The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

My first Victor Hugo book was Les Misérables – a truly beautiful novel. I didn’t really know much about The Hunchback of Notre-Dame going in, but I thought I might enjoy it in the same sort of way. As it turns out, it’s a very different book and also, it’s a very weird book.

Essentially, it’s about the way in which the lives of several people in Paris in the 15th century tie together. Those people are Quasimodo, a deformed hunchbacked man living in Notre-Dame. Esmeralda, a dancing gypsy girl who performs in the area. Claude Frollo, an outcast alchemist who raised Quasimodo and who has a perverse obsession with Esmeralda. Gringoire, an unsuccessful poet who’s kind of useless and through an unusual sequence of events, crosses paths with Esmeralda quite significantly. Finally, there’s Phoebus – a sleazy, unintelligent, womanising soldier who Esmeralda somehow falls in love with.

There are a lot of characters involved in this story and I’ve only mentioned the most important ones. Though it was sometimes harder to keep up with the less significant characters, I will say that each of those main five left a pretty distinct impression on me. I was perpetually concerned for Esmeralda, amidst the dangerous world of 1500s France. I had endless pity for Quasimodo and the extreme amount of prejudice and persecution he faces for his disabilities and appearance. Gringoire was a kind of comic relief and I had a kind of sympathy for him, being as ridiculous as he was. Phoebus was also a ridiculous sort of comic relief, but he was more of an annoying character in that his unintelligence and lack of empathy have serious consequences for others. Frollo, on the other hand, was downright detestable – a horrible and disgusting villain who made me uncomfortable and angry.

I’ve mentioned that the book has elements of comedy in it and I have to admit that it made me laugh a few times. However, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a light-hearted novel. Though it is occasionally humorous, the overwhelming feeling that I had while reading it was distress and sadness. Loads of really horrible things happen in this book and as I was quite invested in the characters, it was actually hard to keep reading at times. Of all the books I’ve read, this one might just be the most deserving of the ‘Tragedy’ label. At the end, I thought that it was all so cold and meaningless. Suffering without end or release.

Sadly, the biggest flaw of the book was the fact that beside sadness and despair, my most felt emotion while reading it was probably boredom. I don’t think the storyline is boring and overall I enjoyed reading it on the whole, but there’s an element of Hugo’s signature style that does get rather grating the more you encounter it. Without warning, he’ll go off on excessively long tangents covering different subjects or themes included in the novel. For example, one chapter took me over a hour to read and was all about the architectural history of Paris. This isn’t necessarily a subject I’m not interested in, but I don’t think he does a good job of making these things interesting, because he goes into such endless amounts of detail and it’s all irrelevant to the plot. These tangents sometimes go on for several chapters at a time, to the extent that you might even forget what’s going on in the main storyline because of them.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book. I’m glad I read it. However, it’s not something I’d recommend to everybody. It’s a very heavy read and I’m sure it would leave a lot of people feeling quite depressed. If you enjoy classics and are still interested, I’m sure you’ll love it – but tread with caution!

Rating: 8.2/10

Buy it here.

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A Song for Our Times from Chris Hunter

If you’re anything like me, then perhaps you’ll be listening to a little more music now that you’re in lockdown. If that is the case, then I have a recommendation for you! One of my very best friends, Chris Hunter, has recorded a new song which I think nicely encapsulates the general feelings of the world at this time. You can listen to it on his SoundCloud page.

Titled ‘together as 1’, it’s a very emotional song and a very epic song. Though it is about the difficulty of life during the pandemic, it’s also a hopeful song and one which, I hope, would at least partially lift the spirts of anybody who’s struggling to deal with things right now. Anyway, rather than just reading what I have to say about it, why don’t you go ahead and listen to it yourself? I’m sure you won’t regret it. After my first listening, I went back and listened to it again and you know what? I’m gonna just go ahead and listen to it again now.

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Super Bomberman

This was the first Bomberman game to be released on the SNES and it’s a pretty solid instalment in the series. If I’m completely honest, a lot of Bomberman games are all pretty similar, but they all have a very solid formula at their heart (especially for multiplayer) which makes the series fun to return to regularly.

The single player story is your standard affair – the planet of the Bomber people is threatened by an evil villain, so you have to go through various levels in order to defeat their minions and to work your way up to them. You walk around through mazes full of destructible walls and have to defeat all of the enemies in them and find the exit, collecting items which enhance the power of your bombs as you do. Levels include fun fairs, factories and sky scrapers. What I found most fun in single player were the boss battles, which are all giant enemies which require a little more strategy to defeat. The final bosses in particular were impressive, though also rather tricky!

Then, of course, there’s the multiplayer mode. I think this is the selling point for most people – not that the single player mode is bad. In this, two to four Bombermen are put in an arena together and have to blow each other up. It’s really fun running around and trying to out-manoeuvre your opponents with bomb placements. It can be hilarious to watch people accidentally blow themselves up and the feeling of trapping somebody in a corner with your bombs is delightful. What makes this one especially remarkable (historically) is that it was a four-player game on a console which only allowed two players – it came with a special device which let you add two more controls.

So if you get this game, you’re getting the amazing Bomberman multiplayer fun that has been highly regarded for so long… but you’re not really getting anything you can’t get anywhere else in the series. It’s a shame, because at the time it was highly innovative, but what made it impressive has ceased to be so.

Rating: 7.8/10

Buy it here.

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Writing Revival

One thing I’ve been very pleased about is the fact that I’ve been much more productive as a writer since the lock down began. I don’t mean to take the angle of saying that this is a good situation, because the lock down is certainly a bad thing (though necessary) and there are a lot of things that I miss, but my newfound productivity in writing is a definite positive.

I set myself the goal of writing one short story a week and, so far, I’ve been able to stick with it. This is fantastic. I’ve written more in the last few weeks than I have in the last two years combined. I’m even looking into opportunities to get my fiction published again, which is something I’ve not done in a long time!

If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve been this enthusiastic about writing fiction since 2012 – during which time I was studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and had a large group of people to share my work with regularly and friends who were happy to talk with me about my ideas whenever I wanted. I didn’t think that spark of creative passion would ever shine quite so brightly again, because I thought it was dependent on that specific context – but it has.

Ideas come to me as I’m doing the dishes, making lunch, having a walk and whatever else and I can’t wait to get them down on paper (digital paper). It’s hard to convey just how important this is to me, but it makes me so happy. Though I don’t imagine my day to day routines will change at all for some time, I hope that I am able to keep up this writing pace for a long time as it is endlessly rewarding.

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Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

It turns out that what most people think of as the book Little Women, is actually both it and its sequel Good Wives published together as one – so I was quite shocked when I thought I’d finished the book, only to find that there was still so much more to be read. Personally, I think the two books are so distinct, that it’s strange that they’re generally considered as one. They weren’t even published as one!

The first book was all about the lessons Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy learned from their mother during a particularly significant year in their lives as young adults and in this book, we get to see how they put those lessons to use as they branch out into the world.

The lives of all four of them go in very different directions. Meg settles down and has a child with her husband, Beth continues to struggle with the illness which she narrowly survived at the end of the previous book, Jo tries to make it as a writer and Amy is given the opportunity to tour across Europe.

I really like the way that their lives suddenly become much broader and that they’re all taken in very different directions – it contrasts nicely with their childhood in the first book, where everything seemed to be of a significantly smaller scale and they were always together. Alcott has done a good job of highlighting the changes between child and adult life.

I also really enjoyed watching the evolution of each of the sisters’ relationships with Laurie change as they grow into young (or should I say little?) women. Their simple friendships become more complex and Laurie himself undergoes an interesting character arc which I thought was pretty well done and nicely progressive. He felt much more developed in this book when compared to the first one.

Overall, I’d say that this is a sequel which definitely improves over the original. The first book created some interesting characters and established who they were and what each of them stood for – this book then casts them into the world and puts these characters to the test, it lets us find out how they respond to the world. It’s an all round excellent book – although I did feel disappointed with Beth’s ultimate fate, I did enjoy every other aspect.

Rating: 9.1/10

Buy it here.

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Top 10 Songs from The Beatles

I wanted to start something a little bit different today. In the past I’ve done a few ‘Music Suggestions’ based blog posts, but I thought of a new, more fun way to share the music I enjoy – playlists!

I thought a good place to start would be The Beatles, a band I am very fond of and was obsessed with as a teenager. The list of the songs in the playlist is not necessarily the order in which I like them. I just wanted to give a range of their best work. Here’s the list of songs included:

  1. I Am The Walrus
  2. I Want to Hold Your Hand
  3. Help!
  4. Hello, Goodbye
  5. Across the Universe
  6. A Day in the Life
  7. A Hard Day’s Night
  8. Eleanor Rigby
  9. Free as a Bird
  10. What’s the New Mary Jane?

There are some really good songs on that list and I’ve tried to include not only the popular ones, but also more obscure ones which I really like from a span across their career. If you want to listen through them, just click on the video above and it will automatically play them all in this order!

I’ll be making other playlists like this in future. Not only of bands either…

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Donkey Kong GB: Dinky Kong & Dixie Kong

The Donkey Kong series has usually been quite lucky when it comes to having it’s games released internationally, but unfortunately there are still some games which have only been released in Japan. One of these, is the Game Boy Color version of Donkey Kong Land III. It may just be an enhanced version of a game which did see a release in the west, but as an obsessive fan of the series, I still felt I was missing out. Thankfully, I was recently able to get hold of a copy and add it to my collection.

To be perfectly honest, the experience isn’t too different from the original, so you should probably read my review of that first. The biggest change is that now everything is in colour. In some ways, this is amazing. The boardwalk levels now look so much better, so do the waterfall levels. But then, on the other hand, the mill levels (for example) don’t really look much better as the colours used are all pretty full. Nothing looks worse, but some parts just look different and not improved. So it’s a mixed bag – some characters also lack any kind of nuance in their colour schemes and look a bit off. I suppose it’s just a system limitation and I shouldn’t judge it too harshly, but when I compare it against the colouring of the Donkey Kong Country GBC remake, I feel like a much better job was done there (though only in terms of colour, in every other way this is a better game).

It’s nice that this game exists. It gave a slight twist on a classic game which I’d always enjoyed. It’s another game for Dixie and Kiddy to hold proudly under their belt, which is good as they both deserve more appearances. I’ve also read that the game runs more smoothly, which I’m sure some people will appreciate, but this isn’t something that I usually notice. While I would say this is the definitive version of the game, since it’s so much harder to get hold of, I wouldn’t say you’re missing out on much by going for the original (unless you’re a diehard fan like me).

Rating: 9.3/10

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My Ten Favourite Animal Crossing Villagers

Like a lot of people, I have been playing a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons now that I am unable to go outside. I’ve always loved the Animal Crossing series and this is something I’ve had in the back of my mind as a blog post idea for ages, so now seems the perfect time to write about my favourite Animal Crossing villagers. Here they are, in no particular order:

Wart Jr.
When you look at him, you might feel that he’s nothing more than a grumpy little frog. In some ways, that’s what he is – but also he’s the son of Wart, the final boss of Super Mario Bros. 2. Amazing. I loved having him around my old village. Appropriate that his father lives in a dream world, because having Wart Jr. as a villager is a dream come true.

Coco
Coco is an interesting bunny. Look at that blank face – no eyes, no mouth… perhaps, no soul? You imagine that she’d be some stoic, aloof creature. But she’s not. She’s just a perfectly ordinary person. I love her. Why can’t a soulless clay doll be a regular person?

Julian
When you look at this majestic unicorn, you’re probably imagining a fabulous, soulful character. If so, you’re imagining right! His presence warms my heart and soul whenever I see him. He’s the kind of friend you wish you had in real life.

Louie
Look at him! He’s a deadringer for world famous video game star Donkey Kong. He must make a lot of bells going to swanky parties as a lookalike. What an honour it is to have him in your village. And how lucky for him that he’s so gosh darned attractive.

W. Link
Louie was cool because he looked like Donkey Kong, but W. Link is cool because he actually is Link – the hero of Hyrule. I like to imagine that after the events of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, he found a way to return to his wolf form and then went to a peaceful village to retire. There are a few other Zelda characters as villagers too, but I decided to focus on W. Link since he’s the coolest.

Ribbot
What do you get if you cross a pun, a robot and a frog? Ribbot! He’s an actual robot. Also, he loves working out and is a massive jock. An unusual personality type for artificial intelligence. Needless to say, my child mind was blown when I had a robot come to town. Maybe he was constructed to house the soul of a jock kid who died in a street racing accident and doesn’t know he’s in a robot body?

Lucky
Lucky presents a Little John sort of situation, because rather than being lucky, it is evident that his life has been full of intense physical trauma. Either that, or he’s a deeply optimistic person who considers himself lucky to be alive and to have people who love him. Either way, I love this dog.

Octavian
I love octopuses. They’re such interesting, devious animals. Of course, I was therefore very pleased to have one come and live in my village. I realise now that it’s hard to say something unique about ten different villagers. Either way, Octavian is great.

Zucker
Speaking of octopuses, the only thing better than having a grumpy one living in your town is having a happy-go-lucky piece of living sushi come to your town. I don’t know what his deal is – maybe he’s doing to donate his body to a Japanese restaurant when he dies and is already preparing for that or maybe he’s just a reanimated piece of sushi which went on to lead a peaceful life. Either way, he gets me asking questions. I like that and I like him.

Alfonso
Last, but by no means least, is Alfonso. The friendly larger than life alligator who wears a Mario t-shirt. Since Donkey Kong lookalike Louie wears a Luigi t-shirt quite often, I like to think of Alfonso as the Kremling lookalike who works together with Louie to provide a more comprehensive experience when imitating the stars at the swanky parties they get invited to.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I’m a big robot fan. I always find myself drawn to them as characters and enjoy stories about them, so I was keen to try Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? due to it being an earlier exploration of the concept.

Set in the ‘future’ (the 90s), the Earth has been ravaged by nuclear war and humans have mostly abandoned the husk of a planet to go and live on Mars… but some remain. Pretty much all animals are extinct, so pets are really valuable and considered a status symbol. Those who can’t afford them buy identical android copies, but keep it quiet and pretend they’re real. Speaking of identical android copies, there are humanoid androids who are generally treated as second-class citizens.

There are two main characters: one is Rick Deckard, a police bounty hunter who comes after ‘rogue’ androids. The other is John Isidore, an android who encounters a group of other androids on the run. It’s probably not unsurprising that I preferred John out of the two of them, but what’s interesting is that I felt he was probably the more emotional and human of the two, while Rick came across as quite a blank slate who just floats through the events of the book. Perhaps this was very clever and intentional. Perhaps Rick was just badly written. That’s for you to decide.

Overall, it’s a pretty bleak book, even without the nuclear war and mass extinctions in the backstory. A lot of scenes in it were very distressing. A lot of innocent people are murdered in cold blood. It does a good job of blurring the line between android life and human life, at least. At times, it even gets very interesting and philosophical too.

Towards the end, things get very strange. It’s not very clear what really happens as the plot comes to a close, leaving room for theories and interpretation. It’s good and it’s bad in that respect – I do wish that there had been a little more closure. That goes for a lot of things. I’d like to have known what happened to the characters. I’d like to have known more about some of the side characters. But though I wish it had been fleshed out more, I still found it to be a good read and an interesting piece of sci-fi history.

Rating: 8.1/10

Buy it here.

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Fictional Character Hall of Fame: The Doctor

  • Name: The Doctor
  • Origin: An Unearthly Child, Doctor Who
  • Media: Television
  • Debut: 1963

There are few fictional characters who I regard so highly as the Doctor. A figure of fun, but one who stands for strong moral ideals for which I have the greatest respect.

Although, of course, ‘The Doctor’ is a very broad term which of refers to lots of different characters (sort of) and in this blog post, I’m really talking about the sum total of them all. When we were first introduced to them in 1963, they were a mysterious time traveller who we knew little about. Over the years we discovered that they were a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, travelling through time and space to fight against evil and changing their appearance and personality every time they die. In recent times, we discovered that there may be even more to the character than we ever knew before.

So, why do I like them? Well, a big part of it is what they represent. In their second story, they came up against the Daleks – a representation of human fascism. The Doctor stands against oppression and violence. They want people to be safe, happy and free and fight constantly to ensure that happens. And when I say they “fight” I mean that in a violent-free way. The Doctor is a hero who champions pacifism. Brain over brawn. Kindness over cruelty. This alone is a big part of my appreciation of the character, but that’s certainly not all of it.

The Doctor is joined on their travels by their numerous companions – people who they care very dearly for. I am someone who considers friendship to be very important and The Doctor reflects the importance of friendship much more than any other fictional character. They’re largely portrayed as asexual, with very few love interests shown throughout the series, but the friendships they have over the years are shown to be just as important as any romantic relationship. At one point, the relationship they shared with a companion was described as “so much more” than being just a couple – portraying friendship as potentially more valuable than romantic love. This isn’t something I’ve seen anywhere else, but is something which will definitely be true for some people.

On top of all that, they’re an anti-establishment, progressively-minded free spirit who proves it’s okay to be different. I find the world of politics to be a depressing one, so when I see the Doctor, an ageless, powerful being who stands up for the things I agree with, it’s some really wonderful escapism. And they’re pushing boundaries in reality as well – the ides of an alien being who has had various bodies occasionally changing sex may not seem a strange one, but when you see the negative reaction of some fans towards the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor on the show, you realise that the character is a force for good in the worlds of fiction and reality alike. Why shouldn’t they change gender? And, for that matter, why shouldn’t anyone else?

Of course, after almost sixty years, the Doctor has been portrayed in lots of different ways. Sometimes they do things which are at odds with the ideals which I admire them for – but that’s okay. Not only do these changes throughout incarnations make the character more well-rounded, but they also ensure that there’s a version of the character for everyone. Different incarnations resonate with different fans and that’s good. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the character. But no matter which version appears in any given story (and I won’t get into which is my favourite just now) you’ll find these qualities appearing and that is why I believe the Doctor deserves a place in my Fictional Character Hall of Fame.

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