Bridge of Clay … a review

I liked ‘The Book Thief’ reasonably well. I thought it was a good read and as a reader, some elements of it really touched my soul. And then, I was fortunate to catch Markus Zusak at EdBookFest last year taking about Bridge of Clay. This book has been 2 decades in the making. And since I hadn’t read any other books by the author, this one seemed a natural choice.

The story follows the lives of 5 Dunbar brothers, of whom Clay is one. The book is a story of their lives and their times through darkness and light. Many characters in the form of parents, pets, friends and lovers come and go. But fundamentally, it is a story of family and relationships. I was actually pretty disappointed with this book.

The writing is too metaphorical. I know that is a strange thing to say, but if you read a sample chapter, you will see what I mean. Take for example, this quote:

“The town itself was a hard, distant storyland; you could see it from afar. There was all the straw-like landscape, and marathons of sky. Around it, a wilderness of low scrub and gum trees stood close by, and it was true, it was so damn true: the people sloped and slouched.”

It’s beautifully written, there’s a real sense here of what the town is like, and it is evocative. But imagine all 600 pages written in prose like this! No, we do not need descriptions like that all the time, nor narration. The nuggests of the story are nice, but the writing is just too weird.

I have a feeling that this book might be better as an Audiobook – it has an airy-fairy quality and should perhaps be heard slowly. Anyway, the author himself has read it for the audiobook, so perhaps you should give that a go. As for Zusak, sure I will read his other books, but perhaps I will try a sample out first!

Wolf Hall … a review

Hilary Mantel’s last book in this trilogy is out this year.  And this book was given to me as a present and been on my TBR for a while. I thought I would use the lockdown to indulge in some high-brow reading. But what can I say – this Man Booker winning novelist is not for me.

The writing is absolutely rubbish. The characters – and there are about 20 who are all called Thomas – are all over the place. The start of the book is incoherent and did not draw me in. But of course, I persevered because this is such a famous historical book. I was not going to give up until I had read half of the book. Alas, it was a waste of my time. I have very little good to say about this book, as you can probably tell by now.

Have you read it? Let me know if you enjoyed it and what about it did you enjoy? If you haven’t read it – I would suggest you steer clear.

The Girlfriend … a review

It seems to me like after the success of Gone Girl followed by The Girl on the Train, psychological thrillers are everywhere. Not a bad thing, I say, I have read a few this year and for the most part, really enjoyed them. In particular, I See You was particularly good. On a short trip, I picked up this one, which is about a mother’s relationship with his son girlfriend, who she doesn’t really approve of, but cannot quite put her finger on why, save for a mother’s intuition.

The plot is quite straightforward, and it preys on the stereotypical weaknesses of a mother – the inability to see any other woman take centre stage in her son’s life. The writing is goo, and Frances does a good jobs of setting up the characters backstories – I enjoyed that. However, I wouldn’t really call this book a psy thriller because it was a bit too predictable. It made me root for the good guy (woman) and it was quite evident who was being played. As the plot progressed, I knew what was going to happen and there were only a couple of surprises on the way.

As a passing read, this is okay. I also got it very cheap on the Kindle because I had a discount code. But if paying full price, I would probably give this one a miss for now. Having said that, the ratings on Goodreads are on the higher side, so my caveat is that it may have just been me!

Keep Your Friends Close … a review

I picked up this book because the blurb read like a very intriguing plot. Natty and Sean Wainwright are happily married and co-own a successful hotel in the Lake District of England. They are super busy, filling and fitting their lives around each other and around their two daughters. When their younger daughter, Felicity, suffers a medical emergency while in France, Natty has to rush. To help with the care of Alice, the other daughter, and housework, she takes up the offer of an old college buddy. Eve is a psychologist, and soon we find out, a home wrecker. She goes all guns blazing on Sean and seduces him, so much so, that by the time Felicity and Natty are back, Sean wants out.
Now, Natty, devastated and tattered, is trying to scoop up some pieces of her battered self when she receives a note saying that this isn’t even the first time Eve has ‘stolen’ a husband! Natty takes it upon herself to prove to her husband that Eve is not what she seems and in exposing her, try and save her marriage and the lives of her daughters. There are a couple of other sub-plots involving her relationship with her father and her descent into some sort of psychotic behaviour as well. From this point on, the plot twists and turns to an exciting culmination of events. The book was an okay-ish read. Some of the parts of the plot were highly improbable, like the speed for which Sean falls for Eve, how successful she is in wrenching herself into the story, and how easily Natty falls apart. The writing style is decent, Paula Daly has a good flow going, easy-to-read and smooth. But the loopholes and the stretching of imagination was a bit much for me.
Even so I finished it, and it would possibly be a good read for a day or two on a beach holiday or a long haul flight 🙂

Monsieur … a review

Lolita is one of my favourite books of all time. It is thought-provoking, jarring, and extremely well-written. Heck, it is one of the best works of 20th century literature. Now, I picked up this book because reviews described it as ‘Lolita-esque’. And man, did this book have that potential! The author writes about the erotic relationship between Ellie Becker, in her 20s, and Monsieur, a married man with five sons in his mid-40s. Although Ellie is technically an adult, the difference in age means that she is considered a ‘nymphette’ by her lover.

This book, funnily enough, was titled Mister when written originally in French. Anyway, the two characters bond over erotic poetry and as winter creeps in on France, they become involved in clandestine sessions in a hotel room. By this point of the book, I was loving it. It was very lyrical, the sexting kept it relevant to modern times, and I was quite warming up to it. Some of the lines are beautiful:

Even the fingers lingering on the back of my neck felt clothed, elegant, and relaxed. For a few minutes they fluttered all the way down to my spine, caresses I had never experienced before, disturbingly reaching for the depths of my soul.
Paris held its breath.

At some point, however, the narrative kept going steadily downhill. The emotions were repetitive; the characters were not feeling enough to warrant all the pages and it just got dragging. For a while, when the man disappears and Ellie becomes obsessed with his wife, I thought something interesting was going to happen, but nothing did.

And finally, they ended their relationship and I was quite relieved. The erotic bits of the novel started out wonderful as well, and then just became annoying and kind of gross. If you do read the book, you’ll know why I say that. And it was pointless gross, it added nothing to the narrative. The author is Emma Becker and the protagonist is Ellie Becker, I did find that slightly odd as well.

Anyway, towards the end, I was definitely annoyed because the book was being compared by people (idiots) to Lolita, and this book doesn’t hold a candle to that masterpiece, I tell you. Clearly, not a lot of people understand Humbert, or Nabokov.

Revenge Wears Prada … a review

Of course I had to read it! I loved Devil Wears Prada when it hit the shelves and I too, along with many others, felt that Lauren Weisberger had to come up with a sequel. What happens to Andrea and Miranda after they part ways… what happens to Andy’s relationship with Alex. And Emily? We last left Emily very bitter… the sequel brings us face to face with these characters ten years down the line.

Emily and Andy are now working in a joint venture, and peace is between them. Both of them have found love and their lives are happy and successful. But when Miranda Priestley’s office calls, can peace keep its hold? What, why, oh God no… are reactions very common. But will the new friendship and the new venture stand the test of Miranda’s presence in their lives? Again! Very entertaining.

[SPOILER ALERT: SKIP NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOK AND HAVEN’T YET!!!]
However, the two most major twists in the plot were totally, I mean totally predictable! It took me two pages to realise that a puking, tired, irritated Andy was pregnant, in the book, the discovery takes about 40 pages! The fact that Max is totally going behind her back and Emily too is in on it, took me about 20 pages, in the book, it is the climax! These were very very disappointing bits. I kept thinking that what I was predicting wouldn’t be true and something totally out of the blue would happen but I was let down.

So… read it if you, like me, have been waiting for a sequel. Else, don’t bother 😛

The Eaten Heart: Unlikely Tales of Love …a review

I asked V to pick a number because I couldn’t decide which book to start with from my Penguin Great Love stack. He picked 3, so I had to pick this collection of short (very short) stories by Giovanni Boccaccio. The background is that ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside from the Black Death and tell stories to pass the time.

These are stories of love found in strange places, felt by weird people, and mostly of love that was put to an unlikely end. Nothing about the stories is real or believable. For example, a depressed lover, on finding that her brothers had murdered her soulmate who she was loving in secret, finds his body, beheads him, and buries in under a bushel of herbs which she waters with her tears everyday. A bit over the top if you ask me. Another royal princess, manages to sleep with about 10 men across 3 continents and still manages to end up in a happily married life, honourably. Highly unlikely, but perhaps, life too, is that way.

I wouldn’t recommend this book, it is alright if you have nothing else to read but not otherwise.

The Temple-Goers …a review

This book was written to sell. It was written in the times when LGBTQ and Gay Pride Parades were at their peak in Delhi and I’m sure this book would’ve flown off the shelves. I’m completely in favour of freedom of choosing one’s own sexuality but once the author turned gay after his trainer and his trainer’s-wife’s-brother were already gay, I was tearing my hair out. 2% of population… maybe even 10%; but 60% of the major characters? Seriously? Maybe I did not understand the book…

Also, again, I’m in favour of the writer taking liberty with the kind of language he uses; but calling place with typical-Hindi-Delhi-slangs is not palatable for me. The only slightly interesting part was the author’s learning Urdu, I found myself waititng for those bits to arrive while I was reading… There is no semblance of a storyline; only a narrative of what the writer is up to. Why on earth would I be interested? And what’s with Indian’s still having to “Oh I was in Spain for the summer” and “Ooooh, New Yprk in winter!”?

I hope this man stops writing after this debut.

The Enchantress of Florence …a review

Salman Rushdie is always in the centre of controversies. This novel started off enchantingly enough, taking the reader into the town alleys of Akbar’s Sikri, down twisting and turning by-lanes of night-time passions, jewels, and a very Arabian Nights night. The ‘traveller’ who arrives here, claiming to be Akbar’s lost Uncle, from a family tree whose branches have been severed, was enchanting too.

But somewhere, the Enchantress did not hold on to my imagination for long. And I admit, I’d guessed the ending, it wasn’t difficult at all! So, when I reached that somewhere, I completely lost the desire to read further… I had to drag myself through the rest of the book. Maybe, I had expected another raging controversy. Maybe I can’t do Indian authors. Or just perhaps, the east-meets-west is not a fetching topic any more. But the Sikri bit of the novel had tremendous potential. And Jodha, well, I don’t believe she was as enigmatic as made out to be.

Quote: “I’m a man with a secret, that’s what — a secret which only the emperor’s ears may hear.” The driver felt reassured: the fellow was a fool after all. There was no need to treat him with respect. “Keep your secret,” he said. “Secrets are for children, and spies.” The stranger got down from the cart outside the caravanserai, where all journeys ended and began. He was surprisingly tall and carried a carpetbag. “And for sorcerers,” he told the driver of the bullock-cart. “And for lovers too. And kings.”