‘A BOOK MAY WELL BE THE ONLY TRUE MAGIC’ – A. Hoffman
I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a bookworm. For as long as I can remember I have always been drawn to books and as an 11 year old I was convinced I was going to become an author. I even decided to study literature at A-level, before my music took me to university. I suppose being a songwriter isn’t a million miles away from the world of literature. Song writing allows me to write about any subject matter I want, whether it’s fact or fiction, and by putting the words to music I am combining two of my favourite things. The wonderful thing about reading or writing is that you can take your imagination anywhere, whether that’s as the reader or the writer, and for me that’s the exciting part. Due to my love of literature, I thought I’d write a little bit about some books I have recently read.
Over the summer, I spent a week in France and so I made sure to pack some books to take with me. The book that captivated me the most, and caused me to be very anti-social for the best part of a couple of days, was Beside Myself by Ann Morgan. I had picked it up based on the fact that it seemed a little different to what I would usually read (that and the fact it was Buy 1 Get 1 Half price in Smiths…). The blurb depicted identical twins who decide to swap places as young children, but when one of the sisters refuses to swap back, a nightmare slowly starts to unfold. I was intrigued by its twisted plot and curious to find out what happened. It was quite literally a book that I couldn’t put down. I had to keep myself from reading it all in one sitting.
The story is led by the main character Helen who overshadows her twin sister Ellie, and when they decide to swap places to play a trick, fooling even their mother, Ellie decides that she doesn’t want to swap back, forcing Helen to take on her sisters introverted personality. Why doesn’t she just tell everyone the truth, I hear you ask? Well, she does. Multiple times. She attempts to prove the truth on many occasions, but this is what makes the book so dark and psychologically complex, because no one will listen to what she has to say. I found myself so wrapped up in the storyline, that I became as frustrated as poor Helen. The story shifts between Helen’s present state as an adult, and her time as a child where we see the development of her unwillingness to take on her new identity causing behavioural problems and a downward-spiralling mental illness. For anyone wanting something uplifting, obviously, this would not be recommended!
There is a dark mood that lingers throughout the book. You quickly become caught up in the depressive state, so much so that even when you put the book down it takes a while for your headspace to adjust from the disturbing atmosphere back to reality. This is what made me so gripped to the story.
Whilst I was abroad on said holiday, I was longing for my piano. Spending so much time in the mountains, where very little happens and the internet is limited, a lot of thinking time takes place and made me feel very inspired when I returned home to my piano. At some point, although I’m not sure whether it was while I was actually abroad or when we had landed, I decided I wanted to write a song about the play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This was a production that I studied in school when I was around 14 years old. I’m still not sure what made me think of it again all these years later. I think, perhaps, it was the dark twisted mood of the play that makes for an interesting song topic.
Once back home at my piano, I proceeded to write a song based on Abigail, one of the characters I remembered most without having the play to hand. Feeling very inspired I decided to order a copy of the book so that I could read through it again, as a type of research, and even now I still intend to write some more songs based on the storyline and other characters. What drew me back to this play is similar to that of Beside Myself because of the frustration and disbelief of the characters. The play, written in 1953, is set in 1692-93 taking place in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony, with the subject matter being the famous Salem witch trials and a focus on McCarthyism.
The play opens with the Salem preacher, Reverend Parris, concerned about his daughter who lies motionless after he discovers her one night with her friends, all involved in a ritual in the woods with Parris’ slave, Tituba. It’s not long before the whole of the village is rife with rumours of witchcraft, which ensues the accusation of innocent people. Parris’ niece, Abigail, who appears to be the leader of the girls denies any involvement with witchcraft. She threatens all the girls who had taken part in the woods that they must stick to their story of just ‘dancing in the woods’ so as not to be suspected of being witches. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the character John Proctor, who is married to Elizabeth, but we soon find out he had an affair with Abigail, in which Abigail still has feelings for him. It’s not long before Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, is accused of witchcraft herself which she is certain is by Abigail. From this point onwards the whole of the village seems to become swallowed up in chaos and madness, with people accusing neighbours, friends, loved ones, turning on each other, all seemingly encouraged by the court who believe the Devil is in the accused. The story seems unbelievable but the fact that it is based loosely around a true story makes the plot even more fascinating. If that’s not good content for a song, then I don’t know what is.
When I was making my book order for The Crucible, I thought it would be worth investing in some other well know classics. When I studied English Literature at A-Level, I vividly remember a poster for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath stuck on the wall. Why I never thought to read the book back then is beyond me, as I have since heard the book mentioned a fair amount. I thought this would be a suitable book to order and I heard many good reviews about it. Before I go further into detail though, I have to admit I was actually a little disappointed with the book. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it, and I perhaps wondered if my expectations had been too high based on reviews because it’s an American literary classic. I can’t seem to pinpoint what it was that I didn’t like about it, which is a little frustrating. None the less, I am still glad that I have read it and ticked it off my so called Book-Bucket-List. What I did like was the realistic nature of the book, which in essence, is quite a sad one as we watch the narrator Esther Greenwood collapse into a breakdown. The psychological side of this is similar to that of Beside Myself as Esther’s life slowly falls apart, seemingly not for any particular reason! (I’d just like to point out that I’m actually a happy person in real life, contrary to the books I read and the songs I write).
The character slowly descends into despair and often the timeline skips, which I assume is to portray her state of mind, but it left me a little lost at times. The book covers a lot of difficult topics which I think is what makes the book so well admired and relatable to so many. The thing I found most captivating, but eerily loomed over as I read it, is that this could almost be about Sylvia Plath, who herself committed suicide in 1963. There are elements of the book that could be questioned as almost autobiographical, and you wonder if what the character is thinking is what Sylvia was thinking at the time. It becomes clear that Esther is extremely vacant, and when she considers committing suicide, it’s as if no feelings are involved. She finds herself in a mental institute, which supposedly helps her recover as she later leaves the institute, but by the end of the book I still felt
unsure as to whether she really did get better. Overall, I’m glad that I read the book, as for the most part I did enjoy it and I think it challenged me from the books that I usually tend to read.
I would recommend any of these books if you’re looking for something to read, or fancy something a little different. I don’t tend to read plays but I am now on my search for my next one, and perhaps even a song will come from that!
If you have any book suggestions for me, please comment as I’m always looking for something new to read.