The Graduate Book Review

Webb’s Mrs. Robinson doesn’t live up to her pop culture status.

Benjamin Braddock is having a quarter-life crisis. Having just returned home from his graduation out of an Ivy League school, he is horrified to find that his parents have thrown him a party and invited the entire neighborhood. The first few pages read as a whose who of Keeping up with the Joneses. The McQuires, the Calendars, and even the Terhunes descend onto the Braddock household.

So do the Robinsons.

But Mrs. Robinson isn’t interested in Benjamin’s graduation, his plans for the future, or his Frank Halpingham Education Award.

It took me more than a few pages to realise that Webb’s Mrs Robinson is the same Mrs. Robinson that has evolved into the pop culture reference for seductress. Far from exuding sensuality and living up to her status, Mrs. Robinson is rather the creepy older woman stripping naked in front of her neighbour’s younger son. This plot point provides a nice segway into Benjamin’s mental deterioration.

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I did enjoy reading The Graduate. Webb’s transitions between scenes is seamless, and he can hop from one day to the next without missing a beat. Every word of description earns its place in The Graduate, and I wish the same could be said for the dialogue.

Webb’s pared down prose and dialogue heavy story is usually reserved for authors who want to say something. But what is Webb saying with The Graduate?

The dialogue is so dense: it takes up pages and pages at a time, yet it’s so snappy. This combination made me flip through the pages at break neck speed, but not much happened. Reading Webb’s dialogue is like reading an ellipses… and waiting for the payoff that never comes.

Webb’s characterisation of Mrs. Robinson is so paper-thin that a gust of wind could have blown her over. Thank goodness there is no mention of Benjamin or her opening the window in their hotel room for some fresh air. There is no mention of much at all when the pair have moved from their position at the bar and finished their martinis: in the hotel room its all business. Again, where is my seductress? ‘Would it be easier for you in the dark?’ doesn’t quite have that 50 shades feel to it.

Along comes another plot point. As business like and efficient their liaisons at The Taft Hotel are, the two do manage to splutter out a few lines of meaningful dialogue. Mrs. Robinson will not be moved on one point: Benjamin is forbidden from taking her daughter Elaine out.

It is difficult to put into words how meaningless Benjamin and Elaine’s relationship is, but I will try. At the insistence of both of their fathers Benjamin takes Elaine out for the night. To a strip club. The dancer waves her nipples tassels in Elaine’s face and, as she begins to cry, Benjamin has a revelation. He apologises, takes her for a hamburger, and sees her once more before deciding to move to a flat near her dorm room at Berkeley university, and harass her into marrying him.

The problem with the female characters in The Graduate is that Webb created them in relation to Benjamin: his mother, Mrs. Robinson, and Elaine are not fully formed individuals in their own right. Elaine’s motivations are dubious: the last half of the novel enlightens us with drab conversations between her and Benjamin in which she admits she might marry him, but then again she might not. This is all after discovering Benjamin has had sex with her mother.

Webb’s flimsy characterisation of Elaine became even more baffling when I discovered that The Graduate is autobiographical, with Webb’s future wife Fred being the prototype for Elaine. An argument can be made that these secondary characters rightly fall into the backdrop of The Graduate, and the reader is then forced to focus on Benjamin. It was interesting to read about the evolution of a stalker from the stalkers perspective, but is this enough of a reason to allow all other characters to fall into the trap of being reflections of the main male character?

And now we’re at the end of this review I have to leave you with a nugget of truth: I don’t know why I like The Graduate so much. There are so many strands of this story to untangle, and the ending asks more questions than it answers. The Graduate is the perfect novel to read quickly and not delve too deeply into. After all, the fall of the American Dream subplot is not as interesting as the mental deterioration slant.

Carrot Loaf Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing

These mini carrot loaf cakes are an easy to make sweet treat.

I stumbled upon this recipe for carrot cake cupcakes when I was procrastinating writing my essay. To make the carrot cakes a bit more aesthetically pleasing I decided to use my mini loaf tins. The great thing about these are that they are easy to make, small(ish), and a perfect kick for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Ingredients:

  • 150 grams self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 125 grams brown sugar
  • 125 grams softened butter
  • 75 grams grated carrot
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of icing sugar
  • 100 grams cream cheese

1/4 cinnamon and 1/4 nutmeg were also suggested in the ingredients list, but I decided to leave these out.

Method:

  • Preheat your oven to 180.
  • Line your mini loaf tins with butter then baking parchment. If you want to opt for cupcakes instead, this recipe makes 12.
  • Sieve the flower and baking powder into a large bowl. I don’t have a sieve, so I used a potato masher to get all the big bits out. If you’ve decided to use nutmeg you can add that in with the flower and baking powder, and mash that too.
  • Add in the butter (I always find it’s easier to break this up into bits before you start mixing), brown sugar, carrot and eggs. I cheated and used a pack of pre-shredded carrots, which I probably should have cut a little bit finer before adding to the mix. I combine it all I used my stand mixer, but a wooden spoon will work just as well.
  • Pop the mixture into your mini loaf tins (or cupcake cases) and bake for 20-25 minutes. The amount of mixture worked out almost perfectly, there was only a bit left after I filled my tins.

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  • Make sure to put your loaf tins on a flat surface, which I forgot to do.

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  • I baked mine for 25 minutes and they looked slightly burned, but I covered the majority of that up with the cream cheese frosting. Leave the cakes to cool before you remove them from the casing- if you don’t they could crumble.
  • Mix the cream cheese with the icing sugar in a bowl. I would use 2 1/2 tablespoons of icing sugar instead of the two suggested, just so the taste of the Philadelphia is not so overwhelming.
  • Put the mini loafs in the fridge for around 30 minutes so the icing can set.

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Decorate your mini loafs with whatever you want! I chose pecans, and they added a nice crunch to this sweet treat.

Death of a Salesman: All Talk and No Action

All talk and no action, until the second half.

2 stars

Returning to The Royal Exchange after his success as aging patriarch King Lear in 2016, Don Warrington plays Willy Loman… another aging patriarch. Years spent as a travelling salesman all over America does nothing for Loman in his dotage, and Willy is confronted by the crippling reality of loneliness in his last few hours.

Yo-yoing between the crumbling present and the rose tinted past, we see that Willy was idolised by his sons Happy (Buom Tihngang) and Biff (Ashley Zhangazha). In turn they are adored by Willy, who believes that his sons (Biff especially) can snatch up all the opportunities America has to offer, if only they would reach out to grab them. Willy wants to live vicariously through his sons, and all the characters in this play are continuously disappointing when the veneer slips, and they see each other for who they are.

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Left to right: Buom Tihngang as Happy and Ashley Zhangazha as Biff

The crippling pressure of expectation placed on Biff’s shoulders is palpable. The sons are eager to please. Too eager, in Buom’s case: his puppy dog acting leaves much to be desired, there is little else to his younger character than a caricature of a smile and, ‘I’ve gained weight dad, can you tell?’

His present day character leaves much to be desired, too.

I wonder if Death of a Salesman is so laden with subtext that the characters suffer. Are they relegated to surface level personalities in order to emulate Arthur Miller’s agenda? Happy’s character has ‘ruin[ed]’ women, he womanizes, lies, ditches his father to chase skirt. Willy’s stock phrase ‘isn’t that remarkable?’ start to grate a bit too, too often being touted around like it means something.

Buom wasn’t much better in The Royal Exchange’s production of Guys and Dolls, but Zhangazha impressed me then and impresses me now. He manages to zap some real tension into the production. Scenes between Biff and his mother Linda (Maureen Beattie) are especially fraught, but tinged with sadness and love.

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Don Warrington as Willy Loman

Willy is tired. He has put his 30+ years into the business, and where are his returns? Doesn’t The American Dream promise something in return for all those long hours and late nights? At the grand old age of 63 the rose tinted spectacles slip. Sleepless nights are spent wondering where it all went wrong, with a focus on Biff.

If only he had made something of himself.

The performance was around three hours long. For all of Arthur Miller’s rich subtext, there’s a bit too much that is said, instead of acted. Warrington does little more than shout his lines, stumbling around the stage, occasionally raising a shaking, decrepit hand. I imagine it would be hard to give nuance to a character who is perpetually outraged, shocked, and disillusioned for three hours. It’s all talk and no action, at least until the second half, where the performance thankfully picks up in pace, no longer confined to one singular setting.

It is hard, I think, to appreciate the characters as individuals because they are all so steadfastly part of Miller’s mechanism: subject A represents this about The American Dream, and so on and so forth. It becomes predictable. When Biff discovers his father has an affair while on the road it is not quite the revelation it is made out to be: The American Dream is corrupt.

Is nothing authentic in this play? The subtext is just that: the characters are living a lie but this too comes across as unoriginal and contrived. What could have been a gritty play  about a family at breaking point is reduced to an allegory.

Indulgent Chocolate Brownies

Gooey indulgent chunky chocolate chip brownies.

For my birthday a few years ago, my friend Ella made me a batch of indulgent chocolate brownies with a mint twist. They were so dense and gooey: they really exemplified what makes a good brownie. So I asked, and my friend delivered: below is the recipe for these yummy brownies.

The best thing about these brownies is that they don’t cost much to make as long as you’ve got the usual baking staples already in your cupboard. I only had to buy the eggs, butter, and the baking tin (the tin I bought was was only £3 from Wilkos!).

Ingredients:

350 grams chocolate

225 grams butter

3 large eggs

225 grams caster sugar

75 grams self raising flour

225 grams chocolate chips

Mint extract (add to taste)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/ Fan 170/Gas 5. Grease a 30 x 23cm (12×9 in) tray then line the base with baking parchment. (The tray I bought was only 20×20, which worked out fine).
  2. Break up the chocolate (350 grams) into pieces and melt slowly with the butter (225 grams). The recipe suggested melting the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of hot water, but I decided to finely chop my chocolate and melt it in the microwave. Make sure to stir the mixture of butter and chocolate. When it’s finished melting it doesn’t look very attractive, but mine turned out fine! Leave to cool.
  3. In another bowl mix together the eggs (3 large) and caster sugar (225 grams). Gradually beat in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the self raising flour (75 grams) and chocolate chips (225 grams). If you want to add a mint twist to these brownies, add your mint extract to taste now. Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin.
  4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40-45 minutes or until the brownies have a crusty top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

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Leave the brownies to cool in the tin. The recipe advised me to cut the cake into 24 squares, but since my tin is smaller than the book suggests, I only managed to cut mine into 9 pieces.

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Make sure to store your brownies in an air-tight tin to keep them from going stale.

Autumn: Not Transcendent, Not Inspiring, Not Worth The Read

Smith approaches prose in the same way a wood cutter might approach a log.

While I was getting ready to review Ali Smith’s Autumn (2016) I thought I should read a few online reviews. I was prepared for the usual Ali Smith fan-club slush about Autumn being a journey, one woman’s passage to self discovery, a celebration of nature even.

Most reviewers seem to have seen something in Autumn that has gone completely over my head. I’m tempted to suggest that because Smith’s work hints at greater meaning, these reviewers have mustered one out of thin air.

The story centers around the comatose nursing home resident Daniel Gluck and Elisabeth Demand, a woman who was Gluck’s neighbour years ago. Elisabeth reads to Gluck weekly, posing as his daughter for the beady-eyed nursing staff. Flashbacks are frequent, and show the friendship between Daniel and Elisabeth as the latter goes through her difficult teenage years. If the dialogue is anything to go by, the 32 year old Elisabeth seems not to have evolved from her teenage years: she is confrontational and uncompromising.

The dialogue and third person narrative style of Autumn keep the reader hovering just above surface level. Here is an exchange between Daniel and Elisabeth:

‘What are you reading?’ he’d say.

Elisabeth would hold it up.

Brave New World, she’d say.

Oh, that old thing, he’d say.

It’s new to me, she’d say.’

The New York Times writer Sarah Lyall hailed Autumn as the ‘First Great Brexit Novel.’ In reference to Elisabeth reading works like Brave New World and A Tale of Two Cities (readers open the first page of Autumn to the sentence: ‘It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.’) Lyall writes that, ‘Smith teases out big ideas so slyly and and lightly that you can miss how she goes about it.’

Literary references aside, Smith’s approaches prose the same way a wood cutter might approach a log. No love is lost on the chapter beginnings. Two of my favourites are: ‘Time lapse of a million billion flowers opening their heads,’ and, ‘It was one of the days of a week in one of the seasons in one of the years.’

Perhaps it is disingenuous to show you these chapter beginnings on their own. I wouldn’t mind them so much if they weren’t so gimmicky. Smith’s prose screams gimmick. Thoughts like ‘It’s funny to be sitting on such an uncommunal communal chair’ fall flat.

Everything pointed to this book being about nature, the beauty of it and how it relates to human life. Girl Meets Boy (2007) was bearable because of how well Smith used naturalistic imagery. I was expecting something Forster-esque, Larkin-esque from Autumn, or at least something that mirrored the intricate naturalistic imagery in Girl Meets Boy, and instead I got: ‘Time lapse of a million billion flowers.’

I felt deflated reading Autumn. Worse than anything else is Smith’s half-hearted attempts to create meaning out of her half realised imagery. While unconscious, Daniel dreams that he is on a beach, and ventures into some nearby shrubbery for coverage. Smith had the perfect opportunity to create a link between nature and the fact that Daniel is said- later on- to be nearing the end of his life. Instead, the writing is so detached from reality that the reader has to work hard to make sense of it.

Another comparison to Girl Meets Boy: I can appreciate Smith’s 2007 novel because she tackles an admirable cause: Smith reimagines one of Ovid’s metamorphosis (the myth of Iphis) and in doing so examines the complicated gender politics in modern day lesbian relationship in Scotland. In Girl Meets Boy there is triumph for a group of people who are marginalised, belittled, and stigmatised. In Autumn there is a few half-hearted references to Brexit.

Lucy Scholes, writing for The Independent, labels Smith as one of the ‘country’s foremost chroniclers, her finger firmly on the social and political pulse.’ At the first hints of immigration and Brexit, I expected Autumn to progress in much the same way Girl Meets Boy did: I thought Smith was saving herself for the denouement of the story, where she would bring all the strands of the novel together and reveal some underlying political subtext.

It must have flown over my head.

 

 

Healthy Carrot Muffin Recipe

Healthy breakfast muffins with a sweet kick.

Recently I’ve been in a baking slump. I want to bake but no one in my house eats what I bake, so I’m left with a batch of brownies or a a triple chocolate cake to myself. Not a good idea.

After hearing about Chocolate Covered Katie’s healthy brownies and healthy breakfast peanut butter donuts, I was seriously interested in baking something sweet but healthy for breakfast. So I was intrigued when I found this recipe from Tasty for Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins.

I followed the recipe almost to the letter, but I did end up substituting the 110 grams of maple syrup for 140 grams of honey. Here’s the full list of ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 140 grams Greek yogurt
  • 140 grams honey
  • 60ml of milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 170 grams wholewheat flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 carrot, shredded

This recipe recommended two shredded carrots, but one was enough. I shredded the carrots by using a potato peeler, gathering the strands together, and then finely chopping until the strands were small enough. The recipe also recommended 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, but I’m not a fan so I left it out.

The recipe is as follows:

  1. Preheat your oven to 175C (or 350F).
  2. Whisk the eggs until they are light and fluffy. I used my stand mixer because I don’t have a whisk. The eggs didn’t seem to be getting fluffy, so I ended up beating them with a fork. The eggs still weren’t fluffy.
  3. Add the 140 grams of Greek yogurt and whisk again until the mixture is light and fluffy. Again, I used my stand mixer and the mixture was not fluffy… maybe I didn’t let it mix for long enough?
  4. Pour in the 140 grams of honey, the 60ml of milk, and the teaspoon of vanilla extract. Beat the mixture until smooth.
  5. Add the 170 grams of wholewheat flour, the 1 3/4 teaspoons of baking powder, and however many shredded carrots you want. Fold the wet and dry ingredients together using a wooden spatula. In hindsight, I should have done this. Instead, I used my stand mixer.
  6.  Portion the muffin mix into twelve cases. The mixture was very liquefied, and I was expecting a thicker batter.
  7. Bake for twenty minutes.
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the liquidy batter

 

They turned out fine! I put a bit too much mix into some cases so these muffins aren’t very uniform, but they are yummy! The casing does not peel away from the muffin very easily which makes me think the cake is too dry, but they are a nice change from the usual moist cake recipes I make. After all, these muffins are designed for breakfast.

The taste of the Greek yogurt and the wholewheat flour really come through, which makes these cakes sweet and bread-like, perfect for a kick in the morning!

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Landmark event for men falsely accused: Roxanne Pallett’s false accusations against Ryan Thomas

Roxanne Pallett: ‘I am a woman more sinned against than sinning.’

This year’s celebrity big brother was set to be a flop: between view count heavy weight Stormy Daniels dropping out and the questionable contestant choices for this year’s show, viewers were changing the channel in droves. The opening episode attracted only two million viewers, one million less than the increasingly popular Love Island.

Scandal launched Big Brother back into the public consciousness when Rodrigo Alves repeatedly used a racial slur. Despite Big Brother giving Alves a formal warning, Ofcom still received 1,000 complaints from furious viewers.

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Rodrigo Alvez

By far the biggest viewer draw of this season is the 35 year old actor Roxanne Pallett, who is perhaps best known for her previous role on Emmerdale. Unsatisfied with the eyebrows she raised by flirting with fellow housemate Ben Jardine, Pallett (who is engaged to Lee Walton) accused Ryan Thomas of maliciously and vindictively punching her, ‘like a boxer would punch a bag.’

The slow motion video can be found here.

Roxanne made light of Ryan’s play fighting in the moment, but when she entered the bedroom she said, ‘Big brother that hurt. Can you call me to the diary room please.’

Click here to watch the fall out.

Sensitive or not (which has been Roxanne’s main defense since she has apologised for falsely accusing Ryan), it is confusing as to why Roxanne thought she could get away with saying Ryan viciously attacked her when every action in the Big Brother house is recorded.

Later, in the diary room, Roxanne describes the attack as ‘unprovoked’ and ‘completely deliberate.’

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Roxanne Pallett in the diary room

As the controversy unwound over social media, newspapers, and talk shows alike, Roxanne’s past accusations came to light.

More than twenty of her former co-stars (most of which worked with her on her three year stint in Emmerdale) publicly denounced Roxanne on social media. Her former Emmerdale on screen husband Kelvin Fletcher even went as far as to Tweet ‘She. Is. Evil.’

Kelvin Fletcher and Roxanne Pallett Emmerdale
Roxanne and Kelvin as an on screen couple in Emmerdale

He went on to Tweet:

‘She’s not ‘mentally ill’ or in need of ‘help’. That denounces that people with actual mental health issues are as vindictive and menacing as her. They are not. There is a big difference. That was calculated and manipulative beyond belief. Ryan ❤️.’

And here is where it gets interesting. Roxanne’s history of over exaggeration is far beyond the i’m-too-sensitive plea. Footage has been released of the recent crash she involved in. Before viewing the crash, it might be worth it to watch this interview, in which Roxanne describes her injuries, and how traumatic the event was for her.

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Roxanne Pallett leaving hospital with her boyfriend Lee after the crash

A trained first-aider (Lynsey Pannett) was on hand at the race track when Roxanne crashed, and later told The Sun newspaper: ‘After my initial assessment of her I knew there was nothing wrong.’

Despite this assessment, Roxanne was airlifted to hospital.

More disturbing still, Connor Byrne has spoken out about his experience with Roxanne while they were performing a panto version of Jack and the Beanstalk. He claims that Roxanne also falsely accused him of violence, and even went as far as to say that the incident with Ryan was a ‘carbon copy’ of what he went through.

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Connor Byrne and Roxanne Pallett on the set of Jack and the Beanstalk

Roxanne’s quivering lip and doe eyes have served her well in her public appearances since the incident. During her Jeremy Vine appearance her fellow panelist turned to Roxanne and said, ‘All I can say… I met, we had a chat outside, I’ve seen you now, I do think we’ve got a big problem in this country with this idea that we, we are entitled to abuse people just because we’ve seen people very briefly, very fleetingly, do something. And then we create this storm.’

No mention of how Roxanne’s false accusations could have ruined Ryan’s career.

This is a land mark moment for men who are falsely accused. The sordid details of Roxanne’s past accusations have been laid bare for the public to see, but that does not change the face that she acted so convincingly. She cried on cue. When asked by her fellow house mate to show how Ryan punched her, Roxanne pounded on his ribs. When Ryan defended himself she stood, lip trembling, saying, ‘He’s lying.’

Thank god Big Brother was watching.

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