A Life Apart … a review

I had really enjoyed reading Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others and so I turned to this book. I have been a long-time subscriber of my library’s digital subscription, but it had been years since I used it. And so, this book broke that chain.

A Life Apart is the story of a young Bengali man Ritwik, who travels from Calcutta to England to study at Oxford University. Ritwik is from a humble background, and this is the 60s, so the chasm between his life in India and life in England is huge. A parallel storyline is one set in early 1900s, that of Miss Gilby, who’s an Englishwoman in British Calcutta. Ritwik is writing her story, so she’s actually a book within a book, which was very interesting. Mukherjee has picked up Miss Gilby from a small character in a Tagore novel, and drawn it out through Ritwik’s pen.

This is definitely a debut novel. It doesn’t have the smoothness of writing of Mukherjee’s later novel, or the tautness of structure. However, it is an enduring debut, with character-driven storytelling. Perhaps this would be very impressive if this is the first of his books you read. I enjoyed the complexities of Ritwik’s life, his strugges with his identity and Miss Gilby’s adventures. A fine read.

Smoke & Ashes … a review

In 2018, I saw Abir Mukherjee speak on a panel at the EdBookFest. As a Scottish-Bengali myself, I remember making a mental note to read his stuff. And I finally got round to it. This novel is the 3rd in the Wyndham series, but they can all be read as standalone books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Set in 1920s Calcutta, this novel follows the sleuthing of Sam Wyndham, an officer of the Empire and his sidekick ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee. While Wyndham battles an opium addiction, he gets embroiled in serial murders of a pattern. As India is poised on the brink of the Swadeshi movement, Wyndham and Banerjee must navigate political sensitivity and the machinations of the Raj to determine who the killer is.

The book is well researched to the point that a number of interesting plotpoints are woven into the story. There’s the opium trade, Subhash Chandra Bose’s rise in politics, the Christmas Day plot against the British – all of these make an appearance. But using these as hooks rather than the main basis of the story means that this is an easy read, perfect for the summer. The balance of detective thriller and historical fiction had me devouring this book in a matter of 2-3 days. I loved the interactions between the two protagonists that surpass cultural barriers, and also the description of the prime city of the Raj.

I will be reading the rest of the books in the series for sure (book 4 came out late last year). I can definitely say Mukherjee must have been wasted as an accountant because he’s clearly a crime writer. Highly recommend!

Letters from Skye … a review

The title of this book contains two favourite words, so even before I began reading it, I knew I would like it. The entire book is written in the form of letters – between a poetess Elspeth from Skye and her pen pal David from America, and parallely Elspeth’s daughter Margaret’s letters to various people. Elspeth and David correspond during World War I and Margaret’s letters are based around the Second World War. It all begins when, upon the publication of a book of poems, Elspeth receives a rather sweet letter from a ‘fan’ in America. The story spans two generations, about two decades, two wars, and two continents – finally reaching culmination at the St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh (it’s on Palmerston place on the West end, it’s beautiful).

The book is very well written. There isn’t much surprise in the way of the plot because the letters alternate between the two women’s stories and Margaret’s story fills us in on the gaps left in Elspeth’s. So, no surprises, really, but I enjoyed the concept and the backdrop of the war and of life on Skye. Skye is stunning and the idea of a poetess penning her thoughts as poems and letters and slowly but surely falling in love with a man she’d never met is just my type of thing. Let me warn you, however, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; which is possibly why this book has got mixed reviews on websites etc

But like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought scenes from Skye, Edinburgh, and London quite vividly in my head. The writing is atmospheric and evocative; the emotions expressed are very natural and believable. I’d recommend it.


The Forgotten Waltz … a review

This was the third book I picked from last year’s Orange Prize shortlist and I have had mixed feelings about this book, that has been described as ‘achingly brilliant’. Now, it has been the longest time since I read any form of romance, so it was a refreshing read. And brilliant it was, initially, the story of the author’s affair with a married man. What is great was that sometimes people write about their thoughts and they write the ‘correct’ thing, the ‘right’ thing. They write the things that people want to read. Well, Anne Enright does none of that. She writes the things that a woman in love actually thinks, actually feels, not made up stuff. So, she writes of the wrong emotions, and that’s refreshing.

It is a fairly short read, shorter than books usually are these days. But, nothing really happens, you know. I mean, they sort of end up together and there’s the daughter Evie and stuff, but you know the point where life catches up with people and make them do/say the right things? Well that point never comes. So, although a poignant read, the plot is pretty bad. There is expression but no imagination. So I’m not entirely sure if i would or would not recommend this book. There you have it then!

The Song of Achilles … a review


This was the second book I picked from last year’s Orange Prize shortlist. This was the book that eventually won the last and final Orange; it was highly recommended to me too. It is a lovely book, themed around the battle of Troy. Now, so far, my opinion of such books has been that of slow, tedious reads reads, which I only get through because the history behind them is so incredible. In this area, Madeline Miller is a genius! The language is lucid, the dialogue simple. She has truly brought Greek history to the 21st century effortlessly and beautifully.

Another thing that I must mention is font. Yes, typeset, I fuss over these things because I have been a technical writer. The font she uses, and there’s a note at the end about it, is Baskerville. It is large-ish without being bulky and is very easy to read because of its spacing. Anyway, so in Greece, Achilles and Patroclus become friends. Patroclus is an exile from his father’s land and a companion to Achilles. As the boys grow up, their friendship deepens into a bond of a strange nature, almost one without a name or meaning.

But when Helen is kidnapped by Troy and held captive, the boys must go to war, and with the prophecies that they know of, of half-man half-God Achilles, this does not seem to be the best proposition. They don’t have a choice at sixteen and as they go to the gates of Troy and being the long hard tireless journey of war, everything that they hold true of each other will be tested.

War is futile. It beings nothing but agony, pain, and even when it is over, it leaves behind scars, wounds, and dull pains that haunt people and never go away. All of civilization is made on the foundations of war. We cannot escape our past. This is what I am always left with after a war themed book. This book is a must read and I can easily see why it won.

Quote: “The ship’s boards were still sticky with new resin. We leaned over the railing to wave our last farewell, the sun-warm wood pressed against our bellies. The sailors heaved up the anchor, square and chalky with barnacles, and loosened the sails. Then they took their seats at the oars that fringed the boat like eyelashes, waiting for the count. The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.”