I’ve been wanting to write a book post for a while now, but the pile on my bedside table tempts me to read more instead of wasting that time writing. I can’t be selfish any longer though, so I shall share my last couple of reads with you.
One Day – David Nicholls
This one reminded me of Love Story by Erich Segal(is there any other?). The witty dialogue being the least of the reasons. It’s far more contemporary and very Harry Met Sally too. Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation and hook up. And then, because of a number of events, what should have been the perfect match, doesn’t happen. They stay in touch and there are moments when you want to slap one of them and tell them to get their act together. But it’s rather like real life in that sense. So many close shaves. So many moments where something beautiful could come of it, but one of them idiotically effs things up. I read it a second time over for the funny lines and promised myself I’d use them. But of course I’ve already forgotten them again.
The Mine – Arnab Ray
This one is not for the weak stomachs. I was hooked from the beginning and read through the night. I enjoy the Great Bong’s blog and his book lived up to it ( I liked the first book too, but not half as much as this). A mystery set in a secret mining facility in Rajasthan where the miners come up against very provocative carvings. A team of experts comes in to sort out the strange things that this discovery triggers and before you know it they start dying. One by one. Some of the scenes are disturbingly grotesque, but anything less wouldn’t shock. In parts I found the dialogue forced and stilted, but the rest of it held strong. A very thrilling read.
Hood – Emma Donoghue
I became a fan when I read Donoghue’s Room. So the moment I saw Hood, I picked it up without even reading the blurb. I’m glad I did. The story begins with a funeral. Penelope O’Grady’s lover, Cara is dead in a car crash. And the rest of the book reconstructs their love affair. I found the name rather tongue in cheek and well thought of. I have to admit that I have no trouble rattling off a post – it’s the title that I always struggle with and then carelessly fill up some rubbish, just to get it done with. So, getting back to the point – the name of the book itself speaks volumes about the author. I’ve heard it referred to as a ‘lesbian’ love story, but it’s not. It’s just a love story, that happens to be about two women. And it’s been treated as such. Over the next few weeks, as Pen deals with the past and her grief, a lot more comes to light. Donoghue’s writing is compelling but the plot isn’t particularly absorbing. You already know what the story is, but the past slowly opens up to you and lets you in to their little secrets, humiliations and love. I’d suggest you read this on vacation and not while you’re busy with everyday life and likely to put it down and forget it.
A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
If you’ve read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, then you will love this. Fifty seven year old George is convinced he is dying of something. This is bad timing because his daughter is getting remarried. His son is gay and wants to bring his partner to the wedding, and that makes him uncomfortable. And his wife is busy having an affair with his colleague. Very bad timing indeed. Family melodrama that is wry, witty and warm. Haddon needs no recommendation from one as insignificant as me, but if you haven’t read him before, this is your chance to see how a really good writer pulls it together. It’s a slice out of any of our lives. We ache, we die, we live, we breathe and we wonder why the world didn’t stop and acknowledge us. This is the story of just yet another life.
Alice Walker – The Colour Purple
This is a Pulitzer Prize winner and told through one of the age old story telling techniques of writing letters. Celie is a young black girl raped by her father and finally married off to a man who already has children. Her sister Nettie, the only port in a storm, is lost to her. The book depressed me because it seemed like Celie just didn’t get a break. I read on, stolidly, chapter after chapter, waiting for her to be saved. And she was. But only after I’d felt my sense of hope trampled upon. The language in the letters Celie writes is authentic but that just made it slow reading for me as I struggled to make sense of her grammar. Petulantly I wished the same story could have been told in plain old English. Yes, I have my bad days. A story about a survivor. A story that could have been written about a woman anywhere in our country. Heart breaking.
Island Beneath the Sea – Isabel Allende
Now if I had to pick one novel out of this list as my favourite, it would be this one. Set in the 18th century, it takes you into the world of slaves and masters, brutality and terror, threat and discrimination. This book took me back to my childhood and my grandmother singing us to sleep with Way down upon the Swanee river. It reminded me once again, that the entire world owes a debt to the people of colour. Each line, each chapter, drives a nail into the heart. Slavery, illegitimate children, women being misused. It is one horror after the other. And yet Allende is the kind of writer that transports you to 1770 in the blink of an eye and into a world that is so real, her writing so visceral, that you feel the heat, the blinding sun under which they slave and the frisson of terror as they try to getaway. I often complain about the kind of writing Indian publishers seem to be encouraging, because this is the sort of book that I wish more people would aspire to write. There is so little we know of the past, of the atrocities, of the lives these people led. Not only is the period she chose compelling, but the way she writes of relationships – so complex, so hard to define, so layered. I’m tempted to buy 30 copies and walk around distributing to them to some of the recent desi authors I’ve read, telling them – THIS is how you write.
The Help – Kathryn Stockett
I read this after The Colour Purple and Island Beneath the Sun. I was just in that space and I couldn’t stop. I’m wondering if it was a good idea because by the time I emerged from this, I was a wreck and burdened with an inexplicable guilt. Guilt for the privileged life I lead and for never knowing their suffering. Apparently sending me on a guilt trip is easier than slipping on a bar of soap. Aibileen is the coloured househelp. And Miss Skeeter is a young journalist who wants to make a difference. Set in the cotton plantations of America in the 1960s, Miss Skeeter and Aibileen, are both crossing lines of class and race, and exposing themselves to untold danger. From not allowing the help to use the same bathroom (something we Indians are very familiar with) to not allowing them to sit at the dining table (sound familiar?) there are many confusing things that little 2 year old white Mae Mobley doesn’t understand. Put that way, you begin to question our own Indian househelp systems. Told in different voices, sometimes Miss Skeeter, sometimes the help, this was yet another book I read through the night. Loved. Now readers, what do you think – should I risk seeing the movie and ruining the book experience?
Two Fates – Judy Balan
I’m unhappy about putting this on my list here, because I don’t recommend this book at all. To me it exemplifies a lot of what is wrong with publishing today. I’d read a few of Judy Balan’s pieces in the Brunch (was it?) and I enjoyed her writing. So when I got the book I picked it up eagerly. I have to say my first disappointment was in realising it took off from Chetan Bhagat’s Two States. I almost shut it right there and then. A promising writer and then she goes and picks Chetan Bhagat’s rather stale topic. And I call it stale because he did nothing new with the book. My father is Tamilian and my mother part Bengali, part Garhwali and part lots of other stuff. And I am 33 years old. If inter-community marriages were taking place a century ago, I have no interest in reading about them today. Particularly if the writing is not particularly compelling – what is left to recommend it? If you’re not saying anything new, at least say it in an interesting way. Anyway, I began to read Two Fates and lost interest after the first two chapters, the language just didn’t hold up to scrutiny and neither did the plot. In fact, if you want I’ll give you my copy. I’m feeling rather sad because I really enjoyed her articles (and then her blog that I hunted down). I stand by my original hypothesis, which is, that not every blogger should be considered a writer. And not everyone who has a good idea for a post can hold that thought through an entire book, along with your interest.
The Eighth Guest and other Muzaffar Jung mysteries – Madhulika Liddle
I read Madhulika Liddle’s The Englishman’s Cameo and was hooked. I almost cried when the book ended. Set in the Delhi of Shahjahan’s time, the book had every ingredient I needed. My favourite city, historical fiction and a murder mystery. It’s almost as though she made me put down a list and state what I’d love to read about and then incorporated each one into her story. Here’s an Indian writer who doesn’t write stilted conversations and whose English fits like a glove. Perhaps my problem with a lot of Indian writing in English on contemporary situations, is that the language is trying too hard to be hip and cool, too stylistic, trying so hard, that they fail. I’ve never been a short story fan but I hastily clicked buy on Flipkart because I was ready to have nobleman Muzaffar Jung back in any form. I didn’t regret a rupee of the Rs 350 I spent on it. The stories are short and snippy and the period ambience maintained. I love the descriptions of the elephant fights, the jewellery and the clothing – it all comes alive. But my favourite bits are the references to history in the author’s footnotes. Just right to educate someone like me who has no background in the subject and is eager to learn. I wonder if she deliberately keeps away from forming Jung’s character further. Perhaps the idea is to keep the focus on the mysteries and not him?
How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
“Put your hand in your pants. (a) Do you have a vagina and (b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said yes to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.” This line defined the book for me. It’s funny, it’s contemporary feminism and it’s real. She articulates thoughts that have always floated around at the back of one’s head. Niggling and nebulous, like that annoying bit of raw albumen on your fried egg. Caitlin’s book is the one I plan to keep at my bedside and open whenever I doubt myself. Two days ago, it was a hot summer morning, and we were going out someplace. The OA was in shorts and tee, as were the kids. I was just about to wear a short skirt and sleeveless top when I realised my arms were looking flabby, my underarms were not done and neither were my legs. Now I’m not really the sort who stays waxed and polished, but in my defence, I was PMSing, my back was aching, my bad knee was pulsating with pain and I was sweating barely 10 seconds post bath. I lost my temper and got back into bed. It felt like an unfair world where he could walk out with his hairy legs but I must suffer sleeves and full length pants for no fault of my own and definitely a smoother chest than his! Anyway, I digress. The point is, I remembered Moran’s book and the next day I went out in a sleeveless kurta without doing my underarms. I was in no mood to suffer heat, periods and hot wax being poured on my skin. And that, my dear friends, is that. She is that brave, confident, cool, clever, witty girl in college, who everyone wants to be but is too scared to be. And in her absence, we’ll use her book for support. It also answers a million existential questions like, why are women supposed to use botox and get brazilians? Why do people ask a woman when she is going to have a baby and not a man? And much more. This is not my book of the year. It’s the book that is going to sit on my bedside table for many years.
Not Without My Daughter – Betty Mahmoody
Marrying into a community that you know nothing of, and falling in love with a man whose family you have never met, is a leap of faith. The reason this book resonated with me is because the fact that this could have been my life. I married a man whose family I had never met, a very conservative community. Of course this is not 1984 and I am not stuck in Iran, in purdah, but I think you see where I am going with this. I can’t imagine the terror of marrying a nice, sophisticated, urbane, cultured, educated, warm man and then watching him head back to his country and family and turn into some sort of brutish, neanderthal. Betty Mahmoody goes visiting her husband’s family in Iran and once there, realises there is no going back. Her husband lost his job in America and didn’t tell her that he was moving back home permanently. He soon becomes violent with her and eventually she is held hostage, and her four year old daughter taken away from her. She doesn’t give up and eventually finds a way to escape. The only catch, those who are willing to help, are not willing to take a child along. Unwilling to leave her child, Betty starts her hunt from scratch, determined that she will not leave her child behind. In many ways this reminded me of Emma Donoghue’s Room. A mother’s determination to not let her child down. A few days ago I wished mothers on FB a happy mother’s day, saying there is nothing quite like it. A single friend asked me if that made all non-mothers, losers. I was shocked by the question. No, it doesn’t. But I don’t know of any other bond so strong, so ready to sacrifice, so determined, so courageous. Everytime I read a book like this, I realise how deep a mother’s love for a child can be. Thankfully, not all of us are tested this way.
Balancing Act – Meera Godbole Krishnamurthy
I’m ashamed of how late this review comes, considering how long ago I read and loved this book. Tara Mistri is a modern mother, a SAHM who was once an architect. I loved her for the realism with which her character was portrayed. The frustration of knowing that you’d be good if you went back to work, the husband who is always travelling, the two kids who are adorable yet tiring, as all kids are, and the alter ego that reminds her of what she is, deep inside. Soon she begins to work out the kinks in her life by baking bricks with words on them – womb- nursemaid- housewife, and leaving them in public spaces, for the world to find them. I love that bit of quirk. Her way of reaching out to communicate with the world and work out the battle within. All you mothers must read it. Non-mothers too, if not for anything else but the lyrical writing, unlike the stilted English we’re subjected to by many other Indian authors. Not for a moment do you feel that this is not the author’s first language. Each chapter is introduced by a quote and I loved her choice of lines.