The Spectre of the Unfinished Book

I have always considered myself to be a ‘bookworm’. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been an avid reader. From being read picture books as a young child, to ploughing through thick novels as a literature student, books have definitely shaped my life more than I might like to admit. But at the same time, there are many, many books that I simply never finished, or at least didn’t finish the first time around.

There’s something strange about a book that you have left unfinished. Do you leave it in your ‘Currently Reading’ list on Goodreads, lingering there in eternal 48% completion? Do you pretend you never picked the book up in the first place by sending it to a charity shop for someone else to pick up, or deleting it from your device on Audible or Kindle so it remains forever in the cloud? The problem with a book that you have started but not finished is that you know some of the plot, some of the characters, but you don’t get the gratification of the resolution. Of course, you could just look up a summary and spoil it for yourself, but in the back of your mind is that (only sometimes true) conviction that you will return to the book again.

For me, returning to a book (or even the next in a series of books), that I have left unfinished feels confusing. I always wonder whether I should read the part I’ve already read again, or just pick up where I left off. Reading the same passages again when I haven’t got to the end gives me a strange feeling, because I can almost remember the first time I read it but, like the first time, I still don’t know what going to happen, so I can’t see what is coming as I normally can when re-reading a book.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things this is truly a non-issue. No-one is checking that you finished a book on your first attempt, or that you finished it at all. A lot of the time, it is not the book itself that is at fault, but rather that I picked it up when I did not have time to read it, or I had to focus on the reading for my course, or that another (and normally shorter/easier) book caught my attention. This is the only reason why books that I was actually quite enjoying such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos or Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician remain in limbo on my Currently Reading list. I know that I will go back to them. However, other books I won’t be returning to, unless I have to.

At the end of the day, what this all comes down to is the fact that in a world where we are able to enjoy the stories told in books, we must also accept the certainty that we can never finish them all, and we will not like them all. The only solution to this, irritating as it is, is to take breaks from or simply not finish books in order to be able to move on to the ones we do like.

How do you feel about leaving a book unfinished? What do you do with books that you own but are not going to read?

Emma. – Film Review

Emma is one of my favourite books. I’ve watched several adaptations, from the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow to the 2009 mini-series starring Romola Garai and even the web series Emma Approved. I was really hoping to find another film to add to my long list of favourite Austen adaptations. My problem with the new Emma movie is that it was almost perfect, but there were a few things that really impacted my overall enjoyment of the movie.

First: let’s get my issue with the movie out of the way. The humour in this movie worked really well most of the time, but for me there was one moment that felt utterly misplaced. When Knightley made his proposal to Emma, she had a nose bleed. None of the dialogue was really changed, at least, but this moment felt extremely wrong. This is the big romantic moment in Emma, and it was played for a joke. I really think this took away from the film, as just because it was more of a comedy than other adaptations have been doesn’t mean that it can’t have a genuine moment. For the relationship of Emma and Knightley to be believable, they need to be able to have a serious romantic connection. I genuinely think that if this scene – and a few others- were executed more seriously this film would be up there with the 2009 version of Emma as one of my favourite Austen adaptations. It is beautifully made, the cast is fantastic, the costumes are gorgeous. But it just lacks that sense of heart that for me is central to making a period drama re-watchable. I probably wouldn’t watch this film again.

Now that my problems are out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff about this film. There are a lot of great things about this film. Firstly, the use of colour and setting makes the film look fantastic. The pastel colour palette is sickeningly sweet, the costumes more extravagant than in other adaptations of Austen. This really helps to emphasise the over-indulgence and lack of action that characterises the lives of these upper-class characters. The cast is also fantastic. Bill Nighy was seemingly made to play Mr Woodhouse. Everything from his costume to his movements was perfect for this version of the character. Johnny Flynn plays a convincing Mr Knightley, though he is perhaps too much in earnest to match the tone of the film. Anya Taylor-Joy was also wonderfully cast as Emma, as she plays Emma’s meanness in a way that feels more true to the book, whereas other adaptations that tend to make her more sympathetic. This also makes the character development of Emma from the beginning to the end of the film more apparent after the turning point where she is called out by Knightley for insulting Miss Bates, and realises her rudeness.

The scene where Knightley and Emma dance is one which gets it right: showing their feelings for each other in a way that is not mitigated by unnecessary comedy, and I wish there were more moments like this in the film, as the cast and crew were clearly capable of achieving it. Scenes with Mr and Mrs Elton were hilarious, and they worked well because in the book they (particularly Mrs Elton) are characters who are supposed to be seen as somewhat ridiculous in the way that they act.

I would recommend this film to be seen at least once, because I think there is plenty to like about it. It is a well-made film, and as the response to it has shown there are many enjoyable moments. If you are like me and are a big fan of an older adaptation or the book, then don’t go into this film expecting a similar portrayal as past iterations of Emma. Personally, I don’t think that this film got the tone quite right. While I always saw Emma as a romantic story with comedic elements, this version is primarily comedic with romantic elements. If you like that idea, then you’ll like this film.

Have you watched Emma? How does it compare to other adaptations you have seen?