmingly negative.

There are two main lines of criticism. The first is from the fact that the writers for the proposed adaptation are both men. This criticism seems to be a natural progression of the identity-politics attack on literature. I am not sympathetic to this line of argument and I don’t think booklovers should be. If we take this argument to its reductio ad absurdum conclusion, it means there is simply no room for fiction. No one would be permitted to write anything outside their own personal experience, leaving only memoir, biography and non-fiction.

I say we let writers write. If they fail and miss the mark, by all means, critique them. Just as we would if a writer of historical fiction got their historical facts wrong. But don’t tell them that because of their sex, gender, race, sexuality, etc, that they are not allowed to write anything outside of that.

The second criticism is that an all-girl Lord of the Flies is absurd since the plot would not happen with all girls.

I’m not so sure. I think an all-girl version would have to differ in the details to be plausible, but I would not go as far as to say that a similar outcome could not happen. To me, to say it could only happen with boys involved speaks to the sort of gender assumptions that people who call an all-girl version ‘absurd’ claim to be against. But it is a complex question that can be approached in a number of ways and I don’t think I can fully unpack it here without going on one of my long rants.

Instead, focussing on the story-telling aspect, despite my initial ‘cool’ reaction, I think the biggest problem with such a project is that it is redundant. An all-girl Lord of the Flies that does not change anything in the plot would not only be implausible; it would be pointless. On the other hand, if there were changes to the plot details to make it a plausible female version, why still call it Lord of the Flies? After all, it is common to adapt classics of Greek tragedy or Shakespeare to new scenarios, making it relevant to new audiences and bringing to light new aspects of the story, but it is done under a new name to make clear the distance between them, like West Side Story for example.

Something similar could be done to make an all-girl Lord of the Flies, but, as some have pointed out, it already has been done in the case of Heathers and Mean Girls. Another one would have to offer something substantially new, otherwise it may go down like another project I also thought was a cool idea – the all-women Ghostbusters.

But tell me what you think of an all-girl Lord of the Flies.

Oh, and what do you think about Kazuo Ishiguro winning a Nobel Prize? I have read three of his novels and… I am not a huge fan. Obviously, many people are. Maybe I should try Never Let Me Go and The Remain of the Day again. I did try reading A Pale View of Hills again, but couldn’t even finish it the second time.


One comment

  1. I tried to read The Far Pavilions but had to give it up after about 150 pages. I lost interest because I felt the characters became cardboard. I rarely give up on books, but I had to give up on that one. As for an all-girls Lord of the Flies, I’d like to see that one – it would be like a return to high school! Females can be much more underhanded and sneaky than males. Trust me – I’m a woman!


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