“time is not a line”

I recently finished reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and something in it struck me. It is an incredibly well-written novel that is focused on a mental health ward in the late 1950s. It is upsetting, and in places horrifying, as it shows the awful ways in which people were treated and has a vivid description of the electro-shock therapy that they were given.

I think one of the most disturbing things about it is the characters’ acceptance of it, they see all of these things as simply ‘part of their lives’ and do nothing to change it until McMurphy turns up. This kind of apathy is what I found the most troubling.

But I don’t want to talk about mental health treatment in the 1950s, I want to talk about the way that Kesey plays with time in his novel. It occurs over a relatively short space of time, but it appears both a much longer yet also much shorter length of time. There are references to the ‘the next day’ or ‘the next morning’ but then it is said that McMurphy has been there for a week. The timing doesn’t seem to match up.

This is at least in part because of Nurse Ratched, who Kesey says has the ability to change the speed of the clocks on the ward either making a single day last for weeks or making a day consist of a single hour. The control that she has over time clearly affects the characters and therefore this could be the reason that the timeline is difficult to follow. Either, that she is manipulating time throughout the novel or that the changing time has affected our narrator in such a way that he struggles to comprehend how much time has actually passed.


Time is an interesting one and is often used in novels as a symbol or a plot device. One such novel is The Great Gatsby (which I adore) in which time plays a crucial role as both symbol and plot device. Jay Gatsby spends his life trying to ‘repeat the past’ and this is then symbolised by things such as the falling clock. Another example is Shakespeare’s Othello (if you are a Shakespeare fan, I wrote a post about it a short while ago, you can find it herewhere the long/short timeline is used in order to make the story work, there is the timeline that the play actually follows which is only a few days and the timeline that Iago appears to create which is much longer and more detailed.

There was a novel I read recently that used time in a different way. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye is a story of woman looking back on her life. It begins with a short prologue regarding time which states that ‘time is not a line’ and that we look down through it ‘like water’. This idea is developed and explored throughout the novel in the way that the character – Elaine Risley – remembers different things at different times during the story and that memories are brought to the surface by specific events. The idea of time – and also in this case, memory – as something fluid brings up interesting thoughts about it’s consistency and perhaps the ways in which it can be manipulated.

I think that time is an extremely clever thing to use but that it can be difficult to use well… if done properly, however, it can really make you think about the way in which time affects your own life and maybe even how you can affect time.

Let me know what you think! Can you think of any other novels that use time?


























Book Review – Starter for Ten

Sometimes you just need to read something that is easy-going and enjoyable, without any horrible twists or difficult plot lines. A novel that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, which is in essence what makes it so great. Something funny and simple with a happy ending and likeable characters.

And I have found the perfect one, it is a novel called Starter for Ten by David Nicholls. Now, I read One Day and didn’t enjoy it very much but this one caught my attention because it was about a nerdy guy that was pretty much socially inept, this caught my eye because I can relate to this on a spiritual level.

But joking aside, it was an enjoyable novel with a happy ending and I even managed to learn some things.

Three stars! (there are clearly going to be spoilers)


The plot was simple and easy to follow. Young, socially inept ‘genius’ boy goes to university (surprisingly NOT Oxford or Cambridge!), meets some people, falls hopelessly in love with a girl guaranteed to break his heart, she – inevitably – does and the novel ends with him falling for the girl he should have chosen from the beginning. Very much a basic, happy-go-lucky rom-com. But sometimes, that is exactly what you need.

Luckily, Starter for Ten also has the added bonus of the University Challenge aspect as socially inept Brian Jackson joins the team for his university. The competition follows alongside the more mundane storyline and makes it way more interesting – you know, if one is interested in the inner workings of a University Challenge team.

The plot is not altogether predictable – the girl breaking his heart is completely inevitable but the rest of it is actually not as easy to guess.

(spoilers here!)

Continue reading “Book Review – Starter for Ten”

let’s talk about Shakespeare

Shakespeare is often written off by young people and adults alike as dull, long-winded and hard to understand. This is at least in part because we are forced to believe that Shakespeare is for the elite, the kind of people that read poetry for fun and carry books everywhere they go – I can mock, I am one of these people – but it was never meant to be that.

In Shakespeare’s time, the working classes options for entertainment were bear-baiting, drinking or the theatre. Not exactly the high-brow, middle class event it appears now. Seriously, if it is put on the same level as bear-baiting that should surely tell us something. And that something is that Shakespeare was meant to be enjoyed by the masses and that is something that I think we need to get back.

Let’s destroy this idea that Shakespeare is only for avid historians and bored school students. Shakespeare was a great writer but he was writing for the masses, not the elite.

If you actually go through his comedies you find that they are as packed full of innuendos, puns and ridiculous exchanges as many modern comedies. Some of it is straight-up slapstick. Even his tragedies have many an interesting line if one takes the time to appreciate it. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, for example, whose main purpose seems to be to make inappropriate jokes and then die. Even in his death scene does he manage a pun, that is not what I would call particularly ‘highbrow’!

The other mistake I think people make with Shakespeare is that they try to read it, this is most prominent in schools where Shakespeare is taught in seemingly endless English classes with no sense of the passion and enjoyment that it should have. If you’re lucky you might get to watch the film version, but even that is pure chance – and not necessarily any better. If we insist on teaching Shakespeare in English then we need to teach it as it is supposed to be!

Through performance!

Shakespeare wrote plays to be enjoyed not poured over with a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb. Thus, you will learn more about Shakespeare sitting in a theatre and simply appreciating the acting than you ever will sitting in a classroom.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t study Shakespeare, because his plays truly are works of genius that deserve to be appreciated, just that I feel like it needs to be studied in a different way in order to make the most of these incredible pieces of literature and to get rid of this idea of Shakespeare being high-brow.

Because I, for one, don’t think he would appreciate it!